IVF, Stress & the Mind Body Experience

There is a large group of men and women in the world who are unable to conceive on their own. Fortunately, we live in a world where science and health can come together to help an individual have a baby. As an integrative health and wellness coach, my goal is to educate, advocate and support men and women through their fertility journey. Below, are some keys things to consider before beginning the IVF journey and research on how the IVF process can impact your mind and body.

What is In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)?

IVF is the process by which a woman’s eggs are removed from her ovaries and are injected with sperm in a laboratory. Fertilization of the egg takes place in the laboratory, and is later implanted back into the woman who will carry the growing fetus if the treatment is successful. Before this process can begin, a woman undergoes a series of hormone injections and fertility medication(s) to help produce viable eggs. Once the egg is fertilized it can be implanted by using a thin catheter through the cervix and into the uterus.

IVF Related Stressors

The risk of negative pregnancy outcome is greater in women with a history of pregnancy complication, and the risks are still present in IVF pregnancies.
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is psychologically and emotionally stressful procedure, as such, women may experience stress related anxiety before, during and/or after the IVF treatment. The constant source of stress may be caused by the fear of not getting pregnant, the high cost of IVF, daily injections, required procedures, and the possibility of failure at any stage. In addition to the physical stress, the psychological stressors present may impact the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis, the sympathetic nervous system, and the major “fight or flight” stress hormones which affect our heart rate variability.

What is Heart Rate Variability?

According to the American Heart Association, heart rate and rhythm are largely under the control of the autonomic nervous system. Heart rate variability (HRV) refers to the beat-to-beat alterations in heart rate and fluctuates with respiration. Thoughts, emotions, and external experiences are intertwined with the rhythm of the heart and our breathing. Constant acute stress, aging, physical inactivity can lower HRV.

Stress Hormones & Your Heart Rate: Why Should You Care?

Norepinephrine and Heart Rate:

Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter and hormone that becomes elevated during stressful events. Known for its support in the fight-or-flight response, this hormone directly increasing heart rate, triggers the release of glucose from energy stores, and can result in a drop in heart rate. Norepinephrine also plays a role in the local regulation of ovarian function which can affect IVF outcomes.

Epinephrine and Heart Rate:

The roles of epinephrine and norepinephrine are very similar, However, epinephrine constricts blood vessels but dilates the blood vessels in the skeletal muscles and the liver. It causes the contraction of the heart, which increases the blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood output from the heart. Epinephrine is often associated with “fight or flight” response because it is released during stressful events.

Cortisol and Heart Rate

Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands. Cortisol can suppress the immune system, increase blood pressure, heart rate and breathing. Cortisol is used in the body to help us wake up after sleeping. It is considered to be the main hormone in the “flight or fight” response, and too much of this hormone can disrupt reproduction, impact the immune system, and cause weight gain.

What Does The Research Say? 

There have been countless of studies on fertility and IVF. More recently, there has been an increase in the desire to learn more on whether our fertility is affected by stress. The truth is that according to the research, high levels of stress hormones does reduce the effectiveness of fertility treatments and can even impact the quality of embryos. However, there is also research that points to the fact that a certain amount of stress is good for the body, and can even support fertility. This is what we call “performance stress,” which basically means that we can often perform better when under a bit of stress.

This leads me to my final thoughts…

Stress Perception:

One thing to consider before undergoing your fertility treatment is

“How do you manage your stress?”

Begin by asking yourself what “self-care” means to you, and by thinking about how self-care can support your fertility journey. By taking a step back in this process and thinking about how we perceive our stress, manage our stress and let go of some of that stress, we might be able to increase our chances of a successful fertility treatment,  and create a greater awareness in our bodies of how our “stress habits” play a role in our lives.