The Impact of the Mind/Body Program on Pregnancy Rates in IVF Patients

By Alice Domar, PhD
Executive Director
The Domar Center for Mind/Body Health at Boston IVF

 

When I read about the results of a new research study, I tend not to think too much about the amount of hard work it takes to carry out a research project — which is sort of odd given that is all I think about when I am the one conducting research!  I tend to focus on what the conclusions of the research are, and what this implies for patient care.

Earlier this week, the results of my most recent research were released and have been widely reported in the media. The actual paper is being published in the June 1 issue of Fertility and Sterility, but it is available online now and Reuters picked up the story late last week and it was in the New York Times on Tuesday.

The study included a randomized, controlled design. We recruited 143 Boston IVF patients who had just been advised by their physician to move onto IVF treatment. Half were randomized to participate in our ten session mind/body program and the other half received routine care.  Unfortunately, the women assigned to the mind/body program began their first IVF cycle right away (they didn’t want to wait for the next mind/body group to start), so only nine percent of them had done even half of their mind/body sessions.  For the first IVF cycle, both groups had a clinical pregnancy rate of 43%. However, for the second IVF cycle, when 76% of the mind/body patients had participated in at least half the program, the clinical pregnancy rate was 52%, compared to 20% in the control group, a statistically significant difference.

So to apply my general thoughts about research to my own work, what are the conclusions of this research and what are the implications for patients?  The conclusions are two-fold. First of all, there was no placebo effect. In other words, even though all the mind/body patients knew they were assigned to attend a group, that knowledge had no impact on their first cycle. So knowing you are going to learn relaxation and stress management skills, but not actually yet having a chance to learn them, does not have an impact on conception.  Second, this is another in a series of studies which have demonstrated that women with infertility who learn a variety of skills designed to lower stress, improve lifestyle habits, and decrease isolation experience significantly higher pregnancy rates than women who do not learn such skills.

And what do I say to all those ignorant folks out there who think that this study reinforces the evil myth of “just relax and you will get pregnant”?  I tell them that they have obviously never participated in a mind/body program! Women who attend a mind/body are doing so much more than just relaxing. There has actually never been a study simply on the impact of relaxation techniques on fertility, but the program is far more intensive and comprehensive than just relaxation techniques.

In terms of implications for patient care, if I were about to embark on any infertility treatment, especially one as intensive as IVF, I would do everything in my power to learn ways to lower my stress level. There is no downside to feeling less depressed and anxious, and the advantages include better quality of life, possibly feeling more able to continue with treatment if a first cycle isn’t successful and higher rates of conception.  If you have access to a mind/body infertility program, go for it (check out www.domarcenter.com for more info).

 

ABOUT ALICE DOMAR, PhD

Alice D. Domar, PhD is a pioneer in the application of mind/body medicine to men’s and women’s health issues. She not only established the first Mind/Body Center for Women’s Health, but also conducts ongoing ground-breaking research in the field. Her research focuses on the relationship between stress and different women’s health conditions, and creating innovative programs to help women decrease physical and psychological symptoms.

Dr. Domar received her M.A. and Ph.D. in Health Psychology from Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Ferkauf School of Professional Psychology of Yeshiva University. Her post-doctoral training was at Beth Israel Hospital, Deaconess Hospital, and Children’s Hospital, all in Boston.

She has conducted research on infertility, breast cancer, menopausal symptoms, ovarian cancer, and premenstrual syndrome. Dr. Domar has earned an international reputation as one of the country’s top women’s health experts.

She is currently the Executive Director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health, and the Director of Mind/Body Services at Boston IVF. She is an assistant professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School, and a senior staff psychologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Dr. Domar has compiled an impressive list of accomplishments as a best-selling author, media authority and sought-after public speaker. She is the author of numerous books, on the advisory board for Parents Magazine, Health Magazine, Conceive Magazine, and Resolve, and on the Board of Experts for LLuminari. Two of her books have been finalists for the Books for a Better Life Award. She was also the Series Editor for a series of mind/body books by Harvard Medical Publications/Simon and Schuster. She is the narrator of the DVD’s “Stress and Relaxation Explained” and “Infertility Explained”, both of which won silver Telly Awards.  Dr. Domar has appeared on the Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, Dateline NBC, CNN, PBS, and the CBS and NBC Evening News, to name a few. She presents lectures and conducts workshops throughout the US and around the world and went on tour with Oprah in the spring of 2004 and 2005 with the LLuminari team. Dr. Domar was named to the prestigious list of 15 “Women to Watch in 2004″ by Lifetime TV. Her newest book is “Be Happy Without Being Perfect” (Three Rivers Press, March, 2009) and she is currently working on a new book, co-authored with Dr. Susan Love, called “Live a Little” (Crown, December, 2009). She is also a featured expert on the new online social health network BeWell.com.