It’s common for women to become stressed as their attempts to conceive continue, but many women are unaware that stress may directly influence their ability to become pregnant. In theory, becoming pregnant is a remarkably simple process. However, for the more than one in five women in the US who continue to experience infertility after a year of trying to conceive, pregnancy can become a complex issue.
Your friends and family may have offered advice with good intentions, and you may even have tried their suggestions to no avail, causing you to become more and more stressed as pregnancy does not occur. What you might not know is that this stress may be contributing to issues with your reproductive health.
Stress is defined as our natural physical and mental response to a worrying situation or event. Of course, everyone experiences stress at some level, and we all react to it differently. In any situation you find difficult or uncomfortable, you should expect to feel some amount of stress. Stress isn’t always bad, but chronic stress can cause physical and mental health issues and may even prevent you from participating in activities you enjoy.
When you add the stress of not being able to conceive to the regular stresses in your daily life, it’s easy to see how stress and infertility can be a vicious cycle. These issues can cause women to experience negative mental health symptoms like depression or anxiety or even isolate themselves from friends and family. When dealing with stress and infertility, it’s important to find healthy ways to manage stress and address the root cause of your infertility.
It’s important to note that you are not alone. Nearly 12 percent of married women have problems conceiving or sustaining a pregnancy. The same study notes that women should have a strong support system throughout their treatment for infertility. While difficulty conceiving can be stressful, with proper counseling and support, you can improve your overall mental and physical health and boost your chances of achieving pregnancy.
How Stress Impacts a Woman’s Reproductive System
It is important to note that while stress itself isn’t the sole cause of infertility, it can significantly affect your overall health, including your reproductive system. For example, you must be ovulating to become pregnant; however, when you become stressed, stress hormones are released and begin to disrupt the signal between the brain and ovaries. This can interfere with ovulation, preventing you from being able to conceive.
Stress can also disrupt or halt your periods, and this irregularity can make it difficult to time your attempts to conceive. In addition, you may experience stress-related conditions that affect the pH balance in the vaginal area, leading to yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and more. These conditions may not directly cause infertility, but if left untreated, they can seriously affect your reproductive health.
There are several other aspects of your reproductive health that may be affected by stress over infertility.
Sex can be a great source of stress relief, and for couples not using in vitro fertilization (IVF), it is essential for conception. However, work, infertility, and other life matters can prevent you from having the time or energy to have sex, increasing your stress.
One solution to consider is to stop planning sex around your ovulation with the goal of becoming pregnant and go back to having sex for mutual pleasure, connection, and fun. Reducing the pressure surrounding sex can help you get back to enjoying this time spent with your partner and reduce the stress it causes. Another idea is to change up the timing of when you’re having sex with your partner to keep things fun and allow yourself to have sex when you want it versus when you believe you should have it.
Lack of sleep can impact anyone’s mental, emotional, and physical health. As mentioned, stress and lack of sleep can cause irregularities in your menstrual cycle, which can cause difficulty conceiving. Not sleeping enough can also make you more tired throughout the day and can cause depression and anxiety, leading to decreased libido.
If you’re struggling to sleep enough due to stress, there are a few strategies to consider:
- Avoid using your phone or computer right before sleeping
- Drink herbal tea before bed and avoid caffeine
- Use your bed strictly for sleeping and sex
- Don’t include a TV or workstation in your bedroom
By improving your sleep, you’ll feel more energized throughout the day, and your menstrual cycles may become more normal.
It’s incredibly common for stressed individuals to eat more favorite foods in an attempt to cope. However, gaining weight as a result of increased stress and poor diet may affect your fertility. While the cause is still not fully understood, overweight women are less likely to conceive. Weight also impacts male fertility, as being overweight can cause a male’s sperm count to drop.
On the other hand, being underweight can also impact your reproductive system. If you’re significantly underweight, you could suffer from amenorrhea, which means you lack a menstrual cycle. Without a menstrual cycle, you won’t ovulate, meaning you can’t become pregnant.
To combat the excessive weight gain or excessive weight loss that can prevent pregnancy, consider addressing stress and eating a balanced diet. Look for whole foods like lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats.
Exercise is known to promote a healthy weight while also functioning to reduce your stress. If you can exercise for at least two and a half hours every week, you’re doing enough to stay healthy. If you’re overweight, diet and exercise are great strategies to keep your weight in a good range to improve your fertility. It’s equally important not to overdo your exercise routine, as too much can make you tired and sore, both of which can affect your ability to conceive.
