The Impact of Stress on Fertility

By Barbara Poczyniak, R.Ac

min read

Let’s talk about stress and infertility. In my practice one of the most common areas to address when helping women with fertility challenges is having them identify the level of stress in their lives. 

Assessing Your Stress

A certain level of stress is required in our daily lives, as it can help us keep on schedule and “get things done”.  It also serves as a trigger for self preservation – meaning it helps to keep us safe from potential danger. Humans are wired to be on the lookout from danger, and our bodies automatically react to help us protect ourselves. Although this is a built in safety mechanism, it can also become overused and overactive if we feel over burdened with stress.  Most of what stresses us may not really be a danger, yet our bodies react as if it were. Higher levels of stress have become a part of life for many of us, and regularly steal time away from our much needed “rest and digest” modes. Basically, many of us are in a constant state of high alert. 

When we think of stressful times in our lives, typically what comes to mind may be events such as exams, deadlines or a bad breakup.  These may be single events, or they may be periods in our lives – such as stressful relationships or a life experience such as going through a fertility challenge or being diagnosed with infertility. Especially for those women and couples confronted with fertility issues, it may not be possible to escape from what is constantly stressing you out

Even when the source of stress seems subtle, such as an overflowing inbox, work demands or long commute – this can act as a cumulative type of stress that is compounded every day. It is a low grade stress that can build up, and eventually make it harder for us to deal with more serious issues.  

Check in with your own stress levels. Consider how stress manifests in your life, how often you feel stressed and for how long.

  • What are your common signs of stress? This can be inward signs, such as feelings of frustration or overwhelm.  Or, it may present as outward signs, where you are feeling short tempered, irritable or overly controlling of others.  This can look different for everyone, and may even present as a range of emotions – depending on how stressed you are feeling.
  • How often do you feel tired or sleep deprived?  This can add to stress levels, or may manifest as a result of stress.  Consider your sleep health and how to improve it
  • How often do you feel irritable, impatient or out of sorts?  Is there a pattern of when or why this is happening?
  • Do you find yourself indulging in food in order to feel better, or maybe forgetting to eat?

How does stress affect fertility?

Although stress levels have not yet been conclusively proven to affect fertility, women (and their partners) who are experiencing fertility setbacks certain have higher levels of stress.  A doctor’s diagnosis of unexplained fertility, or other known health issues can increase stress levels – consciously or unconsciously.

Months or even years of “trying” can take a toll on outlook, self image and relationships.  Dealing with fertility and the (often well meaning but misguided) comments from friends, family members or colleagues can become extremely stressful. 

And for women who are going through IVF, the program’s schedule of early morning visits, tests and procedures can also bring stress to a whole new level.

Can stress affect ovulation?

Chronic stress levels can affect ovulation by interfering with progesterone production. One of progesterone’s many functions is to maintain pregnancy. It is required to nourish the uterine lining, preparing it for the fertilized eggs to implant. Progesterone and the stress hormone cortisol are both made from the same precursor hormone (pregnenolone). Although cortisol is produced by the adrenal gland, it cannot be made without pregnenolone. 

When a woman is going through a state of chronic stress, the body receives a signal to “fight or flight”, leading to a surge in cortisol production that is often at the expense of progesterone production.  This is referred to as the “pregnenolone steal”, where stress is usually the main thief behind the process.  If the body doesn’t feel safe, it will use its resources to “fight or flight” rather than to reproduce. 

Natural therapies to help you de-stress

Acupuncture and Arvigo Abdominal Therapy®

Improving fertility naturally through Acupuncture and abdominal massage puts the focus on restoring balance and boosting circulation to the reproductive system.  One important side benefit is the potential of stress relief.

Studies have shown that acupuncture can act to normalize stress levels by regulating the stress-induced increases of blood-level cortisol. Acupuncture has been linked to an increase in our body’s production of endorphins.

The Arvigo techniques focus on restoring and balancing the flow of nourishing fluids and energy to the reproductive and digestive systems, but also to release any stress-related body tension or restricted breathing patterns.

What next?

Curious how natural therapies can help in the struggle with infertility and stress? We’re here to help.  Contact me for more information on a personalized fertility treatment plan. 



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anxiety, IUI, IVF, trying to conceive, unexplained infertility

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