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Fertility is not just about your Eggs

by Michael Dooley(more info)

listed in fertility, originally published in issue 230 - May 2016

Few Issues are as Emotive and Personal as Fertility

The ability to conceive is so central to our identity as humans that we frequently describe fertility in terms of success and failure. To be able to have children is regarded as normal and expected; if a couple has been trying for 3 months and has not, then all too often they feel as if they have failed. 

This success/failure mindset mirrors one that I have often encountered in my work with athletes. Having worked at 3 Olympic Games, for the Olympic Medical Institute and with the International Olympic Committee it has been my privilege to meet and assist exceptionally talented and committed competitors. But whilst I never fail to be impressed by the drive of those involved in competition, the line between success and failure that gives sport its structure could not be less appropriate for those contemplating conception. 

Nevertheless, the medical advances of the past 30 or so years and the ubiquity of children and fertility issues in the media have meant that prospective parents feel increasingly like failures if time passes without the desired result.

Fertility is not just about Eggs

I feel that entering into the world of fertility requires patients to cease to think about conception as the only goal that matters. Instead, I help my patients to set and achieve realistic targets that place them at the centre of the process and treat them as an individual.

My aim is that a bespoke plan and simple, achievable lifestyle changes can produce positive results without initial ‘failure’ prompting a rush to despair and, quite possibly, IVF.

My integrated approach is derived from my father’s interest in complementary medicine and from a lesson from my work in sports medicine which I believe is transferable. This lesson is that for the best results a team needs to be constructed around the patient/athlete and tailored to their needs. I therefore work with an international network of specialists. On the medical side I work with providers of not only, conventional IVF, but also natural cycle IVF, egg freezing and donation and, if required, in vitro maturation and surrogacy. In complementary medicine I work with experts in acupuncture, yoga, hypnotherapy, counselling and Chinese medicine. Having selected the appropriate services I will work to move the patient into the best possible mental, emotional and physical space that will allow for the best possible chance to conceive.

This combined approach may sound ‘new age’ to some, especially if they are used to the sometimes cold realm of IVF-only clinics. However, the treatments are nothing more than remedies to the areas which are impeding conception. These factors can include smoking, drinking, diet and exercise (either too much or too little). Other factors can include an irregular period, low sex drive and other mental or emotional issues.

My patients are not sold a product or service but rather are made part of a holistic and inclusive treatment process that ensures that setbacks are part of the journey and that the patient as a whole is treated. As well as improving the chances of natural conception we will also look at services such as intrauterine insemination, IVF and egg donation. Throughout the process my patients have access to world-class diagnostic and clinical treatment, ensuring that whatever options are selected, the patients get the best chances of conception.

My success rate for both natural and assisted conception is excellent but regardless of whether a patient comes to my clinic or not the tips below can help anyone increase the odds of getting pregnant:

  1. Stress
    Stress affects the workings of the reproductive system and even worse, problems conceiving can create a vicious cycle of negativity and increased stress. My advice would be to look at stressful factors in a patient’s life – in some cases these can even result in a patient rethinking whether they are truly ready for children;
  2. Happiness
    I often advise that couples trying to conceive should put their mindset back to when they were courting – putting romance and happiness at the heart of what is supposed to be a happy and romantic process;
  3. Exercise
    Low impact and intensity exercise is always a positive that can improve conception chances but also has a range of beneficial effects.  Yoga is a personal favourite;
  4. Diet
    A balanced diet is essential for life as well as conception. Folic acid, Vitamin B12 and antioxidants are excellent choices for fertility;
  5. Smoking
    Smoking reduces the chances of getting pregnant in additional to the more widely known negative health impacts;
  6. Drinking
    Alcohol in excess reduces sperm production and function for men. In women, alcohol excess can cause anovulation and, eventually, amenorrhoea. Caffeine also has, less serious, but very real, negative impacts of chances of pregnancy;
  7. Post-traumatic stress
    Past problems associated with a pregnancy may affect fertility in complex ways. Counselling and other forms of therapy can be of real help;
  8. Complementary care
    Whilst scientific evidence lags behind in demonstrating the efficacy of complementary care, my patients see the positive results. My advice for patients is to choose the treatments right for them without getting into fads; 
  9. A plan
    A patient needs a plan for their journey that involves exploring all treatment options, making informed choices and allowing them to arrive at the hoped for destination with minimum stress;
  10. More sex
    Two to three times a week, across the whole week is ideal and if possible, during the most fertile time of the month. A patient ideally would aim for sex during days 10 to 17 of a 28-day cycle.


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About Michael Dooley

Mr Michael Dooley MMS FFSRH FRCOG  is a Consultant Gynaecologist and runs the Poundbury Fertility Clinic at King Edward VII’s Hospital. This clinic provides a bespoke and integrated service for fertility patients. Mr Dooley trained in London, Oxford and Southern Ireland and did his research on reproductive hormones and infertility. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and has been a NHS Consultant in Gynaecology for over 23 years. Mr Dooley provides an integrated patient centred approach to women’s healthcare, offering the most appropriate evidence-based choice of conventional and complementary treatments to address the patient’s wishes, beliefs and needs. Mr Michael Dooley’s book Fit for Fertility: overcoming infertility and preparing for pregnancy, is published by Hodder. Mr Dooley may be contacted at King Edward VII’s Hospital on Tel: 0207 467 4590;

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