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NIAW: Just Relax and it will happen - Stress and Infertility

Updated: Nov 16, 2021

If you are in the TTC community you have already been told by your mothers or mother-in-laws that you should just relax and then it will happen. I can tell you from personal experience that this is the last thing that a woman who has been trying to conceive wants to hear. Did I already say that you should never tell a woman to 'just relax'??

Today, I wanted to talk about the physiology behind stress and then how it can affect your reproductive hormones.

Stress itself is complicated. It is not a simple shunting progesterone to cortisol to meet the demands of stress. In fact, acute stress can cause an increase in cortisol that parallels an increase in progesterone.

What can happen in times of chronic stress is a high level of cortisol that contributes to a negative feedback cycle to the hypothalamus - decreasing GnRH, and to the pituitary - decreasing LH and FSH - thus disrupting the natural cycle of a woman.

The presence of acute stress can affect IVF success by decreasing the number of oocytes (eggs) collected and fertilized. While chronic stress affects IVF success AND pregnancy parameters - live birth and birth weight.

Therefore, before any fertility treatment (IUI and IVF to be discussed later) you should address your chronic stress levels. During the procedure, the acute stress of undergoing stimulation and egg retrieval can be managed with psychological techniques - whether with a therapist or meditation.

I know I have been focusing a lot on female infertility, but we cannot forget that there is another partner in this. Acute stress tends to not affect spermatogenesis, as sperm are starting to develop in the 70 days prior, but it can affect the hormones. Chronic stress in men can decrease sperm quality.

Ways to Combat Stress

Likely none of these are news to you, but sometimes it's good to hear it - repetition for your memory.

1) Psychotherapy - whether solo or with your partner can help get to the underlying cause of your chronic stress.

2) Yoga - There are so many online yoga programs nowadays. We really have no excuses to not do one, because many are available for free. Make sure it is a Yin or Restorative Yoga - because some of the yoga poses in other types can be strenuous. Here's one I did this evening.

3) Meditation - Again, there are some online guided meditations. There are even some for couples to do together. It may help to connect you and your partner.

4) I already mentioned supplements in the previous post like melatonin and Vit B6 - but I forgot about Magnesium. If you can consume foods high in magnesium it is obviously better than taking a supplement. It is thought to be important in the manufacturing of cortisol and progesterone. So while it does not reduce stress directly it is an important mineral.

5) Journaling - The psychologist that I spoke with when I was diagnosed with depression mentioned that I should journal before bed. This can help with insomnia, and we all know the importance of sleep!

Google has so much to offer us, so we should use it!

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