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A natural way to deal with the stress of infertility

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A natural way to deal with the stress of infertility

Feelings of stress and anxiety are commonplace amongst those experiencing infertility or delayed conception. Humans have evolved with the ‘fight or flight mechanism’ to deal with stressful situations. A natural state where the brain pumps adrenalin, the heart beats faster and because it is working harder, it needs more fuel, so we breathe more heavily then sweat and flush in order to cool down.

As a survival technique this is a very useful reaction, but someone under a great deal of emotional stress can trigger a ‘fight or flight’ response to an everyday situation and this can be very tough to handle.

Manifestations of such a reaction tend to fall into three categories. Physical such as irregular breathing, heart racing, shaking, ‘butterflies’ or feeling sick; behavioural such as avoiding situations, having a sudden urge to leave somewhere; or psychological which includes blurred thinking, low self-opinion, negative thoughts about a situation we fear and vulnerability.

Anxiety eats away at our confidence and makes things that were once easy for us to do, really difficult. Thoughts of “I’m not good enough, smart enough, thin enough” are manifestations of stress and anxiety that many of us can associate with.The methods that I find most useful to deal with stress and anxiety are Mindfulness, Breathing and Relaxation.

Mindfulness helps us to understand what the triggers of stress might be so that we can create coping mechanisms and stop a reaction manifesting. It involves noticing your feelings without trying to control them, giving you the chance to step back and calmly evaluate any unpleasant thoughts.

A technique in Mindfulness is breathing consciously, drawing your attention to every breath in order to slow down and calm yourself. Thinking about what you are doing as you are doing it: ‘living in the here and now’.

We can practice Mindfulness at any moment and those who do, say they see things from a different perspective, become less overwhelmed by negative thoughts and less judgmental of themselves and others. It can also help curb panic attacks, enable people petrified by public speaking and help manage other complex conditions like depression, addiction and OCD.

For the couples I meet who are under significant emotional pressure, Mindfulness gives them the opportunity to step back from their overwhelming thoughts and achieve a different perspective. By noticing how their thoughts impact on their behaviour, they can become ‘self as observer’. It allows them to act more within their value system and to be kinder to themselves.

By approaching life in a more mindful way, looking at things more closely and taking time to see moments and understand feelings from a different perspective, we can all lead a more positive path of self-acceptance. These small changes can have tremendous effect.

A few years ago a study looked at how mindfulness effects the brain. Studying Buddhist monks, who practice mindfulness on a daily basis, CAT scans showed that the monk’s frontal lobes were bigger than normal. The research suggested that mindfulness meditation practice affected their brains in a very positive way.

Other research has suggested that with mindfulness practice the brain becomes better at synchronised communication and more sophisticated, abstract thought and introspection. One study of people aged between 50-60 who practiced mindfulness mediation between 12-20 minutes a day showed that it might be able to slow down the ageing process by strengthening the hippo campus – the area of the brain responsible for memory and attention.

Relaxation is also a powerful tool to recuperate and allow life pressures to release their grip, but it requires a quite different approach to mindfulness. They are almost polar opposites. Where as Mindfulness involves becoming aware of both pleasant and unpleasant thoughts, allowing them to be as they are without trying to control them, relaxation involves consciously trying to eliminate unwanted feelings of physical stress and tension in the body.

When we practice relaxation techniques we slow down the systems in the body that speed up when we get anxious. Progressive Muscle Relaxation is when we focus attention on tensing and relaxing muscles from the feet, all the way up through the body to the neck and shoulders.

If you feel that Mindfulness meditation and breathing is something you would like to try, here is a short exercise that only takes a few minutes. It’s something that you can do on a daily basis to help you ‘drop anchor’ for a few moments.

Get comfortable in your chair, adjust your posture so that your back is straight and both of your feet are on the ground. Close your eyes, or stare into the space in front of you.

Turn your attention to how your body feels sitting in your chair. Become aware of the clothes that are touching your body, notice how that feels.

We are now going to do a quick body scan. If you notice any tension in your body, then concentrate on that area and let your mind relax it.

Push the balls of your feet into the ground to get a sense of what is tense and relaxed. Now bring your attention up to the upper part of your torso. Focus on your lung area and your chest. Fill your lungs up with air as you breathe in and out.

Rotate your shoulders and neck to let the tension disappear from your body.

Notice how your hands are resting in your lap. Bring your attention to your right hand.

Breathe in and take a longer breath out. Notice that you are concentrating on your breath, become aware of the quality of the air as you draw it in through your nose. How the air feels cool on your nostrils bringing that air all the way down in your lungs and down into your diaphragm.

