It’s not news that stress can have widespread, unexpected effects on your body. It’s been linked to illness and increased inflammation, it can negatively affect gut health, and YUP – you guessed it – it can affect your hormones. Ladies, this may not matter to you right now if you’re enjoying the child-free life… but if and when you decide you want to start a family, it can be a little bit of a problem. Many women don’t run into this problem until they start trying to have kids and it’s not quite working the way they’d hoped. That’s why I’m sharing 5 tips to improve fertility while stressed.
3 Hormones you Need to Know
Before we jump in, this is what you need to know about your body’s hormones. These are the hormones we will cover in this article:
- Cortisol: your main stress hormone. This is released by your adrenal glands in response to stress.
- Estrogen: one of your main sex hormones produced by your ovaries. This hormone helps your body ovulate. In the first half of your cycle, estrogen is high.
- Progesterone: one of your main sex hormones produced by your ovaries. This hormone helps your body prepare for fertilization and pregnancy. This hormone is high in the second half of your cycle, and if you’re pregnant, your body continues producing progesterone. If you’re not pregnant, progesterone drops and you get your period.
These hormones, along with a few others like luteinizing hormone and follicular stimulating hormone, are responsible for creating our monthly cycles and keeping them on track and regular. Cortisol, the stress hormone, can throw a wrench in the well-oiled machine.
How Stress impacts Fertility
There are many different pathways where stress can impact fertility. Some are pretty straightforward, while others are a little unexpected. Here is how stress can impact your hormones and your fertility:
The “Pregnenolone steal”
Your body makes your stress hormone from cholesterol. Cholesterol is also the building block of progesterone. In fact, cholesterol is converted into a hormone called “pregnenolone”, and then converted into cortisol, progesterone, or other hormones, depending on what your body needs. Super stressed? Then chances are you’re stealing pregnenolone to build more cortisol than normal, which might leave less raw materials to make progesterone! This can largely impact your cycle and contribute to uncomfortable symptoms like weight gain and low libido.
Your body is smart. We often forget that there are some pretty amazing biochemical processes that happen without us knowing, to help protect and keep us alive. In fact, when we are stressed, our body recognizes it as a poor time to have a baby. This simple fact can make it very difficult to become pregnant, in case your body feels that your life and stability is under threat.
When was the last time you were super stressed? Did you have any interest in sex? I imagine the answer is no… Stress has the power to reduce and lower your libido. We all know that traditionally we need to have sex to become pregnant. If you’re not having sex, you’re probably not getting pregnant.
Stimulants and unhealthy habits
Unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking, recreational drug use, high caffeine intake can all impact our fertility. In fact, we know that these are all associated with lower fertility rates, and if you happen to fall pregnant, higher rates of miscarriage.
5 Tips to Improve Fertility while Stressed
Fortunately there are things we can do to make our body ready for babies! Here are 5 tips to improve fertility while stressed:
1) Choose healthy stress management activities
Some people like to blow off steam by partying all night, or by falling into habits like drinking, smoking and other recreational drugs. All of these habits actually increase your stress hormone levels! Unless you begin to manage your stress in a healthier way, your fertility may be compromised.
Here are my favourite stress management activities:
- Meditation. Use guided meditation apps if new.
- Yoga. Look for restorative flows if you want something really grounding.
- Exercise. But remember, too much exercise can trigger our stress hormones.
- Journaling. Choose a theme if you’re a first-timer: gratitude journaling, “brain dump” journaling, or journaling your day.
2) Nourish your body with grounding and energizing foods
When we’re stressed we often turn to quick energy and easy-to-eat snacks. Think junk food – chocolate, chips, cookies.. These foods can be high in sugars, inflammatory fats and they definitely aren’t making you any healthier. To increase your fertility, eat a diet filled with whole foods that are much more grounding and nourishing. Think lots of vegetables – all of the colours of the rainbow; fresh fruit; organic protein like chicken, salmon, eggs; healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds.
3) Take time for yourself each day
What does your body need? Do more of it. If that’s rest, then REST. If it’s being social with friends, get out and see your besties. Whatever it is, don’t deprive yourself or you will find that the imbalance leads to stress. Plus – remember that innate wisdom I talked about? Your body will know when you’re ready to bring a baby into this world. When you know how to take care of yourself, and create space for another human in your life, then it’s more likely to happen.
4) Sleep at least 8 hours
Your body’s best defence against stress is sufficient sleep. So many of us don’t sleep, which means that our hormones never recalibrate and our body is thrown off. A lack of sleep can increase stress and chance of illness. It can also affect food cravings and more, leading to unhealthy habits. Find a way to get those 8 hours in.
5) Support your body with the right supplements
I encourage clients who are family planning to begin taking a prenatal vitamin before they begin trying. This is especially important if you’re stressed out. When we are stressed, our bodies become depleted. A prenatal vitamin will help to replenish your nutrient stores before you have a baby, so you avoid running on empty. I really like this prenatal vitamin by NFH, called Prenatal SAP. It’s high quality and includes activated B-vitamins, which is key for the health of mama and baby. I got this one from Healthy Planet online, which is awesome because normally practitioner-quality supplements can only come from a nutritional practitioner!
These five tips should get you started on your journey to managing stress for fertility. If you want to dive deeper and work with a practitioner, get in touch! I would be honoured to work through your journey together.