Stress and fertility are interlinked. Stress affects your body, your fertility and your menstrual cycle. If you are wondering whether your stress levels are contributing to your fertility struggles and making it harder for you to conceive, it’s quite possible that the answer to that niggling doubt is yes! There are studies that show stress has a negative impact when trying for a baby.

How Does Stress Affect Fertility Overall?

Simply put, you are more likely to get pregnant when you feel good. Several studies have shown that stress does have a negative impact on conception and that increased measurable stress levels are associated with ‘lower fecundity’1.

In the first instance, common sense would suggest that if someone is stressed, invariably their general behaviour and wellbeing will be affected. Stress leads to some common bad habits; all of which can inhibit natural conception:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Drinking/smoking
  • Eating too much/too little – general bad diet
  • Lack of libido

“Although no study has effectively pinpointed a direct link between stress and infertility, we can’t ignore the real likelihood of stress negatively impacting successful conception,” explained Dr Gorgy, Fertility Consultant at The Fertility & Gynaecology Academy. “ Around 20-30% of couples will have unexplained fertility; this has risen dramatically in the past 20 years in line with a more stressful lifestyle in general.

“Stress causes different reactions in different people – some women will be affected more than others which might explain the difficulty in coming to any concrete conclusions. However, we also know that stress reducing treatments, such as acupuncture, can aid conception when used alongside IVF treatment2. The fact that reducing stress has such obvious benefits for conception is reason enough to make sure that you are as stress-free as possible when trying for a baby.”

As always, some women fall pregnant at the drop of a hat, even in the most stressful situations imaginable, such as in the middle of war zones or during violent physical abuse, but for those who find it hard to conceive, stress is one of many factors that needs addressing when trying for a baby, naturally or with IVF treatment.

How Is Stress Physically Having An Impact On Me Trying To Conceive?

We know that stress has an impact on hormones. For example, when stressed, cortisol levels will rise causing the fight or flight reaction. Female reproductive hormones are produced in the brain. Stressful situations will impact the hypothalamus and have the ability to create disturbances in hormone levels. And it’s not just in women; hormonal imbalances have an effect on male sperm production too.

Stress has the potential to create physical problems for the female reproductive system. Probably the most alarming symptoms are anovulation (absent ovulation) and amenorrhea (absence of menstruation). When GnRH is inhibited, the pituitary gland located in the brain is unable to effectively release the hormones necessary for the reproductive system to function correctly. Many studies have shown that stress can have a negative impact on the physical workings of the female reproductive cycle3.

Naturally, if you are unable to track your cycle effectively, this makes it more difficult to gauge the best time to get pregnant. If your periods are missing, or you are not ovulating, again you will not be able to conceive.

Stress And Fertility – The Endless Cycle

So, we know that stress could be preventing you from getting pregnant, but we also have to acknowledge that not getting pregnant could be causing your stress! In this causal loop, one feeds into the other with destructive results.

Unless you actively do things to break the cycle, there is a chance that one will feed the other continuously. Unfortunately, people tend to underplay fertility as a cause for serious emotional distress. However, many recent studies have shown that ‘everyday’ events, including IVF failure, have more potential to create post-traumatic stress disorder and other stress related illnesses than commonly perceived traumatic events such a natural disasters and wars4.

What Can I Do To Prevent Stress Affecting My Fertility?

First, it’s important to recognise that managing stress is important for all functions of the body. Alongside getting enough nutrients, sleep and minimising the intake of toxins into the body, stress management is an essential part of ensuring that your body is fit enough to conceive and also carry a baby to term. We know more about physiology than ever before. Sticking to plans that ensure you are fit, well, and relaxed can be hard but it is necessary to ensure that your body functions well.

Reducing stress can often be easier said than done, and no one is advocating that you should cut out everything that makes you happy (because that would, of course, be causing you stress). But be mindful that doing things in moderation is often the best way forward. So, if you like a glass of wine here and there, that’s fine. Just make sure you are not binge drinking or the habit isn’t slipping into your everyday life.

Sometimes stressful situations are more about perception than reality. Yes, it’s traumatic having to undergo medical treatment, such as IVF, to have a baby. But wouldn’t it be worse if there was no treatment available at all? A positive mindset can help enormously when tackling stressful life events. More importantly, it’s essential that, if you need it, you reach out for help. Whether from friends of family members, a counsellor or an online forum. Having a support network can help enormously to reduce the stress that you feel.

Practically and in terms of your fertility specifically, it’s imperative to have a fertility test if you have been trying for a baby unsuccessfully for more than 12 months. Understanding and treating the factors preventing you from getting pregnant are the first steps in dealing with your stress. It’s far more stressful wondering why you can’t have a baby than it is treating the problems that are creating your particular issue.

How To Reduce Stress To Help Increase My Chance Of Getting Pregnant

In a practical sense, there are everyday measures you can take to combat stress as effectively as possible:

  • If you have a stressful job, make sure that you also take time for yourself and understand that you can only do so much.
  • Seek counselling. Counsellors are wonderful at getting you to understand why you feel the way you do. They also help you realise that whatever stress you have, many others are in the same boat.
  • Restrict toxins that upset your physiology. You might think drinking or smoking is helping you cope with your stress, but in reality, they are more likely feeding it. This doesn’t mean you can’t let your hair down and have a laugh sometimes, just make sure that these things aren’t becoming a ‘crutch’.
  • Sleep is so important and both stress and bad habits can play havoc with your sleep pattern. Make sure you are getting enough sleep. Check your mattress, make sure the room is dark, try not to eat or drink too close to bedtime. There are plenty of sleep tips here for more information. A rested mind will benefit you physically and mentally.
  • Alternative therapies, such as acupuncture and reflexology can help you relax and have shown great results in combating stress.
  • A good exercise routine can release endorphins to help with stress. Walking fresh air and yoga, in particular, have great mental health benefits.
  • Read up on stress relief tips. There are many books and online articles that have handy advice when it comes to dealing with stress.
  • Even something simple, like taking a bath, can give you a few moments to breathe and relax. Try to make space for you.

What Can I Do If I Am Struggling To Conceive?

Here at The Fertility & Gynaecology Academy, we understand the frustrations of trying unsuccessfully for a baby. Our comprehensive fertility testing, for both men and women, will give you peace of mind and allow you to forge forward with a positive plan. If you are concerned about the effects of stress on your fertility or would like to speak to one of our consultants, please contact us on 020 7224 1880.