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Your Questions Answered by Professor Beverley Vollenhoven on Fertility & IVF

Your Questions Answered by Professor Beverley Vollenhoven on Fertility & IVF

After realising we had a few questions of our own about fertility and whether your period has anything to hint at it, we thought we would take to Instagram and see if our Tsuno community had any too, which you did! We then got in touch with the vital team at Monash IVF who very kindly offered the expertise of Professor Beverley Vollenhoven. 

Before we launch into your fertility and IVF questions, a little about Beverley. 

Professor Beverley Vollenhoven is Head of Gynaecology at Monash Health, Deputy Head of Monash University’s Obstetrics and Gynaecology (O&G) Department, and a clinician at Monash IVF.

As an infertility specialist, Beverley has helped many people achieve a longed-for pregnancy. She has also improved the rate of successful pregnancies in older people.

Beverley has been a clinician at Monash IVF since 1996. As a busy practitioner, she treats people who are infertile, menopausal, have hormone-related conditions or require contraception. Her areas of clinical interest include infertility, polycystic ovarian syndrome, eating disorders, paediatric and adolescent gynaecology and menopause. She also has a clinical and research interest in the cause and treatment of uterine fibroids (leiomyomas).

Beverley has been instrumental in ensuring access to critical reproductive and gynaecological health services in Victoria, and has been an advocate for gender equality in science and medicine. Milestones in her own career have also helped forge new pathways for women in medicine. This includes being the first O&G trainee in Victoria to take maternity leave and the first female O&G trainee in Victoria to be awarded a PhD, both of which paved the way for future trainees. We find her very inspiring.

So, onto the questions!

1. How long is too long to wait to have babies?
Really the best time to get pregnant is in your 20’s but this doesn’t mean you will have trouble in your 30’s or even your 40’s - it's just that your chances do decrease into your mid 30s, and then even further into your 40s.

You can find more information on understanding your fertility here.

2. Do ovulation tests work for women with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome)?
The simple answer is, no. 

I always tell couples who are trying to conceive to make sure they are having sex regularly - which should be three times a week. If you’re not sure when you ovulate or when your fertile window is, (for example if you have irregular periods), try to have sex every 2-3 days. 

This can take some of the unnecessary pressure off timing sex, and make it much more enjoyable. 

3. What's the most common cause of infertility that requires IVF?
This is a tricky one, IVF was invented originally to by-pass the fallopian tubes, however since women are waiting longer to fall pregnant, IVF is becoming an option.

There are many causes of infertility, and women and mens factors are generally 50/50 - however female age is currently becoming more common.

4. Has there been an increase in women's infertility in the last decade or are we just more aware of fertility issues?
There has been a combination.

The rise in women waiting longer to conceive a baby has led to an increase in infertility but also we have more research around issues such as Polycystic ovaries, which was definitely over-diagnosed a decade ago.

5. What is the first step of IVF and when should you consider it?
The general rule for consideration is to have been trying for 12 months if you are 35 or under, and six months if you are over 35. This is when we would commence an investigation into why you are not falling pregnant, and explore the best options, which isn't necessarily IVF straight away. 

6. Does the risk of miscarriage really increase into your 30s?
Unfortunately yes it does. The stats are 1/5 under 40, and 1/2 once you are in your 40s.

It's important to remember that IVF doesn't prevent miscarriage but also that miscarriage shouldn't stop you from trying again.

7. What are the steps to take before IVF if you haven't fallen pregnant within 6-12 months?
It really depends on what the investigation shows. 

If you’re trying and not getting pregnant, it could mean there’s a problem with one of these key ingredients:

  • healthy eggs (in women)
  • healthy sperm (in men)
  • fallopian tubes with no blockages so sperm can reach the egg
  • good quality sperm to fertilise the egg
  • a healthy embryo that can implant in the uterus.
There are options to be explored prior to IVF, including methods to assist with ovulation. The investigation is the first step and then the support is ongoing from there. 

8. Does getting your period earlier or later impact your fertility later in life?
Getting your period early or late can be for a number of reasons from your diet to your ethnic group, so no this should not be a measure for your fertility. 

This is a great page on fertility and how it's assessed.

9. Does skincare and haircare impact conception?
There's currently not enough science to back claims of certain skincare or hair treatments, like colour, affecting your fertility or chance of conception - but this is something I do get asked about a lot! It is definitely best to pause hair colouring and harsh skincare ingredients like Vitamin A once you have conceived. It's also worth looking into your skincare and which ingredients may be playing with Estrogen in particular. 

If you're looking for more information, head to Monash IVF here - where the resources are incredibly comforting and easy to navigate. 




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