There’s no getting around it. Dealing with infertility is stressful. And, assumptions from friends and family members about stress often make things worse. It would be nice to hear “I am sorry that you have to go through infertility treatment. What can I do to support you?” Instead, you more often hear comments such as, “If you would just stop thinking about it all the time, it would happen”. Or “You’re too stressed. Just relax and let nature take its course”. Or, the best yet, “If you just adopt, you’ll get pregnant.”
If you’ve been trying to get pregnant for more than a year, your shoulders might hurt from cringing as well-intentioned friends and family offer advice.
Compared to blocked tubes, smoking or age, stress is a minor contributor to infertility. But for up to 40% of couples, no apparent reason for infertility can be found.
Research shows some connection between fertility and stress
While the connection between fertility and stress remains unclear, a series of studies shows the effect is hard to ignore. In research published in the journal Human Reproduction, doctors found that pregnancy was much more likely to occur during months when couples reported feeling happy and relaxed. During the months they reported feeling tense or anxious, pregnancy was less likely.
Another study in 2014 from the Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center focused on 401 women ages 18 to 40 who had recently decided to try to conceive. The women, who had no known fertility problems at the start of the study, were followed for 12 months, or until they became pregnant.
Researchers collected saliva samples and analyzed them for cortisol and alpha-amylase, two stress indicators. While levels of cortisol didn’t appear to have an impact, alpha-amylase seemed to indicate which women would be able to conceive more easily.
Ways to Reduce Stress When You’re Trying to Conceive
Woman can begin to reduce stress as soon as they decide they want to become pregnant. Exercising 23 to 30 minutes a day, and regular massages have clear stress-relieving benefits. For men and women who have long-desired to have a child and feel discouraged, give yourself permission to feel strong emotions, to cry and be angry. Pay attention to negative self-talk governed by “shoulds” as in, “My body should function perfectly”. “I should be able to cheer up my wife”. “I should have tried to get pregnant years ago”. Even telling yourself “I should relax” can be anxiety producing.
Find spaces in your life where your mind and body can relax, even five minutes of deep breathing can reduce stress. While the research on stress and infertility is interesting, the fact of the matter is infertility is complex and can be isolating. Overcome isolation by reaching out to your family. All but the least sensitive can be taught how to be supportive. Let them know how you want to be treated. If you need to not be invited to baby showers for a time, let them know. Tell your partner what you need as well. If you want to be massaged, hugged, listened to without advice, or left alone for a few minutes, ask. If you need to take a break from family gatherings where new grandchildren are featured, say so.
Finally, don’t try to relax only because you think that it’s going to help you get pregnant. Relax because it feels good, because it’s comfortable, and because when you feel good, you are healthier overall, which is never a bad thing for conception.