Does stress affect your chances of conception? Keep reading to learn the truth about stress and fertility and what you can do about it.
First, The Link Between Stress And Infertility
According to Dr. Alice Domar, a fertility researcher and the executive director at Domar Center for Mind/Body Health at Boston IVF, there are many ways that stress and infertility are linked.
“Many women worry that stress and anxiety will impact the chances of conceiving, and this has been the subject of intense debate over recent years,” the Professor of Reproductive Medicine and Surgery at Leeds Fertility, Adam Balen, told Stylist.
Professor Adam is also the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (RCOG) Spokesman. He went on to explain that, “Though there is still controversy, one popular narrative in the fertility sector at the moment is that stress and anxiety do not lead to difficulties conceiving either naturally or via IVF, rather than infertility causes stress.”
Infertility Increases Stress And Anxiety
It is all lollipops and rainbows until a couple decides to have a child, and fails. When the depressing thoughts are voiced out, what you hear is the worry. Infertility and infertility treatments like IVF put couples under a tremendous amount of pressure. Infertility causes anxiety. Anxiety further depresses the chances for conception. It's a vicious cycle.
Lucy had a plateful of anxiety. Pregnancy made her anxious. Thoughts about how pregnancy would change her life troubled her. The fact that tracking her fertile days did not improve her luck with pregnancy further energized her stress and anxiety. Not to mention, her history of alcoholism and an eating disorder, made for a tornado of distress.
“I went through phases of impatiently assuming that because I hadn’t immediately conceived, there must be something wrong with me,” Lucy told Stylist.
Thoughts about infertility and the stigma are hard to let go of. Many people will throw the words “relax” at you, but it is easier said than done. It was through exercise and opening up that Lucy found her reprieve. When I stopped thinking about it regularly, stopped checking my period tracker app every day, and gave myself up to it, I got pregnant almost immediately,” Lucy recounts. (And this is true for a lot of women.)
When women get stressed about failed pregnancy, they are very likely to turn to relieve stress through means like alcohol or smoking. This further lowers their chances of conception.
Do Stress And Anxiety Lead To Difficulties Conceiving?
A study by the National Institute of Health and Oxford University found that 25% of women under stress during their fertile days are 12% less likely to conceive. There are several possible reasons for this.
Chronic Stress May Affect Ovulation
You might have already noticed that during long stressful periods, your periods may delay or become irregular. This is because stress affects the hypothalamus, which in turn fails to stimulate the pituitary glands appropriately. The pituitary glands control the release of ovarian hormones responsible for ovulation. It causes irregular ovulation which lowers your chances of conception.
Another culprit in pituitary action disruption is cortisol. A 2006 study found that the stress hormone cortisol may delay the activity of the pituitary glands in ovulation.
Men are not exempt. Physical and emotional stress also reduces the sperm count, which lowers the chances of conception. This is similar to how female athletes have irregular menstruation due to rigorous exercise.
Stress May Prevent Implantation Of An Embryo
Anxiety makes the uterus less receptive to a fertilized egg. It is no surprise that among the leading cause of assisted reproduction failure is stress. From anxiety about pregnancy and the financial burden, stress increases after every subsequent loss. Stress hinders the pituitary gland from stimulating the hormones responsible for preparing the uterus for conception. More blood should be supplied to the uterus in preparation for implantation, but stress achieves the exact opposite. When the uterus is not in optimum conditions, conception becomes more challenging.
Stress May Cause Insomnia Which Reduces Chances Of Conception
Sleep deprivation compromises your health in many ways, including your fertility. When insomnia increases your stress levels, it may impact your fertility negatively.
One study found that women who have insomnia are 4 times more likely to develop infertility.
It is perfectly okay to feel stressed out and anxious about pregnancy. Rather than worry about how you worry, focus on lowering your stress levels.
Relaxation Improves Your Odds Of Conception
Even as researchers are yet to establish a clear cause-and-effect relationship between stress and conception, alleviating stress seems to improve the chances for conception.
Chaimovitz struggled to get pregnant until she stopped struggling. After four lost pregnancies, she was devastated. “I wanted a baby so badly I would have hung upside down… or drunk gallons of green juice if I thought it helped.” She recounts to WebMD. It was not until months after practicing relaxation techniques taught at Domar Center for Mind/Body Health that she had a full-term pregnancy. She delivered her beautiful daughter, Rami.
As Chaimovitz and other women struggling with infertility would agree, it is annoying when everyone keeps saying you should relax. Yet, relaxing is definitely a big factor.
Rather than advice on why she should relax, Chaimovitz needed to be shown just how to engage in relaxation.
What To Do When Stressed Out About Infertility
In alleviated stress lies the solution to anxiety-induced infertility. Do these things to reduce stress:
Moderate Exercise like Walking 5 Hours A Week Or Yoga
Exercise releases endorphins, the feel-good neurotransmitters. This directly alleviates stress, at least for the moment.
Join A Support Group, Online Or Physically
Meeting others who share in your suffering help you not feel alone. You also get to learn firsthand how others overcame their challenges. When you communicate openly with your partner about your fertility, you might find that all you need during the tough times is your partner.
Mindfulness will help you love your body again by connecting with your body. When you fail to trust your body, it may interpret that now's not the time for reproduction, but when your body fails to give you a baby, worry seems inevitable.
Meditation and practicing mindfulness brings peace and calm that you never thought possible.
Gone are the days when therapy sessions are seen as a sign of weakness. Therapists dedicate their lives to helping people deal with psychosocial and personal difficulties. A therapist can guide you to discover the beauty that you are. To accept your body and learn to trust it, consider professional guidance and counseling.