A Problem Shared: Dealing With The Stress of Infertility

3 Jul, 2018

by Rachel Steward, Acupuncturist

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Are you undergoing fertility treatment and feeling the stress?  You are not alone!

After working with women undergoing fertility treatment for over seventeen years I thought I was well aware of how stressful it can be.  Every day I talk about, and treat, stress with my patients.  However, I recently came across some research which shocked me:

A group of women undergoing IVF who took part in a behavioural study reported similar psychological stress to people with cancer (1).

Let that sink in for a moment.

What would the similarities be?

Having a problem – that may or may not respond to treatment;

Having a problem – that other people don’t fully understand unless they have been through it themselves;

Having a problem – that might not be easily shared with people in your life e.g. colleagues or sometimes even family; and

Having a problem – that is always there, in the back of your mind, when you are trying to get on with everyday life – or – sleep at night.

Research shows that the stress of IVF falls into three broad categories – social, financial and emotional.

Social stresses include stigmatisation, decreased self-esteem and unmet reproductive potential.  Women also report low levels of support because of a lack of understanding about what IVF entails (2).

The financial stress of fertility treatment is always there and often limits how much treatment people are able to seek – or – curtails other goals.  Unfortunately it has also been shown to reduce positive outcomes (3).

Perhaps the emotional stress is the worst though – one patient of mine described the two week wait, from her embryo transfer until her blood test, as “terrifying”.  Others talk about the lack of control and the sense of failure.  One research study found the emotional impact of IVF “more strenuous” than the physical impact (4) and in many cases, stress is enough to discontinue treatment.  In a survey of the reasons people stop IVF 35% cited emotional reasons (5).

So what can be done to address this?

Acupuncture is a therapy that gives immediate relief.  Every day patients emerge from their sessions feeling noticeably better than when they came in.  Many people say that their weekly treatment is a time when they can relax and recharge – a circuit breaker to the stress cycle.

The beauty of acupuncture is that each treatment is individually tailored and a single treatment can include points to optimise the response to IVF (and other fertility) treatment, address any symptoms such as pain, swelling or insomnia and, importantly, relax the nervous system.

A 2011 study conducted in Australia found that:

“Women described the experience and impact of acupuncture as positive relating to a sense of relaxation and time out, the engagement with the practitioner and an intervention that had very few negative side-effects.  Changes were also perceived after treatment with women describing a physical and psychological sense of relaxation and calmness and a changed perspective in relation to coping” (6).


Support matters – physically and emotionally – don’t miss out on this vital aspect of your treatment.



1.Skiadas CC, Terry K, Pari MD, Geoghegan A, Lubetsky L, Levy S, et al.  Does emotional support during the luteal phase decrease the stress of in vitro fertilisation?  Fertility and Sterility, 2011; 96 (6):1467-72.

2. Chang R, Chung PH, Rozenwaks Z.  Role of acupuncture in the treatment of female infertility.  Fertility and Sterility, 2002: 78(6):1149-53.

  • and –

Lyttleton, J.  Treatment of Fertility with Chinese Medicine.  China: Churchill Livingstone; 2004.

3. Klonoff-Cohen H, Natarajan, L.  The conerns during assisted reproductive technologies (CART) scale and pregnancy outcomes.  Fertility and Sterility, 2004:81(4):982-8.

4. Bouwmans CAM, Linsten BAME, Al M, Verhaak CM, Eijkemans RJC, Habbema JDF, et al.  Absence from work and emotional stress in women undergoing IVF or ICSI: An analysis of IVF-related absence from work in women and the contribution of general and emotional factors.  Acta Obstet Gynecol. Scand. 2008;87(11):1169-75.

5.Verhaak CM, Smeenk JMJ, Evers AWM, Kremer JAM, Kraaimaar FW, Braat DDM.  Women’s emotional adjustment to IVF: a systematic review of 25 years of research.  Hum Reprod. Update January/February 2007;13(1):27-36.

6. Caroline A. Smith, PhD et al.  The Effect of Acupuncture on Psychosocial Outcomes for Women Experiencing Infertility: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial, The journal of alternative and complementary medicine, Volume 17, Number 10, 2011, pp. 923–930.