What effect does infertility stress have on someone’s inability to get pregnant? And why does infertility stress happen at all?
Simply, when you are under circumstances your body perceives as threatening, the body responds to these structures with the so-called “flight or flight” response. With this type of stress response, the hypothalamus releases a hormone called corticotropin releasing factor, or CRF. In turn, CRF activates what is called the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal system, and the HPA system, as it is known, releases stress hormones to help manage the situation.
How this affects infertility is still not quite understood, but it is known that because the presence of infertility in itself can cause stress, that can actually lead to greater infertility stress, such that it becomes a vicious cycle. Experts do say, indeed, that stress reduction can often increase the chances for pregnancy in couples who have been deemed infertile but for whom no significant cause of infertility can be found. Because the hypothalamus regulates stress responses and sex hormones, the connection between infertility in women and stress is quite clear. In fact, stress can actually lead to complete cessation of the menstrual cycle. Even if the menstrual cycle does not completely cease, it can cause something called anovulation, or irregular menstrual cycles. Excess stress also causes the pituitary gland to produce increased amounts of catecholamine, which can cause ovulation to be irregular.
Strides in infertility stress
Within the last 20 years or so, psychoneuroimmunology has focused on how the mind can affect the body’s function, and this is especially of interest in infertility stress; neuropeptides are released in response to the emotions, and go to every cell, including those in the immune system. This leaves the mind and body inseparably connected, which means that indeed, there is a direct connection between stress and infertility.
Women are also not the only ones affected by infertility stress. Men, too, can experience lower sperm count because of stress, and can also experience physiological/psychological effects of stress with such things as temporary erectile dysfunction or lower sex drive. This, of course, will probably reduce how much a couple has intercourse, which can also reduce the chances of pregnancy.
What can help
If no physical problem is found for infertility, simply relaxing (although that can be difficult) can greatly increase a couple’s chances of becoming pregnant. Because methods differ between people and one method can work for someone while another will not, it’s useful to try a number of different approaches to reduce your own stress if you find yourself in this situation. There have been a plethora of books written on the subject, and all can benefit you by teaching different stress management techniques. Other possible destressors include using biofeedback, imagery, acupuncture or massage.
A surprising final note on infertility stress is that oftentimes, when people are trying to become pregnant and simply can’t for no apparent reason, they suddenly and unexpectedly find themselves pregnant once they relax and just “let things be.” And even though science is making great strides in correcting infertility problems, this is one of the “tried and true” adages that really work and make sense when it comes to infertility stress.