“All you need to do is relax!”
We all have heard this comment and know the frustration of wishing it were that easy!! But is there something to it after all… and how can we take advantage of it?
Stress plays many roles in the body, and not all are bad. For example, stress can help improve blood flow to the brain to help us think more clearly in times where the stakes are high. However, chronic stress has many adverse effects that we are probably all familiar with: insomnia, changes in appetite, irritability… the list goes on.
A women’s reproductive system is a highly developed and complicated system, but it is not immune to the effects of stress. The effects of stress are known, but the mechanism of how stress actually causes these changes is unclear. For example, a woman may miss a period after a particularly stressful life event. For some, it can even cause more long term menstrual irregularities.
In women trying to conceive stress can play an even larger role. While we can say that it is very unlikely that stress causes infertility, we do know that stress has an impact. Decreased pregnancy rates are associated with stress. That is, the more stress you experience you are a particular month, the less likely you are to get pregnant, although this is not a hard and fast rule because everyone tolerates stress at different levels. (1) Unfortunately, these results cannot be entirely explained, but there are a few known factors at play. Chemical changes in the body during stress can have an inhibitory function on the hormones that lead to egg development and ovulation. (2) This stress may also cause a change in libido or simply decrease the amount of time you have available for intercourse, thus reducing your chances for conception in a particular month.
For women undergoing any kind of fertility related treatment, the stress can take on a different role. Most, if not all, women with fertility difficulty will express an increase in stress stemming from this diagnosis. Stress can also arise from the treatments themselves. Medication side effects, scheduling appointments, pain from various procedures and the financial effects can also lead to this increase in stress. Studies done on women undergoing IVF show a reduction in egg production and overall pregnancy rates in those with high stress levels. Not to mention, stress makes one uncomfortable and it’s harder to cope with daily life and stay healthy under all that pressure!
Research has shown that there is a relationship between fertility and stress, but it isn’t as direct as many would believe. There are many factors to consider and these are different for every woman. However, despite the unknown mechanism of action, reducing stress seems to improve pregnancy rates in couples trying naturally and those using assisted reproductive technology. There are many ways to reduce your stress ranging from exercise and therapy to meditation and massage and talking with your partner.
We, here at Indiana Reproductive Acupuncture, see reducing stress as a large component of how we can help women trying to conceive. In addition to the stress relieving properties of the acupuncture itself, we understand the demands of fertility treatment and the stress that comes with the journey itself. Acupuncture causes the body to release natural endorphins to allow you to relax. Many times, patients feel relaxed during the treatment itself and feel the effects for a few days after the treatment.
In our experience, women getting acupuncture alongside any type of cycle (medicated, natural, IVF etc) find a reduction in the stress and side effects associated with that treatment, thus, improving their quality of life during treatment. We have found that, in women who have done cycles with and without acupuncture, the cycles with acupuncture are generally much more tolerable and pleasant. If the cycle itself is easier on the woman, it is more likely she will finish the cycle or continue treatment if that individual cycle is unsuccessful, hopefully eventually resulting in pregnancy. Additionally, research has shown a reduction in stress in women undergoing IVF and a possible connection to higher pregnancy rates. (3)
So as you can see, stress can be an important component in your fertility journey. We hope that by helping you to control your stress, in addition to the other benefits of acupuncture, your cycle will be more likely to result in a happy, healthy baby.