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Houston Fertility Journal

The Truth About Stress and Fertility

[fa icon="calendar"] Dec 6, 2016 9:00:00 AM / by Center of Reproductive Medicine   

Center of Reproductive Medicine

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“Just relax and you’ll get pregnant.” The first time you hear it, it’s easy to dismiss. But by the fiftieth repetition, this well-meaning advice from clueless loved ones can make your blood boil. Does stress cause infertility? Not usually. Indeed, relaxing and hoping for the best might be the very worst thing you can do for your childbearing prospects.

Why You Shouldn’t Just Relax

There’s no benefit to stressing about your infertility, of course. Your loved ones are right when they advise you to meditate, to take care of yourself, and to maintain a positive outlook. The problem is that these strategies alone are insufficient to get you pregnant.

Infertility is a physiological health issue no different from cancer, heart disease, or diabetes. Relaxing won’t cure these conditions, and it won’t cure infertility.

If you are under the age of 35 and have tried, without success, for more than a year to get pregnant, it’s time to seek help. If you are over the age of 35 or have a history of fertility or reproductive problems, you should seek help more quickly -- after six months of trying.

What Happens if Your Strategy is Just to Relax?

Facing health problems can be intimidating. No one wants to admit that they’re infertile, and many couples are terrified of fertility medicine. You may worry that you’ll have to shell out thousands of dollars, that you won’t find a solution, or that you’ll feel like just a number. There’s no shame in worrying. But just as delaying a biopsy won’t help a cancer patient, delaying your fertility diagnosis only gives your infertility time to get worse.

Fertility operates according to a limited timetable, especially for women. When your viable eggs are gone, they’re gone for good. Menopause forecloses any chance of getting pregnant, and it may happen sooner than you think. Even well before menopause, your fertility markedly deteriorates. That means that the best time to get pregnant is always now. By pushing fertility treatments indefinitely into the future, you are actually reducing your odds of a pregnancy.

Physical Problems, Medical Solutions

Generations ago, people believed that getting pregnant required a bit of magic. Infertility was always the woman’s fault, and usually due to some variety of moral failing. Advice to “just relax” is the modern-day incarnation of this harmful advice. Fertility isn’t magic. Your body isn’t punishing you because you’ve failed to relax enough. Real physical issues -- aging eggs, structural anomalies, infections, hormonal imbalances, medical conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, and many more -- impede your ability to get pregnant.

Remember, too, that your partner is just as likely as you are to have a fertility issue. Low sperm count or quality, sexual difficulties, hormonal imbalances, and sperm that can’t swim can make pregnancy impossible. If relaxing won’t cure your fertility difficulties, it certainly won’t cure your partner of his!

The good news is that we know a lot about what works and what doesn’t to get you pregnant. The process isn’t always expensive or complicated, either. A range of treatments are available to you. In some cases, it’s as simple as changing when you have intercourse, taking a new medication, or addressing a physical health issue such as diabetes. Your time is better spent working toward solutions than worrying that you’ll never find one.

What if it Really is Stress?

Stress is occasionally a contributing factor to infertility, though it is rarely the sole culprit. One recent study found that women with the highest stress levels were 12% less likely to get pregnant.

Severe stress can suppress ovulation, making it impossible to get pregnant. Stress can also interfere with your relationship, causing you to miss the narrow window of fertility each month. Occasionally, stress even triggers genetic mutations on your eggs or your partner's sperm, making a pregnancy less likely, triggering a miscarriage, or even causing birth defects. Stress can also elevate blood pressure and change glucose levels, lowering fertility and throwing your hormones out of whack.

Does this mean you can treat infertility by meditating, thinking positive, and hoping for the best? It’s unlikely. Though stress can trigger changes in your body, relaxing is unlikely to fix those changes once they occur. Moreover, stress is usually just one of many factors suppressing fertility.

Treating Stress-Related Infertility

No matter the cause of your infertility, we can help. If high stress levels have suppressed ovulation or lengthened your cycle, for example, an ovulation-triggering drug such as Clomid can help.

It’s common for couples to experience relationship problems, or for partners to face depression, self-esteem issues, and other concerns due to ongoing infertility. You deserve to take care of yourself. For this reason, we often recommend that couples seek counseling. Counseling won’t get you pregnant, but it can make the journey a little easier.

Some other strategies that can prepare you to cope with the stress of infertility include:

  • Taking care of your body with exercise, good nutrition, and sufficient sleep.
  • Massage, acupuncture, and other treatments that relax you and care for your body.
  • Spending time with your partner to focus on your relationship. A date, a weekend away, and even a good movie can help you renew your relationship without the pressure to make a baby.

We believe that the fastest way to reduce your stress is to address your infertility. The fertility journey can be a vicious cycle. It begins with stress about your ability to get pregnant, and over time, that stress makes the underlying problem worse. You deserve better. You deserve effective, respectful treatment, and that's precisely what we offer. Don’t just relax. Get the help you deserve.

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Topics: Health, Reproductive Specialist

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