Trying to Conceive? Understand How Stress Affects Fertility

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By Nathalie Walton | Updated on Sep 11, 2023
Image for article Trying to Conceive? Understand How Stress Affects Fertility

TLDR: There is a link between stress and fertility, so working to reduce stress is a good idea if you’re trying to get pregnant. A fertility researcher, Professor Greg Anderson, gives us his best advice on lowering your stress while trying to conceive

You’ve heard it a million times before from well-intentioned friends and family members to complete strangers on the internet: stress and getting pregnant don’t work well together. You get it. Stress is a big no-no. But also, kind of unavoidable, especially in the world we live in, right?

So what is the real deal with stress and fertility? What is myth, and what is fact?

Luckily, Professor Greg Anderson1  from the Centre for Neuroendocrinology at the University of Otago in New Zealand has some answers for us. We asked him about his research on the impact of stress on reproduction2 .

How to Reduce Stress If You’re Trying to Conceive

It’s not just a myth. Stress affects fertility.

Up until recently, the link between stress and fertility was fuzzy. But Professor Anderson’s latest work bridges the gap between the two. In this new study, researchers identified a group of RFamide-related peptide (RFRP) nerve cells in the brain that become active in stressful situations.

What do these nerve cells do when they become active? They suppress the reproductive system.

So, what can you do about it? We asked Prof. Anderson what he recommends to curb the effects. From keeping our screen time in check to closely observing nutrition and overall lifestyle, here’s what he suggests for reducing stress and boosting fertility when trying to conceive.

Take a Stress Inventory

Keep a record of your week and take note of how often you’re getting frazzled. Are you going through the kind of stress that seems never-ending? Chronic stressors like surviving a toxic work environment or constant bickering with your partner can suppress fertility and risk your chances of getting pregnant.

Take a close look at how you’re responding to stressful situations. Some people will be more affected by stressful situations than others. Since many of us aren’t able to remove ourselves from difficult circumstances or avoid stress entirely, we should focus on building up our resilience so we’re better able to adapt to adversity.

Stop Obsessing (and Yes, that Means Googling)

Infertility anxiety is natural. But when it comes to getting pregnant, keeping your stress hormones regulated can improve chances. Obsessing over trying to conceive is like a vicious cycle. Though it’s not easy, you should try to tamp down the late-night scrolling on fertility forums (like way down).

Research shows women struggling with infertility experience more significant stress3  in their life compared to women without fertility challenges. While tempting, Googling every other minute only elevates your cortisol and exacerbates the effects of stress and fertility.

Eat Good Food and Get Good Rest

Hey, we all love good comfort food—especially when things get stressful. Sadly, not all foods are created equal. Turns out, what you eat can make a massive impact on how you feel emotionally.

Before your next trip to the grocery store or ordering take-out, consider this:

A stress-management diet 4 can help build up your immune system and keep stress at bay. That means steering clear of simple carbs like sweets and soda and adding fatty fish into your diet to prevent surges in stress hormones. Researchers find that diets high in unsaturated fats, whole grains, vegetables,and fish have been associated with improved fertility5  and your chances of getting pregnant.

Engaging in good sleep habits is equally as important as staying mindful of your diet. If you know that you’re not getting good sleep, that’s likely to contribute to chronic stress. And, in turn, likely to hurt your chances of getting pregnant.

According to Professor Anderson, all of these things are a part of a whole package. But it all comes down to setting your intention. He recommends looking at the things that start making your mind worry or stress at 10 p.m. each night.

Tell yourself, “I’m not going to do those.”

Instead, when it’s time to unwind for bed, try doing a sleep meditation or doing something you find relaxing in order to reduce mental distractions.

Strengthen Your Relationships

Look at the support structures you have in your life and think of how to build those up. Do you have regular text sessions or outings with friends and family or connect to online/in-person support groups? These things often slip when you’re stressed, but having a community you can rely on is helpful for keeping your stress levels down while trying to conceive.

A Mindfulness Strategy 

Mind-body practices like meditation increase your chances of getting pregnant by decreasing stress and fertility issues. Mindfulness practices promote the release of pregnancy hormones from your brain and ovaries, helping you if you’re trying to conceive.

There are many different types of stress, and they all have the potential to impact fertility. Cultivating a mindfulness strategy is one of your best antidotes against the effects of stress and fertility.

But it also does something else: it helps build your self-compassion6  so you can trust the process. When you’re having a tough day on our fertility journey, it’s comforting to know you can always turn to this crucial tool and be more gentle with yourself.

Professor Anderson’s Advice on Reducing Stress While Trying to Conceive

  • Meditate: Working on getting pregnant can be a time full of hope, but it can also feel overwhelming when you’re in the thick of it. Meditating for just 10 minutes a day can help you feel calmer and prepare your body for conception. 

  • Get off social media: Scrolling through baby photos or your high school friend’s gender reveal celebration will only add to your stress. Disconnecting for a little while is one of the best ways to immediately center yourself and potentially improve your chances of getting pregnant.

  • Find a support group: You don’t have to go it alone. Wherever you find yourself on your fertility journey, finding support from other women and couples who have been through similar challenges can provide you with the connection and validation you need. Ask your doctor or healthcare provider if they have recommendations, or out it out in your friend network if you feel comfortable. 

Pregnant woman holding her stomach on a bed with a plant in the background

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Expectful uses only high-quality sources, including academic research institutions, medical associations, and subject matter experts.

  1. Greg Anderson"Professor Greg Anderson biography"

  2. Rooney, K. L., and Domar, A. D"The relationship between stress and infertility"Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience , vol. 20, no. 1Mar 19, 2018

  3. Kathleen M. Zelman"Foods That Help Tame Stress"Nov 15, 2021

  4. Neelima Panth, Adam Gavarkovs, Martha Tamez, and Josiemer Mattei"The Influence of Diet on Fertility and the Implications for Public Health Nutrition in the United States"Frontiers, vol. 6Jul 30, 2018

  5. Stefan G. Hofmann, Ph.D., Paul Grossman, and Devon E. Hinton"Loving-Kindness and Compassion Meditation: Potential for Psychological Interventions"Elsevier, vol. 31, no. 7Jul 25, 2011

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