Stress and Infertility: cause or effect?

Posted In: Unexplained Infertility

stress and infertility

Could your stress levels be behind your difficulties conceiving?

Current research suggests that yes, high levels of stress and anxiety exacerbate and even cause infertility. 

Studies don’t necessarily agree on why stress negatively impacts fertility but there is a high correlation between the two. Stress activates the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis (HPA). This, in turn, triggers the release of the neurotransmitters epinephrine and norepinephrine which inhibit the parasympathetic nervous system, sometimes called the “breed and feed” system. This interferes with reproductive functions and makes it more difficult to get pregnant.

Stress can also lead to lower sperm quality and cause functional hypothalamic amenorrhea (missing periods).

Is stress the cause of infertility…or an effect?

There’s no limit to the number of circumstances that could be contributing to skyrocketing stress levels these days. It’s almost so common to be stressed out – by your job, school, your commute, familial responsibilities, etc. – that we’ve convinced ourselves it’s not a problem. But stress causes a whole host of health issues, including but certainly not limited to fertility. So take charge of your health and set yourself up for the best chances of not only conceiving naturally but of thriving in your day-to-day life before, during and after pregnancy.

By the time most couples are diagnosed with infertility, it’s been an entire year of trying to get pregnant and not succeeding. It’s no wonder that worrying about getting pregnant tops their list of stressors. This develops into a vicious cycle: stress-induced infertility causes more stress which in turn ruins any chances of conceiving.

So how do we break the cycle?

Doctors often recommend couples struggling with Unexplained Infertility try IVF. But it’s often not necessary to jump straight to invasive procedures like IVF at the first signs of fertility issues. There are many more natural and gentle healthcare methodologies and practices to try first. It’s a great idea to consider seeking the care of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) practitioners – such as osteopaths, acupuncturists, naturopathic doctors and massage therapists. But much can be done on your own to complement these treatments. 

De-stress to enhance your fertility

By now you’ve probably already heard that you should be meditating but did you know it can help with your fertility struggles too? 

Any practice that relieves stress is beneficial when it comes to getting pregnant. Meditation and mindfulness practices are a great place to start because they can easily be configured to fit into your busy lifestyle. Your practice could look like:

  • 5 minutes of deep belly breathing before bed,
  • listening to a guided meditation first thing when you wake up or
  • doing a walking meditation during your lunch break.

You might meditate sitting on the floor, in a chair with your feet firmly planted on the ground, or lying down. Find a style of meditation that works best for you.

Have trouble sitting still for meditation? Yoga is another great way to combat stress and infertility as it incorporates meditation techniques with physical postures. 

Even small changes make a difference

Don’t let self-care itself stress you out. Start small. Add in one practice at a time and stick with it until it becomes a part of your routine. Then go ahead and try another.

Remember, the point is to reduce stress so it won’t do any good if you’re worried about fitting in meditation before your yoga class before that bubble bath and the journal you haven’t touched in months and wait, wasn’t this all supposed to give you more time and energy to focus on getting pregnant?