The importance of stress management when trying for a baby
Trying for a baby, whether naturally or going through IVF treatment, can be an emotionally draining experience and as it is Stress Awareness Month we wanted to highlight the negative impact of stress on fertility and offer some guidance on how best to manage your mindset.
The reality is that getting pregnant can be more stressful for some than others and while couples trying for a baby are usually aware that some of their lifestyle choices may affect the chances, it is important to remember that lifestyle is not only about what you eat, drink or smoke – it covers everything, including work/life balance, sleep, the dynamic of your relationship and, perhaps most important of all, stress.
In addition to the stresses around trying to get pregnant, coping with the normal stresses and strains of everyday life can be difficult and tiring. Many of the couples I see work long hours and are low in energy, while others have the added pressure of major upheavals, such as moving house. A large part of my work involves building reserves and conserving energy and helping achieve a good work/life balance.
The menstrual cycle is a complex interplay of hormones; all of which need to be released at the right level at the right time to produce a healthy mature egg. When the body has additional psychological and emotional stress it influences the production of hormones. Long-term stress raises levels of the stress hormones, including cortisol, which interfere with the reproductive hormones. The hormone prolactin, also raised with stress, can suppress ovulation and can create a loss of libido in women.
The body’s automatic ‘fight or flight’ response to stress is to go into survival mode and reproductive processes are effectively superfluous as they consume too much energy, so blood flow is directed away from the pelvic organs to more vital areas for survival.
I am frequently asked, ‘will my IVF not work because I am stressed?’, or ‘will stress stop me getting pregnant?’ and although I do think that stress causes difficulties conceiving, you can learn to let go by practising relaxation techniques.
Dealing with stress is a personal thing, but when the key stressor is fertility there are some specific techniques that I recommend. Women who are not conceiving or who receive poor test results experience a lot of anxiety and many feel their life is on hold or that once they have got through the next cycle they will start to relax and do something different. Many also feel that they have to learn to relax in order to get pregnant. I try to encourage them to let go on some level because that is when the shift happens for so many women .
I often ask clients what they do to relax – with watching television, exercising or having a bath being popular responses. True relaxation can have enormous health benefits not just on fertility, but generally. It can help you reduce your blood pressure, lower your cortisol levels and think more clearly. Have a look at my top 5 tips on how to truly relax:
- Make Time to Relax
Only you know your schedule, but it’s up to you to make that time. Clearing out at least 20 minutes a day for relaxation can make all the difference.
- Learn a Stress Reduction Technique
Each person has a technique that works best for them, so try as many as possible and see what suits you. Breathing, mindfulness, meditation, or simply being still are just some of the techniques you can use to relax.
- Find some Space
Try and get away from everyone occasionally and have some time alone with just you and your own thoughts.
- Get out into Nature
Just getting out in the fresh air, sitting and listening to birdsong and your surroundings can be restorative!
- Go to Bed Early
People really underestimate the value of a good night’s sleep! It has tremendous effects on both your hormonal balance and your body in general.
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