Does stress affect fertility and if so, how? We sat down with Dr Alex Eskander, Director of The Gynae Centre and Co-Director of London’s leading IVF clinic The Fertility and Gynaecology Academy, to find out.
‘The problem with this topic is,’ Dr Eskander said, ‘that saying to a woman who desperately wants to get pregnant “don’t stress out” is no real help. Add to that the idea that stress can actually have a negative effect on fertility and you have a recipe for couples who are stressing out about stressing out. Nonetheless, the topic does need to be tackled because there are things couples can do to decrease stress levels that may help with the process.’
What Does The Science Say?
‘The short answer is, it’s still complicated, and there’s a lot more research to be done,’ Dr Eskander told us. A number of studies have demonstrated a possible link between stress and issues with conception but scientists have not been sure of the direction of this relationship; in other words, whether stress is affecting these couples’ fertility, or simply whether problems conceiving are causing extra stress.1
A widely reported 2014 study discovered that high stress levels (as determined by the alpha-amylase levels in a woman’s saliva) were linked to a longer time to pregnancy. The researchers also found an association between elevated alpha amylase levels and a higher chance of no conception within a year of regular unprotected intercourse.2 However, stress levels were only measured twice throughout the whole process, which offers ‘a very limited assessment of daily stress, as does the use of “stress journals”.3
What’s more, it’s possible that the testing itself could have created extra stress for the participants.
It is worth noting though, that some researchers have reported higher rates of pregnancy among IVF patients who have been randomly assigned to cognitive behavioural therapy and mind-body intervention programmes, compared to women receiving IVF treatment alone.4 And one control group study of infertility in couples where at least one partner had depression, noted that even when all other factors were accounted for, the group receiving psychotherapy and antidepressant treatment before and during infertility treatment, were 14 times more likely to conceive than those who weren’t.5
How Should We Interpret The Link Between Stress And Fertility Issues?
Dr Eskander says: ‘While researchers are still arguing about the nuances of the link between stress and fertility, we fertility doctors want to see more couples achieve their dream of having a family. So the best thing to say is, think of stress management techniques like having an oxygen mask on a plane – perhaps you won’t need it, but you have absolutely nothing to lose from taking the precaution and potentially everything to gain. What’s more, even with the best services in the world, assisted conception and pregnancy itself can be very stressful, so in learning to manage stress better, you’re making an investment that will serve you no matter what.
This is why here at The Gynae Centre and at our sister clinic, The Fertility and Gynaecology Academy, we have links to some of the UK’s finest therapists and wellbeing experts. We can help you access not only the best reproductive care, but the best support services too.’
What You Can Do (And Just As Importantly, What You Can’t Do)
‘Try to think of stress in terms of what you can control,’ Dr Eskander says. ‘You can control eating well, getting to bed at a reasonable time, getting plenty of exercise, doing something relaxing like yoga or meditation and, if you feel you would benefit from it, therapy or a support group. But you’re still human, you’ll have good days and bad days, so don’t give yourself a hard time trying to be calm every second of the day.
‘Try to say to yourself: I’ve done what I can to relax. I can’t say fairer than that. Reminding yourself of this helps to take some of the pressure off. You’ve done your part. Well done you.’
Here at The Gynae Centre we provide the finest gynaecological care and gold standard reproductive services in association with our sister clinic The Fertility and Gynaecology Academy. Call us for a consultation on 020 7580 8090.