The embryo transfer. It’s one of the most important and exciting milestones of the surrogacy process —the moment you actually become pregnant with the intended parents’ baby!
But before you can get to this point, you’ll work closely with fertility specialists at the intended parents’ clinic to prepare your body for the best possible chance of a successful pregnancy. That includes ensuring your uterine lining is the ideal thickness for the embryo to successfully implant.
Here, we’ll explain how you can work with your medical professionals to thicken your uterine lining — and six common culprits that could be affecting that process.
Preparing Your Uterus for IVF
Everyone knows how much is riding on the embryo transfer. The intended parents you work with may have a precious few embryos with which to attempt surrogacy, and you’ll spend a lot of time before the procedure preparing your uterus for the best possible chance of success.
This preparation actually starts at the very beginning of your surrogacy journey. Before you are even accepted into our surrogacy program (or any other surrogacy program), you will go through a rigorous screening process to rule out any major concerns that could impact your uterine lining, such as fibroids, scar tissue, endometriosis and other conditions. You’ll also need to have a healthy BMI and be smoke- and drug-free — other factors that can impact uterine lining.
When it comes time to begin the medical process, your doctors at the fertility clinic will prescribe you a number of medications to thicken your uterine lining and prepare you for the embryo transfer, and you’ll be monitored closely to ensure everything progresses as it should.
Still, despite all of these preparations, there’s a chance that a woman’s uterine lining just isn’t quite as thick as the doctors would like it to be. There are a number of reasons why this could be — many of which are beyond your control (and some of which even doctors don’t necessarily understand).
6 Factors that Could Impact Your Uterine Lining
Remember, every woman’s body and situation is different. While the information in this article is meant to be informative and helpful, none of it is a replacement for qualified medical advice. As always, we recommend you speak with a fertility specialist or gynecologist for the most accurate information about your specific situation and any actions you should take to improve the thickness of your uterine lining.
With that being said, here are six things that may be affecting your uterine lining as a surrogate:
1. Your medications
Obviously, the course of medication prescribed to you leading up to the embryo transfer will affect the thickness of your uterine lining. That’s what it’s designed to do! Hormones like estrogen and progesterone will help create a welcoming environment for the embryo to implant.
You’ll likely attend several monitoring appointments leading up to the embryo transfer to assess the thickness of your uterine lining, and your doctor may make changes to your medication protocol as needed to achieve the ideal thickness. Again, every woman’s body is different, and the exact course of medication that you will need to take will vary depending on your individual needs and circumstances — which is why it’s so important to always take all medications on time as directed by your doctor.
2. Physical activity
It’s a widely agreed-upon fact: One of the best things you can do to encourage a healthy uterine lining is to get moving! Regular, moderate exercise, like yoga, walking or riding a bike, can improve blood flow throughout the body, including to the uterus — which can, in turn, improve the thickness of your uterine lining.
The key is to get your blood pumping without putting too much stress on your body; strenuous exercise for four or more hours per week may actually reduce IVF success rates. Stick to a couple of hours of moderate exercise per week for the best results.
There may be other ways to improve blood circulation, too. Acupuncture has shown some promise as a treatment to help improve blood flow, and while the reviews are mixed, it may not hurt to treat yourself to a massage. If you are considering any of these treatments or taking up a new exercise routine, just run it by your doctor and surrogacy specialist first!
3. Certain substances
Caffeine and nicotine — substances you’re probably cutting out anyway, per your surrogacy contract — are known to restrict blood flow. But there are other, more surprising substances that you may want to avoid, like certain allergy and cold medications that stop nasal swelling. These are designed to constrict your veins to reduce swelling. And less blood flow = thinner lining.
4. Your diet
It’s always a good idea to strive for a healthy, balanced diet, but that may be especially important as you prepare for the embryo transfer. Iron-rich foods like red meat and dark leafy greens, as well as healthy fats like olive oil, avocado and raw nuts, help your body to produce blood — which is necessary to create a thick uterine lining. Your doctor might also recommend certain dietary supplements, like fish oil, vitamin E or iron supplements.
At the same time, there may be certain foods, spices or supplements to limit or avoid. For example, you may want to skip the turmeric tea; one study in mice linked curcumin (an anti-inflammatory substance found in turmeric) with a lower rate of implantation. Talk to your doctor about any alterations you may need to make in your own diet.
5. Exposure to chemicals
One small study suggests that phthalates, a group of synthetic chemicals used in plastics and cosmetics, can impact implantation in women undergoing IVF. The study looked at 231 IVF patients and tracked their exposure to four major phthalates. Almost all of the women had been exposed (phthalates are pretty hard to avoid), but those with the most phthalates in their systems were twice as likely to suffer from implantation failure as those with the lowest levels.
The author of the study acknowledged that it is extremely difficult to minimize exposure to these chemicals because they are found in so many products. But you can try to limit your exposure by avoiding scented products and cosmetics that list the following as ingredients:
- Dibutylphthalate (DBP)
- Dimethylphthalate (DMP)
- Diethylphthalate (DEP)
When using plastic food containers or plastic wrap, avoid products with a recycling number of 3 or the letters “V” or “PVC” printed underneath the recycling symbol. Stick to plastics number 1, 2, 4 or 5 to ensure they’re phthalate-free.
6. About a zillion other variables
While you may be able to make some lifestyle changes to improve your chances of a successful embryo transfer, the thickness of a woman’s uterine lining is often largely out of her control. As with anything in nature, there may be many variables at play, some of which you just can’t change. Ultimately, it’s something that is regulated by your body, and it will naturally vary from one person to the next.
It’s also important to note that uterine lining isn’t the only factor that dictates the success of implantation. In fact, the quality of the embryos being used may be just as, if not more, important.
As a surrogate, you clearly care a lot about this journey and about helping intended parents, and you want nothing more than a smooth and successful process. But, don’t beat yourself up if your uterine lining isn’t quite where you (or your doctors) would like it to be. You’re doing an incredible thing by becoming a surrogate, and the fertility clinic you work with will do everything they can to help make you successful.
To learn more about the medical process of surrogacy, we encourage you to contact a local fertility specialist or one of our agency’s surrogacy specialists today.