The Role of Stress in Infertility
Our childbearing years seem long when we are young and dreaming about starting a family, but schooling and careers take time. If we wait too long, the birthdays can slip by until we are acutely aware of each one we celebrate without children in our lives. Although there is no need to panic, the situation can cause considerable anxiety if our bodies are not as willing as our mental and emotional priorities.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that a women under 35 years old having regular sexual intercourse without the use of birth control for one year and not pregnant to consider having a fertility evaluation. Women over 35 should be considered needing an evaluation after six months of regular sexual intercourse without the use of birth control and no pregnancy. Sometimes we hear of a woman trying to conceive for years that gives up and yet becomes pregnant. It may be that the act of giving up actually fosters the fertilization because of the role stress plays in the inability to conceive.
Dr. Allen Morgan, director of the Shore Institute for Reproductive Medicine, in Lakewood, New Jersey, thinks we should focus on the physiological effects of stress and how they may interfere with conception, because levels of hormones such as cortisol or epinephrine often rise with repeated and chronic stress, and these changes may be related to preventing fertility from occurring. Morgan believes reducing stress may assist in enhancing proteins within the uterine lining which can lead to better odds of implantation. Decreasing stress may also increase uterine blood flow.
In research published in the journal Human Reproduction, doctors compared pregnancy rates in couples that reported being stressed and those that were not and found pregnancy was much more likely to occur during months when couples reported feeling happy and relaxed. Conversely, it was less likely to occur during the months they reported feeling tense or anxious.
The support of family and friends is crucial when a woman is undergoing fertility therapy because infertility itself is stressful. The desire for pregnancy, along with treatments and lack of success can lead to chronic stress. Reducing stress is always easier said than done, and sometimes we need to take a step back and look at what is important on many different levels. How a person handles stress is something we do have control over—taking some time to evaluate the stress in our life and how we cope is a good starting point. If we are an anxious person and small stresses cause us to become overwhelmed, we may need to talk to a professional to provide tools to use in working through certain situations.
Some other stress-reducing habits include making sure we are sleeping well, eating a healthy diet and practicing a sensible exercise regime. Meditation and yoga have proven to be excellent stress reducers, and research is optimistic about acupuncture and massage. Furthermore, journaling and surrendering to a higher spiritual being may not only reduce stress in fertility situations, but promote both good mental and physical health overall.
Doctor of Nursing Practice Leta Vaughan works with fertility patients at WomanCare, where women have access to counselors, nutrition and exercise support, and trained, fertility-focused massage therapists. For more information, call 847-221-4800 or visit WomanCarePC.com.