It’s the kind of advice well-meaning friends and family offer if they know you are struggling to conceive: “Just stop worrying about it, and it will happen”. While it’s true that stress can reduce fertility, stopping worrying about conceiving unfortunately won’t guarantee a positive pregnancy test.
The link between stress and infertility is well known. It’s been shown in rats, but also in humans: one study showed that women who were most stressed were 29% less likely to conceive in a 12-month period than those who were the least stressed. Stress doesn’t just reduce female fertility: a study in the United States revealed a direct link between perceived stress and stressful life events and reduced quality of sperm (however, work-related stress did not appear to have an impact).
To make matters more complicated, if you desperately want a baby and are struggling to conceive, that in itself can be a huge pressure. Some studies, including one in Sweden, have found that women generally react more strongly to their infertility than men; but it can be a strain for both partners and their relationship.
But, while stress can be a factor in infertility, it is by no means the only cause. There are any number of reasons why you may have troubles conceiving. Sometimes diet and lifestyle changes can be all that you need to restore your fertility and help you get the baby you are dreaming of, but in some cases fertility treatment is necessary. Being told that stopping stressing about your fertility problems will help you get a positive pregnancy test is unhelpful, and often not true.
Carole Gilling-Smith, Consultant Gynaecologist and Medical Director at the Agora Gynaecology & Fertility Centre, advises that acknowledging the strain that infertility can have on your relationship is an important element in managing the stress: “Our work with couples who come to The Agora from all over Sussex, Surrey and Kent shows that discussing your feelings and making time for one another is really important when going through fertility treatment. Working as a team and supporting one another will help you both as individuals and as a couple. Also try to plan to do enjoyable things together that take your mind off your fertility treatment and take you back to a time when you were not even thinking about starting a family. These are all ways of managing the stress and stopping it from becoming an additional factor in your fertility.”
Stress can impact on your fertility – but being told to stop worrying is not a solution.