And now breathe out a longer breath. Notice how your body has warmed the air. Exhale all the way out emptying your lungs to the last drop.

Do this again, breathing in noticing everything about this breath, how the throat feels as the air travels down into the lungs. How the lungs feel when they are full and then take a longer time to exhale, emptying the lungs completely.

Continue to breath and this time, shift your attention to notice the sounds around you. Become aware of the sounds in the room and try to hear two sounds that may be distant to you. Become aware that you are listening.

Now listen to sounds that are much closer to you. This might be your heart beating, it might be your breath as your lungs fill up. Now once again focus on your breath. Take five deep breaths in through the nose and out of the mouth and slowly come back into the room.

Open your eyes and reconnect with your surroundings. Notice two or three things around you.

You may want to have an energising stretch.

In this exercise we are becoming more aware of ourselves by observing our breaths and the sounds that surround us.

Jane is one of my patients who benefitted from this approach for her infertility. She contacted me after trying to conceive for 18 months – she had previously fallen pregnant easily with her first two children. Fast approaching 40 and told by her GP that there were no investigative options available to her, a friend suggested exploring alternative routes.
Secondary infertility accounts for 60 percent of infertility cases. Feelings of frustration and anxiety are enhanced when you are not falling pregnant, and you know you are not infertile. Friends and family will glibly ask when the next one is coming along and first children will grow old enough to ask why they don’t have a sibling. Many parents in this situation will suffer in silence, focusing attention on their precious only child, while harboring grief at the loss of another, sometimes for the rest of their lives.

Some might think that Jane was ‘greedy’ to want three children, but this precious third was the family she had always dreamed of. In Jane’s case, I suspected a cocktail of high levels of stress at work, anxiety over her infertility and pelvic adhesions from two previous caesarean sections were getting in the way of conception.

For four months I carried out de-stressing acupuncture treatments and advised breathing dynamics and visualization as a way to combat her stress at home and work. A good breathing technique helps to circulate oxygen around the body and into the reproductive organs. It also helps to focus the mind and cope with the stresses of the conception journey.

Visualization is very important at every stage of the cycle. During Jane’s visits I helped her to visualize what was happening in her body – the follicles growing, the eggs maturing, the womb lining thickening, the embryos implanting.

In the fifth month Jane fell pregnant.

The solution is not always this easy, but what this story does tell us, is how important it is to not suffer in silence and to seek help from a fertility professional as soon as you feel that you might be experiencing a problem.

Jacqueline Hurst is a senior accredited psychotherapist counsellor and acupuncturist specialising in fertility. www.fertility-support.co.uk

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Food & Drink

What You Need to Know About Tea and Your Fertility

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Cup of tea for fertility

Tea has a long, storied history. It has been used medicinally, as a part of ceremonies, and as a simple way to slow down and enjoy the day. As the second most consumed beverage in the world, there’s a pretty good chance a cuppa regularly graces your lips.

If you’re trying to conceive, you’ve no doubt heard conflicting information about whether or not you should continue sipping tea. Some say tea should be avoided altogether, others say it can actually play a key role in boosting your fertility. Who’s right?

Once and for all, I hope to answer the often asked question, “does tea help or harm my fertility?” Read on for the information you need to know about tea and your fertility.

What is tea?

Typically when we refer to tea, we’re talking about any beverage made by infusing water with any number of leaves, flowers, stems, seeds, or roots. But technically, only Camellia sinensis and beverages made from its leaves are true teas. All other botanical infusions are just that, infusions or if you’re feeling especially fancy, tisanes.

What does the research say about tea and conception?

Not surprisingly, the research literature is full of conflicting information.

A 2012 prospective study of over 3600 women not taking any fertility drugs or birth control found time to pregnancy was shorter for the women who drank two or more cups of tea a day, while soda increased the time it took for women to become pregnant. There’s a chance there were other lifestyle habits the tea drinkers had that improved their fertility[1].

In 1998 researchers set out to determine how different caffeine-containing drinks affect women’s fertility. They found women who reported drinking at least 1/2 cup of tea a day were more likely to become pregnant than other women in the cohort[2].

One study found coffee and tea (the study results clumped coffee and tea together) only negatively affected fertility rates of women who were also smokers [3].

Conversely, a 2015 study of women undergoing fertility treatment found women who drank tea had a lower of conceiving compared to women who didn’t. However, the information about the study subjects diet was collected prior to the initiation of fertility treatments. There’s no way of knowing whether the study participant started or stopped drinking tea during treatment[4].

