Stress can interfere with fertility but it is a complex relationship. One aspect which makes it more complicated is that having a hard time conceiving can be a considerable stress in itself. People often say: “Just relax, and it will happen” and, though this can be insulting and extremely frustrating, there is a grain of truth to it.

That’s because stress can affect the functioning of the hypothalamus. This is the gland in the brain that regulates appetite and emotions, as well as the hormones required to stimulate ovulation in women and produce testosterone in men.

If the effect of stress on your normal hormone levels is severe then it could result in you ovulating later in your cycle than usual, or not at all. This is a recognised condition, which is sometimes called “stress-induced anovulation”.

If you or your partner are feeling stressed, you may also feel less interested in having sex and may not have sex as often, which obviously does not help the chance of conception.  Some people also find themselves more likely to binge drink, smoke or eat a poor quality diet when they are stressed, all of which have been found to have a negative impact upon fertility.

Other research indicates that stress may have an impact on other aspects of fertility beyond ovulation, including problems with fertilization and implantation in the uterus. One study from the University of California San Diego found that the most stressed women undergoing IVF had less success every step of the way (fewer eggs retrieved and fewer eggs successfully implanted) compared to women who were not as tense. Another study from Israeli researchers tested whether helping women de-stress while undergoing IVF could impact the success rate. They found that women who were entertained by a clown after they received the treatment (laughter is a known stress-soother) were more likely to conceive than those who were not.

This is why it is so important to recognise that that taking time out to relax is not only important for your mental health, but for your reproductive health also.  While it is easy enough to say “just relax…” many people find that stress is an unavoidable part of life, and have got used to living with constant low levels of stress.  This can be avoided, or at least minimised by taking measures to combat stress.  Find a relaxation technique that works for you, remembering that what works for one person does not necessarily work for someone else. Also keep in mind that no single method is uniformly successful, a combination of approaches is generally most effective.

I hope this information has been helpful. If you have any questions regarding this or any other matter please feel free to contact me at the Live Well, Natural Wellness Centre.
Sally Nourse