While there are many reasons a woman might have difficulty becoming pregnant, one reason has to do with stress levels and hormones in the future mother’s body. A 2014 U.S. study published in the journal Human Reproduction found that highly stressed women “took 29 percent longer to get pregnant compared to other women and [that] their risk of infertility doubled.” A U.K. study published around the same time found similar results when surveying couples undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments.
CranioSacral Therapy can contribute to balancing a woman’s stress levels—and can therefore help improve fertility. To understand how this modality can help, it is important to understand how the central nervous system works.
When you experience chronic, ongoing stress, your nervous system is in the fight-or-flight, or sympathetic, state. When you are relaxed and stress-free, your body is in the parasympathetic state. The parasympathetic state allows you to rest, digest and reproduce. It is the exact opposite of the sympathetic state, which prepares your body to fight, flee or even freeze in response to perceived danger.
This hardwired stress reflex is present in all mammals. When facing true danger, the last thing you need is to rest up, digest food or make a baby. You need to get out of harm’s way. Escape is facilitated when the sympathetic nervous system activates the release of stress hormones, which flush the muscles with blood, increase heart rate and prepare the body to fight or flee. When the danger passes, the normal response is to go back into a parasympathetic state and get on with your life—at least until the next threat appears.
When you experience ongoing or extreme stress—perhaps due to a traumatic event or day-to-day challenges that have spiraled out of control—your body spends more time in the sympathetic state. The body does not recognize the difference between being chased by a tiger in the forest and being plagued by modern financial woes. It responds in the same way to all types of stress. For example, you might notice it is hard to sleep or your digestion becomes disrupted when you are stressed out. Reproductive capabilities can also become compromised, due to dysregulation of hormones in this high-stress state.
Stress also creates muscle tension. We’ve all felt this in our shoulders, neck or jaw after working long hours. If pelvic muscles are always slightly contracted due to stress—ready to fight or flee—this could lead to a misaligned pelvic structure, tipped uterus or twisted fallopian tubes. Misalignment and chronic tension in the low back or pelvic floor also adversely affect nerves and blood supply to the reproductive organs, making it hard to conceive or maintain a pregnancy.
A study published in 2012 in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association found fertility rates improved for 60 percent of subjects after manual therapy was applied to the pelvic region. Despite the small number of subjects in the study, the author believes “manual therapy could potentially be used as a first course of treatment for infertile patients considering hormone therapy, intrauterine insemination (IUI), or IVF treatments.”
CranioSacral Therapy (CST) is a multi-faceted manual therapy that enhances the function of the craniosacral system—the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. Through gentle cranial manipulations, CST boosts the body’s natural healing processes to improve operation of the central nervous system, dissipate effects of stress, and enhance overall health and well-being.
Because of its inherently relaxing nature, CST can help women reduce stress and negotiate the transition into proper parasympathetic functioning to enable conception. The therapist uses gentle hands-on techniques to release restrictions within the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. She may also incorporate guided imagery and other relaxation techniques so clients can learn to identify and self-regulate stress before it escalates. CST is effective in helping women address negative emotions, such as fear or worry, associated with pregnancy; and it helps rid the body of residual tissue memory of emotional or physical trauma—some of which may relate to previous pregnancies, births or a complicated conception process.
During treatment, as the body softens and drops deeper into parasympathetic states of relaxation—and remains there for longer periods of time between sessions—the ability to rest, digest and reproduce will be restored. As underlying tension dissipates body-wide, the bones, muscles, organs and nerves of the reproductive system may eventually regain optimal function to support fertility, conception and a healthy, full-term pregnancy.