We know intuitively that stress impacts on our health and has a negative effect on our fertility. Research has confirmed a link between high stress and poor conception outcomes, both when trying to conceive naturally and with IVF.
Evidence also suggests that daily meditation, relaxation and creative visualisation will improve your reproductive health, your general health and feeling of wellbeing; as well as your chances of a positive pregnancy.
In response to this research, these enjoyable Be Fertile guided relaxations and visualisations have been created for nurture and support during each stage of your menstrual or IVF cycle:
They have been so well liked, that we have added guided relaxations for:
There is plenty of evidence to support the use of meditation to improve health, lift mood and manage stress, so simply listen daily (relaxation and visualisation has a cumulative beneficial effect) to help calm your stress response, relax your body and mind and optimise your fertility. You will feel more rested and calm, receptive, trusting and confident.
All you need to do is allow some time to lie down, turn on your audio player, listen and soak up the words and imagery.
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Continue reading to find out more about meditation:
More and more scientific evidence is emerging to confirm that meditation, relaxation, creative visualisation – will improve your reproductive health, your general health and feeling of wellbeing.
What is the physiological impact of stress on the reproductive system?
The body does not differentiate between physical stress such as frequent running, working long hours, a traumatic event or even a past event that we worry about and run over and over in our mind. Our fight or flight response is switched on by our feelings of being overwhelmed, irritated, frustrated, anxious or constantly ruminating about negative thoughts.
It is known that a physical or emotional stress increases stress hormones such as cortisol which in turns inhibits the body’s main sex hormone, Gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH). The impact of this is to suppress sperm development and count, ovulation and it may affect our sexual activity.
High stress hormones can be associated with pregnancy failure outcomes. It can cause women to miss menstrual cycles or cause menstrual cycle irregularities or even a cessation of the menstrual cycle altogether.
Stress can also impair circulation to the uterus and ovaries reducing blood flow and nutrients interfering with egg development and implantation. High stress hormones can cause micro spasming of the uterus which can also hamper implantation.
And hearing that probably makes us feel more stressed!
What is the physiological benefit for our reproductive system when we reduce stress levels?
We know that relaxation assists our immune function, circulation and reduces stress hormones allowing optimal functioning of our reproductive hormones.
This means that our reproductive function is improved by better circulation to the womb, optimal progesterone (the pregnancy hormone) and a balanced immune function to assist implantation.
Reducing the stress response can have many positive effects on your conception:
- essential for your hormonal balance and regulating your menstrual cycle
- improving progesterone levels
- increasing blood flow to the uterus and ovaries supporting your egg development and implantation
- relaxation can reduce high day 2/3 Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) levels allowing a better response to IVF
Switch on your ‘relaxation response’ by relaxation techniques
The mind-body connection can be a key to some people unlocking their fertility. By switching on the ‘relaxation response’ and switching off the ‘fight or flight’ response we are allowing the body to be more receptive to conception. Pregnancy is a state of relaxation when the message from the brain is saying everything is ‘safe’ in our world. By relaxing and using a guided relaxation you are ‘putting your foot on the brake pedal’ of your over activated nervous system and switching on the ‘relaxation response’.
You are being proactive in reducing stress which allows the body to function optimally and restore wellbeing. Switching on your relaxation response on a daily basis is like taking a short holiday every day.
Research into stress and fertility
There is a growing body of research about stress and it’s role in fertility. It is a complex area with many variables and the impact of stress on egg development, quality and embryo development is not fully understood. There are conflicting studies because of the complexity of reasons for infertility and because our stress responses vary, but those of us who have working in infertility have little doubt about the association between stress and infertility. What we do know is that it makes sense that reducing stress will help some couples to successfully conceive and the longer the infertility, the more likely that stress will be a compounding factor.
Relaxation and conception research
- A study of 184 women who had been try to conceive for 1 to 2 years randomised participants into a 10-session mind-body cognitive behaviour stress reduction group , a standard support group or a control. It was found that those in the mind-body treatment group had a 42% spontaneous conception compared to only 11-20% in the support and control groups.
- “Impact of group psychological interventions on pregnancy rates in infertile women”, Domar, AD, Clapp, D et al (Fertility and Sterility, 2000).
- A study in the UK with 274 women attempting to conceive took saliva samples on day 6 of each cycle for six months and found that higher levels of stress hormones predicted a reduction in conception during that cycle.
- “Stress reduces conception probabilities across the fertile window: evidence in support of relaxation”, Buck, GM, Lum, KJ et al (Fertility and Sterility, 2011)
Scientists from the University of California, Berkeley found evidence to show how stress may affect the reproductive system: “We know that stress affects the top-tier reproductive hormone, GnRH, but we show, in fact, that stress also affects another high-level hormone, GnIH, to cause reproductive dysfunction,” according to author of the study Elizabeth Kirby.
- “Stress increases putative gonadotropin inhibitory hormone and decreases luteinizing hormone in male rats”, Kirby, ED, Geraghty, A et al (National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 2009).
When activated by stress, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis exerts an inhibitory effect on the female reproductive system which means a reduction in ovarian estrogen and progestone secretion. In severe cases stress can cause “hypothalamic” amenorrhea which means a stopping of the menstrual cycle.
- “Stress and the female reproductive system”, Kalantaridou SN, Makrigiannakis A, et al (Journal of Reproductive Immunology, 2004)
If you’re more stressed around your fertile window when you’re ovulating, then you are around 40-percent less likely to conceive that month. The scientific report suggested that the medical profession and women wanting to conceive need to realise that emotional health and wellbeing is just as important as other well accepted risk factors like smoking, being overweight or drinking alcohol when trying to conceive.
- “The impact of periconceptional maternal stress on fecundability." Annals of Epidemiology, 2016; DOI:10. 1016/j.annepidem.2016.07.2015
Studies on stress and IVF outcomes
(Larger, well designed studies are needed in this area but there are studies and news stories showing a link)
A study of 148 women, reported in the leading journal Fertility & Sterility, found that the women who were moderately stressed but who learnt stress-reduction skills (a 10 session mind body program) were significantly more likely to conceive (100% of the mind body group conceived) when undergoing IVF.
- “The relationship between stress and IVF outcome”, Domar, AD, Blackman, KL et al ( Fertility and Sterility, 2010).
A study in Israel found benefit by using hypnosis during embryo transfer. There were 98 women in the study and by reducing the acute stress levels at the actual transfer time the implantation rate doubled (14.4% in the control cycles and 28% among the hypnosis group) and clinical pregnancy rates improved.
- “Impact of hypnosis during embryo transfer on the outcome of in vitro fertilization-embryo transfer: a case-control study”, Levitas, E, Parmet, A et al (Fertility and Sterility, 2009)
An IVF centre set up in Barbados to assist patients in a stress-reduced environment believe that the better than expected success rates in couples with a two or more failed IVF attempts is partly due to the patients being in a ‘holiday’ environment away from work and home everyday stressors (2009).