WOMEN'S HEALTH
May 17, 2011

Easing Stress Can Boost IVF Success

Women taking a stress relief program while undergoing IVF got pregnant significantly more often than those who didn't.

Fertility problems are stressful. Months of disappointment at not becoming pregnant can give way to anxiety. So undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) can be a stressful experience for a couple — especially for the woman trying to become pregnant. Some studies have found understandably high Anxiety and depression rates in women undergoing IVF. Making the situation even more complicated is the finding that higher stress levels may actually lower a woman’s odds of becoming pregnant.

The 10-week program teaches a woman and her spouse relaxation strategies, cognitive behavior techniques (CBT) to "restructure" negative thoughts into more positive ones...and lifestyle habits to reduce stress.

Women going through infertility treatment should breathe sigh of relief about a new study reporting that stress reduction may boost one’s chances of becoming pregnant.

The researchers randomly assigned a group of women who were about to begin IVF to enroll in the Mind/Body Program for Infertility in Boston, started by lead author Alice D. Domar in 1987. The 10-week program teaches a woman and her spouse relaxation strategies, cognitive behavior techniques (CBT) to "restructure" negative thoughts into more positive ones (according to the website, "I will never have a baby" can be turned into "I am doing everything I can to try to get pregnant."), and lifestyle habits to reduce stress. All women in the study completed two rounds of IVF; those who did not take the stress reduction course served as the control group.

During the first round of IVF treatment, there was no difference in pregnancy rates, possibly due to the fact that only a fraction of the women in the treatment group had begun the stress reduction program. But by the second round of treatment, when most of the women in the treatment group had begun the program, there were significant differences in pregnancy rates. Of the women in the treatment group, 52% became pregnant, vs. only 20% of those in the control group. By this time, says Domar, the women "had acquired some real life skills to deal with their stress. And that's when we saw the significant increase in pregnancy rates."

The authors conclude that their "study supports the theory that psychologic distress may be an important detriment to IVF outcome." It’s still unclear whether higher stress levels lead to infertility or whether infertility leads to higher stress levels, but researchers will surely devote more studies to understanding this. If you are undergoing infertility treatment, it’s not a bad idea to look into stress reduction programs that specialize in this area, since what is clear from the study is that stress management can’t hurt, and may possibly help.

Alice M. Domar is a researcher at Harvard Medical School and Boston IVF. The study was published in the April 15, 2011 online issue of Fertility and Sterility.

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