Pressure Proof

Strategies and stories for busy, complicated lives.

The Impact of Stress on Women's Fertility

The link between stress and infertility, plus 3 stress management tools

Can stress actually interfere with your ability to become pregnant? A new study published on Monday in the journal Human Reproduction suggests it may.

Couples were followed for 12 months, and 401 women submitted saliva samples two times during the course of the study. The saliva samples were measured for both cortisol levels and alpha-amylase levels, both of which are biomarkers of stress. The scientists discovered that those women with alpha-amylase levels in the highest one-third were 29% less likely to get pregnant each month. Interestingly, there was no association found between salivary cortisol and a woman’s ability to get pregnant.

What remains unclear is the directionality of the relationship between stress and infertility – does increased stress lead to infertility, or does not being able to become pregnant when you want to increase stress? It is also important to note that there are a wide range of causes of infertility – age being a big factor impacting couples wanting to get pregnant. 

Regardless of the strength of the relationship between stress and fertility, it certainly makes sense to manage your stress if you’re trying to get pregnant. If you’re looking for stress management techniques that are different from yoga or meditation, try these: 

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Find the good stuff. Human beings are hard-wired to notice, seek out, and remember the negative stuff that happens during the day (it’s called the “negativity bias”). Paying attention to what goes right each day has been shown to keep depression at bay and increase happiness levels. Each night, write down three good things that happened that day and a reflection about each good thing. Your “good things” can be as simple as having a great meal or as profound as having a life changing conversation with someone – it’s your choice. 

Manage your thinking. When stress hits, what “tune” does your brain’s internal radio station play? We often don’t think much about our thinking, but our thoughts drive a wide range of emotions and reactions, especially when we’re stressed out. To become more aware of your thinking, do this exercise: When a stress producing event happens, immediately capture what you’re feeling and how you reacted in the moment. Then take a minute and write down what you were thinking immediately beforehand. What patterns do you notice? I have a worksheet to help you organize your thoughts, emotions and reactions – if you’d like a copy, please send me an email.

Connect with a pet. When I burned out during the last year of my law practice, my golden retriever kept me sane. Being able to pet her regularly and take her for walks lowered my blood pressure and allowed me to exercise during a time when I was experiencing frequent panic attacks and off-the-charts stress levels. Many universities now have dogs on-site during exam time as way for stressed-out students to cope with the pressures of school. You don’t have to adopt a pet to get the benefits. Find a friend with a pet or volunteer to walk a shelter dog.

Infertility can be one of life’s biggest stressors, and knowing that stress might play a role in your ability to get pregnant makes managing stress during this time even more important. If you are trying to get pregnant with little success, take a look at your stress level and make some changes. A little stress management will go a long way.

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Paula Davis-Laack, JD, MAPP, is a stress and resilience expert and the Founder and CEO of the Davis Laack Stress and Resilience Institute, a company dedicated to helping professionals and professionals-in-training manage stress, prevent burnout and build resilience. Paula regularly appears in a variety of media outlets and has been featured in and on The Steve Harvey TV Show, Working Mother magazine and Women’s Health magazine. Her new e-book is called 10 Things Happy People Do Differently. She is available for workshops, training, and speaking opportunities. Please visit her website for more information. 

Connect with Paula on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Paula Davis-Laack, J.D., M.A.P.P., is a stress management and work/life performance expert providing strategies for a healthier, more resilient you.

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