Most couples planning on becoming pregnant focus on physical health and wellness – they might take prenatal supplements, quit smoking, change their diet or even get more sleep.
With all the attention on physical wellness, many believe they're doing all they can for optimal health.
Yet emotional health might not be a concern.
Emotional health isn’t something many people think can affect their ability to fall pregnant, but research is showing that stress can have a bigger impact that we realise.
While it's one of the most despised and frustrating tips those trying to conceive report hearing, there is science backing up that stress does impact your fertility.
A recent study has once again highlighted the importance of emotional health for conception.
Could Stress Be Impacting Your Fertility?
If you’ve been trying to get pregnant for six months or longer, you've likely heard (more than a few times) several variations of ‘just relax and just let it happen’.
While it is well meaning advice, being told to relax isn’t helpful. Being able to control stress can be challenging for many of us, as we live very hectic and busy lives.
Stress is almost a normal state of life for most adults, and it's hard to actually define if we're experiencing the negative side effects of stress in our bodies.
How Does Stress Affect Fertility?
Research is ongoing, but scientists believe stress plays a role in about 30% of all fertility problems.
Because stress can cause any number of reactions within each individual, the reason how or why stress is causing infertility for each person can vary.
We do know stress can affect a part of your brain (the hypothalamus), which has the job of regulating the hormones that tell your ovaries to release eggs. If stress is affecting you physically, then you may ovulate later — or not at all.
This is called stress-induced anovulation, and can happen in response to very traumatic situations, but varies in the level of impact for each woman.
A study in 2010 suggests that stress might have an impact on male fertility. Over 700 men were assessed and the results found chronic stress was linked to decreased sperm quality and quantity.
A recent study has found higher levels of an enzyme called alpha-amalyse increased the time women took to conceive. Women with the highest levels of the enzyme were more than twice as likely to fail to conceive after 12 months. Alpha-amalyse is found in saliva and has been linked to levels of adrenaline, the ‘fight or flight’ hormone that our bodies release during times of emotional or physical stress.
We could hypothesise or assume this is Mother Nature's way of protecting the body from becoming pregnant in a highly stressful environment, which back in our ancestors days, may involve predators or other life or death situations. The same flight or fight scenario happens during childbirth – when adrenaline is high, oxytocin, the labour hormone, can halt or slow down, until the mother feels safe to give birth.
The study also seemed to point to the effects of stress appearing around five months after trying to conceive. The research discovered the odds of becoming pregnant at the beginning were similar regardless of their alpha-amylase levels. After five months of trying to conceive, women with the highest levels of alpha-amylase began to have lower odds of becoming pregnant.
Stress can affect both male and female libidos. If you are stressed and tired, you are less likely to have sex at the right time and miss your chance of conceiving. Feeling as though sex has to happen can create added pressure. If falling pregnant doesn’t happen easily, the stress of waiting each month can play its part as well.
Overcome Infertility Stress
There are a number of ways couples can incorporate stress reduction techniques into their lives. If there's no medical reason why conception is not occurring, it may be worth seriously looking at your personal and work situations, and reducing stress as much as possible.
Acupuncture – Traditional Chinese Medicine And Stress
An ancient practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acupuncture, involves the placement of thin needles at certain points of the body. These points are along lines of energy that help balance the body to improve a number of mental and physical conditions.
Research has shown the practice of acupuncture is improving the chances of IVF treatment being successful for women undergoing fertility treatment. Acupuncture is painless and should be administered by a registered practitioner.
Get Into Nature
It's well known that environment has a big impact on our stress levels. What we're listening to, seeing or experiencing changes our moods and affects how our body systems function. Stressful environments increase our blood pressure and the production of stress hormones.
Getting out into nature or even looking at scenes of nature can reduce negative feelings and stress. Being exposed to nature makes you feel better emotionally and physically.
Move Stress Along
Exercise is one of the best stress busters out there. Aside from the benefits to your heart, muscles and health, exercise depletes stress hormones and releases mood enhancing chemicals called endorphins that actually help you cope with stress better.
Any kind of physical activity leads to the release of endorphins. This increase has many effects, such as feeling a sense of euphoria, release of different sex hormones and enhanced immune response. All these factors help combat the negative effects of stress.
Yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual practice originating in India. It involves breath awareness, meditation and specific body postures and is used mainly for relaxation and improving physical health.
Yoga appears to blunt the harmful effects of heightened stress by influencing the body’s response to stress. This is reflected in slower heart and breathing rates and lower blood pressure, all of which are good for the body. There is also evidence that yoga helps increase heart rate variability, an indicator of the body’s flexibility in responding to stress. A number of studies have shown that yoga appears to reduce stress and anxiety, as well as enhance mood and overall wellness.
Sex For Stress Relief
What better way to spend your time de-stressing than to get close and personal with your loved one. Sex (especially orgasm) can improve mood and reduce stress signals in the brain.
A study on rats has shown daily sex over a two week period improved cell growth in the area of the brain that regulates stress levels. The same study showed that more sex led to a greater improvement in cortisol (stress hormone) levels.
Unfortunately, if you’ve been trying unsuccessfully to conceive for some time, sex can begin to feel like a chore. This can increase your stress levels, reduce your chances of conception, and possibly lead to performance issues in both partners. At this point, people may start to question if they're attractive to their partner and worry that they have lost their sexual desire. Try having sex outside of fertile times, increase the spontaneity of sex rather than having intercourse ‘on schedule’.
When couples incorporate stress techniques into their lifestyle, often women who were previously unable to conceive fall pregnant. While research really doesn’t understand how stress can affect fertility in each woman, or which relaxation techniques may work best in improving the chances of conceiving, it definitely wont hurt to make stress reduction a priority in your life. You never know — you just might get pregnant.