Fertility coaching exists to help people who find the path to parenthood isn’t a straight line. That's especially true if you throw in fertility drugs, IUI, IVF, donor or surrogacy. Between the sometimes alarming costs and uncertainties, fertility treatments can come with a lot of stressors and endless questions. This article takes a look at the rising tide of fertility coaching and how it can help lead to happier, healthier pregnancies and family building.
This article covers:
What is fertility coaching?
Benefits of fertility coaching: why people hire fertility coaches
Who can benefit from fertility coaching?
How fertility coaching works
Different types of fertility coach
Finding a fertility coach
What Is Fertility Coaching?
Fertility coaching is a form of support designed to help you manage stress, set the best foundations for conception and healthy pregnancy or alternative routes to parenthood, and find clarity for the hard questions.
A fertility coach can help round out the medical treatment from your doctors with extra physical, mental, and emotional support while navigating fertility struggles.
Trying to conceive, or trying to enhance future fertility, can feel like a hard journey emotionally and physically, and the situation can easily become isolating and overwhelming.
While you turn to doctors and other medical staff for clinical care, a fertility coach's purpose is to be by your side as a partner for everything else.
Coaching support during the process of pre-conception planning or fertility treatment can help you deal with the emotional effects of treatment and make beneficial lifestyle changes, so you become healthier and feel emotionally stronger whilst trying to conceive or build your family in another way.
Why Do People Hire Fertility Coaches?
Fertility coaching has been shown to be highly successful in helping people feel more in control of their physical and mental health, which can improve pregnancy rates and reduce rates of anxiety and depression.
Did you know that if a couple (or, in alternative routes to parenthood, all people involved in the biological creation of a baby i.e. the person producing the sperm, the egg and the person carrying the baby in pregnancy) live healthily, you not only increase your chance to get pregnant but also reduce miscarriage and birth defect risks?
There are a large number of factors that can influence reproductive health and treatment outcomes.
Factors shown to affect fertility and the chances of a healthy live birth include: weight, diet, intake of vitamins, iodine and alcohol, smoking, substance abuse, environmental pollutants, infections, alternative therapies, medical conditions, medications and family medical history, as well as other stressors such as finances, work and relationships.
Fertility coaching can help you manage and improve factors that can influence fertility, as well as how you process and perceive this often stressful time of life.
It's hard to overstate how challenging fertility and reproductive health problems can be for people. Anxiety, depression and stress are likely, with some data suggesting up to 90% of fertility patients experience one of these mental health conditions.
Hormone medications and some reproductive health disorders, such as PCOS, can also leave people at higher risk of depression and anxiety.
People going through infertility or other struggles to build their family often endure a real emotional and mental toll.
Having someone experienced and knowledgeable to walk the journey with you can help alleviate feelings of isolation, frustration, helplessness and confusion.
Published studies also show that making lifestyle changes can directly impact success rates in fertility treatment cycles, and fertility coaches can help you make beneficial changes that lead to improved health and wellbeing and increase the odds of conceiving.
Fertility coaching is often referred to as a 'mind-body' process, with a fertility coach supporting the whole person, taking into consideration relationships and surroundings in order to:
1/ Lessen The Negative Impact Fertility Struggles Has On You And Your Life
With tools and techniques to change your mindset, a coach can support you in identifying and implementing coping skills and reduce the physical and psychological markers of chronic stress, anxiety and or low mood.
2/ Enhance Your Body’s Natural Fertility
Nutritional deficiencies, exercise, sleep, hormone imbalances and many more borderline health issues can acutely influence fertility, even if you are not experiencing any other serious health symptoms. A fertility coach can assist with goal setting help around optimizing lifestyle and practical changes that may have a positive impact on your physical body and reproductive health, such as diet, sleep and toxins.
3/ Provide Your Future Baby With The Best Start
Data from the emerging field of epigenetics shows that lifestyle choices even in the pre-conception period can set in motion genetic influences that will follow a baby into adulthood, such as likelihood of obesity, immune response and susceptibility to certain diseases.
