Does Stress Affect Fertility For Men And Women?  

If you’re struggling to conceive, you’re probably examining every part of your life. Are you exercising the right amount? Are you tracking your cycle correctly? At some point, you’re probably going to consider stress and if it’s affecting your fertility. The answer to that question is yes… and no. Here’s what stress and fertility research has found, and what it hasn’t when it comes to getting pregnant.

Is there a link between stress and fertility?

While more stress and infertility research has come out in the past decade, there’s still a lot we don’t know. Researchers have found evidence that stress may play a part in your ability to conceive, but that doesn’t mean it’s a direct causal relationship.

What do we mean by “stress”?

First, let’s take a step back and talk about what we mean by “stress.”

Generally, everyday stress—a stressful week at work or a too-busy schedule—does not have a measurable impact on your chances of conceiving. (So, you can stop worrying about that overtime shift you just took on!) Instead, if stress is affecting fertility, it’s because of hugely stressful events, like a death in the family, a chronic illness, getting fired, or moving into a new home.

You can calculate your own stress levels based on these life events with the Holmes-Rahe stress scale here. If you’re under serious amounts of stress, it’s important that you talk openly to your doctor about it. At The Fertility Institute, we work closely with our patients to understand their current stressors and suggest options for reducing stress and anxiety. For serious cases, we can recommend reputable counselors and therapists to help.

What about everyday stressors?

There is some evidence that everyday stressors can have an impact on your chances of getting pregnant. Most experts, however, believe that this isn’t due directly to the stress, but from the unhealthy habits that most people turn to when they’re stressed out.

These may include:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking
  • Overeating
  • Avoiding sex
  • Neglecting to exercise

Unhealthy habits affect both women and men when it comes to fertility.

So, does stress affect your ability to conceive?

Yes, and no.

The American Psychological Association notes that “psychological factors–while important–are secondary to biological ones.” Another leading authority on fertility research, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine explains that “even though infertility is very stressful, there isn’t any proof that stress causes infertility.”

A review of over 50 studies in Fertility and Sterility noted that, in men:

“Although some trends have been identified, larger-scale studies that adequately control all confounding variables are needed before conclusions can be made about the relationship between stress, psychotropic agents, and male infertility.”

A 2015 study in Nature Reviews Urology notes a similar sentiment.

If you have a stressful job or work long hours, you can stop beating yourself up about it. How you react to stress—whether channeling it into exercise or unhealthy habits like overeating—plays a bigger role.

How to reduce stress when trying to conceive

Instead, more recent research shows how positively changing your stress response can help you improve your chances for conceiving. Another study from Fertility and Sterility, by Dr. Alice Domer, studied women who participated in a mind/body program for stress reduction while undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment. They did find that participants who had at least five sessions of the mind/body program had a significant increase in pregnancy rates.

Of the group of women who participated in the stress reduction program, 52% became pregnant, compared to only 20% in the control group.

How can you incorporate these findings to improve your own chances of conception? Try adding any of the following stress reduction techniques into an already-healthy lifestyle:

  • Acupuncture
  • Massage, professional or self-massage
  • Staying active
  • Engaging in yoga or tai chi
  • Journalling
  • Attending counseling or group therapy

If you believe that major stressful life events are impacting your ability to conceive, you have options. Contact The Fertility Institute today to talk to one of our fertility doctors in Mandeville, Metairie, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans.