PLOS ONE: Online program more than doubled pregnancy rate for women with infertility

March 18, 2020

For women being treated for infertility, studies show that in-person counseling decreases anxiety, depression and stress and leads to higher rates of pregnancy.

But for a variety of reasons -- including stigma, skepticism about efficacy, cost, travel challenges and difficulty scheduling appointments -- many women in treatment don't seek additional psychological help and often give up on their dream of having a child.

In a study published March 18 in PLOS ONE, researchers at the University of Vermont demonstrated that an internet version of a highly respected clinical program achieved results similar to its in-person equivalent, both in reducing distress and in promoting pregnancy.

Women experiencing infertility issues who took the online program -- the Mind/Body Program for Fertility, developed at the Domar Center at Harvard -- experienced medium to large decreases in depression and anxiety and in stress related to sexual and social concerns, compared with a control group, and were two-and-a-half times more likely to become pregnant.

The results are comparable to studies gauging the impact of the in-person version of the Mind/Body Program.

"Offering this highly effective program online removes the barriers to counseling that prevent so many women in fertility treatment from getting the help they need," said the study's lead author, Jessica Clifton, a faculty scientist at the University of Vermont.

"It could enable women across the country, no matter where they live or what their circumstances, to reduce their distress and increase their chances of conceiving."

Clifton and her colleagues at the University of Vermont developed the online version of the Mind/Body Program over a three-year period in collaboration with the program's founder and director, Alice Domar, associate professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology at the Harvard Medical School. Domar is a co-author of the PLOS ONE study.

The online program mirrors the in-person version, offering ten hour-long modules of instruction that include video, audio and text. Materials cover the relationship between stress, lifestyle and fertility; relaxation techniques, including diaphragmatic breathing and Hatha Yoga; mindfulness; cognitive/behavioral therapy; stress reduction strategies; listening and communication skills; strategies for emotional expression and effective coping with anger; and assertiveness training and goal-setting skills.

As with the in-person program, the online version also offers feedback from a trained therapist to participants' homework assignments. The therapist was available remotely as needed throughout the online program.

The study recruited 71 women who were experiencing infertility issues, about half took the online program right away while the other half were placed on a wait list.

Both groups took a pre- and post-assessment. Those taking the program right away reported measurable reductions in anxiety, depression and stress, while the control group reported a near-zero change. The self-reported pregnancy rate at the study's close was 53 percent for the group that took the program and 20 percent for the wait-list group. Women who took the online program also became pregnant more quickly compared to the wait-list group, in an average of 79 days compared with 97 days.

The study also demonstrated that women experiencing infertility were willing to take an online program and were largely satisfied with it, according the pre- and post-assessment.

"The results suggest we could change the way reproductive medicine is provided," Clifton said. "Medical practices could implement quick and easy screening to identify distressed patients. We could then offer a convenient, effective and affordable internet-based intervention for these patients that would measurably reduce their distress and help them achieve their dream of conceiving a child."

University of Vermont

Related Science Articles from Brightsurf:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.

Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.

Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.

World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.

PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.

Read More: Science News and Science Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to