Another study, published in 2004, suggested tea can negatively impact how long it takes to get pregnant, but only when cups of tea exceeded 6 cups per day. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to really determine tea’s true effect of tea on fertility since coffee and tea were lumped together, once again, in the analysis[5].

Overall the data suggests tea, in moderate amounts doesn’t lower fertility (and may even positively influence it.) Stick with less than 300 mg of caffeine, about … cups of black tea, … cups of white tea, and … cups of green tea.

  • Fertility and Health Benefits of Tea
  • Antioxidants
  • Stress Reduction
  • Balance Blood Sugar
  • Improve Fertility
  • Which teas and tisanes should I avoid if I’m trying to conceive?
  • Too much tea…

Medicinal herbs if not under the advisement of a healthcare practitioner

How to Sip Tea Safely While Trying to Conceive-Tea takeaways- sipping to boost your wellness and reproductive health.

Tea, the right kind, in the right amounts, can be a valuable ally in your journey to conception.

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Mental Health

Here Are Some Tips To Break The Invisible Wall

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The Invisible Wall

“Most relationships fail because we spend too much time pointing out each other’s mistakes and not enough time enjoy each other’s company.” – Unknown

Struggles through infertility can tend to take over your life. The constant stress of the treatments and the repeated disappointments can definitely strain the relationship between partners. Women may feel more irritable & emotional and her partner may feel helpless and worried. This makes for a difficult combination for any conversation to occur! Slowly there is an invisible wall starting to appear between the couple, emotions take over and make it even more difficult to talk.

With infertility, making a baby isn’t sexy. It isn’t fun. It’s stressful. It’s hard. It’s hormonal. It’s just miserable. The process truly is a make or break on relationships. Women can especially feel volatile just like a volcano about to blast at anytime with no warning. One minute you are positive, the next negative, becoming miserable, seemingly out of the blue. It can become exhausting for the partner quickly. The invisible wall gets thicker and taller… Sound and feel familiar?

Infertility can be an awful journey if the partners are not truly supporting and caring for each other. I have heard so many stories where partners are separating temporarily or permanently due to the stress and struggles with infertility. It doesn’t have to be that way!

Here are some tips to break the invisible wall…

1. To the woman who is in the thick of infertility, pay some attention to your partner. Ask them how they are doing. One of my clients asked her husband that very question on Father’s Day, and he broke down. Men also feel it, they just feel it differently.

2. To the woman struggling through this process, allow your man to be vulnerable. As a man, vulnerability with your partner doesn’t make you weak, it makes you even stronger. I have seen many relationships become very successful amidst the pain and struggles, when there is vulnerability between the couple. It strengthens your bond and makes you closer.

3. To both partners, when emotions are running high, remove yourself from the situation, take some time to collect yourself. Don’t talk or act when emotions are running high. The invisible wall gets higher when emotions are high.

4. Remind yourself and your partner frequently that “Together, we will make it thru this too”. Saying it out loud makes a world of difference and gives a great comfort to the other partner.

5. Get professional help, specifically someone who truly been there and understands the infertility struggle. They can help with tools and techniques to slowly eliminate relationship struggles, help identify the relationship goals and help you move forward positively in your life with or without successful fertility treatments.

Don’t let the invisible wall keep growing stronger and taller. Find ways to break the wall down slowly. Infertility shouldn’t be the reason for a relationship to break! Take small steps forward.

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Health & Fitness

Increase your chances of IVF success with these 6 changes to your morning routine

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Increase your chances of IVF success with these 6 changes to your morning routine

You get up in the morning quickly eating a piece of toast and maybe drinking a glass of orange juice before jumping in the shower and throwing on whatever clothes are smelling fresh and clean for the day.

You’re tired so you stop off for a coffee on the way to work crumpling the receipt into your purse as you go.

A pretty typical morning, right?

But in the above scenario there are six small changes you can make to your routine to improve your IVF success rates.  And that’s not even including the whole ‘is caffeine bad?’ debate!

1.  Get a good night’s sleep

It seems obvious but a good day really does start with a good night’s sleep.  We are all different but a good place to start is to aim for approximately seven to eight hours a night.   One recent study has shown that those women that managed this had pregnancy rates up to 14% higher than those women got more or less than this amount of sleep when doing IVF1.

Sleep is also linked to your melatonin levels.  After all it is melatonin that makes you get sleepy in the evening and wake up in the morning.  Not only is melatonin a powerful antioxidant but there is also a significant amount of evidence that says when your melatonin levels are in balance it increases the quality and quantity of your eggs when doing IVF2.  You can support your natural melatonin levels by getting adequate amounts of natural daylight as well as by listening to your body’s internal clock and following a regular sleep routine (but don’t take melatonin supplements without medical advice).

