It’s easy to see how infertility could lead to depression. So many personal hopes, life plans, and societal expectations are tied to family building. On top of that, assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs), if you have access to them, can be difficult and expensive.
What’s a little less clear is how depression can influence fertility. Yet, there is some evidence that it does.
This article explores both questions: how infertility and its treatment can cause depression and how depression and its treatment could hamper your attempts to get pregnant. It also offers some guidance for how to cope with both.
The relationship between depression and infertility is a two-way street. Research shows that infertility can lead to depression. And there’s some evidence to suggest that depression may influence fertility.
To be clear: Depression on its own doesn’t cause infertility.
However, according to a
Let’s take a closer look at how these two health conditions affect each other.
If you have had depression in the past, you are more likely to experience depression symptoms with infertility, according to
The stress of fertility concerns can lead to depression
The pressure to become pregnant can take a toll on your mental health — whether that pressure comes from family and friends, the wider society in which you live, or your own desires and expectations.
On top of that, the treatments themselves can cause stress. ARTs can be physically uncomfortable, expensive, time-consuming, and tiring. That extra stress can trigger depression, research shows.
In fact, studies show that a large percentage of people with infertility — between
Medication side effects could bring on depression symptoms
If you’ve developed depression after starting ART or in vitro fertilization (IVF), your symptoms could be related to the hormones in your treatment.
Some of the medications commonly used to treat infertility can cause depression symptoms,
These side effects can build up as your treatment continues. Depression symptoms are especially likely to worsen if treatment doesn’t result in pregnancy.
You may have trouble sleeping
There’s a complicated interplay between fertility, sleep, and depression.
For example, people with sleep trouble may have a harder time conceiving and may have a higher risk of losing a pregnancy early. More research needs to be done to understand why this link exists, though.
For many people, lack of sleep triggers or worsens depression symptoms like:
- excessive daytime sleepiness
- trouble concentrating
Health conditions associated with infertility are also associated with depression
Some medical conditions can make it harder to get pregnant, according to
Sometimes it isn’t the condition itself that causes fertility challenges,
In many cases, these health conditions also come with symptoms of depression, according to other
Depression doesn’t look the same for everyone. Typical symptoms include:
- feelings of sadness, sorrow, or hopelessness
- feelings of guilt and low self-worth
- tiredness that doesn’t go away after a good night’s sleep
- insomnia and other sleep disturbances
- changes in your appetite or weight
- trouble with digestion
- body aches, headaches, and inflammation
- mood changes, such as irritability or anger
- loss of interest in sex and other activities you once liked to do
- problems paying attention or remembering things
- a feeling that you have no words to express yourself
Infertility and depression if you’re transgender
Puberty suppression, estrogen therapy, testosterone therapy, and some gender affirmation surgeries can lower fertility,
Depression and fertility concerns are closely linked, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about the symptoms you have. Here’s a quick rundown of common depression treatments to consider if you have fertility challenges.
Deciding whether to take antidepressants during fertility treatment isn’t easy. Even so, it’s important to talk with your healthcare professional about the risks and rewards involved. Different kinds of antidepressants work in different ways, so the risks vary from drug to drug.
Research on the safety of antidepressants is
Some studies, such as
Some studies have found that
Another consideration: A
It’s important to weigh these risks together with the risks to your own health if you don’t take antidepressant medications when you need them. Depression in pregnancy is associated with depression after giving birth, according to
Mindful cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
CBT focuses on recognizing thoughts that aren’t accurate and reframing them so they don’t harm your mental health. In one
In 8 of these 90-minute sessions, participants learned how to:
- breathe, walk, and eat in a mindful way
- detect their depression symptoms
- change unhelpful behaviors, thoughts, and attitudes
- use patterned breathing to increase calm
- create a plan to use when depression symptoms increased
Personalized online therapy
If in-person therapy doesn’t work for you right now, you may want to try an online option. In
Self-care means different things to different people. Now is a good time to stop and think about what you need in order to get through this period of your life. Here are a few strategies to add to your emotional essentials toolkit.
Lean on your support network
Not everyone has a loving circle of family and friends to cheer them on the roller-coaster ride of infertility treatment. If you do, now is the time to leverage their support. Ask for what you need. Say yes to offers of help when you need it.
Even if you don’t have this support, don’t worry — the strategies below can give you other ways to express yourself and find help.
Find a safe place to talk about it
Feelings about fertility concerns and treatment can seem really private. But
Write down what you don’t feel comfortable saying out loud
In at least one
Study participants spent 20 minutes privately writing about how their fertility challenges made them feel — especially those feelings they didn’t feel comfortable sharing with others. Writing out their feelings did not magically erase anxiety, but it did have a positive effect on depression, researchers said.
Try mindfulness meditations with breath and body scans
Many kinds of meditation are known to help with anxiety and depression. One that’s been proven to lower depression among women with fertility concerns is a method that involves listening to guided breathing and body scan meditations each day.
Where to look for support
As isolating as infertility and depression can feel, you’re truly not in this alone. Here are some places where you can talk, listen to the experiences of others, and find the resources you need:
- The National Infertility Association offers a registry of local and virtual support groups.
- The Resilient Sisterhood Project sponsors webinars and events to connect you to a supportive community.
- Therapy for Muslims provides a list of wellness and mental health support organizations.
- Yesh Tikva offers free psychosocial services to Jewish people with fertility concerns.
- Parla is an online fertility health resource with links to numerous mental health support groups.
For many people, the physical and emotional challenges of infertility bring on depression. The good news is that depression is a treatable condition.
Medication, social support, therapy, proper sleep and nutrition, and other self-care strategies can help alleviate some depression symptoms. But it’s important to keep watch for signs that depression isn’t lifting or is getting worse, whether or not a pregnancy occurs.
Infertility and depression have a really complicated relationship. Fertility challenges and fertility treatments can leave you with a range of depression symptoms. Depression and antidepressants can sometimes affect your ability to have a healthy pregnancy.
Depression and fertility challenges can take a while to resolve, so it’s important to build up support around yourself as you’re moving through them. You’ll need a good relationship with a healthcare team, plus supportive friends and family members if you have them.
You may find therapy helpful, and mind-body self-care strategies may give you a sense of agency in a situation that often feels beyond your control.