Here’s How Stress Affects Fertility — and Here’s What to Do About It

If you're thinking about getting pregnant and are already worried about everything you need to know and prepare for, just remember to relax and breathe. Why? Well, it turns out that stress can negatively impact your ability to become pregnant, so all that worrying about if and when it will happen can actually be contributing to negative pregnancy tests.

How does it work exactly? Stress can cause a woman not to ovulate and skip her period, making it difficult to get pregnant, explained Dr. Zaher Merhi, director of research and development in IVF technologies at New Hope Fertility Center in New York. It works at the level of the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that controls the whole menstrual cycle.

"Many women may find they have an irregular cycle in a month where they are under a lot of stress, traveling, or not sleeping," said Dr. Lisa C. Grossman Becht, MD, director of egg freezing and oncofertility at Columbia University Fertility Center. "Stress also can likely impact the uterus in terms of implantation of an embryo," she said, adding that men aren't off the hook either, since stress can impact sexual function as well as the actual sperm.

Suffice it to say, decreasing stress is an important aspect to promoting fertility. So what can women do? Identifying stressors is the first key step. Once you identify them, you can work on modifying or eliminating the stressors, which, Dr. Grossman Becht said, "can lead to a more relaxed, positive, and happier state that's been shown to lead to increased fertility in many people."

Taking aim at those stressors can be done in a number of ways, from massage and meditation to yoga and reflexology, Dr. Grossman Becht said. Acupuncture, in particular, is one of the best ways to decrease stress and increase fertility. "Beyond decreasing the negative impacts of stress, it likely increases blood flow to reproductive organs, thus improving fertility," she continued.

Having the right support system in place — with family and friends you feel comfortable talking to about your struggles — and getting the right information is also key, said Dr. Merhi. "It's helpful to have a therapist if you're having severe stress," he said. "Trusting the doctor and avoiding reading Google information is crucial, as reading stuff online — which is wrong a lot of the time — can cause unnecessary stress."