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Can Stress Inhibit Your Fertility?

Can Stress Inhibit Your Fertility?

couple talking to a fertility doctor

Once you’ve decided you’re ready for a child, nothing can be more frustrating than the months going by and failing to receive a positive pregnancy test. After you’ve tried the internet remedies, your mother’s suggestions, and spent a little time crying in the bathroom, you’re probably at your wit’s end. But what if the problem was a lot easier than you thought? A common piece of advice from websites and girlfriends alike is to avoid stress—but could that really be what’s causing your uterus to act up? Before you rush out to sign up for yoga classes, however, it is worth taking a closer look at the truth behind this common tale.

What are the theories about stress and fertility?

There are two prevailing theories about why stress would affect fertility. The first would be the effect of stress on the delicate balance of hormones that cause ovulation. The pituitary gland is responsible for triggering the hormonal reaction women experience each month that ends in an ovary releasing an egg. Intense stress can disrupt these important hormonal messages, and can cause delayed ovulation or an anovulatory cycle, which is a complete lack of ovulation for a particular cycle. If the cycle is delayed, it can be difficult for a woman to predict when the egg is actually being released, unless she is closely charting. If there is no egg when the sperm arrives, it is impossible for any conception to take place. There is also some discussion about how stress might effect the ability of a fertilized embryo to implant in the uterus.

The second theory says that stress can cause practical problems. When a couple is facing a stressful situation, they tend to be less enthusiastic about being intimate, which in turn lessens the chances that they will conceive.

What does the research say?

The research conducted on the issue has revealed mixed results. Some studies have shown strong indications that stress and difficulty conceiving are connected. For example, a study conducted in Boston studied 100 women, divided into two groups, who were undergoing IVF treatments at a fertility center. They studied the rates of pregnancy among those who underwent only the fertility procedure compared to the second group, who had IVF treatments in conjunction with a stress reduction program. Once those in the second group had undergone at least half of their stress reduction program, 52 percent became pregnant, compared to 20 percent of the group who did not have stress reduction.

On the other hand, when Danish researchers sat down and reviewed thirty one studies that analyzed the relationship between stress and conception, they concluded that psychological factors only had a minimal effect on rates of conception. Overall, the research seems to have mixed results.

What should women take away about the relationship between stress and fertility?

It is important for women and their partners to never allow themselves to blame the woman for the lack of conception because of a perceived or genuine failure to control personal stress. Some researchers point out that women have been able to conceive under extremely stressful conditions, such as war or even rape. This means that stress does not automatically indicate infertility. It also does not mean that eliminating stress will not mean an immediate return to fertility.

On the other hand, stress does cause higher levels of cortisol, and studies have shown its effect on ovulation in various animals. Those who study the female reproductive system believe that this translates to women as well. Anecdotal stories are everywhere, detailing couples suddenly conceiving when they had finally relaxed and stopped worrying about the situation.

Couples who are struggling to conceive should definitely work on lowering their stress levels. Although the research is not conclusive, stress can be detrimental to relationships and overall health of everyone involved. Doctors agree that women should aim to be as healthy as possible both to aid in conception and to help them have the best pregnancy and delivery as possible.

How can women naturally improve their fertility?

  • Learn how to chart their monthly cycle, which can help pinpoint the best times for intimacy around ovulation
  • Get to a health weight, as those higher or lower than the healthy range tend to have difficulties conceiving
  • Improve their health, meaning reduce stress, avoid excessive alcohol and caffeine, eat well, and quit smoking
  • Avoid some common lubricants, even water-based ones, such as KY, which can limit sperm mobility

Reducing stress is a common piece of advice given out to women hoping to become pregnant. The truth is that the research is mixed on how much of an influence a person’s psychological state actually influences their fertility. Some studies have indicated a strong relationship between the two while others are less concrete. Those looking to increase their odds of pregnancy should focus on improving their overall health, which includes working to reduce stress. As always, come visit with us if you have questions about your own level of fertility and if stress may be a factor for you.