5 Things You Can Do For Your Fertility During the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many people to hit the brakes on their family planning. Here's what experts say you can do right now to invest in and prepare for a future pregnancy.
If you were already trying to get pregnant, thinking about family planning, or preparing to start fertility treatments before COVID-19, it can feel devastating to push pause on this big journey toward parenthood. But the global pandemic has thrown a wrench in exactly that for many couples and individuals. A new survey by Modern Fertility and SoFi found almost one-third of respondents were changing their fertility plans due to the COVID-19 crisis, while 61 percent said they feel "worried and anxious" about fertility and family planning due to the pandemic.
With many fertility clinics suspending fertility treatments at this time, it's no wonder people who would otherwise be doing fertility-related lab work or egg freezing are feeling frustrated and nervous about throwing their baby-making plans into an indefinite hold.
"The pandemic has created a lot of disruption in our lives," says Natalie Burger, M.D., a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist at Texas Fertility Center in Austin, Texas. "However, this is also an important time to take control of what we can to optimize the pathway to pregnancy."
Here are five steps you can take right now to focus on your fertility and conceive down the road.
Make a Telehealth Appointment
Many clinics are currently offering virtual consultations and appointments. During an initial assessment, you'll go over your health history and come up with a personalized plan, explains Lynn Westphal, M.D., FACOG, chief medical officer of Kindbody, a fertility care group with clinics throughout the U.S. "You will be counseled on options for optimizing your goals for having a family and decide what testing is needed."
This is your chance to gauge how comfortable you are with the physician on the other end of that virtual session. How do they communicate and answer your questions? "You should feel that the care is personalized for your situation and is not 'cookie-cutter' care," says Dr. Westphal.
You'll also want to investigate whether they offer specific support services, such as educational events and counseling.
Research Fertility Clinics
If you plan to work with a fertility clinic, take this time to gather information about your local options. If you don't have a referral from a friend or your OB-GYN, online resources can guide you, as well. Amy Beckly, founder of Proov, an at-home test that allows women to confirm ovulation has successfully occurred, advises checking out FertilityIQ, which offers useful resources like up-to-date research on fertility treatments and ratings on clinics.
Depending on your age, health profile, and family plans, you may have discussed egg or embryo freezing or IVF during your telehealth appointment. If so, Dr. Westphal advises patients to look into the clinic's affiliations. "See if they are a member of SART (the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology), an organization that sets standards for fertility treatments," says Dr. Westphal.
Gather Basic Information
A few basic health and fertility to-dos you can check off:
Take an ovulation test. "Having a regular menstrual cycle (between 21-35 days) generally indicates that a woman is ovulating regularly, but for women who want confirmation on the exact day of ovulation, at-home ovulation kits can provide additional reassurance," says Dr. Burger. A couple of options: Proov or Clear Blue's Digital Ovulation Kit. And if your partner is male, he can take an at-home sperm test (Beckly likes the YO kit, which allows a man to see his motile sperm on a video).
Take a fertility test. If you're not working one-on-one with a doctor just yet, you might want to try an at-home fertility test like Everlywell's fertility test, which measures five hormones that influence normal ovarian function.
"Hormone testing is best done in the context of a comprehensive fertility evaluation to look at all factors that could be affecting fertility," notes Dr. Burger. "Infertility is complicated and the answer often isn't found in one hormone test."
Check on your vaccinations. "Women need to wait a month after most vaccinations before they can try to get pregnant, so it is important to do this early in the fertility journey," says Dr. Westphal.
Although non-essential medical care is limited right now, your primary care doctor is most likely still offering vaccines, says Dr. Burger. "Also consider a walk-in clinic like CVS MinuteClinic," she suggests.
Learn your family's health history. Consider any diseases or cancers that run in the family, fertility issues, or genetic problems, as this can help with recommendations for testing, suggests Dr. Westphal.
Consider genetic screening. If genetic testing is advised, talk to your doctor about labs that can be taken care of now. Some can be done via a mail-in kit, like the ones offered by Invitae or JScreen, both at-home genetic screening programs.
Review your Finances and Insurance
Reach out to your insurance provider to learn what your plan covers in terms of prenatal care. Not all insurance plans are created equal when it comes to maternity coverage so knowing your estimated costs upfront will help you plan a budget. If you're looking to invest in egg or embryo freezing or IVF, you'll do well to investigate what your insurance will cover and how you'll cover any out-of-pocket costs.
Care For Your Overall Health
"The best way to start your pre-conceptual health plan is to take a prenatal vitamin and focus on your general health," says Dr. Westphal. This means ensuring that you're doing moderate exercise for about 30 minutes a day and eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of fiber, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and protein (adequate intake of the latter has been linked to a healthy pregnancy) while minimizing processed foods.
Don't forget the mind-body component, as well. "Meditation can allow you to be at peace and accept life’s circumstances, such as the COVID-19 crisis," advises Jane Frederick, M.D., FACOG, medical director of HRC Fertility in Orange County, California. "Focus on the present moment. Utilize relaxation or mindfulness apps to reduce anxiety and tension and improve sleep."
The Bottom Line
While it might seem like the world is on pause in many ways, experts agree that it's still possible to move the ball forward when it comes to fertility and family planning. It's a great time to conduct your research, focus on your health, and take advantage of providers offering care through telemedicine.