If pregnancy is elusive, check your stress level
For many couples, achieving pregnancy can be tough! Many would tell you that they have tried all the tricks in the book, yet are not able to achieve pregnancy, much less have a baby.
Of course, physicians say that the inability of a couple to achieve pregnancy can be due to many reasons, some of which they may not be practically responsible for.
However, while infertility is sometimes due to issues relating to the man or woman, experts are warning that too much exposure to stress, especially when it comes to the number of hours a woman works, may contribute to her inability to become pregnant.
The research, published in the Occupational and Environmental Medicine journal, and conducted by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, shows that women who are exposed to jobs that require more lifting exhibited lesser chances of getting pregnant.
Apart from the physical exertion, the study notes, women who work for more than 40 hours in a week also found it more challenging to conceive.
How does stress affect your chances of conception?
Consultant Gynaecologist, Dr. Funmi Samuel, warns that stress may actually play a role in up to 30 per cent of all cases of infertility.
Samuel says that in clinical practice, she has noted that among highly-stressed couples, when stress-reduction techniques are employed as a form of treatment for infertility, “something happens in some women that allows them to become pregnant when they couldn’t achieve the same before.”
Attributing some of the problems to hormonal issues, she notes that hormones such as cortisol or epinephrine rise and often remain high during times of chronic stress.
She explains, “Ordinarily, cortisol plays positive roles in the body. It is an important hormone that is secreted by the adrenal glands and it is involved in many bodily functions.
“Cortisol helps our body to properly process glucose — a simple sugar which is an important source of energy. It helps us to regulate our blood pressure, while it also aids the release of insulin for blood sugar maintenance, among others.
“However, when a person’s stress level is very high, cortisol is secreted in higher levels into the bloodstream and is therefore responsible for several stress-related changes in the body.”
Indeed, experts warn that when chronic stress sets in, the individual is prone to higher blood pressure, lowered immunity, slowed wound healing, and other secondary health consequences such as the possibility of having type 2 diabetes; as well as increased abdominal fat, which is associated with a greater amount of health problems such as heart attacks and strokes.
General Practitioner, Dr. Timothy Avwode, says there are women who are able to get pregnant easily, even if they smoke, drink and break all the rules in medical book; while there are women who do all the right things but are still unable to get pregnant.
“The difference might be in their stress levels,” he says.
“Alpha-amylase is an enzyme that correlates with stress. Women with high levels of this enzyme might have a harder time getting pregnant, even though they may not know that that’s where the problem is.
“Meanwhile, because of the pressure they face in their marriage as a result of their inability to get pregnant, their stress levels are likely to remain high for a long time, and in effect, denying them the opportunity to conceive in good time,” Avwode adds.
He notes that while some women do become pregnant even under some extremely stressful conditions such as rape, some are unable to achieve pregnancy once their stress levels are high.
“What this translates into is that some women are more reproductively sensitive to stress than other women.
“When a woman is extremely stressed, she may stop ovulating entirely. This condition is called stress-induced anovulation. And without ovulation, a woman can’t conceive. A specialist will be able to find out if there are other reasons you may not be ovulating. So, seek expert help,” Avwode says.
Physicians warn that if a woman is stressed, her cervical mucus may be a ready indication.
According to Samuel, “A highly stressed woman will discover that instead of experiencing increased cervical wetness as she approaches her ovulation, she might find patches of wetness interspersed with dry days. “It’s as if her body is trying to ovulate but the stress continues to delay it.
“The worst part is that stress can make a woman feel less interested in making love. And that is why it is necessary to know your stressors and to reduce them if you can’t avoid them totally.”
How to reduce stress
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America offers the steps to take when you are stressed:
- Take time-out by listening to music or getting a massage.
- Eat well-balanced meals. Do not skip any meals. Keep healthful, energy-boosting snacks on hand.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine, which can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks.
- Get enough sleep. When stressed, your body needs additional sleep and rest.
- Exercise daily to help you feel good and maintain your health.
- Welcome humour. A good laugh goes a long way.
- Maintain a positive attitude. Make an effort to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
- Learn what triggers your anxiety. Is it work, family, school, or something else you can identify?
- Talk to someone, especially a physician or therapist for professional help.