There is a relationship between stress and infertility, but it’s not what you think.
Women who are experiencing infertility report feelings of anxiety, depression, loss of control and isolation. Self-blame is also common, as are shame, guilt, and low self-esteem.
However, the relationship between stress and infertility has buried in it a common misconception – just because infertility causes stress doesn’t mean that stress causes infertility.
Can stress prevent you from getting pregnant?
Research testing the relationship between stress and infertility has found that infertility causes feelings of stress, but have failed to find conclusive evidence that stress causes infertility.
Researchers from The Ohio State University College of Medicine carried out a study examining the relationship between levels of stress hormones in saliva (cortisol and alpha-amylase) and chances of becoming pregnant.
The results, generally, told of a very slight relationship between the presence of alpha-amylase levels and chances of conception. They found that women with alpha-amylase levels in the top third were about a third less likely to fall pregnant compared to the women in the lowest third.
However, there were no differences between women in the middle third and the lowest third, and no significant associations between cortisol levels and likelihood of pregnancy.
So why is the idea that stress causes infertility so commonly found?
Psychology Today writes that self-blame and the stress-equals-infertility narrative is a way of letting a woman who blames herself feel like she can undo the problem. That she did it to herself by waiting too long, by having an abortion earlier in her life, for working too hard, or for worrying so much about being financially stable before having a child, that she’s worn her body out.
Professor Nardo believes that this kind of self-blame is unhealthy, especially when it’s been proven that worrying, or not worrying, is really very unlikely to change your chances of conceiving.
We do have a few suggestions for ways to help you cope with feelings of stress during the infertility journey, as although it might not necessarily help or hinder you from conceiving, looking after your own mental health is always key.
Coping with Infertility
Seek professional help
The internet can be quicksand with its contradictory messages and anecdotes and. As you’ll probably have experienced by now, the internet can amplify worries when it comes to health and wellbeing.
Without the right tests and checks by a fertility expert, you’ll drive yourself up the wall trying to work out what the problem is, and in the process, waste time worrying about your fertility while a real expert could have helped you find and fix the problem.
First visit your GP to see if there is anything obvious that is stopping you from conceiving. Chances are they will give you a referral for a fertility assessment and then to a dedicated clinic who will talk you through treatments such as IVF, ICSI, ovulation induction and IUI.
Consider your options
If you have not sat down and seriously considered the possibility that you might not be able to conceive naturally, we’d say you should do this sooner rather than later. Worrying about something you don’t have much control over without planning how to deal with it could negatively impact your mental health.
If you’ve spent a long time trying to conceive naturally, seeking help from a fertility clinic like Reproductive Health Group could provide you with an alternative route to pursue, rather than continuing in the hopes that lower stress levels might increase your chances.
Whichever stage you are at, you’ll feel less stressed if you know what your options are and where to go from there.