2.  Be mindful of the carbohydrates you eat

It was only a small study but one fertility doctor noticed that some of his patients, who he was expecting to have higher IVF success rates, were getting poor quality eggs and embryos3.  On closer examination he noticed that these women seemed to be having cereal or toast for breakfast, sandwich for lunch and perhaps pasta for dinner.  Although at first glance it appears there are worse foods to eat, this is a diet high in processed carbohydrates.  No one is saying to completely stop eating carbohydrates but there may be some benefit to making sure you prioritise eating whole grain carbohydrates and protein when you can.  The women in this study had proper dietary assistance but it was found that when they started eating a diet high in protein and lower in carbohydrates IVF success rates went up a massive 67%3!  This is an extraordinary number and this result is not typical but does highlight the importance of ensuring you are eating an IVF optimised diet.

3.  Limit the amount of juice (and other sugars) you drink

Orange juice is high in sugar which means your body will produce more insulin to try and lower your blood sugar levels. Over time if you experience prolonged exposure to high amounts of insulin it can lead to insulin resistance.   Not only does this possibly increase your risk of health problems such as diabetes, but it can also impact on how other hormones vital to the IVF process are produced.

Not only this but orange juice contains none of the fiber that eating an orange does which is necessary to support your digestive system.

So if you love the taste of oranges in the morning bypass the juice and go straight for the natural source.

4.  Reduce your exposure to chemicals

Many shampoos are filled with chemicals such as phthalates and parabens.  They are what makes the shampoo smell nice and foamy in the shower.  These chemicals though are also known ‘endocrine disruptors’ which means that they can possibly interfere with the way your body handles estrogen and high levels of these in the body has been linked to lower IVF success rates4.  Look for shampoos that are ‘fragrance free’ or ‘paraben free’ to take one little step towards reducing your exposure to harmful chemicals and helping increase your chances of IVF success.

5.  Check your laundry powders

Virtually any substance that has a fragrance to it is likely to have the potential to be an endocrine disruptor.  The washing powders and fabric softeners you use are no different.  For an easy win, stop using fabric softener.  Not only will you save money (and also put less soapy waste into the environment) but you will also reduce your exposure to those endocrine disruptors.

6.  Say no to receipts

When you bought your morning coffee, chances are you were given a receipt that has bisphenol A (BPA) on it that when you touched the receipt some of the BPA transferred onto your skin and into your blood stream.  It sounds extreme, but evidence has shown that BPA on cash register receipts can transfer into your blood stream when you touch them5 and there is also evidence that shows that increased amounts of BPA in your blood stream is related to decreased IVF success rates6.  So for now, try to avoid touching that cash register receipt and any others that may cross your path throughout the day.

These are just a few super small and easy changes you can make to your morning routine to try and increase your chances of IVF success.  Each on their own seems very small but when combined sets you well on your way to making the lifestyle changes that will hopefully increase your chances of IVF success.

1.       Park, I., Sun, H., Jeon, G., Jo, J., Kim, S. & Lee, K. (2013).  The more the better? The impact of sleep on IVF outcomes.  Fertility and Sterility. ASRM Abstracts 100 (3) Supplement S466

2.       Fernando, S. & Rombauts, L. (2014)  Melatonin: shedding light on infertility? – a review of the recent literature. Journal of Ovarian Research 7 98

3.       Russell, J., Abboud, C., Williams, A., Gibbs, M., Pritchard, S. & Chalfant, D. (2012) Does changing a patents dietary consumption of proteins and carbohydrates impact blastocyst and clinical pregnancy rates from one cycle to the next? Fertility and Sterility Sup 47 O-153.

4.       Hauser, R., Gaskins, A., Souter, I., Smith, K., Dodge, L., Ehrlich, S., Meeker, J., Calafat, A. & Williams, P. for the EARTH Study Team (2016). Urinary phthalate metabolite concentrations and reproductive outcomes among women undergoing in vitro fertilization: results from the EARTH study. Environmental Health Perspectives 124:831–839

5.       Ehrlich, S., Calafat, A., Humblet, O., Smith, T., Hauser, R. (2014). Handling of Thermal Receipts as a Source of Exposure to Bisphenol A. Journal of the American Medical Association. Research Letter. 311(8).

6.       Ehrlich, S., Williams, P., Missmer, S., Flaws, J., Ye, X., Calafat, A., Petrozza, J., Wright, D. & Hauser, R. (2012). Urinary bisphenol A concentrations and early reproductive health outcomes among women undergoing IVF. Human Reproduction, 27 (12) 3583–3592.

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