In this wired world, there’s so much pressure to be “on” all the time. But humans don’t thrive that way and we need time to decompress. And when we don’t afford ourselves that precious time, it can do more than make us feel run down—it can actually impact our health in some pretty big ways. Did you know there’s evidence that stress and fertility are related?!
Stress is a Real Problem
We already know that stress can:
But recent research suggest that there is, in fact, a strong link between stress and fertility, too.
The problem? As a whole, we’re one stressed out society! In one survey, over 37 percent of women reported a stress level of 5.3 or higher on a scale of one to ten, ten being the most stressed. This was up from 32 percent from the year before, and keeps climbing.
Annually, 6.1 million women in the United States struggle to conceive. So scientists wondered: Could these stats all be related somehow?
The Study on Stress and Fertility
To determine how stress and fertility are related, the Boston University School of Public Health followed a group of women and men in a preconception group with no history of infertility. (source) The couples had all been trying to conceive for more than six menstrual cycles. Participants filled out a questionnaire measuring perceived stress at the beginning of the study, then bi-monthly after that.
How Stress and Fertility Were Related
Women with higher stress scores were 13 percent less likely to conceive.
While they didn’t find that the man’s stress score had any impact on the couple’s chances of conception, they did find that a big mismatch in stress levels between partners resulted in a 25 percent less chance of conceiving.
The association between stress and fertility was also stronger among women who had been trying to conceive for less than two menstrual cycles and for women under 35 years old.
The Takeaway on Stress and Fertility
“Although this study does not definitely prove that stress causes infertility, it does provide evidence supporting the integration of mental health care in preconception guidance and care,” — study author Amelia Wesselink
We all know how important it is to take care of ourselves during pregnancy, but this growing evidence suggests just how vital preconception care is, too. If you’re thinking about conceiving, work on eliminating as much stress from your life as possible.
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Tips to Combat Stress
I can’t stress enough (pun intended) how important it is to find ways to cope with your stress. So many of us natural mamas are in tune with natural ways to heal our bodies and minds, but sometimes we need a reminder to put into practice what we know.
I’ve got a whole post on coping with stress, but here are a few of my favorite methods if you’re concerned about how your stress and fertility may be linked:
1. Make me-time a priority
Get an extra hour of sleep each night, journal, meditate, take a yoga class. Do anything that makes you feel more peaceful. Consider going to the beach or floating in a pool; a Swedish study found that floating in saltwater decreases stress levels so add an Epsom salt bath to your weekly rituals.
2. Make a list of your biggest sources of stress
Is it your job? Your commute? Or staying on top of all of your household chores? Think about what raises your stress levels, then brainstorm with your partner to find ways to take those things off your plate. Maybe it’s a meal delivery service, a housecleaner, or even a new profession.
3. Eat consistent and balanced meals
While it’s easy to “carb out”, you also want to avoid other extreme diets that can lead to more stress. Focus on three balanced meals a day that include:
- a healthy source of protein (The amino acids in gelatin reduce stress within your body, so make bone broths or protein powder part of your diet.),
- a healthy source of carbohydrates like root vegetables and sprouted, seed-like grains like quinoa and millet
- and healthy fat like olive oil, avocado, and whole fat dairy, which, in studies, helps with fertility
4. Consider magnesium
Magnesium deficiency has been linked to depression, stress, and irritability. The recommended daily amount is 320 to 420 mg, but most Americans only get 250 mg. Boost your magnesium-rich foods and consider a magnesium supplement if necessary.
5. Get your zzz’s
Sleep has incredible restorative powers—quality sleep routine calms, improves concentration, regulates mood, and improves judgment and decision-making. (source) Aim for at least eight hours each night. If you’re coming up short, do your best to find time to take a quick nap. Studies show even a 30-minute nap can reverse the effects of a poor night’s sleep. (Learn how to deal with insomnia.)
6. Go outside
The benefits of the great outdoors are well known—studies show nature boosts your immune system, reduces stress, and even helps you sleep. If you’re feeling particularly frazzled, take a walk and breathe in the fresh air, or try forest bathing. While at the park, find a quiet spot to sit and listen to the sounds around you.
7. Diffuse calming essential oils
I’m a huge fan of essential oils, and many of the most popular oils help reduce stress. Buy an oil diffuser and high quality lavender, valerian, or chamomile oils. Add a few drops to the water in the diffuser basin before bedtime or throughout the day to fill your home with sweet-smelling stress relief.
8. Change Your Mindset
I know what a vicious cycle it can be if you’re trying to conceive and having trouble, but try not to stress. It’s important to get your mind in a positive place as this greatly influences how your body responds (source?) You can:
- Practice daily affirmations, like those on my cards.
- Meditate for 5-10 minutes each day
- Pray and attend church
- Write out 5 things you are grateful for daily
All are proven ways to reduce stress and potentially boost your fertility!
Other Ways to Increase Your Fertility
In some perverse way being told to not to stress about having a baby just seems to… stress us out! So what else can you do to increase your fertility?
- Eat real food, as well as special fertility herbs like red raspberry leaf tea, maca root, and evening primrose (learn more about the ideal fertility diet)
- Track your cycles and know when you ovulate (try our ovulation calculator!)
- Have sex at peak fertility (look for cervical mucus)
- Take cod liver oil. Studies suggest cod liver oil’s omega-3 fatty acids not only boost fertility, but also support proper development of your baby after conception.
- Sleep in total darkness. Too much light at night inhibits the production of melatonin, our body’s “master” hormone. And if the hypothalamus doesn’t receive enough melatonin, it’s unable to support the hormonal system.
- Avoid lubricants. Evidence suggests many commercial lubricants may be toxic to sperm and interfere with its passing into the uterus. Try saliva or coconut oil instead.
- Monitor your thyroid, as this directly impacts hormonal function. Eat plenty of healthy carbohydrates, avoid food like soy, and ask your healthcare provider for a full thyroid panel if you suspect a thyroid imbalance.
- Test your progesterone levels, which can be low with infertility. Do this by eating a whole food diet, with plenty of fiber to help the body absorb and excrete excess estrogen.
- Optimize gut health. Certain parasites are tied to infertility, plus good bacteria balance is important to good vaginal health.
If you want to learn more, read this post on natural ways to boost fertility. It all boils down to getting your body into tip-top shape, maintaining your health, and respecting your body. Baby dust to you, mama! ?
How About You?
If you struggled to conceive, do you think your stress levels played a role? Did you do anything to reduce them, and if so, were you able to conceive?