Can Treating Depression Improve your Fertility?
ANSWER: Research studies have documented the correlation between stress and infertility since the 1980s. The usefulness of such information has lagged because the focus has been on vague definitions of anxiety, rather than symptoms of depression. Recently, however, a refined look at depressive symptoms and their impact on biology has been enlightening, offering new hope and a mind/body approach that has proved to be a heartening success for some women.
Consider these findings:
The research does not stop there. Another study (Fertility Sterility, 1998, vol. 69) suggests that because mind/body programs are effective for reducing negative emotions that may impair IVF success, patients should be offered such a program in conjunction with IVF.
What is the mind/body connection between depression and fertility? Stress brought on by anxiety and/or depression can alter immune function. We have all heard about how the effects of depression can lower our immunity, making us more vulnerable to colds and other viruses during emotionally stressful periods. It is not such a stretch to discover that a suppressed immune system can adversely affect our ability to conceive.
Reproduction is one of our most delicately balanced biological systems. Psychological stress can affect our ability to get pregnant on multiple levels, including inhibition of the hypothalamus that helps regulate hormonal levels, or over activation of the hypothalamus which can change the pituitary and adrenal responses. Since the pituitary regulates both how much of a hormone is made and how much is released in the body, its alteration can have dramatic effects on the hormonal balance necessary for ovulation, fertilization, tubal functioning or even successful implantation of the egg once it reaches the womb.
Infertility causes depression, but what about prevention? The bad news is that even when women have not been depressed previously, depression often occurs by the second to third year of infertility and does not return to normal levels until six years later. The good news is that researchers have recently become proactive in studying the effects of treatment for non depressed women BEFORE they get depressed.
A new study reported in Reproductive Endocrinology (April 2000, vol. 73, issue 4), treated women who were in their second year of infertility and not yet depressed. The women who received group psychological interventions to stem the tide of depression caused by infertility, had significantly increased viable pregnancies compared to those who did not receive preventative treatment for depression.
What can you do to increase your chances of getting pregnant?
The following activities were part of the treatment program that the women in the prevention study received. Consider these as possible guidelines for a mind/body approach to help you conceive whether or not you suffer depression currently:
Do not delay! Seeking treatment may not only help you conceive, but may prevent an even greater spiral of depression that can result from protracted infertility. Treating your depression now may help stem a vicious cycle.
Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.
Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.
Copyright 1996-2003. Gayle Peterson All rights reserved.