News |  4th Apr 2017

Infertility: When it is all in the mind article in 'Wiltshire View' Magazine


Once a couple decides to try for a baby, as the months pass, all too soon it can become all encompassing, even obsessive. If month after month it continues not to happen – she can experience feeling detached and isolated from the world, a profound sense of sadness, scared of ‘what this might mean’.

Infertility affects one in seven couples within the UK. The journey can be an emotional rollercoaster with an unpredictable end. Individuals involved can often feel helpless. This can negatively affect their relationship with their partner, withdrawing from the person who was previously their primary source of support, leaving both parties feeling isolated in their grief.

The feelings of helplessness, and sometimes irrational guilt or inadequacy, can be further exacerbated if, beyond medical investigations, the reasons for not being able to conceive are unexplained (no identified male or female cause) as in 25% of cases.

But few couples are aware that infertility can, in many cases, be exacerbated or even caused by psychological factors.

The mind has enormous power over the body, which is constantly influenced by our emotions, thoughts and beliefs. While # many factors are responsible for infertility, our mindset can affect the delicately- balanced hormonal system which, in turn, controls ovulation, spermatogenesis, implantation of a foetus and maintaining the pregnancy to term. So, by addressing these subconscious barriers, a wealth of clinical evidence shows we can increase our chances of natural conception, and IVF and other assisted fertility treatments’ success rates.

Stress can have a big effect on fertility. Stress hormones affect the hypothalamus, pituitary glands and reproductive organs. In women and men under stress, the reproductive hormone prolactin is over-produced. The hypothalamus stops secreting gonadotrophin releasing hormone, which in turn will affect the release of both the luteinising hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone. As these hormones play a part in stimulating ovulation and sperm production, fertility can be affected in both partners.

The neurochemical barrage associated with stress and the activation of the sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight”) can be as easily triggered by a threat to self-esteem or dignity, such as a woman’s perception of herself as “failing” to conceive, a fear of not being a good parent, as by an actual physical threat. A highly stressful job, unresolved guilt over a previous abortion or other traumatic incident, anxiety, depression, or even experience with numerous invasive infertility-related procedures, can have the same result. Stress activating subconscious blocks can be a causal factor in infertility whether there is an additional physiological cause or not.

With the release of “emergency” hormones throughout the body, the body is on alarm, and energy is directed toward the areas needed for actual “fight” or “flight” such as the arms and legs, and away from areas the brain considers less important. Unfortunately, the reproductive system is the most expendable. Nature is invested in us NOT conceiving at times of stress or perceived threat, as it is not the optimal time of survival for us or future offspring, when the body’s responses are needed elsewhere.

The more men have sex, or ejaculate in other ways, the more healthy sperm they will produce. But what happens to a man’s libido if he is depressed, or if sex become a chore, or he feels his partner is just treating him like ‘sperm donation’?  There is also growing evidence that female orgasm also aids fertility by helping sperm into the cervix.

Tips for increasing fertility

  • Talk to partner calmly and rationally so you can make decisions that are best for both of you
  • Reduce stress so enhancing chance of conceiving either naturally or with assisted reproductive methods, such as IVF
  • Identify any subconscious blocks to conceiving
  • Ensure you give focus to aspects of your life outside of fertility issues, even if you don’t always feel like it
  • Discover sexual intimacy as a pleasurable experience again for both of you, so that it doesn’t feel like a chore
  • Spend time with your partner, re-discover your life as a couple
  • Seek the right support to help you regain sense of control over your life. If pursuing fertility treatments, this will help you cope without feeling as if your life and body have been taken over
  • Look for ways of bringing regular practice of relaxation into your life; such as self-hypnosis, meditation, yoga.
  • While investigations and treatments are more often focussed on a woman, we must remember the emotional toll can be great for your male partner too.
  • Think about exercise and diet as conception requires a healthy response from the reproductive system.

Article written by Sharon Mustard, Psychotherapist in Salisbury

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