Are you planning to start a family but not sure how you are going to fit a baby in to your life? Have you been trying to conceive however had no luck as yet? Do you feel stressed all the time but don’t know where it is coming from or how to reduce it?
You are no doubt aware of stress, particularly the external stress or pressure you might feel on a daily basis. Stress can come from your job, your relationships or your family, to name but a few. You can also place stress on your body by eating a diet high in processed foods, sugar and trans fats (think fried foods) as well as through lifestyle choices such as smoking and drinking alcohol. This type of stress means your body has to work harder at maintaining homeostasis (maintaining balance and optimal function).
Stress is often seen as a bad thing, although a certain level of stress is actually good for you. It allows you to avoid dangerous situations, perform at a higher level, and can help you make important decisions. Long periods of stress, however, can have a negative effect on your body, and it may even impact your chances of conceiving. Your body is so finely tuned that too much stress can impact your health and your fertility.
How does stress impact female fertility?
When you are stressed, your adrenal glands (triangle shaped glands sitting just above your kidneys) produce and release a hormone called cortisol. Just one of the roles of cortisol is to tell the brain you are in a stressful situation. This affects the function of an important reproductive hormone (gonadotropin-releasing hormone) and can reduce your chances of conceiving by indicating to the body that now is not the time to make a baby because there are other, more urgent issues, to cope with.
Your cortisol levels are intended to spike under stress and then return back to normal when the threat has passed, however as a naturopath I often see clients who are undergoing prolonged stress, and this is when it becomes an issue for fertility.
There are three simple clues that stress may be affecting your fertility
Premenstrual symptoms such as breast tenderness, irritability or headaches
Episodes of acute stress or prolonged stress may result in lowered progesterone levels, causing a variety of premenstrual symptoms. Progesterone is crucial for the latter half of the menstrual cycle to support the implantation of the fertilised egg.
Delayed or lack of ovulation
Periods of stress may result in delayed ovulation or may result in annovulation (no ovulation in that menstrual cycle). Obviously this is a big issue because without ovulation, there is no egg to be fertilised.
The length of your luteal phase
The cascade of hormone disruption resulting from long term stress may present as a shorter luteal phase (i.e. the time between ovulation and your period) of the menstrual cycle. A shorter luteal phase may mean the lining of the uterus does not have sufficient time to prepare for the implantation of a fertilised egg.
Boost your fertility by adopting these 5 stress-reducing practices
1. Feed your body the right fuel for healthy hormones
Eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and seeds will boost key fertility nutrients such as vitamins C and A, B-group vitamins and the trace minerals magnesium and zinc.
2. Identify the sources of your stress so you can address it before it becomes a fertility issue
If stress is coming from one or more particular sources, identifying them is the first step to eliminating or dealing with them.
3. Practice yoga to help facilitate your mind-body connection
As a yoga teacher, I believe the best way to reduce stress through yoga is with restorative postures such as Viparita Karani (legs up the wall pose). This particular pose is just one restorative pose you could incorporate into your day, preferably for 10–15 minutes. It is a calming and cooling posture, a lovely way to de-stress after a busy day.
4. Practice deep breathing or pranayama
Again as a yoga teacher I believe it is important to practice more than just the yoga poses to reduce your stress levels. Pranayama (meaning life-force) is a way to practice structured breathing to spread oxygen throughout the body and help the mind focus on the breath rather than on other things.
An example of a simple pranayama breathing exercise is to inhale for 4 counts, hold the breath for 4 counts and exhale for 4 counts and repeat. If you feel uncomfortable at any stage during a pranayama practice just return to normal breathing. Alternatively, you could just find a quiet place to sit and breathe deeply focusing on expanding your lower belly with each breath.
5. Keep active with regular moderate exercise
High intensity exercise all the time can place your body under too much stress, so make sure you alternate high intensity exercise with more moderate exercise such as walking, cycling or swimming. By keeping a regular exercise schedule you are helping your body detoxify and remove waste.
Do you need help to reduce your stress levels?
There are many ways to “de-stress” so identify what technique works well for you. Managing stress is as important as choosing nutritious foods every day.
If you don’t know where to start or you’re feeling stuck, let me help you. I can make a thorough assessment of your diet and lifestyle and provide appropriate nutritional and herbal treatments as well as help you work on your diet and lifestyle OR our preconception care program might be perfect for you.