Life is inherently stressful. The pressures of work, the demands of maintaining important relationships, commitments that pull us in a thousand different directions, and the constant background noise of social media all conspire to stress us out. And add to that the intense stress of struggling with fertility issues. It’s a lot to handle! But can it prevent you from getting pregnant?
Stress and Infertility
Infertility, especially if experienced for an extended amount of time, is a particularly heavy burden to bear. It is not only personally stressful but it can also put a lot of strain on couples who are enduring the struggle together. But are emotional and physical stress also contributing factors to infertility?
Stress and Your Ovulation Cycle
A predictable ovulation cycle is a crucial component to increasing the chances of conceiving in a given month. Not all cycles are created equal; they can span from between 28 and 35 days for different women, but a regular cycle helps women anticipate when they will ovulate and the timeframe when becoming pregnant is at its likeliest.
Physicians have known for a long time that intense stress can influence the body’s physiology and prevent the adequate release of hormones that are involved in conception. While stress does not always impede conception, extreme and prolonged emotional, mental, or physical stress can influence the body’s ability to release certain hormones. Specifically, high levels of stress can affect production of Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (SH) and Luteinizing Hormone (LH), which are responsible for developing the egg cell and for ovulation.
Occasionally, in cases of severe stress or weight loss, women can develop a condition called Functional Hypothalamic Amenorrhea in which the ovaries do not produce mature eggs and menstruation ceases. Functional Hypothalamic Amenorrhea results from a hormonal disturbance, but its consequences are reversible if the causal factors are alleviated.
Fertility is a complex physical and emotional issue, and there are many components that can affect conception. However, women who are experiencing irregular ovulation cycles should be seen by a Reproductive Endocrinologist to determine if their bodies are producing appropriate levels of hormones or if there is some other underlying issue affecting their fertility.
Infertility and Mental Health
Infertility can cause a monthly rollercoaster of emotions that run the gamut from anxiety to expectation, from hope to fear, and it can be difficult for couples to endure it together. Furthermore, the struggle to conceive is often felt and processed differently by different people. This emotional disparity can create tension in the relationship and compound stressful feelings. Infertility struggles should be shared as couples seek to support each other throughout the process. Couples are encouraged to remain sensitive to each other despite the difficulties and not allow the wish to become parents to harm their relationship.
Extended infertility can intensify feelings of depression, anger, and sadness. Some studies have found evidence that stress might adversely affect a person’s overall health and well-being so it is imperative try and reduce personal stress levels. If you are having trouble managing negative feelings related to infertility, talk to your doctor, reach out to support groups, and if necessary, seek help from a therapist or mental health professional.
Seek Help and Hope for Conception Together
Infertility is one of the most trying and fraught issues an individual or a couple can face. It is helpful to acknowledge the emotional complexity of the situation and to accept that some degree of stress is inherent to dealing with fertility issues. However, chronic stress is detrimental to a person’s health and happiness and it could actually contribute to underlying causes of infertility.
There are many different approaches to mitigating stress so it is best to try a variety of techniques, be it meditation, light to moderate exercise, yoga, massage, exercise, prayer, professional counseling, or a combination of methods. However, it is vital not to struggle alone. People coping with stress should not hesitate to discuss their feelings with their health care provider in order to maximize the chances of conception.
Dr. Crystal M. Newby, MD is a physician at Kansas City ObGyn. She received her medical degree from the University of Missouri - Kansas City School of Medicine. Dr. Newby married her fellow Kansas native high school sweetheart and they have 3 daughters.