Stress and IVF Does it Affect Conception Rates?

As a Holistic Therapist who specialises in Fertility and Pre-Conceptual care, I read this article which was in the Autumn 2011 issue of Embody – The magazine of the Complementary Therapists Association (CThA)  and found it very interesting, so I thought I would share it with you as there is a lot of controversy about stress and IVF and whether it affects conception rates.


There is no doubt that undergoing infertility treatment is stressful, with high rates of anxiety and depression reported by many patients.

Mind/Body therapies designed to help women reduce stress earlier in the treatment process result in higher pregnancy rates, but little is known specifically about the impact of these therapies on women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF)

A new study published in Fertility and Sterility shows that women who participate in a mind/body program for stress reduction while undergoing IVF treatment, have a significantly higher pregnancy rate than those who do not (52% versus 20%).

“The intersection of stress and fertility is a controversial one, but we do know that stress can reduce the probability of conception,” said principal investigator Alice Domar, Ph.D OB/GYN, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre and Executive Director of the Domar Centre for Mind/Body Health at Boston IVF.

“And that’s when we saw the significant increase in pregnancy rates”

In 1987, Domar introduced the Mind/Body Program for Infertility at the BIDMC main campus in Boston, later moving it to Boston IVF in Waltham in 2002.  The goal of the program is to help couples learn effective relaxation and stress management strategies while attempting to conceive.

The ten-week stress management program focuses on “cognitive behaviour therapy, relaxation training, negative health behaviour modification and social supports components”.

To study the effects of the Mind/Body Program on IVF pregnancies outcomes, Domar’s team approached women who were about to begin treatment at Boston IVF and who met the study criteria: 40 years or under with normal hormonal levels.  None of the participants had previously participated in a mind/body group.

Participants were randomized into a study group that entered the Mind/Body Program for infertility or a control group who received no mind/body intervention.  All patients underwent IVF treatment.

Domar tracked the groups through two IVF cycles, in the first cycle, there was no difference in conception rates between the study group and the control group.

In the second cycle, the majority of the patients in the study group had at least five sessions under their belts.  “By that point, they had acquired some real-life skills to deal with their stress”, said Domar. “And that’s when we saw the significant increase in pregnancy rates”.

Domar found that 52% of the women participating in the Mind/Body Program for Infertility became pregnant compared with 20% of the control group participants a statistically significant difference. “The study supports the theory that psychological distress may be an important detriment to IVF outcome,” the authors write.  “We worked with small group, about a 100 women in total, so we’ll need to continue with a larger group of patients to see if the results bear out,” said Domar.  “But there is a strong indication that stress levels and IVF outcomes are linked and that intervening with mind/body therapies can help.”

The study was funded through a grant by Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc.

Q: What do you think of the article?
Q: Do you think stress can affect pregnancy rates?

If you are going through or about the start IVF treatment then give me a call so that we can discuss how using Massage or Reflexology therapy can help lower your stress levels, and support you through your IVF journey.

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