The psychological stress of dealing with trouble conceiving and undergoing assisted reproductive therapies (ART) has been shown to be equivalent to that of someone with a chronic serious illness such as cancer, cardiovascular disease or HIV. Unfortunately, that chronic stress has also been shown to shunt blood away from pelvic organs. Although this cannot be directly correlated to lower chances of successful pregnancies, adequate blood flow is important to ensure egg quality and proper nourishment of the endometrial lining for implantation. Suggesting chronic stress could be a contributing factor to infertility. This provides an unfortunate burden on those trying to conceive as it may generate more stress over the expectation that they must manage stress.
Stress management is a foundational piece of treatment within the realm of holistic and natural approaches to care for patients struggling to conceive. Which is why we are sharing with you stress management strategies that have been shown to be effective at helping cope and manage the inevitable stress and pain of struggling to conceive.
Mind-body medicine is the practice of connecting how emotional, social, spiritual, experiential and behavioral factors can directly manifest as physical health conditions. By connecting and healing the experience of the mind it contributes to healing the physical manifestations of pain both physical and emotional.
There are a variety of different types of mind-body medicine, mindfulness-based meditation and guided imagery are two types which have been shown in the literature to help reduce stress, symptoms of depression and anxiety, and help improve conception outcomes.
Meditation can be difficult. It is likely you have had an experience with meditation which may or may not have resonated with you. However, it is by its nature a practice. There is no wrong or right way to meditate. Your practice can shift every day, having good and difficult days. In its essence, it is the practice of being with what comes up that day. It can be helpful to practice meditation in a counseling session or an acupuncture session to help draw awareness to any areas in which you may desire some guidance or understanding. Guided meditations can be helpful for beginners as it helps you gain a better understanding of the intentions of the practice. We have listed a couple of conception based meditation resources:
Expectful: Guided meditations geared for different stages of your journey. They have specific meditations to help cultivate self-compassion, strengthen the connection with your partner, sit with vulnerability or when you just desire moments of stillness. They offer a 14-day free trial, the subscription is $9.99/month.
Circle and Bloom: Guided meditations for specific days in your cycle and specific to your journey through ART (i.e natural cycle, IVF, IUI etc). You can purchase specific guides ranging from $10-60. The cycle guides specific to ART treatments tend to be around $60. They offer a free fertility meditation program (link here) which provides you with ten minute daily meditations.
Insight Meditation Timer : This app provides thousands of guided meditations, timed music, discussion groups and meditations specific to different topics or emotions. This app provides a unique social integration, allowing you to create a profile and connect with others using the app. After each session it provides you with how many people were mediating with you. Full access to the app is available for $2.99/month.
Working with your naturopathic doctor or mind-body practitioner can be a great way to identify a practice that resonates with you.
Acupuncture has been widely accepted in fertility based therapy for its beneficial effects on improving implantation rates in artificial reproductive treatments such as IVF and IUI. It has also recently been shown to help improve ovarian reserve (amount of follicles in ovaries) and egg quality (important in healthy viable pregnancies). It is effective at modulating reproductive hormones to regulate and promote healthy menstrual cycles. Furthermore, acupuncture has also been shown to be helpful in reducing stress and decreasing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment to minimize stress while having additional reproductive health benefits physiologically. As mentioned above acupuncture treatments can be combined with a guided meditation practice or counseling.
The experience of infertility presents itself with a whole new realm of emotional, spiritual, mental and behavioral challenges. It is important to your healing and well being that these experiences and the pain be acknowledged. Although it is difficult and painful, the root of healing the pain is to be with it. Working with a counselor can help to provide you with tools and coping strategies to work with these emotions. Working with your struggle can help to provide you with the strength to accept it, and grow through it. It also provides a safe space to feel heard and understood.
-The JTND team
Grossman, P., Niemann, L., Schmidt, S. and Walach, H. (2010). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits: a meta-analysis. Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 8(4), pp.500-500.
Stress and Infertility:
Domar A, Zuttermeister P, Friedman R. The psychological impact of infertility: a comparison with patients with other medical conditions. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology. 1993; 14 Supple: 45-52.
Lozano D, Frydman N, LevaillantJ, Fay S, Frydman R, Fanchin R. The 3D vascular status of the follicle after HCG administration is qualitatively rather than quantitatively associated with its reproductive competence. Human Reproduction. 2006;22(4): 1095-1099.
Manheimer, E., Zhang, G., Udoff, L., Haramati, A., Langenberg, P., Berman, B. and Bouter, L. (2008). Effects of acupuncture on rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilization: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ, 336(7643), pp.545-549.