With the right support you can find increased health and wellbeing, emotional balance and positive ways to move forward on your journey to becoming a parent, whilst also setting your future child up for the best start in life.
The right support in the pre-conception period and through fertility treatment has been shown to:
Increase pregnancy rates (by up to 65% in IVF)
Increase egg retrieval rates
Impact egg quality
Reduce miscarriage risk
Improve sperm mobility
Reduce PCOS symptoms
Additionally, fertility coaches can be a real source of support during a time when many of your usual support circle may be at a loss for how to help you navigate the next steps.
Sometimes decisions are not purely medical decisions, they are highly personal and require thinking through in the round: Do we do another cycle? How will we manage the costs? What does success look like for us?
It is hard for friends and family to provide support in such a specialist area with lots of jargon, nuances and a great deal of emotional tension - and often doctors and fertility specialists do not provide lifestyle support, partly because they are not specifically trained to do so, they are under time pressure and because the data around many specialist areas such as nutrition are conflicting and constantly evolving.
In helping you to find answers to your questions, clarifying conflicting information and assisting you in identifying realistic and positive ways to move forward, a coach can augment clinical care in a way that provides you with more energy and agency for the journey ahead.
Here's top fertility doctor Dr. Alejandro Chavez-Badiola - who has featured in the New Scientist, BBC and the New Yorker - talking about why he thinks it would be "fantastic" if all his fertility patients received fertility coaching:
When Should I Get A Fertility Coach?
A fertility coach can be beneficial at any stage in the fertility journey: from initial investigations or research through treatment to beyond, as you process emotions and make guided decisions.
In terms of making healthy lifestyle changes, any change no matter how small the window, will not only benefit your own health, but potentially that of a future child.
However, research does suggest that at least a three month period of positive nutritional and other lifestyle interventions will be most influential:
"The peri-conceptional period during which external and environmental factors exert significant influence on gamete and embryo health is considered to extend from 14 weeks pre-conception to 10 weeks gestation." - Professor Régine P M Steegers-Theunissen
Who Is Fertility Coaching For?
Whether you are male, female, non-binary, trans, gay, straight, bi, single or coupled, whether you are trying to conceive naturally, going through IVF, recovering from pregnancy loss or IVF failure, exploring donor or surrogacy routes or adoption, or trying to preserve your future fertility through egg or sperm freezing, fertility coaching can work for you.
If you’re struggling to take the next steps in building your family or you need some emotional support along the way, fertility coaching is a safe and productive option to help you make a plan and get clear on your path to success.
How Fertility Coaching Works
Fertility coaching combines multiple techniques and can be structured in a variety of different ways, depending on the needs and preferences of the client.
Professional fertility coaches provide support in a range of areas, including miscarriage, IVF support, chemical pregnancy, emotional support, endometriosis, infertility/sub-fertility, irregular periods, ovulation and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), gay and trans family building, cancer, fertility preservation, and more.
They often draw on a range of skills and knowledge such as:
Stages of change
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Fertility coaches also often work in conjunction with naturopaths, nutritionists and dietitians, acupuncturists, therapists and other specialists.
Many fertility coaches entered the profession after their own personal experience with infertility or other reproductive health issues, which is why they often have great insight into what you might be going through. In practice, this can translate to meaningful and empathetic support, understanding and encouragement
This can take the form of:
1:1 coaching in person
Different fertility coaches may also have different approaches, or a specialist focus.
Emma Menzies, an accredited coach and former lawyer, has run a fertility coaching practice since her own experiences going through IVF.
She says a fertility coach can be really helpful to those of us feeling overwhelmed because fertility can so easily take over your life.
“For me it was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do,” says Menzies. "It is one of the most physically, emotionally, mentally, financially challenging things you can go through and it's huge. It's potentially life changing."
Menzies focus with her clients is based around balancing work and fertility treatment, as that was what she personally found the most difficult.
“My job was a pretty big, pressurized job, and the hours were long anyway with that.” she explains. “With the fertility journey I felt like I had two full time jobs. Even if logistically I wasn't engaged in it full time, then mentally and emotionally I was.”
