Infertility has many known causes, with the most common being ovulatory problems, hormone imbalances, physical defects and sexually transmitted diseases. A woman's age, weight and whether she smokes or drinks alcohol are also known to affect her ability to conceive. While there is certainly a proven link between stress and a woman's overall health, a clear connection between stress and infertility has not been established.
Infertility is typically defined as not being able to become pregnant after a year of trying to conceive (sometimes abbreviated as TTC), according to the Mayo Clinic. If you're over 35, that time frame is shortened to six months. Women who are able to get pregnant but who cannot sustain a pregnancy are also considered infertile. Stress, on its own, is unlikely to cause infertility, states the Mayo Clinic, and studies showing a proven connection between the two are limited. However, the stress of fertility treatments or of failed pregnancies can lead to more stress, lengthening the time it takes you to conceive.
Stress Hormones and You
Stress typically comes in two forms: physical and emotional. Physical stress results from heavy lifting, while emotional stress stems from issues such as grief, fear and anxiety. According to a 2013 study published in the Berkeley Scientific Journal, both types of stress cause your body to release stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenalin, which can disrupt or even stop ovulation, causing infertility. Likewise, in 2014, a study published in Human Reproduction found a link between stress — in particular, the stress enzyme alpha-amylase, which is found in saliva — and the length of time it took couples to conceive. This was the first U.S. study of its kind to show a definitive link between stress and infertility.
Mind Over Body
While the jury is still out on whether reducing stress can lead directly to pregnancy, chronic stress can lead to a host of cardiovascular, endocrine, hormonal and gastrointestinal disorders. Therefore, reducing stress in general is good for your overall health and, consequently, taking steps to reduce the stress in your life may increase your chances of conception. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, techniques such as exercise, guided imagery, listening to music, massage, therapy and meditation can all help you to manage the stress in your life. Eastern medicine, including acupuncture and herbal remedies, has been shown to improve a woman's chance of conception, especially when used in conjunction with in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Repeated trips to infertility specialists, the loss of sexual spontaneity and the side effects of hormonal treatments can all wreak havoc on your mood, self-esteem and marriage. If you're feeling particularly sad or despondent over your inability to conceive, seek professional help to manage your stress. Ask your fertility specialist or obstetrician/gynecologist to recommend a qualified mental health professional who specializes in treating couples who are struggling with infertility.