Stress and Fertility: Can Worrying Less Help You Conceive?

Infertility affects millions of women and men worldwide, causing distress for those who are unable to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 6.7 million women (10.9 percent) ages 15 to 44 have impaired fecundity (or ability to get pregnant or carry a baby to term). There are numerous factors that contribute to infertility, each of which affects the reproductive health of individuals. However, recent studies show that stress may play a significant role in inhibiting one’s ability to conceive.

Causes of Infertility

In men, infertility can be caused by a low sperm count, abnormal sperm shapes, issues with sperm delivery, and environmental toxicity. Women may experience infertility due to uterine or cervical abnormalities, endometriosis, ovulation problems, salpingitis (fallopian tube damage), disease conditions like cancer, or thyroid issues.

The Role of Stress

Stress has long been anecdotally associated with infertility. Previously, stress-related infertility was believed to be caused by stress-induced intercourse infrequency or stress-induced ovulation delay. However, a study by researchers at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found that stress plays a more impactful role in infertility than previously believed, looking at how stress hormone levels in saliva can affect the length of time it takes to conceive, known as “time to pregnancy” (TTP).

The study followed 501 couples over the course of a year while they attempted to conceive. It was observed that women with higher levels of salivary alpha-amylase (a biomarker of stress) experienced longer TTP, thus increasing their risk of infertility. Compared to women with the lowest levels of salivary alpha-amylase, those with the highest levels were 29 percent less likely to conceive. This indicates that chronic low-grade stress negatively and significantly affects one’s ability to become pregnant.

Natural Stress-Reduction Solutions

To combat the effects of stress on fertility, couples can try various natural stress-reduction practices and strategies. Consider adopting one or more of the following approaches before and while trying to conceive:

  1. Set Priorities: Avoid taking on more than you can handle and don’t hesitate to say no or delay new work or activities.
  2. Reframe: Practice coping strategies like reframing to help lessen the stress associated with aspects of your personal and professional life. This includes dealing with doubts, fears, anxieties, and psychological concerns connected to conception.
  3. Therapy: Find a therapist skilled in helping you manage and process stressful memories or relationships, past or present.
  4. Exercise: Sign up for regular yoga, Pilates, qigong, or tai chi classes to help connect your mind, body, and spirit.
  5. Relax: Engage in meditation or other deep relaxation practices before bed to alleviate stress before resting.
  6. Limit Radiation: Decrease your exposure to radiation from microwaves, Wi-Fi, cell phones, Bluetooth, and electricity.
  7. Improve Your Diet: Consuming organic, non-GMO foods can decrease digestive stress and increase overall health.
  8. Take a Break: Remember to take vacations or staycations to relax your body and mind, even if it’s just for a few days.

The Path Forward

If you have been unable to conceive, ask your doctor about conducting an alpha-amylase saliva test to see if stress is impacting your ability to get pregnant. If so, implementing a combination of natural stress-relieving strategies can aid in your attempts to conceive.