There’s nothing more annoying to a woman trying to conceive than to be told to relax and she'll get pregnant.
For those trying to conceive the old-fashioned way, there’s nervousness about conception when it doesn’t happen immediately. For those who’ve moved on to fertility treatments, relaxation becomes more difficult. And once a couple is trying IVF, it’s almost impossible not to be stressed-out.
Given that the stress is nearly inevitable, the question for women trying IVF becomes: How will this stress affect my chances of getting pregnant? There’s no easy answer, since studies have shown conflicting results, with some saying that stress can compromise IVF treatment, and others showing no effect on pregnancy rates. But no matter which study results hold true, one thing most experts agree on is that easing stress can be helpful for anyone hoping to get pregnant, whether through natural conception of fertility treatments and IVF.
The Stress Effect
Last year , a study was published in the medical journal, Fertility and Sterility, showing a connection between the stress of receiving fertility treatments, and the success or failure of those treatments. Hillary Klonoff-Cohen, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of family and preventive medicine at the University of California at San Diego, was designing a study about how lifestyle habits affect results. When women undergoing IVF repeatedly told her how worried they were about the procedure, stress became a theme of the research. Dr. Klonoff-Cohen developed a series of questions to track 151 patients’ self-perceived level of stress both before the IVF treatment and during the procedure.
What Dr. Klonoff-Cohen found was that women who were extremely concerned about the procedure (the expense, anesthetic, pain, success) were three times less likely to get pregnant, and eleven times less likely to carry a pregnancy through to term if they succeeded in getting pregnant. “Those are big, important results,” says Dr. Klonoff-Cohen.
No Stress Effect for IVF?
While Dr. Klonoff-Cohen’s results are convincing, this year a new Swedish study about stress and IVF, published in the journal Human Reproduction, came to a different conclusion: There is no relationship between stress levels and IVF success.
The Swedish scientists surveyed stress levels among 166 women undergoing IVF treatment for the first time. They assessed the women’s stress levels one month prior to starting IVF, and then one week before egg retrieval. They then compared the results of all the women. They found no difference in pregnancy rates whether a woman reported a higher or lower level of anxiety.
While these results are certainly reassuring, experts say the verdict is still out on just what stress’s effect on IVF truly is. “One of the problems we have is that it’s difficult to measure the impact of stress with the tools we have,” says Robert Schenken, M.D., president of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine. “Everyone undergoing IVF and other infertility procedures has a certain level of stress; it’s unavoidable. But when that stress disrupts our patients’ daily lives, we strongly recommend that they get counseling.”