Is Stress Keeping You From Getting Pregnant? What the Experts Say
Stress does a number to our bodies. You name it, stress affects your entire body, including your:
- Digestive system
- Immune system
- Cardiovascular system
- Nervous system
- Mental health
But can stress cause infertility?
It is unclear whether stress plays a role in causing infertility. Some studies do show a relationship between stress and fertility problems. At least one study has shown that women with the highest levels of stress hormones were less likely to get pregnant than others.
What the experts say
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), the gold standard in the infertility medical world, acknowledges that stress probably does not cause fertility problems (although men and women with fertility problems are often highly stressed by the disease). ASRM also report that stress can sometimes cause hormonal changes, ovulation disorders, and infertility, but this is very rare.
So don't freak out yet. Most likely, your stress is not to blame when it comes to your fertility struggles.
Infertility can increase your stress
Having said this, it is clear that the experience of an infertility diagnosis and follow-up treatments is often highly stressful. This experience can create intense feelings of worry, doubt, fear, and even guilt.
The following issues can cause a lot of stress and worry for women going through infertility treatment:
- The lack of control in the process
- The high cost of infertility treatment
- Missing so much time at work
- The strain on personal relationships
- Physical discomforts and side effects of treatments
Stress and worry are normal, but they are not necessarily good for your health. See an infertility therapist or talk to your doctor if stress is getting you down.
Mind-body interventions for infertility
To help you manage infertility stress, some fertility clinics offer therapy onsite.
Dr. Marie Davidson, a psychologist at the Fertility Centers of Illinois, shares her expertise: "Rather than focusing on how stress contributes to infertility, I would prefer to help patients find effective ways to manage the stress and uncertainty associated with infertility."
Dr. Davidson and the Fertility Centers of Illinois, along with staff at Pulling Down the Moon, offer Mindfulness Training for Infertility. This six-week class uses cognitive behavior therapy techniques to teach you how to manage your troublesome thoughts. Yoga and meditation are included in the program to help stay calm and balanced. Check with fertility clinics near you for similar programs.
Can therapy help you get pregnant?
A certain amount of stress is normal and unavoidable. But if stress is out of control, ask your local fertility clinic about therapy options. Research studies show that therapy can improve some fertility problems and might even improve your chances of conceiving.
Final words on stress and infertility
So can we say that stress causes fertility problems? A recent analysis of multiple studies on the topic has many fertility experts saying, "It's pretty unlikely." Dr. Davidson addresses the topic, stating, "After 18 years of working with fertility patients (and before that, being one), I think the connection between stress level and fertility outcome is very difficult to determine. I try to help patients acknowledge the stress they are carrying around and help them find ways that work for them to make the stress manageable."
Reviewed March 2011 by Psychologist Dr. Marie Davidson at the Fertility Centers of Illinois.Sources
- American Fertility Association: Stressed for Success
- American Society for Reproductive Medicine: Stress and Infertility
- British Medical Journal: Emotional distress in infertile women and failure of assisted reproductive technologies: meta-analysis of prospective psychosocial studies
- Fertility and Sterility: Recovery of ovarian activity in women with functional hypothalamic amenorrhea who were treated with cognitive behavior therapy.
- Fertility and Sterility: Stress reduces conception probabilities across the fertile window: evidence in support of relaxation