For fertility coach, Erica Evans, tailoring support to the individual is an essential part of helping someone through their infertility struggles.
What works for one individual may not work for another, so it's important to find the right fit and what works for you personally.
What’s The Difference Between A Fertility Therapist And A Fertility Coach?
As you navigate your fertility journey, it can be hard to know what kind of support works best for you.
Fertility therapists (including psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, or mental health counselors), fertility coaches, and support groups have their own unique attributes that can help manage the emotional stress surrounding fertility and family building. In a nutshell, therapists tend to apply specific modalities (e.g. psychodynamic therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, etc.) to assess, diagnose, and treat mental illness. This tends to happen through a lens that helps people make sense of the past and the present.
A fertility coach is more focused on looking towards the future - providing a framework for self-reflection, coping mechanisms and tools to help manage emotional stress and reach specific goals.
Another small but important distinction is that therapists tend to be more focused on cognitions - acquiring knowledge through thoughts and past experiences - versus fertility coaches, who tend to focus more on building towards goals through behaviors.
Of course, there is some level of behavior and cognition in both practices but this can be used as a general guide to better understand what sort of support you think will work best for you.
And, in some cases, you could benefit from multiple support resources.
“When my husband and I were going through multiple rounds of IVF, we had both a therapist and a fertility coach. We’d already been seeing a couples counselor for about a year but then when we started trying to get pregnant, it took a massive toll on our relationship. We found that the therapist helped us work through a lot of the anger and frustration we were feeling towards ourselves and each other.
Then, after my 2nd miscarriage and my 1st failed IVF cycle, I was feeling like every single area of my life was being affected by my infertility - from my performance at work to my friendships. A friend of mine recommended a fertility coach and that was really a turning point for me, emotionally. After being in a depression tailspin, I was able to start looking forward and building towards things that mattered to ME, not my family, not my friends, just me.
I finally started to feel clarity in my path forward and for the first time in more than a year, I felt like I had regained control of my life. Even after my 2nd failed cycle, the fertility coach gave me the support and confidence to bounce back and make positive life changes that I believe helped me have my healthy, beautiful baby boy in our 3rd cycle. I can’t say that fertility coaching was 100% responsible for our success but I can tell you that I learned a lot about myself in the process and it has served as a transformative experience that ultimately I believe has helped me be a better mom.”
- Jenny G, 37
One thing that’s good to keep in mind is the varying qualifications between a therapist and a coach.
Therapy is a highly regulated field. Therapists typically must be licensed or working under supervision and they must have received a graduate degree along with significant clinical experience. They are also only able to practice in the specific states in which they are licensed. Regulation is important in this arena because they are often treating severe mental health disorders and in some cases are capable of prescribing medication.
Fertility coaches, on the other hand, don’t fall under the same regulations. While there are elective licenses and certifications for all types of coaching, there are no state or national laws that require them to practice. For this reason, it’s important that you find a coach that you feel has met certain qualifications. We’ll go into which ones to look for below. On the plus side, lower regulatory constraints means that coaches can apply more hands-on, personalized support that is built around personal goals versus trying to treat certain mental health disorders. And, because coaches can practice in any state, you can meet with them digitally in a way that works around your own timing and location.
How To Find A Fertility Coach
Fertility coaches can vary hugely in the level of skills and training they have and the services they offer. There are many different types of fertility coaches, so it's a good idea to have some understanding of the support you're seeking.
Whether you're working with a certified coach or a licensed therapist or other practitioner, you can expect that some kind of self-reflection will be part of the process.
Depending what you are looking for, you may need a different type of coach.
It is a good idea to:
Select a coach with some form of accreditation or training
Consider if they are a member of professional bodies, organizations or industry groups, which may indicate continuous learning and up to date information
Get to know their personality: most coaches offer a free discovery call where you can connect with them personally and understand their services and see if you gel as personalities. Remember, this person will be your advocate, your support system and your chosen guide through potential ups and downs, so choosing someone whose energy is right for you is important
Consider whether automated or data-driven coaching may be a more convenient or simple starting point for you