In part 1 of this series on “How can I improve my chances of falling pregnant?”, we looked at key LIFESTYLE FACTORS such as weight, diet and caffeine intake. Part 2, we will cover stress, smoking, alcohol, recreational drugs and vitamin supplements.
If you missed reading Part 1 – Click Here
There are more myths about stress and pregnancy or stress and fertility treatment outcomes than about any other area of reproductive medicine.
It’s very popular to blame stress for fertility issues, such as not conceiving naturally or for a failed IVF cycle. Often, comments can be made to couples which can make them feel at fault. When faced with the question of “How can I improve my chances of falling pregnant?”, well-meaning responses like, “You are too stressed, which is why you are not falling pregnant” or “You need to relax, otherwise you will never fall” or “You are not becoming pregnant because you are too uptight – just relax” are not very helpful. For couples trying to become pregnant just having people say this can be stressful enough. It is important to understand that there is not a lot of evidence to support stress-causing infertility, but there is a lot of evidence that infertility causes stress.
So, is stress causing infertility?
It is unlikely that stress is a main cause of infertility, however in some circumstances, it can be a predominant factor. For example, in women who experience a high level of stress, ovulation can be delayed or missed due to changes in hormone levels. Additionally, some research has shown that stress can also affect testosterone levels and sperm production in men. People who are stressed also tend to be likely to smoke, drink excessively and make poor health (diet and exercise) choices which over time can also impact fertility. So, there are many ways that stress can contribute to some forms of infertility.
Is infertility causing my stress?
Possibly! Being unable to get pregnant when you want, or going through fertility treatment can be a huge source of stress, anxiety and depression. Many couples experience emotional hardship after unsuccessful pregnancy attempts and the physical and financial burden of treatments can amplify these emotions.
What can I do to reduce my stress?
- Talk to your partner, share your feelings, thoughts and concerns.
- Realize you’re not alone. Talk to other people who are trying to start a family or perhaps access individual or couple counselling, or even a support group.
- Read books on infertility and stress management, which will show you that your feelings are normal and can help you deal with them.
- Take up stress reduction techniques such as meditation, yoga, or acupuncture.
- Avoid taking too much caffeine or other stimulants.
- Exercise regularly to release physical and emotional tension.
- Take time out as a couple, organize a date with each other once a month or even once a week. Spend time together and just be you.
Whether it is one or both of you, cigarette and or marijuana smoking decreases your chance of success. Research shows that men and women who smoke will take longer to fall pregnant than non-smokers. Passive smoking (second-hand smoke) can be as damaging as smoking itself and can also have effects on fertility for both males and females.
Smoking is known to affect:
- the DNA (genetic material) in eggs and sperm
- men’s and women’s hormone production
- the fertilised egg’s ability to reach the uterus (and increase the risk of ectopic pregnancies)
- the environment inside the uterus, where the baby grows.
The good news is that you both can improve your fertility and reverse some of the effects of smoking. As sperm takes about 3 months to mature, men who quit smoking at least 3 months before trying to conceive will have healthier sperm with a higher chance of fertilising an egg and creating a healthy baby. For women, natural fertility can improve and some of the effects of smoking can be reversed within a year of quitting.
How can I quit? – Australian Government Quit Now
Our reproductive system is made up of 3 parts – the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the ovaries/testes.
Our hypothalamus releases a hormone (GnRH) that talks to our pituitary glands. In response, our pituitary glands then release hormones (LH and FSH) into the bloodstream that then influence ovaries or testes to create hormones that influence their function (Estrogen and Testosterone). Alcohol can affect this hormone signalling process and therefore can impact the function of your reproductive organs and your ability to conceive a healthy baby. For men, heavy drinking can reduce testosterone levels, which can result in impotence, reduced libido and reduced sperm quality. For women, drinking even lightly can increase the time it takes to fall pregnant by the effect it has on ovulation. If you’re wondering “Will reducing alcohol consumption improve my chances of falling pregnant?”, the answer is yes – it is advised that you both reduce or cease drinking alcohol if you are planning a pregnancy.
Similar to alcohol, recreational drugs such as methamphetamines, heroin, cocaine, club drugs and anabolic steroids can affect the reproductive system and hormone levels for both male and female, resulting in infertility related issues. Use of all non-prescription drugs should absolutely be avoided for the health of yourself and a potential baby. You should discuss any issues you have with your healthcare providers such as your GP, fertility specialist or fertility nurse. Fertility Solutions have a non-judgemental approach to your healthcare and would like you to feel comfortable with sharing with us any addictions you may have so we can help you in any way.
Nutritional/vitamin supplements are a popular way of improving the dietary intake of nutrients. Key supplements to boost fertility are geared towards both enhancing reproductive function, egg and sperm quality and preventing birth defects in developing babies. Folate is the best known of these, but there are many other nutrients that are essential for healthy egg and sperm and also support the early development of the embryo and foetus. Nutrients that are involved in these important processes include vitamins, minerals, proteins and essential fatty acids.
Most supplements are chemically altered or synthetic versions of the vitamin found in nature. This allows for a higher potency per tablet and enables the combination of different nutrients together. It is essential to remember that supplements are only useful, as their name suggests, to supplement a healthy diet.
We encourage all women to take Elevit (a mineral and vitamin supplement specifically designed for conception, pregnancy and breast-feeding) prior to and during their treatment, and if successful, continue it during their pregnancy. Menevit is encouraged for the men, it assists in maximising sperm function and fertility.
If you would like to discuss your situation in a private, confidential setting, please don’t hesitate to contact us to arrange a free phone or face to face meeting with one of our experienced fertility nurses. email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 1300 FERTILITY (1300 337 845).