How Stress Can Impact Natural Fertility

Trying to start a family can be surprisingly tricky. Not only do couples need to time their efforts just right - they also need to consider how a range of environmental and health factors can impact their natural fertility each month. Stress, for example, is something that everyone deals with on a regular basis.

Maybe you feel stressed while at work, or when you get stuck in traffic. Or maybe you experience one of thousands of other stressful triggers. No matter what your reasons for feeling stress are, this natural “fight or flight” response is something that we all experience. And unfortunately, it can be problematic, and may even create fertility issues in otherwise healthy couples.

How Does Stress Affect Fertility?

The short answer to this question is, we don’t know: doctors still aren’t 100% sure exactly why or how stress interferes with fertility. To date, studies have definitely shown a connection between stress and fertility, but no one has been able to highlight the exact mechanisms behind it. The connection is strong enough, however, that experts believe stress may play a role in up to 30% of the infertility difficulties couples deal with.

While the exact link between fertility and stress remains a mystery, there are plenty of possible theories out there that are being looked into:

  • For a long time, experts suspected that hormones like cortisol or epinephrine - which, according to WebMD, rise and often remain high during times of chronic stress - could impact a woman’s ability to ovulate.
  • Another theory suggested that “reducing stress may help enhance proteins within the uterine lining that are involved in implantation.” In other words, lower stress levels might have made it easier for fertilized eggs to implant.
  • It’s also been suggested that stress could impact the amount of blood flow to the uterus - which could affect both conception and implantation, as a reduced amount of blood flow could impact the overall health of the female reproductive system.
  • Finally, some experts believe that the source of stress-related conception issues may stem from the fact that stress can affect the functioning of the hypothalamus — the gland in the brain that regulates everything from our appetites to our hormones. If the hypothalamus is not operating at full capacity, it’s possible that it could fail to help the female reproductive system ovulate on time. And if there’s no egg, conception is not possible.

Of course, to date, these are just theories, and as every woman responds to stress differently, there could even be a variety of other stress-related fertility factors to consider. Bit by bit, though, research is revealing more about this puzzle. For example, we know now that cortisol - the once prime suspect in this issue - has very little to do with stress-related infertility.

And while the mechanisms behind stress-related fertility issues still aren’t clear, using stress reduction techniques has definitely helped women successfully conceive after months of trying. For example, research published in the journal Human Reproduction found that, “Pregnancy was much more likely to occur during months when couples reported feeling ‘good’ -- happy and relaxed. It was less likely to occur during the months they reported feeling tense or anxious.”

What Can I Do To Avoid Stress-Related Fertility Issues?

While stress itself cannot be eliminated from our lives entirely, the good news is that stress-related fertility issues can definitely be overcome. And it happens quite often - think about the number of people you know who conceived while they were on vacation. Coincidence? We doubt that!

If you are concerned that stress is affecting your natural fertility, we recommend integrating some effective stress management techniques into your daily routine.  Some stress relief techniques to consider include:

  • Make time in your day for at least 30 minutes of exercise
  • Allow yourself to be pampered and schedule a massage, facial, or other relaxing activity
  • Try to incorporate deep breathing exercises into your routine through meditation, yoga or a similar activity
  • Reduce the number of unnecessary tasks that you try to squeeze into your daily schedule
  • Set aside blocks of time for a healthy amount of sleep
  • Plan outings and participate in activities that you enjoy, such as watching funny movies or participating in a painting class

By selecting a stress relief method or two that you enjoy and which makes you feel better, you’ll be more likely to overcome stress related fertility issues. If you feel like you’re having a particularly overwhelming month, using certain ovulation tracking methods can also help you determine if you’re still on track to ovulate in spite of the stress. And if you feel that you are experiencing extreme chronic stress, it may be worthwhile to speak to a doctor to work on developing a plan that will address this problem. Remember, stress isn’t just a fertility-related issue - it’s a serious health issue, and one that is worth addressing sooner rather than later!

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