Does Stress Affect Your Chances of Getting Pregnant?
Those who have struggled to get pregnant have probably been told that if they just relaxed, they’ll get pregnant. However, there are a lot of misconceptions and unknowns regarding stress and pregnancy.
This article dives into common causes of stress for one or both partners when trying to conceive, current research on the effects of stress on fertility, and lifestyle factors that may impact chances of conception such as sleep, diet, exercise, medication, alcohol and substance use and tips on how to reduce stress when trying to get pregnant.
Advice from a Family-Building Expert on Health and Fertility
We spoke with Kenzi Locks, creator of the Growforth Family Building, licensed clinical social worker, health and wellness coach, and family-building expert.
Kenzi received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University and a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University. Kenzi has dedicated her career to supporting individuals and couples on their path to parenthood.
Having worked with hundreds of families coping with infertility, as well as those finding their way to becoming an LGBTQ+ parent or single parent by choice, Kenzi knows how difficult the road to parenthood can be. She is committed to supporting those considering adoption, fertility treatments, donor gametes, and surrogacy, as well as those considering remaining childless.
Kenzi brings a wealth of experience and empathy to her clients, particularly around decision-making and setting boundaries with others.
Sources of Stress When Trying to Conceive
There are many sources of stress that can arise when an individual or a couple is trying to conceive. Locks drew from her experience and expertise and shared the following common causes of stress:
The inability to predict if and when conception will happen can lead to frustration and anxiety.
This uncertainty can stem from various factors, including irregular menstrual cycles, underlying fertility issues, or the unpredictable nature of conception itself. If there are struggles to conceive, individuals and couples can often feel a loss of control and even a sense of helplessness.
Societal expectations, family inquiries, and comparisons to others can contribute to stress. Those comments of “your biological clock is ticking!” can easily cause a spike in stress levels. Unsolicited advice on how to conceive and toxic positivity around infertility also cause undue stress.
If conception and a healthy pregnancy don’t happen quickly, the costs of fertility testing and potentially infertility treatments can be emotionally and financially draining. The unexpected financial burden can lead to stress and worries for the future. For LGBTQ+ individuals and couples, there will always be an added financial burden in trying to have a child (donor gametes, fertility procedures, and surrogates).
Struggles with infertility can sometimes lead to tension in relationships, as partners cope differently with the emotional rollercoaster. There can also be relationship strain with family and friends who may have a more effortless experience with the process and those who can’t seem to understand possible difficulties.
Difficulty conceiving and infertility can impact one’s sense of identity and self-worth, causing complex emotions beyond the physical aspects of reproduction. Those struggling can experience a sense of inadequacy, guilt, self-blame, a loss of identity, and face isolation and stigma.
Can Stress Affect Your Chances of Getting Pregnant?
In a short answer, yes, stress can potentially impact fertility. However, the exact mechanisms aren’t fully understood. Some studies have shown that there are relationships between stress and the ability to conceive.
For instance, it’s been found that women with higher levels of stress before and during fertility treatment have a lower pregnancy rate. However, there are studies that have not found this association.
A prospective cohort study found that stress can impact the success of fertility treatments, making it more challenging for couples undergoing assisted reproductive technologies (ART) like in vitro fertilization (IVF). However, another prospective cohort study showed that stress was not associated with IVF outcomes.
Further research is needed to understand the mind-body connection between psychological stress and human reproduction.
It’s important to note that stress alone is usually not the sole cause of fertility problems. Infertility is often a complex issue with various contributing factors. Lifestyle factors, underlying medical conditions, age, and genetics also play significant roles.
Does Stress Affect Ovulation Or Prevent Implantation?
In women, stress may impact the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, which regulate the menstrual cycle and the release of eggs from the ovaries.
Chronic stress can lead to the release of stress hormones like cortisol, which can lead to dysfunction of the reproductive system. Specifically, this can disrupt the delicate balance of reproductive hormones, such as luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which are crucial for ovulation and implantation.
