Can Reducing Stress Increase Your Chances of Pregnancy?

What the research says about the link between chronic stress and infertility.

Although stress alone is unlikely to cause infertility, it’s reasonable to conclude that chronic stress will not improve your chances of getting pregnant.

Many people experience stress and anxiety when trying to get pregnant, because many people have difficulty getting pregnant. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, between 12 and 15 percent of couples in the U.S. are not pregnant after a year of trying.

It’s normal to feel frustrated, to dwell on the possible reasons, to start to feel tense or apprehensive about sex and intimacy. You may be wondering if it is time to speak to a healthcare provider or regret not making an appointment months ago.

It is well documented that stress has negative effects on physical health, mental health, and relationships—and there is also research that supports the idea that chronic stress can impair a person’s chances of getting pregnant.

Understanding stress

Stress is a natural response by the human body, and it is extremely helpful in small doses. On the extreme end, stress is what helps us recognize dangerous situations and react quickly. On the less extreme end, stress can help us stay energized and focused, helping to improve things like job performance. Small doses of stress are referred to as “acute stress.”

Then there is chronic stress. This is the constant, long-term stress that contributes to exhaustion, irritable and anxious moods, muscle tension, headaches, mental health disorders, and other things we want to avoid.

Stress hormones versus sex hormones

The association between chronic stress and fertility is a topic of interest for healthcare providers and medical researchers. Studies have found an association between higher levels of stress biomarkers and a lower likelihood of getting pregnant.

One example involves elevated levels of “stress hormones” called glucocorticoids. Cortisol is a well-known example of a glucocorticoid. Higher levels of these stress hormones suppress a hormone called gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH).

GnRH can be described as the body’s main “sex hormone.” It plays a major role in the release and balance of male and female sex hormones. Suppressed levels affect both sexual and reproductive health. Sexual desire may be lower. Sperm count may be lower, or sperm may not function well. Ovulation may not function well.

Although stress alone is unlikely to cause infertility, it’s reasonable to conclude that chronic stress will not improve your chances of getting pregnant. It is also potentially damaging to your relationship, your health, and your partner’s health.

Take steps to reduce stress

Whether you are feeling stressed from trying to conceive or for other reasons, it is a good idea to take steps to reduce stress.

  • These can involve specific stress reducers, like meditation, yoga, or other mindfulness activities. These activities can reduce stress and lead to a more positive outlook overall.
  • Exercise, and physical activity in general, are great for stress reduction. Exercise also helps hormonal function, circulation, and other aspects of health that are important to reproductive health.
  • Exercising outdoors may have even more benefit in reducing stress levels. Spending time outdoors, especially in a natural setting like a park or a garden, will reduce stress.
  • Reducing stress can be as simple as making time for things you enjoy, such as time to read a book, watch an episode of TV, play with a pet, or go out for coffee.
  • Spending quality time together with a partner is also important. While getting pregnant may be a priority, it should not be your only focus.

Remember that there are healthcare providers and fertility treatments that have helped many couples become pregnant—and this is another reason to reduce stress. Undergoing a medical procedure to increase the chances of pregnancy is often stressful, and it can be very helpful to get your stress levels in check beforehand.

If you have been trying to get pregnant and have been unsuccessful, talk to a healthcare provider, who can help you identify what may be interfering with your ability to get pregnant, and recommend strategies and treatments that may help.

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