Stress and Infertility: Where’s the Connection?
Do stress and infertility go hand in hand? Absolutely, and in more ways than one. Couples who are struggling to conceive are dealing with a roller coaster of highs and lows that lead to stress, anxiety, and even depression.
But it doesn’t end there. While the connection between stress and infertility has been widely debated, it’s clear that many stress-related factors can make it more difficult to conceive and carry a baby to term.
There are many reasons a couple may have trouble conceiving, and many of them are out of your control. But finding healthy ways to manage stress is a proactive step you can take that could make a huge difference in your fertility journey.
Let’s dive into the connection between stress and infertility and what you can do to combat stress and turn the tables in your favor.
Stress and Infertility: What the Science Says
Science has linked stress and infertility in a number of ways. For example, one study showed that women with elevated levels of an enzyme that marks stress, called alpha-amylase, can take as much as 29% longer to conceive than those with normal stress levels.
The human body is smarter than we give it credit for, and it knows that times of elevated stress aren’t the right time to have a baby. There’s also some evidence that elevated stress levels can throw your hormones out of balance, which may further contribute to fertility issues.
Lifestyle, Stress, and Infertility: They’re All Connected
Chronic stress also contributes to unhealthy lifestyle choices that can play a major role in infertility. Here’s how lifestyle, stress, and infertility go hand in hand:
Lack of Sleep
If you lead a busy lifestyle with lots of late nights and early mornings, chronic lack of sleep can play a major role in stress and infertility. Lack of sleep can increase stress levels and throw your hormones out of balance, which can make it much harder to become pregnant.
Research also shows that people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight, which can lead to fertility issues and increase your risk of miscarriage. There’s also some evidence that working the night shift can lead to irregular menstruation, miscarriage, and other fertility issues.
So, what can you do to improve your sleep habits? Start by creating a bedtime routine to help your body recognize that it’s time for sleep. Get up and go to bed at the same time every day and turn off electronics at least an hour before bedtime.
If stress and an overactive mind are preventing you from falling asleep, try some yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, or journaling before bedtime. These practices can help you quiet your mind and relax so you’ll fall asleep more easily and sleep more deeply.
An Unhealthy Diet
An unhealthy diet plays a major role in stress and infertility. You’re more likely to eat poorly when you’re stressed, and poor nutrition can take a toll on your overall health, including your reproductive health.
Not only that, but an unhealthy diet leads to weight gain, and excess weight is a key player in fertility issues. In fact, it’s not just female fertility that’s affected by excess weight. Men who are severely overweight often have lower sperm counts.
On the flip side, being stressed and not eating enough can also lead to fertility issues. Being underweight can cause irregular menstruation or even a complete lack of menstruation. And when you’re not menstruating, you’re not ovulating, which means you can’t get pregnant.
The best diet for fertility and reaching a healthy weight is a whole food diet that includes a balance of protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. Avoid extreme diets or diets that require you to eliminate certain food groups and aim to eat a wide variety of nutritious foods every day.
Lack of Exercise
Exercise isn’t just good for your health; it also affects stress and infertility in a number of ways. First, exercise can lower your stress levels significantly. And it doesn’t have to be high-intensity exercise either. Yoga, walking, swimming, and any other physical activity you enjoy are just as beneficial for reducing stress as going to the gym.
Exercise also helps you maintain a healthy weight and improves circulation, which are both vital for fertility. However, you can have too much of a good thing! Overdoing it with exercise can create fertility issues. Too much high-intensity exercise can lead to menstrual issues and make it more difficult for you to become pregnant.
Shoot for four or five, thirty-minute low to moderate intensity workouts each week.
We’re all guilty of relying on caffeine for energy to get through the day, but overusing caffeine contributes to elevated stress and infertility issues. Too much caffeine can leave you feeling jittery and anxious, and it can make falling asleep and sleeping through the night much more difficult.
Studies also show that drinking too much caffeine can reduce your chances of conceiving by up to 26%. Elevated caffeine intake has also been linked to a higher risk of miscarriage. Having a cup or two of coffee every day is fine, but you’ll want to switch to caffeine-free beverages after that.
Keep in mind that caffeine can lead to dehydration, which causes fatigue and an inability to focus. Drinking more water throughout the day can help you overcome the need for a caffeine pick-me-up, and it’s much better for your health, too.
If you were planning to quit smoking after you become pregnant, you may want to rethink that strategy. Smoking is often linked to stress and infertility, and it can have a number of negative impacts on your health.
Many people use smoking as a way to deal with stress, but it can cause fertility issues for both men and women. For women, smoking increases the risk of miscarriage, blocked fallopian tubes, and may cause damage to the eggs. It also increases the risk of cervical cancer.
For men, smoking can affect sperm count and sperm health. It may also lower the success rate of IVF for the couple. Keep in mind that secondhand smoke is likely just as unhealthy as smoking yourself.
Increased Alcohol Use
It’s not uncommon for people to turn to alcohol as a way to cope with stress. You probably already know that drinking is a big no-no when you’re pregnant, but it turns out that consuming four or more drinks each week can increase your risk of early miscarriage.
Since you probably won’t know you are pregnant until after the first several weeks, it’s best to limit your alcohol intake when you’re trying to conceive. It’s also important to know that habitual alcohol use can lower sperm count and reduce the rate of IVF success.
Low Sex Drive
How are stress and infertility affected by your sex life? Obviously, a low sex drive can be a major issue for couples who are trying to conceive naturally. And making unhealthy lifestyle choices due to chronic stress can have a major impact on your desire to have sex.
Not only that, but today’s busy lifestyle makes finding the time and energy for sex a challenge for many couples. And trying to get pregnant can lower your libido, too. For some, planned sex feels forced and makes them feel pressured… leading to more stress.
Instead of planning sex, just let it happen naturally. And if your busy lifestyle is making it hard to find the time and energy to have sex, make it a priority. If you’re too tired at night, move sex to the mornings. Or have a date night at home instead of going out.
Coping with Stress and Infertility
Here are some healthy ways to cope with stress and infertility:
- Join a Fertility Support Group: Joining a women’s fertility support group is a fantastic way to get support from other women who are dealing with similar issues. The groups are usually led by a fertility coach who can offer education and guidance about reproductive health, nutrition, supplements, and other techniques to support you along your fertility journey.
- Practice Yoga Regularly: Incorporating yoga into your daily routine is a fantastic way to combat stress and infertility. It can also revive your libido and support your overall health and reproductive cycles.
- Prioritize Self-Care: It’s easy to put self-care on the back burner when life gets busy but taking care of yourself is super important for coping with stress and supporting your reproductive health. That means leading a healthy lifestyle as outlined in this article. But it also means taking time to do the things that matter to you, whether that’s reading a good book, taking a bubble bath, indulging in some retail therapy, or having lunch with your girlfriends.
- Ayurvedic Treatment: Another way to cope with is Ayurvedic treatment for infertility.
The Takeaway Message
Even if stress isn’t the direct cause of your fertility issue, it can lead to certain lifestyle choices that can make it more difficult for you to conceive. Not only that, but infertility itself is a major cause of stress. Learning to cope with stress can have a positive impact on your overall health and your fertility.