Stress & Fertility.  We know it’s not conducive to conception, in fact it’s widely considered to be one of the main causes of ‘unexplained’ infertility.  So, we need to find out what happens to make stress affect our ability to conceive and how can we combat it, especially when failure to conceive can itself be a cause of stress?!

Dr Venkat, Director of Harley Street Fertility Clinic and expert on fertility explains that “At a very basic level, stress seriously hampers ovulation and no amount of sperm will make a difference if the woman’s body hasn’t released an egg waiting to be fertilised.”

The Science of Stress and Fertility

What happens inside a woman’s body when she is stressed begins in an organ the size of a chickpea on the lower side of our brain, the pituitary gland, responsible for ovulation.  The pituitary gland needs to communicate with a woman’s ovaries by sending hormones through the bloodstream – first the hormones that cause the egg to mature, and then the hormones that trigger ovulation. However, stress can cause other hormones, such as cortisol or epinephrine, to be released in the brain, which play havoc and hamper this natural cycle. This can stop ovulation altogether or have a significant impact on the regularity of a woman’s cycle which makes ‘planning’ very tricky.

Stress however doesn’t just impact female fertility it has also been shown to significantly lower semen quality.  In fact a recent study by The American Society for Reproductive Medicine found that men who experienced two or more stressful life events in the past year had a lower percentage of sperm motility and a lower percentage of sperm of normal morphology, compared with men who did not experience any stressful life events. Interestingly enough these findings remained even after accounting for other factors that may influence semen quality, such as age, other health problems and history of reproductive health problems.[1]

Finding a solution

Although it’s easier said than done, Dr Venkat urges couples who are suffering with stress to find the root cause of the problem and adopt personalised strategies to help tackle the issue such as exercising, meditation and enjoying hobbies.  Some people find it useful to keep a diary to find the triggers of stress, this in turn could help you find a solution and take some control of the situation.

Stress can have a domino effect by causing people to turn to unhealthy lifestyles habits such as drinking, smoking and eating poorly which goes onto make matters worse. Adopting regular exercise and a healthy diet will not only reduce stress levels, but can also have a significant impact on your general health and emotional well-being as well as preparing your body for a healthy pregnancy.