Is Stress Impacting Your Ability To Conceive?

Many couples experience the quotidian stress of juggling careers, social lives, family obligations, and that coveted “me time.” Add to that the stressors typically related to conception (When is the optimal time to have sex? What if we don’t get pregnant right away? What if we can’t get pregnant at all?) and you’ve got some wigged-out wannabe parents.

The fact that 16 percent of Canadian couples experience fertility issues might be linked to our rising stress levels. In 2012, a study in the Journal of Human Reproduction compared pregnancy rates in couples that reported being stressed and those who were not. The results? Pregnancy was much more likely to occur during months when couples reported feeling happy and relaxed.

We sat down with stress and wellness expert Beverly Beuermann-King to discuss the role stress plays in conception and tips for couples who are having trouble getting pregnant.

What are some of the negative effects of stress on a couple’s attempt to conceive?

BBK: There are common things that happen outside of conception, such as headaches, gastrointestinal issues, diarrhea, muscle tension and depression. But when you talk about stress in the context of conception, it impacts our hormones, especially around menstruation, and it can impact sperm, as far as the number and their ability to swim. Stress impacts every system in our body, especially those involved in conception in both men and women.

What are some of the most common stressors for couples who are trying to conceive?

BBK: There’s everything from how to get pregnant, when to get pregnant, what’s involved as far as family, should we tell our families, is it happening on our schedule? A lot of couples go in thinking, “OK, I’m 24 years old and we’re married and we’re going to have a baby within a year.” They’ve got a plan, and it doesn’t always work [according] to that plan. So that creates an enormous amount of stress. Stress comes from all different sources, but it certainly impacts couples, and I think the longer it takes to get pregnant, the more that stress and those sources of stress kind of come together.

Why is it important that couples maintain a healthy diet and regular exercise routine when they’re trying to conceive? 

BBK: Diet and exercise both impact the health of our bodies and minds. Are you eating right to make sure those systems in your body are at their peak? Are you exercising in a way that helps those systems do what they’re supposed to do? Exercise and relaxation techniques are also great stress relievers; they help restore energy in our body and that energy can be used by our reproductive system.

Do ovulation kits help reduce stress for couples who are trying to conceive? 

BBK: Absolutely. The Clearblue ovulation kit helps a couple pinpoint that optimal time to have sex and it takes the guesswork out of conception. It shows you when that spike happens so that you can time out when you should be having sex. It’s not something that you have to do every day of your cycle, which makes it labored and stressful. You figure out very quickly what the best time is and it sets you up so that you can be successful in conception.

What are some of the biggest mistakes that couples make when trying to conceive?

BBK: We’re in prevention mode for the early part of our lives, then all of a sudden you want to go into conception mode and you think, “Oh, it’s going to happen right away because we’re not using protection.” I think the myth that everyone can get pregnant right away is one of the most stressful things, because when it doesn’t happen you start to get worried. Most couples say that it took them longer to get pregnant than they thought it would. That’s one of the messages that we need to get out — that it is going to take longer.

Do you have any other tips for couples who are having difficulty conceiving?

BBK: It’s really about keeping the romance alive and trying not to let it become so mechanical. When I was trying to get pregnant with my son, we were having trouble with it and it put a lot of stress on our relationship. This was our goal, we got so focused on it and it was so disappointing when it didn’t happen. The more you keep together as a couple and make other areas of your life important, the more likely you are to survive it once that stress has subsided. Making love outside of getting pregnant is important. I also really like the idea of the baby-making vacation. You can use the ovulation test to determine the best time for your vacation, set it up and make it a special time–a celebration, as opposed to a chore.

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