The answer to this question is “Yes, it can!” Studies have shown that stress can indeed affect a woman’s chances of getting pregnant, but it’s not as straightforward as that. Any couple who have been trying to conceive for a lengthy period of time understand that just trying to get pregnant can be a real stress in itself.
Well-meaning people will offer all types of advice, like “You’re just too stressed; “Try to relax”, “You’re trying too hard”, even “Calm down and let nature take its course” – of course these people are just trying to help, but for couples struggling with infertility these offerings only make matters worse. However, it now seems that fertility doctors are looking more closely at stress and how it may affect a couple’s struggle to achieve a viable pregnancy. And it’s not only stress that these doctors are looking at; they are now saying that “Trying too hard” could actually be responsible for up to 30% of all infertility issues.
So How Does Stress Affect Fertility?
We know that stress can have an adverse effect on the hypothalamus, the part of your brain that regulates hormones. The hypothalamus is a gland located in the brain that not only regulates a woman’s hormones – these are the hormones required to release your eggs – the hypothalamus gland also regulates a male’s testosterone levels. When a woman is stressed, particularly if she is suffering from prolonged stress, she could ovulate later than usual in her menstrual cycle, or not ovulate at all. This condition is known as Stress Induced Anovulation.
While everyone reacts to stress in different ways, everyday stresses are considered quite normal and our bodies are used to these, which means it’s highly unlikely your cycle will be affected by everyday stresses. However, your cycle can be deeply affected by a traumatic event, thus interfering with fertility. Ovulation could even be delayed by a change in routine, like a business trip.
What Is Your Body Telling You?
The cervical mucus of women who are stressed could well indicate that something is wrong. As a woman approaches ovulation it’s normal to notice increased cervical wetness, but during periods of prolonged stress she may find this alters to patches of wetness combined with dry days. It’s like her body wants to ovulate but the stress she’s experiencing is stopping it. Now for the good news! You can still get pregnant if you’re experiencing stress-induced delays to ovulation. Of course, you must still be having sex on a regular basis throughout your cycle. It’s still very important that you work through your stress issues, though, because the stress won’t encourage lovemaking.
Make Some Simple Lifestyle Changes
Simple lifestyle changes can help you feel more relaxed; changes like exercising, eating healthy, meditation, yoga, and other forms of relaxation are all wonderful aids for reducing stress. Perhaps you and your partner simply need to get away from the hustle and bustle of your busy lives for a few days, just to help you conceive a baby!
1. Adopt a Healthy Lifestyle
A number of things go into adopting a lifestyle that is healthy, such as:
- Eating Healthy. Healthy eating involves reducing the intake of caffeine and alcohol, staying away from foods that have artificial sweeteners, which affect blood sugar levels negatively and could result in a hormonal imbalance. Eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains instead.
- Regular Exercise. Regular exercise can help reduce stress levels, but it’s important to strike a balance. Too much exercise can trigger stress hormones, which could also affect your chances of getting pregnant. Aim for moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, yoga, or swimming, for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. (Read our blog post: How Exercise Can Improve Your Fertility)
- Practice Mindfulness and Meditation. Mindfulness and meditation are excellent practices for reducing stress and promoting relaxation. Try to set aside a few minutes each day to sit quietly, focus on your breath, and clear your mind. It can help to reduce anxiety, promote better sleep, and improve overall mental health.
- Getting Enough Rest. When you’re trying to get pregnant, it’s vital that you get enough rest. Sleep deprivation can increase stress levels, and as we’ve already learned, stress can negatively affect your chances of getting pregnant. Aim to get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night.
- Positive Thoughts. You eliminate life’s unnecessary stresses when you feel good about your overall health. Let the bad things fall aside and focus on the good things!
2. Massage Therapy
Many women find massages very relaxing. In 2004, in the International Journal of Neuroscience, researchers discovered that the physical stress signals of the body like brain waves and heart rate were reduced with massage therapy. Although it might not work for all women, it is definitely worth a try, having a relaxing spa day for the benefits of health and TTC. Even a bedtime massage from your partner could be beneficial, let him know it is for TTC!
3. Essential Oils
Many people say that essential oils work great for them, but you have to try it to see if it works for you. There are many different ways that you can enjoy the benefits of essential oils. Find a scent you love and just add a few drops to your pillow, in the bathtub, or on your wrist. An electric diffuser is a great way to fill your environment with relaxing scents. Lavender and Chamomile are two of the most popular relaxing scents.
4. Seek the Help of a Fertility Specialist
If you believe that you have tried everything to reduce your stress but nothing is helping your cycle, it’s time to seek professional help. Ask your general practitioner for a referral to a fertility specialist, who will be able to determine the reason you are not ovulating. If you are, in fact, experiencing an ovulation problem, the specialist may suggest you take a fertility drug such as gonadotrophins or clomiphene, to encourage ovulation.
Many couples who have been trying to conceive for a long time have turned to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy in order to ease their stressful lifestyles. If this is something you may be interested in, ask your general practitioner for a referral.
5. Try Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Many people choose Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to treat anxiety and anxiety disorders. CBT is basically the idea that your thinking affects how you feel and what you do. ‘’Cognitive’’ is your thinking (the thoughts you have) and ‘’behavioural’’ are the actions that come from your thoughts and feelings. Of course, your anxiety is made worse when you avoid the real issues, so CBT helps you face your negative thoughts and fears instead of running away from them.
Studies show that women who are undergoing infertility treatment typically experience higher than normal rates of psychological distress. Studies also show that depression and stress do have an impact on fertility, and that certain psychological interventions can improve infertile women’s pregnancy rates.
6. Support Groups Can Be Very Helpful
Many women feel completely alone when they’re trying to conceive, which makes it much more difficult to cope with stress. These women find joining a support group very helpful. If you feel you might benefit from a support group, get in touch with Fertility Network UK or the British Infertility Counselling Association.
This post first appeared in 2018. It was last updated in June 2023.