Does Stress Affect the Chances of IVF Success?


In today’s environment, anxiety and stress seem to be everywhere. Whether these feelings are fallout from the pandemic, social media, career-related issues or simply life in general, we’re all dealing with some level of stress. 

While there are healthy ways to help manage stress, your mental and emotional health can be especially difficult to manage when you’re trying to conceive. And when you’re going through infertility treatment, you may wonder just what role stress plays in your success. 

The Impact of Stress on Fertility Treatment 

When undergoing fertility treatment, such as IVF, you’re advised to take things easy and not dwell on the “what ifs.” For most people, that’s easier said than done. The journey through infertility and subsequent treatment and IVF is fraught with “what ifs.” And for first-time IVF patients, the stress of not knowing what to expect as far as invasive procedures, medications and pain seem like a constant.

But does your physical response to stress actually interfere with your ability for IVF success? Most experts agree that moderate levels of short-term stress (eg. your mother-in-law is coming for the weekend and your house is a wreck, or your promotion hinges on an upcoming performance review) have little to no impact on your overall health or IVF outcome. 

However, a constant or chronic state of stress may actually wreak havoc with your hormones, causing issues with some aspects of IVF treatment. In order to understand how, let’s take a look at the physical ramifications of chronic stress. 

How Stress Affects Your Physical Health

Think about this scenario: You’re walking along the beach enjoying the sound of waves crashing and gulls singing when suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, comes a snarling, growling dog. It startles you and you’re afraid the dog might attack. Your heart rate increases, your blood is pumping, your palms are sweaty and your adrenal glands release the hormone cortisol into your system. All systems go into fight or flight response.

Under normal instances, your body releases small amounts of cortisol, which actually helps to regulate your stress response, along with your blood pressure and blood sugar among other things. But a surge of cortisol during stressful times may actually be detrimental to your hormone balance. Why? In order to create cortisol your body uses progesterone, the same hormone necessary to sustain pregnancy and support embryo implantation in the uterus.

Chronic stressors like dysfunctional relationships, a toxic workplace environment or constant financial strain may impair your body’s hormonal balance. 

What Doctors Say About Stress and IVF

The results of a few different studies don’t really confirm or deny stress as a factor in IVF outcome. Other studies show stress may play a role in certain aspects of the IVF process, like embryo transfer and egg retrieval, two big steps in the process that prove especially stressful for first-time IVF patients.

How to Keep Stress Under Control 

It’s best for your physical and emotional well-being to keep your stress in check not only during treatment for infertility but, when possible, in your everyday life. Here are some proven methods experts recommend to help control  anxiety and stress.

Keep a Journal: Journaling may already be in your life toolbox but, if not, now is as good a time as any to begin. Here are some suggestions for starting this practice.

Try Gentle Yoga: Yoga helps tone and relax the body and even prepares your body for pregnancy and childbirth. The benefits are substantial. But you’ll need to first discuss with your physician as certain yoga positions may interfere with the IVF process and pose a risk for ovarian hyperstimulation.

Seek Support: While letting everyone in on your fertility treatment plans isn’t always a good idea (unless you welcome constant inquiries into your treatment), you may decide to confide in a trusted friend or family when you feel stress closing in.

Prioritize You: Put yourself and your well-being first. After all, it’s your body going through hormone shots and ultrasounds, blood tests and all the other poking and prodding. If you don’t feel like attending a party, say no. Lunch or dinner with friends? Only if you want to.

Take a Time Out: Go away for the weekend somewhere quiet and relaxing, or simply turn off your devices and have a quiet staycation. 

Take a Breathwork Class or Download a Relaxation App: There are many meditation apps, classes, and YouTube videos to help guide you through breathwork exercises, which are all proven to minimize the effects of stress. 

Find a Therapist: You may ask your clinic for recommendations of therapists who are adept at dealing with the anxiety of IVF and infertility. Talking to a professional helps you bring your fears out into the open and finding someone who is familiar with these types of stressors makes the journey much easier.

We Can Help Manage Your Stress

If you suffer from chronic or long-term stressors, you’ll need to address those before they negatively impact your health and fertility. For more on how you can prevent stress from impacting your IVF success, or any other questions regarding your fertility, contact Reproductive Health and Wellness.

Reproductive Health and Wellness

Founder and Doctor at RHWC

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