November 1, 2022


November 1, 2022

How Stress Can Affect Your Chances of Getting Pregnant

While studies have shown that stress can decrease your likelihood of getting pregnant, it is often not the sole cause. Learn the details here.

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Becoming pregnant is a journey of change and overcoming challenges. Fertility struggles look different from family to family. Naturally, couples looking to become pregnant want to increase their chances of pregnancy. Similarly, families who are pregnant worry about a healthy pregnancy and delivery.

People commonly advise those wanting to become pregnant to relax and not "stress out" over it. Although sounding cliché, the general suggestion is not one to dismiss. Stress can hurt pregnancy. Find out more about how stress affects pregnancy below!


Ways stress impacts your body

Believe it or not, stress affects you more than you think. Your mind, body, and behavioral or emotional well-being can all be affected by stress. From a bit of sleepiness to high blood pressure, let's examine what stress can do to you.

Common physical symptoms of stress, mild and severe, include:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension and jaw clenching
  • Fatigue or exhaustion
  • Upset stomach
  • High blood pressure
  • Skin irritation
  • Disrupt menstruation/ovulation cycles (reference 2)
  • Teeth grinding
  • Chest pain
  • Increased susceptibility to infections or illness (severe conditions like gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, and heart disease can result from chronic stress)

Some behavioral or emotional symptoms of anxiety are:

  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Lethargy (not wanting to be active)
  • Anger issues
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Self-isolation
  • Crying spells or outbursts
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Turning to unhealthy coping habits (smoking, drinking, etc.)
  • Change in appetite (increase or decrease in eating habits)
  • Bad eating habits (eating more unhealthy 'comfort' foods)
  • Change in sex drive (often resulting in decreased sex drive and the risk of sexual dysfunction for chronic stress)

Mental symptoms of stress (from acute to chronic stress) include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Nervousness
  • Depression
  • Burnout
  • Schizophrenia
  • Inability to "shut off" the mind
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Loss of interests

Unfortunately, physical, emotional, and psychological stress takes a toll on your body and can make the pregnancy journey difficult. Let's better examine how stress affects fertility.

How does stress relate to pregnancy?

Stress is a "state of real or perceived threat" to the body's balance that may challenge a person's well-being." The body's stress response involves the endocrine, nervous, and immune systems, prioritizing survival over other physiological functions like growth and reproduction.

The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis largely modulates the stress response. When the body experiences stress, the hypothalamus (in the brain) releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which stimulates the pituitary gland to produce and secrete adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH controls the creation and secretion of many molecules in the body, including cortisol (the stress hormone). Elevated cortisol levels in the bloodstream inhibit the release of CRH and ACTH, enabling the HPA axis to return to normal physiological function after an acute period of stress.

The HPA axis also affects the reproductive system via the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis. The hypothalamus secretes gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which causes the pituitary gland to release follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). These two hormones stimulate ovulation and steroid hormone production in the ovary. Ovarian production of steroid hormones and protein complexes regulates the secretion of GnRH.

All of this to say, stress impacts this axis at all levels. High levels of cortisol can inhibit GnRH-secreting neurons, LH and FSH-secreting cells, and the activity of the gonads results in reproductive dysfunction.

Some natural fertility-boosting elements include:

  • Eating a healthy and balanced diet
  • Exercise and maintain a healthy weight
  • Cutting out drugs and alcohol
  • Tracking a consistent ovulation pattern
  • Quality sleep

When you take these pregnancy enhancers and compare them to the previous list of stress-related symptoms, you will see that stress hurts what promotes fertility in most ways. Stress can also negatively affect a pregnant person. 

Some experiences that cause stress for pregnant people include:

  • Adverse or catastrophic events (divorce, natural disasters, death in the family, etc.)
  • Racism
  • Depression
  • Financial instability

Even a person who does not otherwise have high-stress levels can experience pregnancy-related stress symptoms. These symptoms can possibly have a direct effect on the pregnancy.


What does the research say?

No research can pinpoint why or exactly how stress affects pregnancy with absolute measures. However, enough research and information have found strong correlations to determine that abnormal stress is unhealthy for pregnancy.

In 2018, a study published in the Journal of Reproductive Immunology found that females undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) with higher blood levels of a specific kind of molecule that rises with stress were less likely to get pregnant after one cycle of IVF.

Another study in the journal Human Reproduction found that out of 400 females, those with higher levels of salivary alpha-amylase (associated with stress) were 29% less likely to become pregnant after trying for a year. The same people were twice as likely to be declared infertile compared to females with lower salivary alpha-amylase levels.

Also, according to a 2017 study, babies in utero tend to have heart rates more reactive to acute stressors when the birthing person has high anxiety. The same study concluded infants and toddlers exposed to the birthing parent's depression during gestation shared similarities like excessive crying, reduced motor development, and delayed language development. Additionally, children and adolescents exposed to the birthing parent's depression during fetal development had increased risks of emotional, behavioral, and cognitive problems.

Stress can also cause potential pregnancy complications like:

  • High blood pressure
  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Lower immune system
  • Indirect causes of miscarriage
  • Increased risk of post-partum depression (PPD)


How to manage your symptoms

As frustrating as stress can be, stress-relieving techniques help make symptoms manageable. Some evidence-based stress-relief methods include:

  • Creating sleep hygiene habits for improved sleep (following a schedule and "bed-time rituals" like having a bath)
  • Progressive muscle relaxation (tensing and relaxing different muscle groups)
  • Guided imagery for positive mental imagery (imagining yourself in serene and peaceful locations)
  • Mindfulness (Focusing your awareness to accept the present moment with a nonjudgmental attitude)
  • Humor (addressing stress with humor and laughter)
  • Deep breathing exercises (diaphragmatic breathing, box breathing, lion's breath)

Other stress-relieving techniques and tools include:

  • Yoga
  • Counseling
  • Exercise
  • Build a support system
  • Dedicate time to stress-free hobbies (writing, singing, dancing, playing music, etc.)
  • Seek professional help and local resources


Start your pregnancy journey with Anja Health

Stress during pregnancy is concerning, but there are ways to manage stress and keep stress from spiraling out of control. One way is to have plans in place to address future concerns. One such plan is already having cord blood stem cells cryopreserved in case your baby or a family member requires cell-based treatment in the future. Contact Anja Health today to start your pregnancy journey free of stress!

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