Reproductive health is a complex journey, influenced by various factors that can seem overwhelming to prepare and account for. And while physical well-being undeniably plays a pivotal role, the impact of mental health can’t be underestimated. About 19% of women struggle to get pregnant in their first year of trying—and conditions like chronic stress and depression can play a role.
You may have heard that stress can interfere with a woman’s ability to get pregnant, but to what extent? And what can you do if you’re stressed out by trying to conceive? At OB/GYN Associates of Alabama, we’re here to address common questions and concerns surrounding stress and fertility and connect you with the resources you need!
Understanding the Stress-Fertility Connection
How Stress Affects Reproductive Health
To our ancestors, stress helped us stay alive, allowing us to respond quickly to imminent danger. Today, it most often comes to us in less than life-threatening situations (like, say, morning traffic on Hwy 280). Stress remains a natural response to life’s challenges, but when it becomes chronic, it can wreak havoc on your reproductive system.
High levels of stress trigger the release of cortisol, a hormone that, when produced in excess, can disrupt the delicate balance of reproductive hormones. This can lead to irregular menstrual cycles, anovulation (lack of ovulation), and even hinder the implantation of a fertilized egg. The intricate dance of hormones necessary for conception can be disrupted by ongoing stress, making it more difficult to conceive.
Can stress really make it harder to get pregnant?
Stress hormones can have an impact on your chances of getting pregnant in various ways.
- Anovulation: Stress can impact the hypothalamus, the region of the brain responsible for regulating hormones. When stress throws off the balance, you may not ovulate regularly, if at all.
- Luteal Phase Defect: The luteal phase is the time between when an egg is released and your next period. It’s crucial for successful implantation of a fertilized egg. Stress can shorten this phase, leaving insufficient time for the egg to implant properly.
- Altered Cervical Mucus: Stress can affect cervical mucus, making it hostile to sperm and getting in the way of their journey to the egg.
How much stress is too much?
Having one really bad day at work isn’t likely to disrupt your menstrual cycle. Generally, you have to be in a state of stress for weeks to months to affect your body in this way.
Be on the lookout for signs of chronic stress, which include:
- Persistent aches and pains, including headaches
- Digestive problems like diarrhea and constipation
- High heart rate and/or blood pressure
- Trouble sleeping, low energy, and/or excessive tiredness
- “Brain fog” or trouble focusing
Is depression linked to fertility problems?
Anxiety and depression don’t cause infertility, but these conditions can indirectly affect your chances. The emotional toll of depression may lead to lifestyle changes or behaviors that impact reproductive health, such as poor diet, lack of exercise, and irregular sleep patterns.
Stress and Fertility: Top Tips for Conceiving
If you’ve ever been on birth control, the transition to trying may be more complicated than you expect. After all, most of us assume that, without extremely careful measures in place, sex always results in a baby. While unprotected sex always carries a chance of pregnancy, conceiving a child isn’t always as guaranteed as you might think.
Here are our top tips to increase your chances.
Have Sex Every Day or Every Other Day During Your Fertility Window
Your fertility window is the time of your cycle when you have the highest chance of getting pregnant. This usually spans a few days before and after you are expected to ovulate, around halfway through your cycle. There are various ways to predict this window, including fertility apps and tracking your basal body temperature.
To learn more, check out our blog on improving your chances of conceiving!
Focus on Leading a Healthy Lifestyle
Leading a healthy lifestyle is important for boosting your chances. As an added bonus, many of the lifestyle changes you can make to improve your overall health also help reduce stress. Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, taking a prenatal multivitamin with folic acid, and eating a well-balanced diet are all important habits to nurture during this time.
Stress can lead some people to turn to less-than-healthy coping mechanisms, including drinking alcohol and smoking. But it’s important to stop smoking and limit your drinking during this time. The American Congress of Obstetricians & Gynecologists recommends no alcohol use, but women who do have a drink should have no more than three per day or seven per week.
Tobacco use and binge drinking can affect male fertility, too, so be sure to talk to your partner about lifestyle changes if you’re struggling.
What can I do to reduce stress if I’m trying to conceive?
Here are our top tips for reducing stress and improving your health when you’re trying for a baby:
- Find a way to get active and exercise that you actually enjoy
- Learn and practice mindfulness techniques, like meditation and/or yoga
- Limit fried, greasy, sugary, or overly processed foods
- Make time for things that help you relax
- Find someone to talk to, such as a licensed therapist, about stress management
Will staying positive improve my fertility?
A positive mindset can certainly help, but it’s important to acknowledge that fertility challenges are not solely a result of attitude. Combining a positive outlook with stress management techniques can create a more conducive environment for conception. But if you’re under 35 and have been trying to conceive for six months, or over 35 and trying for a year, it’s important to talk to your OB/GYN.
We can rule out other factors, such as hormonal imbalances, low sperm count in your partner, and other overall health considerations to support you on your journey to parenthood.
Your OB/GYN Is Your Partner in Reproductive Health Care
Remember, you’re not alone on this journey. Understanding the intricate relationship between your mind and body is the first step toward nurturing your reproductive health. And for everything that comes next, you can count on your OB/GYN to be there with you to provide resources and support.
Compassionate Preconception Counseling in Birmingham, AL
Get personalized recommendations, resources, and risk assessments before you get pregnant with OB/GYN Associates of Alabama! We’ve been helping women in the Birmingham metro area plan for healthy pregnancies and break through barriers to motherhood since 1969. Make your appointment in downtown Birmingham, Hoover, or Gardendale by calling (205) 271-1600 or contacting us online.