Can Stress Really Stop You From Conceiving?
If you've arrived at the next stage of adulthood, and feel you're finally ready to sacrifice Saturday morning lie-ins (or a full night's sleep, for that matter) for baby cuddles and cooing over tiny toes, you'll probably be reading up on how to improve your chances of conceiving.
Typical advice about how to boost your fertility might include a healthy diet, regular exercise, better sleep patterns and less stress. But sometimes it's hard to eliminate stress - especially if the reason you're stressed is that you're struggling to conceive. So how much of a role does stress really play when it comes to your chances of getting pregnant?
According to Georgia Witkin, an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Ob/Gyn and Reproductive Sciences at Mount Sinai School of Medicine - not a lot. While research has of course demonstrated that fertility issues cause stress, there's no evidence to say it works the other way round.
Writing for Psychology Today, Witkin rubbished "Aunt Fannie’s advice to, 'just relax and then you’ll get pregnant'." Labelling it a "myth", the professor pointed out that "women can conceive under the most stressful circumstances if there is no physiological problem - even traumatised women and war prisoners often get pregnant."
Of course, we know both physical and emotional stress can interfere with your menstrual cycle, but Witkin insists this doesn't directly extend to fertility. "When there is a fertility problem that follows stress, the stress was most likely a trigger for a pre-existing medical condition or predisposition," she explained.
While stress won't physically damage the quality of an egg or sperm, what it can do is cause behaviours that might do so. "For example, women may leave fertility treatment, harm their fertility through drugs, smoking, or drinking, avoid sex, postpone child-bearing, or not follow instructions for fertility medication [when they're stressed]," the expert said.
And backing up her point, she added: "If reproductive systems are as vulnerable to stress as many believe, the human species would have perished long ago."
So if you're experiencing stress and are also struggling to get pregnant, Witkin's fundamental advice is to look after yourself a bit more. "Be your own best friend. Stop blaming yourself and treat yourself to the same supportiveness, consideration and respect you give to others you love," she said.
Eventually, you'll start to relieve stress, and while this won't boost your physical fertility, it'll certainly make the whole process of trying to conceive a lot more enjoyable for you.