There has been much debate and research about stress and fertility, but yet the evidence to directly link stress and infertility remains inconclusive. We do know that stress can release hormones into the body which, over a period, may impact on a woman’s health which can have a knock-on effect to her reproductive system. Stress can also result in unhealthy habits or relationship issues, which in turn can lead to reduced sex drive.

Stress and fertility

How can stress affect fertility?

When we’re stressed, our behaviour often changes. We may be more likely to take on unhealthy habits to ‘get us through’. Drinking more, smoking, not following a healthy diet and failing to get a good night’s sleep can all inhibit natural conception.

Around 20-30% of couples experience unexplained infertility, and this is a statistic that has risen considerably in the past 20 years in line with a more stressful lifestyle.

Hormonal changes will often link stress and fertility problems. Stressful situations can affect the hypothalamus in the brain which is responsible for regulating the menstrual cycle. This could lead to late ovulation, or anovulation, which means failing to ovulate altogether. Without the release of an egg, it is impossible to get pregnant naturally.

Stress and fertility research suggests that anxiety can inhibit the release of Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). This will halt the regular production of follicle stimulating hormone and luteinising hormone, leading to a loss of menstrual cycle and hormone production from the ovaries. In terms of stress and male fertility, this same issue can lead to failed sperm production in men, as well as a loss of hormone production from the testes.

Whatever the reason for a person’s anxiety, the release of stress hormones such as cortisol can result in physiological changes that affect reproductive health generally.

Studies have shown that stress levels heighten the longer someone experiences difficulty conceiving, further strengthening the link between stress and fertility.

How to reduce stress?

Whilst there is currently no firm evidence to suggest that mental health interventions are able to increase conception rates during times of stress, there will always be value in taking steps to improve mental and physical health, regardless of whether it directly affects fertility.

There are many stress reducing techniques that couples trying to conceive may try. The important thing is to appreciate that everyone is different, and that what will work for one may not be as effective for another. Finding your own personal stress-reducing technique is the name of the game.

Some of the most popular methods include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Exercise
  • Journaling
  • Listening to or playing music
  • Drawing, painting and colouring
  • Massage therapy
  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness
  • Breathing exercises
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Talking therapy
  • Walking
  • Spending time in nature
  • Self-help books
  • Yoga

It is important to note that although the above techniques may help individuals reduce stress levels and improve well-being, none of the these have been clinically proven to improve the success rates of assisted reproduction.

Sometimes, it may be that a change of role at work or talking to a supervisor about how to better manage workloads, can make all the difference to stress levels.

It is worth considering that although stress may be a factor in chances of conception, if you are struggling to conceive, it is important to seek advice from a healthcare professional (for example your GP or a Sub-Fertility specialist) and have the relevant investigations performed to ensure there are no defined causes of infertility.  If you are 35 or under, it is recommended that these investigations are performed after one year of trying to conceive. For women over 35, it is recommended that you seek clinician advice and investigations after six months of trying to conceive.

Looking for fertility advice?

Whether you are eager to learn more about stress and fertility or would like to speak to someone in confidence about your personal fertility journey, our highly experienced and friendly team are ready to help you.

Hull & East Riding Fertility is a private fertility clinic founded in 1986. We are East Yorkshire’s only registered clinic providing specialist infertility investigations and personalised treatment, for both self-funded and NHS patients. We also offer a range of investigatory and fertility treatment planning services at our satellite fertility clinics in York. For self-funding patients, a GP referral isn’t necessary, although all patients are entitled to basic NHS funded fertility investigations.

We have a dedicated fertility support counsellor and have connections with many support groups and organisations, such as the charity Fertility Network UK.

Fertility treatment doesn’t have to wait; with no waiting lists, we can generally arrange an appointment for you to see one of our expert fertility consultants within two weeks and have a full treatment plan in place within 4 weeks of your first appointment.

We would be delighted to welcome you at any of our clinics. Please get in touch to let us know how we can help you.