Stress and Ovulation
Toni Weschler, MPH, of Seattle, Washington, is the author of Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health and recently wrote a book on reproductive health for teenagers titled, Cycle Savvy: The Smart Teen's Guide to the Mysteries of Her Body Weschler believes stress can influence fertility by changing when ovulation occurs. "One of the most common causes of delayed ovulation can be both physiological and psychological stress," she says.
Weschler explains stress affects the functioning of the hypothalamus, which is the gland in the brain responsible for the reproductive system. Stress can delay ovulation and on occasion, if stress is severe, it can prevent a woman from ovulating at all.
The best advice Weschler offers to women who are having trouble conceiving is to chart their fertility signs. "Remember, women are only fertile a few days per cycle, so there is no point in stressing out all cycle long," she says.
Weschler feels that it's especially important to learn the signs that indicate approaching ovulation. "That way, if stress is causing delayed ovulation, you can at least take control by identifying when you are about to ovulate and thus take advantage of the most fertile time," she adds.
Kim Pisinski is the mother of a one-year-old and pregnant with her second child. She says trying to conceive was especially stressful for her. She was in her mid-30s and working full-time as an attorney when she and her husband decided to try to have a baby. Her husband was exposed to radiation in the first Gulf War, and Pisinski had severe endometriosis. Doctors told them there was little hope she'd ever get pregnant.
For seven difficult months, Pisinski and her husband tried to conceive, but nothing happened. Then, it all changed. "I became pregnant once I decided it would never happen and stopped thinking about it altogether—just enjoying being with my husband and trying to live life to its fullest without a baby," she says.
Pisinski knows every situation is different, but she believes stress directly affected her body's ability to conceive.
Ramsey agrees. She dislikes the "relax and it will happen" phrase as much as anyone, but says it really is good advice. "Start a hobby or get a good book," Ramsey says. "Anything to keep your focus positive and off your problems."
Professionals such as psychologists and social workers are adept at helping you pinpoint the sources of your stress and offer individualized coping strategies. Self-help books are another option worth looking into. Your family doctor or OB-GYN can help you decide if stress is leading to clinical depression or anxiety disorder, and whether medical treatment might help.