What you should know about infertility and depression


Dr. Abayomi Ajayi

While you may not be surprised to learn that infertility can lead to depression, you might not know that people who experience depression are more likely to have fertility problems. You should know that depression during pregnancy and after pregnancy (postpartum depression) is more common in women who have struggled with trying to conceive. But just because depression is common among the fertility-challenged, this doesn’t mean you should ignore it or fail to treat it.

Infertility and depression frequently go together; they are linked because personal hopes, life plans, and societal expectations are usually tied to family building. In addition, assisted reproductive techniques can be difficult, costly, and ultimately add to the burden.

It is not known whether depression itself can cause infertility, but it can influence fertility because there is some correlation between depression and increased rates of infertility.

Also, depression may lead to lifestyle habits that can negatively impact your fertility. For example, depression often causes overeating or lack of appetite. If you are depressed, you are more likely to engage in poor lifestyle habits, which can also hurt fertility.

It is not impossible that depression and even its treatment could hamper your attempts to get pregnant. While infertility can lead to depression, and while depression on its own doesn’t cause infertility, there’s some evidence that depression can influence fertility.

For instance, when you or your partner is depressed, pregnancy rates are known to drop slightly, perhaps because depression can make you less interested in sex. In addition, there’s some evidence that medications used to treat depression may affect your chances of having a healthy pregnancy.

If you have had depression in the past, you are more likely to experience depression symptoms with infertility. Even if you have never experienced depression before, infertility can raise your risk for a number of reasons. Another point to note is that the stress of infertility and the pressure to become pregnant can lead to you being depressed. And because of the stigma associated with infertility, it can be a profoundly isolating experience.

Infertility treatments can also cause stress because they can be physically uncomfortable, expensive, time-consuming, and tiring. All that extra stress can trigger depression. Many infertile people have depression symptoms and to worsen matters, even the side effects of some medications could bring on depression symptoms.

If you’ve developed depression after starting ART or in vitro fertilisation, your symptoms could be related to the hormones in your treatment. These side effects can build up as your treatment continues and depression symptoms are likely to worsen if treatment doesn’t result in pregnancy.

For instance, you may have trouble sleeping. There’s a complex interplay between fertility, sleep, and depression. If you are experiencing infertility, it is likely you would often have a hard time getting a good night’s rest. This disrupted sleep and sleep deprivation can also worsen fertility concerns.

If you are having trouble getting to sleep, you may have a harder time conceiving and may have a higher risk of losing a pregnancy early. The lack of sleep tends to trigger or worsen depression symptoms such as fatigue, excessive daytime sleepiness, headaches, and trouble concentrating among a host of others.

Health conditions associated with infertility are also associated with depression. Some medical conditions can make it harder to get pregnant or are associated with a higher risk of pregnancy loss. Sometimes the medications used to treat these health conditions come with symptoms of depression.

If not getting pregnant is contributing to depression, it seems logical to assume that finally achieving pregnancy will cure depression. However, this isn’t always the case. In fact, those who have experienced infertility are more likely to feel depressed during pregnancy and are at an increased risk for postpartum depression.

Not achieving pregnancy, or failing to have children through adoption or other means does not mean you’ll feel depressed for the rest of your life. It is possible to find happiness in life again. Counselling can help you get through and move on. Some couples hesitate to get treatment for depression, thinking that antidepressants can’t be taken when trying to conceive, but treating depression with counselling and antidepressants together increases pregnancy success.

Depression can be addressed with talk therapy, support groups, and mind-body therapies. Speak to your doctor if you’re experiencing depression while going through infertility. Many fertility clinics offer services of counselling and/or support groups.

Your fertility doctor may also be able to adjust your fertility medications, giving ones less likely to affect mood, since fertility drugs can aggravate depression and cause mood swings. If medication for depression is needed, your fertility doctor and psychiatrist should ideally work together to help you decide the safest and most effective treatments for your condition while you try to conceive.

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