Magazine article Newsweek International

A New Fertility Factor; Stress Is Just One of Many Obstacles to Pregnancy, but It's One You Can Control

Magazine article Newsweek International

A New Fertility Factor; Stress Is Just One of Many Obstacles to Pregnancy, but It's One You Can Control

Article excerpt

Byline: Alice D. Domar, PH.D. (Adapted from "6 Steps to Increased Fertility" by Robert L. Barbieri, M.D.; Alice D. Domar, Ph.D., and Kevin R. Loughlin, M.D. (Fireside. 2001). For more information about mind-body techniques and fertility go to health.harvard.edu/NEWSWEEK.)

Melissa was 33 when I met her, and she'd been trying to get pregnant for more than two years. Fertility tests had found nothing wrong with her or her husband. Yet all she had gained from two cycles of injected fertility medication was some extra weight. And though she was running 20 miles a week to reduce stress, the experience had left her feeling overwhelmed and isolated. Melissa was crying almost every day when she joined the 10-week mind-body program I oversee in Boston, but she soon realized that she was neither helpless nor alone. Supported by peers and counselors, she dialed back on her running regimen (excessive exercise can hamper fertility), gave up caffeine and alcohol and started practicing relaxation techniques. After five weeks she resumed fertility-drug injections and conceived on her next cycle. Her daughter arrived nine happy months later.

There are many myths about becoming pregnant. In truth, deciding to adopt a child doesn't boost the odds of conception. Nor does taking a vacation, having a glass of wine before sex or trying an unusual new position. But frustrated couples shouldn't assume that mind-body medicine is irrelevant to their quest for pregnancy. Studies are now confirming what Melissa's experience implies. Distress can hamper fertility--and relieving distress can help improve your chances of conceiving. Though practices like meditation and yoga certainly can't guarantee pregnancy, they have now established their place along with high-tech medicines and procedures.

What do we really know about fertility and the mind? For starters, we know that infertility is stressful. Women who have difficulty conceiving suffer as much anxiety and depression as women with heart disease or cancer. A recent study found that 40 percent of them were anxious or depressed. This shouldn't be surprising. Procreation is one of the strongest instincts in the animal kingdom. Males will die fighting for a chance to mate, and females will die to protect their young. Moreover, most people assume they are fertile. When you've spent your adult life taking precautions to avoid pregnancy, it's a shock to discover that you can't make it happen at will. Treatment can add to the anguish. …

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