At the start of the New Year, you may have already committed to a healthier lifestyle to help bolster your chances of becoming a parent. Reducing stress should be on the list, so it’s worth considering one very popular, evidence-based method for stress reduction: yoga.
Keeping stress at bay is important for couples trying to get pregnant. While the impact of stress on infertility is not well understood, the consequences do affect the probability of getting pregnant. Stress can cause poor sleep, unhealthy eating and weight gain, smoking and drinking – all known to have a negative impact on fertility. As RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association points out “While stress does not cause infertility, infertility most definitely causes stress.”
According to the New York Times, so-called “fertility yoga” designed to “emphasize breath, relaxation, and opening the muscles around the hips and pelvis” emerged as a trend in 2011. It became popular with yoga studios across the country offering classes focused on those trying to get pregnant. Some fertility centers also provided yoga classes as part of their mind-body health approach and to meet patient demand.
“Yoga is a “great component for women trying to get pregnant, especially if a woman is doing IVF,” suggests long-time advocate and psychologist Dr. Alice Domar, Executive Director of the Domar Centers for Mind-Body Health and a member of Boston IVF. She believes there are many benefits to yoga beyond relaxation. For example, yoga classes – especially those aimed at women dealing with infertility – may become a source of social support. Women come to class early and find talking to one another reminds them they are not alone. This may be especially important for those who have not joined a formal support group.
Dr. Domar – who has conducted extensive research on mind-body health and experienced infertility – found that “some women are loath to give up their daily anxiety-relieving run during infertility treatments, or are freaked out about gaining weight on fertility drugs.” She describes yoga as her “bargaining chip” telling patients they can do hatha yoga to stay fit and toned, and give up running. Women doing yoga describe how they found it quieted the mind, relieving them from constant fertility-related worries.
Stress reduction through yoga – or other means – can also be important for making the best decisions on infertility treatment. Research shows that stress interferes with making rational decisions and patients are often required to research, explore, and think clearly about all their options. Taking yoga classes can also help with the stress of undergoing the treatment procedures selected.
So, does yoga actually improve your chances of getting pregnant? Some believe that “specific poses can help promote baby-making by increasing blood flow to your pelvis, stimulating hormone-producing glands, and releasing muscle tension.”
Most fertility specialists emphasize that taking yoga does not mean you will get pregnant but is worth trying. Two small studies showing a positive effect were presented at the most recent American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) annual conference in November. In New Delhi, one team examined the impact of yoga on pregnancy rates for women who had already experienced one unsuccessful IVF treatment. Over 100 women undergoing frozen embryo transfers were randomly assigned into either a no yoga group or a group that did 3 months of yoga sessions. After the transfer of embryos, 63% of the women in the yoga group achieved pregnancy as compared with 43% in the non-yoga group.
According to Dr. Richard J. Paulson, President of ASRM “We know infertility patients suffer from very high stress levels. These studies show that yoga represents a promising therapy for reducing patient stress during infertility treatment and even potentially improve outcome of such treatment.”
For now, Dr. Kevin Doody, an OB-GYN in Dallas suggests that if a patient came to him and mentioned these studies, he’d definitely recommend trying yoga but would not feel comfortable stating it could improve their chances of becoming pregnant.
Coping with infertility is a challenge as is keeping up with all the latest information about what can help or harm your chances of becoming pregnant. With so many people eager for information on what will help, it is crucial that advice be supported by evidence, so it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor.
Years ago, when Dr. Domar was an early advocate for yoga to help those trying to get pregnant, she describes being dismissed as being part of the “just relax and you’ll get pregnant school.” Today, we have research that confirms stress may affect the chances of getting pregnant and that yoga reduces stress. It may not be a straight line but deep breathing and relaxing can always help and couldn’t hurt – especially when you’re facing a major life stressor like infertility. Namaste.