Infertility treatments are more successful for women who simultaneously participate in a stress management program, according to a recent study in Fertility and Sterility.

A team of researchers in Boston conducted the study to evaluate the impact of stress on infertility treatments. They compared the pregnancy rates of two different groups of women: those who underwent In Vitro Fertilization, or IVF, while participating in a stress reduction program and those who also attempted IVF without any support program.

The 10-week stress reduction program provided social support, cognitive behavioral therapy and relaxation techniques. Participants were encouraged to express negative, critical thoughts and feelings and replace them with optimistic and reassuring ones.

Coupling in Vitro Fertilization and Stress Management

Both groups underwent IVF for 2 cycles, though the majority of the women had not yet attended half of the sessions until the start of their second IVF cycle.

During IVF, an egg and a sperm are combined manually in a laboratory dish. The process involves prescribing medications to the woman to stimulate hormones that encourage and control the timing of egg development. Once ripe, several eggs are retrieved via a narrow tube in a minor surgical procedure and united with sperm in incubators. Upon fertilization, the embryo is then transferred into the woman's uterus for implantation.

Learning How to Manage Stress Almost Doubles Success Rate

The national success rate for each IVF attempt varies by age, with babies born to treated women under 35 years old approximately 30-35% of the time. The scientists found that 52% of those participating in the stress reduction program after their second IVF attempt became pregnant, while only 20% of those in the other group did.

There were no differences in pregnancy rates between the two groups after the first IVF cycle, because, by that point, only about 9% had attended at least half of their sessions, the researchers explained. In contrast, by the second IVF attempt, 76% had completed at least that many sessions.

While this study suggests an association between stress and infertility, the researchers emphasize that other factors are at play. Most studies show that infertility usually arises from medical problems with the reproductive system of the man or woman, and not from any psychological issues.

Stress Over Fertility Problems

Still, infertility can be emotionally taxing and stressful, often leading to depression and anxiety.

“The existential nature of infertility makes it one of the most stressful times in a woman's life," notes Emanuel Maidenberg, Ph.D., Associate Clinical Professor at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

Further, the process of IVF is time-consuming, expensive and fraught with emotion. Risks are involved in every step, and expectations for a successful pregnancy are high.

“Infertility treatments challenge the couple's tolerance of uncertainty," adds Dr. Maidenberg.

While this study suggests an association between stress, anxiety, and infertility, more research is needed to elucidate the biological mechanisms that may underlie and connect these conditions.

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