Mental and emotional health care should be a cornerstone of your pre-conception preparation plan.
Finding ways to maintain emotional equilibrium is essential for giving yourself your best chance of getting your baby. The body-mind is an integrated entity. Of specific relevance to those planning to have a baby, depression, anxiety and elevated emotional stress levels appear to significantly impact fertility, pregnancy and neonatal health.
According to research and clinical observation, women with poor mental health status seem to take longer to conceive. This may be a result of the emotional impact of fertility challenges, or from mental health struggles existing prior to attempts to have a baby. Regardless of cause, the findings of numerous studies suggest addressing psychological well-being may be critical for achieving healthy pregnancy and babies.
Many of my clients describe their fertility journey as an emotional roller coaster. In fact emotional management is often one of the first areas I will begin to address when we work together. Studies have found many women rate infertility has the most stressful event in their life. The severity of depression and anxiety reported, is in fact comparable to women dealing with cancer. Moreover, these levels increase the longer a woman has been struggling with fertility, often affecting her self-image, memory and concentration. A critical turning point seems to eventually be reached however, when women become more pragmatic about their fertility struggles and develop better coping strategies.
Women with unexplained or undiagnosed infertility appear to cope even less well than those with a specific diagnosis. When nothing obvious appears to be the cause of their fertility issues, women often feel incredibly frustrated. Many also become concerned that something has been overlooked during the diagnostic process. Often much of their time, emotional energy and financial resources are subsequently spent on an exhausting quest for answers.
Unfortunately, many people wrongly assume IVF will guarantee them their baby. But even women who know the statistics are devastated when their first IVF round doesn’t result in a viable pregnancy. However it does appear that women who are able to maintain good mental health do have better IVF success rates. In contrast, those who have more intense stress or depressive symptoms prior to starting their first IVF cycle appear to have poorer outcomes.
Pharmaceutical medications for depression and anxiety are not a great option for women trying to conceive. Concerns are still raised by researchers, regarding their impact on pregnancy and baby health. However untreated emotional distress also brings significant complications to not only conception, but also pregnancy and child health. Therefore for women suffering with severely compromised emotional well-being, careful weighing up of pros and cons needs to be considered.
Steps to help improve your emotional well-being
1.Re-write the script you are running in your mind.
For a start, you need to explore the beliefs and thoughts that have contributed to a deterioration in your emotional well-being. Externalise them by writing them all down. Every single one.
Then you need to challenge each of those thoughts. What evidence do you have to support them? It may well be that you have plenty of evidence, but that’s ok, just write all of that down too.
The next step is to start gathering evidence that counters the other evidence you just wrote down. For example, contrary to what a lot of women believe, AMH and FSH levels can improve. There are also many true stories about women who’ve got their babies despite being diagnosed with PCOS or endometriosis, or about women who weren’t menstruating or whose partners had a poor semen analysis.
Also ask yourself questions such as, does that time limit you have really need to be there? Is imposing pressure helping or disrupting your relationship with yourself or your partner? How long have you really been 100% committed to your pre-conception preparation?
Then start rewriting the script you run in your mind about your fertility journey.
2. Be honest about habits you have that disrupt good mental health.
If you’ve been struggling to have a baby, it’s highly likely your body-mind is sensitive to environmental influences, including dietary and lifestyle ones. Nourishing your body well is essential for mental and emotional well-being. That means eating only good quality food regularly throughout the day.
An often overlooked area is the necessity for good sleep. Poor sleep quality or insufficient sleep can significantly impact your entire body-mind function – including your reproductive processes. Do you have a good sleep routine and get at least 7 hours sleep? Do you have a wind down routine before bed that allows your mind to be calm and rest? Do you wake feeling rested?
Exercise is also important for mental health. Moving your body helps to move stuck energy that contributes to emotional stagnation. However when you are trying to conceive, exercise shouldn’t involve getting yourself into a sweaty, exhausted lather. Keep it light. I’ve got a great resource about this if you’d like more information.
Meditation, relaxation yoga, pilates or anything else that focuses your mind and uses breath as part of the practice will be helpful. Many of my clients love using guided relaxation programs. Follow this link for some of the fertility related guided meditations they love most.
3. Make a realistic fertility plan.
If your fertility journey has involved you stumbling from one thing to another, it’s time to stop. Take a deep breath. Calm your mind.
Now, take time to put a logical step by step plan in place. Writing will help you get everything out of your head so you can sort through your thoughts systematically. Having a structured and well informed plan helps reduce anxiety and also stops you making panicked, ad-hoc decisions that could be costing you more time.
- Identify what you do already know about your fertility. For example:
- my ovarian reserves are ok but not great
- I have endometriosis
- my FSH is considered to be good
- my partners sperm analysis is great etc
- Then ponder what you don’t know about your fertility. It maybe that you don’t know what you don’t know. Write that down too. For example:
- I’m not 100% sure I’m using a good pre-conception care diet.
- I’m wondering about my exercise routine (or lack of)?
- Are there are more tests I need to have done to check for any underlying issues affecting my fertility?
- Am I really ovulating when I think I am?
- Should I be drinking alcohol at all?
- Then start putting in place a plan to identify the missing pieces of information that could help you close that gap.
It’s really important to write this all down. Brainstorm with people and sources you trust. Then start creating a pre-conception preparation plan. At the very least, your plan should include a clear, time-lined course of action. Base it around 3 month blocks of time rather than monthly ones. Why? Because most diet and lifestyle changes you make will take this amount of time to begin to create changes to your reproductive health.
Follow this link if you’d like comprehensive information about how to put together a thorough pre-conception plan, using an integrated medicine approach.