• Christina Iaboni

Managing Stress During Fertility Treatment

Infertility treatment is something that is often not talked about but is a lot more common that you might think and it can take a toll on physical and mental health. Did you know that 1 in 6 Canadian couples experience infertility? This number has increased significantly since the 1980’s (1).

Infertility treatment is time intensive, expensive, and it can put stress on a couple’s relationship. Medications can also have side effects and cause hormonal changes that create additional stress that can lead to emotional fluctuations that you may not be accustomed to. Caring for our mental health comes in many different forms, but this is one case where managing our mental health can be very important during a specific period of time. Because infertility treatment is becoming more and more common and going through treatment can be stressful, we wanted to take a deeper look at some of the ways we can manage stress and take care of both our physical and mental health during this time.

Proper Nutrition is Key When it comes to nutrition, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to fertility. “All patients are encouraged to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet,” says Sarah Farlow, Clinic Nurse at CHARM Fertility. “But depending on a woman’s specific diagnosis, they may be advised to avoid particular foods. Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may benefit from avoiding foods high in simple sugars. Or some women may be advised to eat MORE of a specific type of food or nutrient. For example, a woman who has overstimulated ovaries due to fertility medications may benefit from increasing their protein intake for a short period of time until the overstimulation resolves.” In short, there are many ways that nutrition can help support fertility treatment, both in terms of addressing long-term diagnoses or short-term nutrition challenges. Book an appointment with a Registered Dietitian to help get nutrition advice that is tailored to your specific needs.

One nutrition recommendation from Health Canada that applies to everyone when trying to conceive is to reduce the amount of alcohol you are consuming(1). This can help increase your chances of getting pregnant and eliminating alcohol once you are pregnant is always recommended, so there’s no harm in forming this habit a little early.

Staying Connected

Fertility treatment can sometimes feel isolating. Infertility is not something that everyone is comfortable talking about or sharing with friends and family. Having at least one friend or coworker to talk to can definitely help, but if that’s not possible, staff at fertility clinics are also there for support. Most fertility clinics also have counselors available on site who are there for patients who need it. Many clinics require a minimum of one counseling session for more intensive fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization treatment (IVF). Aside from counselors, nurses, administrative assistants and other staff are also there for support. “I make an effort to ask my patients how they are doing- not just physically but also emotionally,” says Farlow. “A lot of patients also find it helpful to join an online community or a fertility support group on Facebook.” Whichever method works best for you, try and stay connected to a person or group who you can vent to and share your experiences with. Having someone to talk to can make all the difference.

If you are going through treatment with a partner, try to make time to do activities together and take a break from talking about treatments. The stress of treatment can cause tension in any relationship, so making time to do fun things and to simply enjoy each other’s company can be a huge help during this time.

Manage Stress, Your Way

Everyone deals with stress in their own, unique way. Whatever form of stress management you choose, make sure it’s one that you feel motivated to stick with because when times get tough, it’s that much harder to stick to a healthy habit. There’s plenty of options to choose from depending on your preferences and your lifestyle. “We encourage exercise and meditation for patients, which seem to really help manage stress,” says Farlow. “Alternative therapies such as massage and acupuncture can also be very helpful!” Regular exercise can also help to increase your chances of getting pregnant, so this method of stress management can be extra helpful (1). Remember, it takes a while for a healthy habit to stick so don’t get discouraged if starting something new is challenging at first. You will see the benefits in the long run.

Leverage Fertility Financial Supports

If expensive fertility treatments are prescribed to you, or you end up in treatment for longer than you had hoped, the prices can start to look scary. But there is some good news! Ontario recently decided to cover one cycle of IVF per lifetime for couples who qualify which can be a huge financial help if that is the method of treatment that is likely to work best for you. Inquiring whether your insurance plan covers fertility medications can also save you big time in medication costs. “Many drug companies also have ‘compassionate programs’ that offer medications at a discounted price,” Farlow says. Finally, there are programs such as Medicard, which provide financial loans for individuals or couples going through costly medical treatment. Inquiring about any of these can help take some of the financial burden off your shoulders. Don’t be afraid to ask your fertility clinic what other options are available through them in case they offer any additional financial assistance or discount programs.

Experiencing infertility can be a stressful experience to say the least. However, hopefully some of these strategies can also help to support you on your journey. Even if you are not going through fertility treatment, many of these strategies can still be used in stressful times. We all experience stress at some point, so starting a new, healthy habit can help us to stay resilient when things get challenging. Fertility treatments can become all-consuming, but when a future baby becomes your main focus, don’t forget to look after yourself as well!

Contributed by Madison Darragh, RD2BE

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