The effect of stress on IVF

We’ve all heard it–the Most Dreaded Comment in all of infertility—JUST RELAX. Even typing that statement makes me want to reach out and smack someone.

But here’s a dirty little secret—stress matters with fertility (as much as I wish it didn’t).

What comes first—infertility or stress? It’s the age old chicken and egg type of question.

Anyone who has tried for months on end to get pregnant can tell you that stress increases with each passing month. An official diagnosis of infertility can send our stress level sky high. But clearly an absence of stress when you first began trying wasn’t enough to get you pregnant.

Impact of Stress on Natural Conception

Stress can at the very least delay conception when trying to conceive naturally. A number of studies support this finding. For example a 2014 study in the journal Human Reproduction of 501 couples trying to conceive naturally found that higher levels of stress were clearly associated with a longer time-to-pregnancy and an increased risk of infertility.

Impact of Stress on IVF

I asked this question of Dr. Ali Domar, author of Conquering Infertility, and Director of the Mind/Body Center for Women’s Health at Boston IVF. She says that is it impossible to tell directly if stress affects the success of in vitro fertilization or other fertility treatment because it is not possible to tease out the impact of diagnosis on both successful treatment and on stress. For example, a 25 year old woman going through fertility treatment will likely have a better prognosis, less stress, and greater optimism than a 40 year old woman. Dr. Domar suggests that a better way to answer this question is to see if stress reduction improves IVF success rates.

A meta analysis published this year in the British Medical Journal looked at whether “psychosocial interventions” for improving pregnancy rates and reducing stress improved pregnancy rates for couples in treatment with assisted reproductive technology (ART). The study concluded that “statistically significant and robust overall effects” were found for increased pregnancy rates for those patients utilizing some form of stress reduction psychosocial interventions, such as cognitive–behavioral therapy, mind–body interventions, or other stress reduction interventions. No clear-cut differences were found between the type of stress reduction program.

Great Interview with Dr. Ali Domar

I love Dr. Domar’s books, and especially liked Conquering Infertility. I recommend it and our interview on this week’s Creating a Family show where we talked about proven ways to increase the odds that you will get pregnant from fertility treatment.


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Resources mentioned in this week’s show:

Image credit: thornypup