Causes & Treatment

Managing stress and IVF – a fertility doctor’s guide to holistic support options during treatment

Prof Gavin Sacks, senior fertility specialist and obstetrician, in partnership with Thrive Journey  |   20 Mar 2024


The reality is the same for so many of us – whilst we’re great at leaning into hope and positivity, those of us who struggle with fertility statistically experience higher levels of stress and anxiety, as well as other negative feelings.

For the fertility warriors of team TRB, this certainly resonates. And the story doesn’t stop before stress and IVF treatment come into the picture, either. 

The IVF process can feel worrying for all sorts of reasons, whether that’s the feeling of time ticking by, having precious little within our own control, a sense of having to ‘make do’ around busy schedules… the list goes on.

IVF holistic approaches – what to know

Increasingly, more of us are looking for holistic wellbeing options to pair with IVF treatment and other forms of ART, to help manage stress, enhance fertility outcomes, and feel supported with everything in between.

This can look like anything from meditation, yoga, and stress management, to dietary adjustments and nutrition tweaks.

For all this in one place, we turn to Thrive – the online Fertility Wellness program that seamlessly brings yoga, Ayurvedic nutrition, and relaxation techniques together with a clinically tested approach to preconception planning.

Specifically, their brand new Yoga for IVF program is designed to guide you through the integration of yoga practices into your IVF journey, supporting you and your cycle from week one.

Bookmark our library of resources and get an introduction to fertility yoga, learn how qigong for fertility could support you, and explore the dosha analysis fertility practice you might not have heard of before – all backed by experts from their world-leading team. 

Today, we’re catching up with Prof Gavin Sacks, senior fertility specialist and obstetrician at  IVFAustralia, for a mini Q&A on all things IVF, yoga, and holistic support options for treatment.

We wanted to know; 

  • Why is taking a holistic approach to the IVF process so important? 
  • Does stress affect IVF success?
  • Are holistic therapies safe during IVF?
  • Is there anything we should avoid during IVF?

Over to Gavin for the lowdown.

Welcome, Gavin! Can you tell us a little bit about your expertise and specialisations?

I am an IVF specialist. I am Clinical Director and also Director of Clinical Research and Innovation at IVFAustralia in Sydney. 

I qualified from Cambridge and Oxford universities, became an obstetrician and gynaecologist in the UK, completed reproductive medicine training in London, and moved to Sydney in 2005.

I manage about 500 IVF cycles per year and I have a particular interest in repeated IVF failure.

Why is taking a holistic approach to IVF treatment so important?

Infertility can be multifaceted and complex, and tends to be very confronting for those who are struggling to conceive. 

It is often difficult to manage from a medical perspective, as well as being hard on patients and their physical and mental wellbeing.

It is important that women who are having IVF are engaged and empowered to make the right decisions and give themselves their best chance – and taking a holistic, big-picture approach is so much a part of this.

stress-and-ivf-doctors-guide

Many of us worry that stress and anxiety will impact outcomes – but does stress affect IVF success? 

When it comes to stress and IVF, I don’t believe that simply being stressed alters the outcome in itself. 

However, stress is often associated with important factors that can impact the outcome of treatment.

This can look like difficulties following instructions to do what has to be done, like remembering stims or appointments, or it can even show up as having an impact on immune function, and exacerbating preexisting conditions.

So whilst stress won’t impact our outcomes, managing stress is still really important for covering all bases and feeling good in ourselves during a treatment cycle.

Are there any holistic options that you see benefit patients the most for managing stress and fertility treatment?

I’d say everyone has their own unique way of dealing with stress. There is no one-size-fits-all approach!

Something I have noticed is that many women prefer as little extra stuff in their lives as possible. There’s already enough going on, especially when they’re juggling IVF treatment.

So, many benefit from guided holistic options like yoga, or meditation and mindfulness, that are easy-to-follow and can be done from home.

Is it safe for me to try holistic treatments and support options during IVF? 

Yes, it’s safe to have holistic treatments during IVF. 

In my practice, I work closely with an acupuncturist to give patients extra support.

Always keep your doctor in the loop though, especially if you plan to try something new!

ivf-holistic-approach-yoga

What should I avoid during IVF? Is there anything that isn’t recommended? 

I am personally not a big fan of the ‘avoid’ principle, as it mostly just causes fear, and a smaller life for no real benefit. 

Generally, herbs would not be ‘recommended’. This is because some contain natural hormones that could interact with IVF medications. Having said that, many do take them, especially in preparation for an IVF cycle. 

I always say don’t do excessive exercise, like personal bests. Lower to moderate-intensity movement options like yoga and pilates that are stress relieving and supportive would be a better choice here.

As an IVF doctor, what’s your top tip for managing stress and IVF whilst supporting our wellbeing?

My top tip is to keep doing what you love and stay connected with your personal interests. Me personally, I go ocean swimming, play guitar, and play golf.

I have also done yoga and thought it was great, but it got hard to commit to a weekly session – I am now quite old and stiff!

Yoga for IVF – more than just stress management

There we have it! Your doctor-approved toolkit for getting started with holistic support for IVF treatment.

Incorporating holistic support like yoga doesn’t just help with relaxation and de-stress, either. The benefits range from helping to boost sperm production and bringing our hormones into balance, to supporting our fertility by reducing stagnation of qi in the body.

Want to learn more about how yoga can support you during IVF? Check out Thrive’s Yoga for IVF program.

Designed to help you integrate supportive yoga practices into your IVF journey, it’ll walk you through

  • Fertility diagnoses and treatments for men and women
  • IVF prep tips and preconception care pointers
  • A week-by-week tailored plan
  • And more

Not currently having IVF as part of your fertility journey? Sign up to Thrive’s virtual health hub to access their wealth of resources created to support you physically, emotionally and mentally through your journey to conception.

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