Infertility and stress

Posted by Fadi Yahya, M.D.
October 14, 2013

Fadi Yahya MDThe impact infertility can have on a couple is far reaching and can be difficult to determine. Infertility can impact one’s relationship with family and friends, create financial difficulty, affect the relationship between partners and can negatively affect the couple’s sexual relationship. In a nutshell, infertility can cause stress.

Research has shown that women with infertility have the same levels of anxiety and depression, as do women with cancer, heart disease and HIV. Many societies do not understand that infertility is a disease, so couples get blamed for their condition. Can you imagine blaming cancer patients for their condition?

Does stress cause infertility?

It is unlikely that stress alone can cause infertility. However, it does interfere with a woman’s ability to get pregnant. Research has shown that women with history of depression are twice as likely to experience infertility. Anxiety can also have a negative effect by prolonging the time needed to achieve pregnancy. Studies on women undergoing In vitro fertilization showed that stress decreases the pregnancy rate.

How can you deal with the stress of infertility?

Learn: Educate yourself about the normal responses to infertility. Talk to other people going through infertility. Understand your medical condition and ask about treatment options.

Communicate: Talk to your partner about your feelings and needs, and allow your partner to feel and cope differently. Talk about your differences and avoid conflict. Keep communicating with family and friends and avoid isolating yourself. Understand that you can talk about your situation without going into details, and tell others how they can support you.

Practice relaxation techniques: The human body has two types of responses –t fight-or-flight and relaxation. The fight-or-flight response is what happens to your body when you feel danger. This is the same response you experience during psychological stress.

The relaxation response is when your body is in deep rest. Relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, meditation and imagery can help you transition to a relaxation response state. These techniques can help you deal with any type of stress including that related to infertility.

Take care of your health: Make sure you get your well adult exam every year. Eat healthy, exercise regularly, get adequate sleep and allow time for recreation.

Deal with sexual stress: Sexual stress is very common among couples with infertility, mostly because couples feel that this is an obligation or a duty rather than a fun activity. There are a number of ways to deal with this, including  taking a break from baby-making, distinguishing between work and fun sex, and learning sensual contact that doesn’t lead to pregnancy.  

Does managing stress improve infertility?

In brief, it may. The effect of managing stress on the success rate of infertility has not been well studied. Most available research suggests that there is a positive effect. The mind/body infertility programs have been shown to improve the pregnancy rates in women with infertility. One study showed that 55 percent of women involved in a mind/body program were able to get pregnant as compared to 20 percent for women who were not in such a program. These programs teach relaxation techniques, stress-management, coping skills training and group support. Programs range from five to 10 sessions, and most include the male partners in some of the sessions.

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