High levels of stress might result in irregular menstrual cycles, which can lead to irregular or missed ovulation (anovulation). When ovulation is inconsistent, the timing for conception becomes more challenging.
Stress may also impact the uterine lining. For successful implantation, the uterine lining must be receptive to the embryo. Stress-induced changes in blood flow and uterine contractions could potentially affect this receptivity.
Can Stress Affect Egg Quality?
Yes, stress can potentially affect egg quality. When you are constantly stressed, there is an increased level of cortisol in your body which reduces estrogen production. This can potentially cause deterioration of egg quality. Chronic stress can lead to oxidative stress in the body, which can damage cells, including eggs. Oxidative stress can lead to DNA damage in eggs, potentially affecting their quality.
Can Stress Affect Sperm Count?
Yes, stress can also affect sperm count, quality and motility.
Chronic stress can disrupt the balance of hormones in the body, including those that regulate the production of sperm. Elevated cortisol levels can suppress the production of testosterone, a hormone necessary for sperm production.
Stress can also affect the quality of sperm. High levels of stress may lead to an increase in oxidative stress, which can damage sperm DNA and reduce sperm motility (movement).
Stress Influences Other Poor Habits That Affect Fertility
Stress can compound other factors leading to fertility issues, such as unhealthy coping mechanisms like poor diet, lack of exercise, poor sleep hygiene, and substance use.
High levels of stress can lead to a decreased interest in sex or sexual dysfunction, which can impact the frequency of intercourse and, consequently, the chances of conception.
“It’s important to note that infertility is a medical diagnosis. While stress can contribute to fertility challenges, it’s not the sole factor, and many individuals have easily conceived even while dealing with extremely high stress levels. Additionally, alleviating stress does not cure infertility any more than it would eliminate any other chronic medical condition,” explains Locks.
Tips To Reduce Stress When Trying To Get Pregnant
Managing stress through relaxation techniques, exercise, counseling, and lifestyle changes can be helpful for couples trying to conceive. If you’re concerned about fertility issues, please consult a healthcare provider or fertility specialist for a thorough evaluation and guidance tailored to your specific situation.
Locks shared some strategies that can help individuals and couples reduce stress during their family-building journey:
Talk openly about your emotions, fears, and expectations with your partner or someone close to you. Sharing the journey can strengthen your relationship, and having an empathic ear can help manage difficult emotions.
Set Realistic Expectations
Understand that fertility is a complex process. The time to pregnancy is not completely predictable. If conceiving doesn’t happen effortlessly, some feelings of worry and stress are typical. The goal is not always to feel stress-free and happy; it’s to acknowledge and manage the difficult emotions as they arise.
Seek Mental Health Support
Connecting with a therapist, counselor or coach specializing in the emotional challenges of conception can support you in developing coping strategies.
Practice Relaxation Techniques
Mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing, and yoga can help lower stress levels.
Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
Prioritize a balanced diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep to support your overall mental health, well-being and fertility.
Limit Information Overload
While research is essential, excessive online searching can increase anxiety. When we research too much, we often find piles of conflicting information, making decision-making difficult. Choose reputable sources and take breaks from information-seeking.
Engage in Enjoyable Activities
Pursue hobbies and activities that bring joy and relaxation, helping to take your mind off the stress of conceiving.
Find a Supportive Community
If you’re facing stress from struggling to conceive, experienced challenges with IVF treatments or suffered a pregnancy loss, connecting with others with lived experience can be helpful. There are many excellent support groups in-person and online through RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association.
Additionally, many folks find their trying-to-conceive community on social media, particularly Instagram. Connecting with others facing similar stressors and finding empathy and understanding can make a huge difference.
“Remember, each individual’s experience is unique, so it’s important to tailor these strategies to what works best for each person or couple,” advises Locks.
If you are concerned about how stress might be affecting your fertility, it’s a good idea to consult with a healthcare provider or fertility specialist for personalized interventions, treatment options and support.
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