Is Stress Keeping You Infertile?

Could stress be to blame for your baby-making struggles?

Stress seems to be an inescapable part of modern life. The demands of a woman's professional and private life mean that they are constantly hurrying to meet commitments. And modern communications via e-mail, pagers and mobile phones make it increasingly difficult to escape for even a few hours of undisturbed peace and quiet.

Most of us instinctively feel that stress has a negative impact on our quality of life. Dr. Allen Morgan and Dr. Douglas Rabin are reproductive medicine physicians in New Jersey who explain that, "what is not widely known is that it (stress) also has a detrimental impact on fertility. Women who are constantly under stress produce prolactin, cortisol, and other hormones, which can interfere with or even block regular ovulation."

What is stress? The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) defines stress as, "any event that a person perceives as threatening or harmful." This could range from changes in lifestyle (moving, divorce, or loss of job), to personal tragedies (death in the family, illness, or injury), to less cataclysmic but still upsetting situations, such as an ongoing conflict at work.

Clearly, a woman who wants to get pregnant needs to avoid unnecessary stress. But how can this be achieved? "One way is by making conscious choices. Book "quiet time" in your calendar for yourself. Take a walk in the countryside, treat yourself to a bubble bath or cuddle up on the couch with a good book. Consider a massage or reflexology. Do what works best for you, says Dr. Morgan. Another way of reducing stress is by adopting a healthy lifestyle. Exercise plays an important role. Just 20 to 30 minutes of brisk walking, swimming or riding a bike will help you stay fit and reduce stress. The right nutrition will keep your body in balance and give you greater sense of well-being. Reducing your caffeine intake is beneficial. If you are still smoking, you should be aware of how much cigarettes can reduce your chances of getting pregnant. And the value of a good night's sleep is not to be underestimated (most people need seven to eight hours). Lack of sleep not only makes getting through the day an ordeal, but also puts your body into stress mode.

READ MORE: When the universe says "no"

Can stress cause infertility?

"In rare cases, extreme stress can interfere with normal ovulation in women and may reduce sperm production in men. Stress may lead to a problem with erections, which of course interferes with a couple's ability to conceive. However, while it's possible for stress to cause infertility, it's far more common for infertility to cause stress," says Dr. Rabin. According to the ASRM, "Infertility can be a major crisis because the important life goal of parenthood is threatened." For couples who aren't immediately successful in their efforts to conceive, stress-reduction techniques can help keep this anxiety in check. To that end, Drs. Rabin and Morgan now offer stress reducing therapy in their practice through the adjacent Tiberias Spa. Their goal is to help women increase their chances of conception by reducing stress levels prior to and after fertility treatments, such as intrauterine insemination (IUI) and embryo transfer after In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF).

How to reduce stress

Massage Therapy - There are data that suggest that massage improves fertility and at least one study showed that the hands-on bodywork can dial down your anxiety level. Since stress has been shown to interfere with getting pregnant, it makes sense that reducing stress through massage could theoretically improve a woman's odds of conceiving. In a study published in the January 2004 issue of the International Journal of Neurosciences, researchers assigned 36 healthy adults to have one of three types of basic massage: moderate, light, or vibratory (think drumming instead of kneading). Although the researchers didn't look at the effects of massage on fertility, they did find that the bodywork significantly reduces stress. During ten-minute treatments, scientists measured volunteers' stress levels and heart rates with the help of an EEG, a machine that traces brain waves, and an EKG, an instrument for recording differences in heartbeat. While anxiety decreased in all three groups, the moderate-pressure massage group saw the biggest nosedive in stress levels. If you're undergoing expensive infertility treatments, you may balk at the notion of spending money on anything that doesn't directly involve eggs and sperm, but give yourself permission to get an occasional massage. The relaxation will do your body good.

READ MORE: Tips for a happy healthy pregnancy

Acupuncture - is an ancient Chinese treatment that involves placing tiny hair-like needles in the skin as a way of stimulating energy points that are thought to be central to your spiritual, mental, emotional and physical balance. Acupuncture is used to treat a variety of maladies such as headaches and back pain. For fertility, the needles are placed in energy points linked to the reproductive organs to improve energy flow to those areas.

Most women who choose acupuncture are doing it together with traditional infertility treatments. It's still not entirely clear how the technique works, but there is some evidence that it increases the production of endorphins, or brain chemicals that make you feel good and help reduce stress. It may also improve blood supply to the ovaries, which improves their function, and the uterus, which can make it easier to nourish a fetus and reduce the risk of miscarriage. A 2002 German study suggesting that acupuncture may, in fact, work. The study looked at 160 women undergoing IVF, half of whom received acupuncture along with IVF, and the other half who received IVF alone. They found pregnancy rates among the women undergoing acupuncture were significantly higher.

For more information visit