With any fertility problem, I know most women are willing to give anything a go. Stress is a known factor in fertility problems, and Belleruth Naparstek has come up with some easy tools to help.
You don’t need to be told about the stresses and strains involved in seeking fertility solutions. The steep ups and downs of hope and disappointment that can come with each cycle; the pain of attending a friend’s baby shower or even walking past a couple of moms wheeling strollers; enduring a snide remark from a mother-in-law who acts as if you’re deliberately withholding grandchildren from her; perhaps the strain of avoiding a conversation with your spouse for fear of diving into blame or guilt, and the disconnect that can cause.
The good news is, there are many quick and easy tools to help manage these intense stressors. And better yet, they may do more than simply help you cope (although that would be plenty good enough, if you ask me). They may even help get you pregnant.
A groundbreaking study by Alice Domar PhD and her colleagues at Boston IVF, published in the Journal of Fertility and Sterility, describes how women who participated in a 10-week, mind-body stress management program achieved higher pregnancy rates than a control group of counterparts who got a gift certificate to a spa.
The program, offered to 143 women under the age of 40 who were about to begin their first IVF cycle, consisted of relaxation training, guided imagery and various meditation techniques, as well as tips for modifying negative health behaviours. And, because the program took place in small groups, there was also the element of social support involved, too – no small matter.
The bottom line: results were the same for both groups after Cycle One – an average pregnancy rate of 43%. But after Cycle Two, a real difference emerged: the stress management group had a pregnancy rate of 52%, as compared to 20% in the spa-going controls.
So even though the study didn’t make clear what exactly made the difference – after all, it could have been all the stress management techniques; or merely the comfort of having them at hand, and the sense of control and mastery over stress they afforded; or from implementing better health behaviours around nutrition, exercise and sleep; or it could have been the positive, de-isolating impact of hanging out with other women facing similar challenges – any one of these factors could have made the difference, or any combination of them.
It will be years of study before we tease out what exactly resulted in what. For now, all we can do is hedge our bets and use as many tools and techniques as we can, without making ourselves crazy with trying so hard that we create yet another stressor!
So, here are some simple, stress management tools that are yours for the taking, if you want to give them a shot:
- Slow Breathing – this is simple and effective, and especially good for attending that baby shower or waiting for IVF results. It involves breathing into the belly slowly and deeply, usually to a count of 3 or 5, then breathing out as completely as possible. After a couple of minutes, the body is convinced that it’s relaxed, and, as if by magic, this persuades the mind.
- Repeating a Phrase – finding a simple word or phrase that brings comfort and strength from repeating it, over and over, is also surprisingly easy and effective. You might like “I am calm” or “I breathe in peace” or “I am strong and resourceful”. Hindus call this a “mantra” and Herb Benson calls it “The Relaxation Response”. Whatever you call it, it can make a substantial dent on stress.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation – this involves focusing on tensing and relaxing various muscle groups of your body, starting with your head, face and neck and working your way down to the tips of your toes. This takes a little more time – maybe 10 or 15 minutes – and it’s best done while lying down, but it can be very relaxing and grounding, especially when getting ready for sleep.
- Walking Meditation – this involves taking a walk out in nature and tuning into the feel of your muscles moving, your breath coming in and out of your body, and the sensory nourishment of taking in the sights, sounds, scents and feel of your surroundings. If you keep refocusing on these three areas of perception, you can become profoundly calm and uplifted
- Yoga or Tai Chi – these two forms of moving meditation, or practices like them, can be tremendously calming, because between the attention that’s required on the movements or stretches, and the accompanying breathing and balance that’s needed, you really do clear your mind and de-stress.
- Therapeutic Massage – letting a capable massotherapist gently knead and release the tension that’s locked into your muscle tissue can send a message of peace and calm all through your body, and convey a much needed message of self-appreciation and kindness toward yourself. If you haven’t tried it, you could be mightily surprised at the difference this can make.
- Guided Imagery – this is my specialty, and it’s as simple as pressing “play” and becoming immersed in soothing words and healing images, set to music, which puts you in a relaxed state naturally. There is guided imagery for general stress and relaxation, and others that target specific goals, such as restful sleep, weight loss, and, yes, even heightened fertility. Listen to an audio sample of fertility meditation.
So give one or more of these a try. It can’t hurt and it could help – either with coping better with all the inherent stresses involved in this journey; or, who knows? – maybe making it more likely you’ll be having that baby shower of your own.
By Belleruth Naparstek, LISW © 2015
 Domar AD1, Rooney KL, Wiegand B, Orav EJ, Alper MM, Berger BM, Nikolovski J. Impact of a group mind/body intervention on pregnancy rates in IVF patients.Fertil Steril. 2011 Jun;95(7):2269-73. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2011.03.046. Epub 2011 Apr 15. email@example.com