Preparing to conceive – stress management

Stress, for most of us living and working in modern cities, is part of life. However it can get a lot worse when you are not conceiving as easily as you thought you would. And in a cruel vicious cycle, stress can have a negative impact on fertility. Women who are more stressed appear to have reduced fertility, and urologists believe that stress affects semen quality.

Acupuncture is well known for its ability to relax the patient and this has been demonstrated in an IVF setting.  No matter what brings a patient to our clinic they almost always comment on how relaxed they feel after their treatments.

For those of you who are interested to know more about how stress affects fertility and how acupuncture and other methods may help relieve it please read on ……

Different kinds of stress

The sort of stress that pushes you to meet a challenge successfully leaving you with a sense of achievement is a good type of stress. It allows you to have a sense of control.
A more damaging sort of stress is the type over which you have no control. Inability to fall pregnant falls into this category, and because reproducing is one of our most compelling biological urges this stress can affect us profoundly. If the stress is ongoing, then the body produces chemicals and hormones like adrenalin and cortisol and inflammatory cytokines. In a cruel vicious cycle this can further affect fertility.
The stress associated with infertility and fertility treatment is comparable to the stress we associate with serious illness like cancer or heart disease.
In particular, doing IVF is stressful and affects quality of life. And if attempts to conceive continue over a period of time this stress increases markedly.

Do stress and mood affect fertility ?

While it has long been suspected that stress can have an impact on natural fertility, its effect on IVF outcomes is less clear. Reviews done more than 10 years ago found little effect of stress on IVF outcomes, but more recent studies disagree.

More studies on the effect of stress on fertility and IVF outcomes are needed before treatment recommendations can be made.

How do I reduce stress?

Exercise is an excellent way to manage stress. Some people find that team sports are particularly diverting. Swimming, if you can do it for 20 minutes or more, is a wonderful way to get the body into a steady even meditative breathing pattern.
Yoga and Tai Chi work with the mind and the body and are well known for their ability to calm the mind. Tai Chi is a technique that may be associated with reducing stress and anxiety. Meditation is a direct way to calm the mind and reduce stress.

An acupuncture session is a good way to allow your body and mind to experience what a deeply relaxed state feels like. Then it is a matter of repetition and training your nervous system to maintain this state.

Laughter is another method which reduces stress and may help improve IVF outcomes (see the Clowning trial in the research section).

Finally, getting on top of your stress levels is not only a good idea while you are trying to conceive but also during the pregnancy.   Studies being carried out in many different places are examining the effect of stress levels in pregnancy on the baby or child.