For many, the dream of having a baby can become a torturous nightmare of tests, treatments and frequent disappointments. Fortunately, for women struggling to conceive, their anxiety (whether preexisting or triggered by the infertility itself), does not seem to affect their likelihood of becoming pregnant.

Studies on Anxiety and Fertility

In a study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, scientists found no difference in the success rate of in vitro fertilization (IVF) among anxious or depressed women as among their unstressed counterparts.

As University of California, San Francisco psychologist and lead doctor in the study, Lauri A. Pasch, Ph.D., noted, "I think we can safely say to women, 'Stop worrying about being worried.'"

The findings also suggested, however, that when IVF treatment is unsuccessful, women may suffer emotionally.

What is IVF?

IVF is a common fertility procedure that entails fertilizing an egg with a sperm in a laboratory test-tube. It is indicated in situations where a woman's Fallopian tubes are comprised or a man's sperm quality is inferior. An expensive procedure, it is attempted only after less expensive options have been unsuccessful.

The process entails removing multiple eggs at one time from a woman whose ovulation cycle has been hyper-stimulated via medications. Combined with sperm in a lab fluid, eggs that become fertilized and deemed most viable are then transferred back into the patient's uterus. The experience can be trying, as hope and anticipation mix with longing and fear of failure.

Fortunately, as Pasch's study revealed, women can relieve themselves of the pressure to be perfect 'stress-free' patients. Those with an unsuccessful outcome should not feel guilty that their stress was in any way related;according to the study, it had nothing to do with it.

Study Details and Findings

Pasch's study examined the results of interviews and questionnaires of 202 women undergoing their first IVF attempt. The patients, recruited from five California medical facilities, self-reported their levels of psychological distress before treatment and at four, ten and 18 months following the procedure.

In analyzing the results, researchers found that 60% of the 103 treated women who did not end up with a sustainable pregnancy exhibited signs consistent with an anxiety disorder. The data represented only a slight increase in symptoms from before they underwent the procedure. But those with successful results also showed significant levels of anxiety and depression. In fact, half of the "successful" women experienced clinical anxiety during their pregnancies.

Scientists concluded that psychological stress does not predict IVF treatment outcome. However, women with a failed IVF attempt had a higher risk of suffering from emotional disorders.

Researchers' Recomendations

Based on the study, Pasch and her colleagues urge better access and additional psychological programs for women dealing with infertility. Yet, they strongly feel that support should not be provided with the expectation that it will improve the likelihood of IVF success. Rather, the goal should be to help women feel better.

Since counseling services are usually only available at large fertility centers and not in most private practices, Pasch recommends seeking support from the American Fertility Association and Resolve: The National Infertility Association.

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