Posted 01.08.2015 | by AMRA

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Infertility is a heartbreaking condition affecting approximately 6% of American married women. In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a voluntary fertility treatment that involves combining a sperm and egg outside of a woman’s body and implanting the resulting embryo in her uterus. IVF success rates vary widely depending on multiple factors including a woman’s age, general health status, and the specific IVF method used.

IVF can be emotionally and physically taxing due to the demands of the procedure and the uncertainty of success. There is currently a need to improve the quality of life of women undergoing this procedure. Li et al. [Behaviour Research and Therapy] investigated whether a mindfulness-based intervention can improve both the quality of life and pregnancy rates of women undergoing first-time IVF treatment.

The researchers assigned 108 women (average age = 30 years) seeking IVF at a Chinese medical center to either IVF plus a mindfulness-based intervention or IVF alone. Assignment was not random, but based on patient convenience in terms of time constraints and travel distance to the medical center.

The six-week mindfulness program was a group-based intervention that was specifically tailored to IVF and infertility concerns and contained elements of MBSR, MBCT, Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

Participants completed self-report measures of mindfulness (the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire), self-compassion, fertility quality of life, difficulties in emotional regulation, and infertility coping styles both at baseline and post-intervention. Mindfulness and control participants did not differ in any of these self-report measures at baseline. Pregnancy status was assessed at six-months post-intervention.

Mindfulness participants showed significantly greater increases in self-reported levels of mindfulness (partial η2=.10), self-compassion (partial η2=.08), and quality of life (partial η2=.07), and significantly greater decreases in emotional regulation difficulties (partial η2=.06) compared to the control group. All of these between-group changes represented medium-sized treatment effects.

Mindfulness participants also significantly increased their reliance on meaning-based coping strategies (e.g., growing as a person) and decreased their reliance on avoidance-based coping strategies (e.g. avoiding pregnant women) to deal with thoughts and emotions related to IVF and infertility.

Finally, at six months post-intervention, mindfulness participants were significantly more likely to have become pregnant (45%) than were controls (26%).

The study supports the use of a mindfulness-based intervention to improve indicators of quality of life, coping, and pregnancy rates in this sample of Chinese women undergoing first-time in vitro fertilization. However, the study is limited by its lack of randomization and its reliance on a treatment-as-usual control. The lack of an active placebo makes it hard to tell how much of the improvement is specifically due to mindfulness instruction and how much is due to general factors such as group social support and altered expectancies.

Reference:

Li, J., Long, L., Liu, Y., He, W., & Li, M. (2015). Effects of a mindfulness-based intervention on fertility quality of life and pregnancy rates among women subjected to first in vitro fertilization treatment. Behaviour Research and Therapy.

[Link to abstract]