In vitro fertilisation or IVF is a fertility treatment that assists you through various stages of conception to improve your chances at a clinically successful pregnancy. It has many stages, some of which include the use of fertility drugs known as gonadotropins (hormones that help in the development of gametes). These and other hormonal medications can alter the reproductive cycle in a woman’s body. Added to this is the emotional toll of infertility and possible failed attempts. The process of IVF can result in a multitude of side effects spanning both physical and emotional spheres that vary in severity from mild to moderate from woman to woman.
Listed below are some common physical and emotional effects that may occur.
The fluctuations in your hormones due to medications from your IVF treatment may result in some weight gain. This is pretty common sign and is seen in a majority of women. Your abdomen may also feel and look bigger or bloated; this is usually due to stimulation of your ovaries to produce more eggs. If your weight gain is very rapid, that is, 4-5kgs or more in a span of a week, contact your doctor.
Although not everyone experiences this, some medications can result in your appetite being higher than usual. For some women, this feeling of ‘need to eat more’ may be an emotional need. Though this is okay; please take care to be mindful and eat healthily.
Expect changes to your digestive process; this can be constipation, loose stools or generalised bloating. These symptoms, though common, do not need to be treated. Staying hydrated and eating foods rich in fibre may help in keeping these symptoms at bay.
Going through IVF can have a two-fold effect on your emotional health. This is because of the increased levels of hormones in your system due to the treatments (medications and procedures) as well as the stress of going through fertility treatment. These feelings are completely natural; do not alienate yourself and allow yourself some slack in these matters.
Feeling distracted and forgetful is also a pretty common symptom of IVF treatment. Having to toggle between your career and other obligations with stress of IVF treatments is not easy by any measure. You will start to feel better as your pregnancy progresses.
Stress Or Frustration
Many patients may feel stressed out and frustrated during the process of fertility treatments. This is a combination of hormonal changes as well as uncertainty about the future. While these feelings cannot always be avoided, it can be helpful to develop stress relieving counter measures or enrol in activities that help calm you such as meditation, yoga, acupuncture or even a casual evening stroll.
The constant appointment with the doctor and injections and other intrusive procedure, as well as pressure from family and loved ones can trigger anxiety in many patients. These anxieties can further compound your stress. Talk to your partner or therapist about these anxieties so that they can lend you a hand or provide you with coping strategies.
If you are prone to developing headaches during your typical menstrual cycles, you may experience something similar with IVF injections. The hormonal fluctuations following these injections can trigger headaches in some women. Although there is no perfect solution to this problem, using a hot or cold compress on your head and staying hydrated can help alleviate some of the pain. Talk to your doctor about what medications are safe to use.
Some women may experience hot flashes when there are fluctuations in hormone levels. This is because hormones help mediate some of our sensory experiences such as temperature perception. This can result in sudden hot flashes and even sensitivity to cold in some women.
Here are some general strategies to help prepare and cope with the emotional baggage that comes with IVF:
- Be cautious of the number of people you tell about your IVF cycle this is helpful to avoid awkward or hurtful conversations in case things don’t go as planned. It is also helpful for you and your partner to rehearse your response to some commonly asked questions so that you aren’t caught off guard.
- Keep open lines of communication with your partner, tell them about your emotions and thoughts as they happen. Let them know when you need support and how you would like that support to be provided.
- Find time to do things you enjoy, like reading a good book or enjoying a delicious meal. This can help keep your mind off the things you cannot control, result in a better experience overall.
- Everyone’s threshold for emotional stress is different; take precautions to safe guard yourself from situation that may upset or drain you.
- If you feel overwhelmed or frustrated it can be useful to practice some breathing exercises. These techniques can be very helpful to calm your mind.
- Negative thoughts may pop-up from time to time and sometimes they can feel incessant. During such periods, it can be useful to try and reframe the language you use within your thoughts so that they are framed in a more positive light.
- In vitro fertilization (IVF). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/in-vitro-fertilization/about/pac-20384716. Accessed on 08-07-2021
- Side Effects of Injectable Fertility Drugs (Gonadotropins). American Society for Reproductive Medicine. https://www.reproductivefacts.org/news-and-publications/patient-fact-sheets-and-booklets/documents/fact-sheets-and-info-booklets/side-effects-of-injectable-fertility-drugs-gonadotropins/. Accessed on 08-07-2021
- Emotional Coping Strategies. RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. https://resolve.org/what-are-my-options/treatment-options/surviving-two-week-wait/. Accessed on 08-07-2021
- Preparing for IVF: Emotional Considerations. Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. https://www.sart.org/patients/a-patients-guide-to-assisted-reproductive-technology/general-information/preparing-for-ivf-emotional-considerations/. Accessed on 08-07-2021
Achilli, C. and Pundir, J. (2021). Managing physical symptoms during IVF. In Assisted Reproduction Techniques (eds K. Sharif and A. Coomarasamy). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/9781119622215.ch105. Accessed on 08-07-2021