Stress Reduction Improves Conception

New research shows promise for women undergoing certain infertility treatments—they're more likely to become pregnant if they take part in a simultaneous stress reduction program.

The finding, published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, raises new and controversial questions about the role that stress may play in infertility.

The issue is a delicate one because historically, doctors often laid the blame for a couple’s inability to conceive on psychological and emotional issues in one or both partners. But research shows that most infertility is the result of physical problems in a man’s or woman’s reproductive system, and psychological factors are rarely the primary cause.

A diagnosis of infertility can cause considerable stress and sadness, and patients often report high levels of depression and anxiety. To assess the effects of high levels of stress, researchers are studying whether stress may make the body a less hospitable place for a pregnancy and somehow interfere with the success of fertility treatments. 

To find out, researchers recruited 100 Boston women under 40 who were taking part in in-vitro fertilization. The women were randomized to a control group that received only the fertility treatment or a group that received fertility treatment as well as a 10-week stress management program that focused on cognitive behavioral therapy, relaxation training and social support.

Researchers tracked the groups through two I.V.F. cycles. In the first cycle, there were no differences in conception rates between the groups. Only about half of the women in the mind-body treatment group had begun the program, and those who had started had completed only a few sessions.

In the second cycle, most of the patients had attended at least five mind-body sessions. At that point, 52 percent of the women participating in the stress reduction program had become pregnant, compared with 20 percent in the control group.

Further reading:

The Secret of Success for MBSR