Research indicates that stress may have an impact on many aspects of fertility including ovulation, fertilization, and implantation. Emotional factors may also negatively affect fertility in the male by lowering testosterone and sperm production. Maternal stress, even early in the pregnancy, can affect the developing fetus. Animal and human studies indicate that chronic stress while in the mother's uterus may predispose a person to depression in later life.
In general, stress is related to both external and internal factors.
- External factors include your job, your relationships with others, your home, and all the situations, challenges, difficulties, and expectations you're confronted with on a daily basis.
- Internal factors determine your body's ability to respond to, and deal with, the external stressors. Internal factors can influence your ability to handle stress, and include your nutritional status, overall health and fitness levels, emotional well-being, and the amount of sleep and rest you get.
Many medical articles clearly demonstrate that reducing stress levels seems to help fertility. In research published in the journal Human Reproduction, doctors compared pregnancy rates in couples who reported being stressed and those who did not. Pregnancy was much more likely to occur during months when couples reported feeling "good"—happy and relaxed. It was less likely to occur during the months they reported feeling tense or anxious.
This is clearly one area we cannot ignore. All prospective parents need to look into their own lives and try to find tiny spaces where they can give body and mind a respite from the stresses of everyday living. Different avenues suit different people. It is very important to choose something you are comfortable with–something that won't make you even more stressed! Some tried-and-true methods of decreasing stress include:
- Take vacations without the Blackberry
- Avoid over-scheduling activities and responsibilities
- Learn to say "no"
- Create structure and routine in your work and home life
- Develop a hobby that you enjoy
Stress is a normal part of life that can either help us learn and grow or can cause us significant problems, one of which is difficulty conceiving. While there are effective approaches for stress, the management of stress depends mostly on the willingness of a person to make the changes necessary for a healthy lifestyle. (Read more here in our Stress-Less Guide.)
Results from the Nurses' Health Study show that exercise, particularly vigorous exercise, actually improves fertility. Inactivity deprives muscles of the constant push and pull they need to stay healthy. It also interferes with their ability to respond to insulin and to efficiently absorb blood sugar. When too much blood sugar and insulin accumulate in the bloodstream, it endangers ovulation, conception, and pregnancy.