The stress related to a diagnosis of infertility parallels what is experienced with a cancer diagnosis or grief of the loss of a loved one. We all recognize that stress has a negative impact on our health and can impact fertility. However, most of what we know has been from studies based on the female partner. New research demonstrates that the stress of infertility on male partners should be considered as well.
Nearly 50% of men seeking IVF reported symptoms of depression. 50%! This study found that although major depression is more common in female partners than in male partners, it can still have a significant impact on fertility success. Couples in which the male partner had major depression were 60% less likely to conceive and have a live birth than those in which the male partner did not have depression.
Although this study shows an association between male depression and decreased likelihood of success with fertility treatments, it leaves many questions about whether one causes the other unanswered. What this study does a great job at, however, is demonstrating the need for us to focus on the health of all our families prior to conception.
Take Home Points:
- Infertility and the associated treatments are a major life stressor.
- Depression during fertility treatments can be common, in both female and male partners
- Untreated depression in men may decrease fertility
- Talk to your REI and primary care doctor if you think depression is impacting your life
I still remember feeling completely overwhelmed the first time I shopped for prenatal vitamins when I was ready to try to conceive. I’m sure I was putting too much thought into it, but like many others, I was going to take my fertility seriously and I wanted the BEST option. So why did my drugstore have over 5 different types of prenatal vitamins, all with a different concoction of what they claimed was “best?” Some of my friends reported using “prescription prenatal vitamins” and swore they were worth the cost.
I ultimately ended up buying prenatal vitamins that contained docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) since they were advertised as “supporting neurodevelopment” and who wouldn’t want a smarter baby? DHA is an omega-3- fatty acid that is important for brain development. It has been recommended to eat foods which are high in omega-3 fatty acids for women who want to become pregnant or when nursing. Although vegetarian sources are now available, fish and fish oil are often utilized for DHA supplementation. For months, I endured gross fishy tastes in my mouth and a fishy odor to my breath; all in the sake of helping my baby’s brain develop. Was it worth it?
The sale of prenatal supplements with DHA continues to increase, despite limited evidence that it actually helps brain development. A recent study suggests that DHA may not be all that it was chalked up to be. This group evaluated pregnant women who took DHA supplements and compared them to women who didn’t. There was no difference in cognitive, language, or motor development in the children from moms who took DHA compared to those that didn’t at 18 months, and 7 years- DHA doesn’t seem to result in smarter kids. This data is strong enough for me to recommend that you can skip the DHA supplement in your prenatal vitamin, especially if you are having undesirable side effects like gross fish burps.
So what does a good prenatal vitamin need, anyway?
- Folic acid- at least 400 micrograms; some patients require higher doses of folic acid
Although a prenatal vitamin will help supplement your diet with extra amounts of vitamins and minerals, your diet should be the primary source. Iron, calcium, and vitamin D are particularly important in pregnancy.
My advice to anxious patients (like myself a few years ago) is simple: eat a well-balanced diet, stay healthy, and find an inexpensive prenatal vitamin that you like so that you remember to take every day.
Long weekends are a great opportunity for reflection and Thanksgiving weekend is the perfect time for such reflection. Personally, I have much to be grateful for. I’ve got a wonderful wife who is also my life partner in everything. Together we underwent a journey of fertility treatment that after 2 years resulted in the birth or our daughter. We’ve worked together for over a decade now to help other couples achieve their dream as well but now we do so with the insight of what it actually feels like to experience the emotional roller coaster of fertility treatment. Toward that end, I am even more thankful now to have the knowledge, the technology and ability to perform the work that we do. So let’s consider how this can sort of reflection can benefit you.
Studies have shown that journaling—the act of reflecting upon and then documenting your thoughts—can markedly improve your health while relieving the effects of stress. Research has shown that it can reduce the number of asthma attacks, lower blood pressure and improve your ability to heal. Although there haven’t been as many studies in patients with infertility, journaling has been shown to reduce the complications that women experience during pregnancy. That’s what prompted my wife and I to create a journal to assist women in applying this during their pregnancy.
There are many different journaling techniques but writing is more powerful than talking because it requires more deep introspection and careful thought to express one’s emotions. During this long weekend, consider starting a “gratitude journal.” You may find that it not only improves your ability to sleep and stay healthy but it may even improve your chances of conceiving. At the same time, it creates a nice record that you can later share with your child.