Exercise can provide several benefits even outside of improved reproductive health, including:
- Reduces blood pressure
- Improves sleep
- Reduces your odds of suffering from heart disease
- Improves your energy throughout the day
- Releases stress
What to Avoid When You Want to Conceive
While humans have created many ways of reducing stress, not all of them are healthy, particularly if you’re looking to become pregnant. Avoid these common ways of combating stress if you’re trying to conceive.
Alcohol should be avoided when trying to conceive. It may be natural to want a drink when you’re stressed, but alcohol can increase women’s risk for miscarriage. For men, alcohol can negatively influence sperm count. Both you and your partner should refrain from alcohol while trying to conceive.
Smoking is another common way people relieve stress, though it is much less prevalent than it was in the past. However, smoking and exposure to your partner’s smoke can negatively impact the vital hormones essential for reproduction and can actively damage components of the reproductive system. In addition, nicotine can damage the DNA in your partner’s sperm.
While you don’t need to avoid caffeine entirely, you should avoid drinking a large amount daily. High caffeine intake may cause you to take longer to become pregnant and can also increase your risk of miscarriage. In addition, pregnant women are advised to abstain from high doses of caffeine because it may lead to low birth weight. If you drink more than one or two cups of coffee per day, cutting back may help.
Suggested Reading: Infertility Q&A
Reducing Stress to Increase Chance of Pregnancy
Infertility can be a daunting situation for any woman, and it’s normal to have questions or concerns regarding how you’re approaching it. As mentioned, when you feel stressed while experiencing infertility, it’s important to make lifestyle changes to decrease stress and increase your odds of getting pregnant. Fortunately, there are several other things you can do to manage your stress and improve your fertility.
Speak With a Counselor or Therapist
The last thing you want to do when you’re stressed is to bottle it up and let it get worse. If you need to speak with a professional about your emotional and mental state, consider meeting with a counselor or therapist. This gives you the freedom to fully express how you’re feeling about your infertility and what’s causing you to stress and begin to address ways to tackle both.
Many women choose to participate in yoga to release stress and improve physical health. Performing certain yoga postures releases tension in the body and encourages you to focus on your breathing, both excellent methods of reducing stress. Yoga also teaches you to take care of your body, which is easy to forget in your typical daily life.
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the present moment, not prior mistakes or potential situations. By focusing on something in the present moment, you spend less time worrying about what may happen in the future. Pregnancy and infertility can both become stressful for women, and it’s easy to ruminate over thousands of possibilities but focusing on what’s truly important right now can provide you with perspective and reduce stress.
Write Down Your Thoughts
It’s natural to want to bottle up your emotions and thoughts pertaining to infertility, and you may not be processing these thoughts rationally. By writing them down, you’re able to see what you’re thinking from a different angle. If you’re meeting with a therapist, you can bring in your writing for the therapist to better understand how you think.
Writing daily can help you process what you’re going through and identify negative thought patterns as well as ways you’re exacerbating your stress. Keeping your thoughts contained within can only increase your stress, and if you’re not quite ready to talk about them with others, write them down in a personal journal.
Suggested Reading: What Can You Do About Low Estrogen Levels?
Schedule a Wellness Exam to Learn More
A wellness exam can illuminate factors that may be affecting your conception journey. Arizona Gynecology Consultants are proud to assist women with various women’s health problems, including infertility. We’ve seen the effects stress can have on reproductive health, which is why we’re committed to helping women manage their stress levels, identify the root causes of infertility, and manage both.
There’s no shame in infertility, feeling stressed about conceiving, or anything else related to women’s health. Having trouble conceiving is common and doesn’t mean you’re less than anyone else. For women who have spent years trying to become pregnant, stress may be among the underlying reasons for your struggle. Stress and infertility are challenging to address, but we can help.
We’ll assess your situation and work diligently to provide the resources and education you need to stay healthy and pursue pregnancy, however that looks for you. If you’d like to schedule a wellness exam, contact our team today.
Founder and Medical Director of ARIZONA GYNECOLOGY CONSULTANTS
Dr. Kelly Roy is a specialist in surgical gynecology and advanced laparoscopy (and hysteroscopy). She is a long-time resident of Arizona and obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Engineering at Arizona State University before finishing her Doctorate of Medicine at the University of Arizona in 1997.
Dr. Roy completed her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the then “Banner Good Samaritan Hospital” (now Banner University Medical Center), in Phoenix Arizona in 2001.
Well known for her teaching and surgical ability, she is on the faculty at the residency program at both Banner University Medical Center and Saint Joseph’s Hospital in central Phoenix and is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Phoenix Campus. Dr. Roy has taught advanced surgical techniques to medical students, residents, fellows and colleagues for over 15 years.
Dr. Roy is also a consultant to the medical device industry and has participated in the design and clinical testing of many instruments and surgical devices available on the world-wide market today.