Conception Under Pressure: Navigating Stress and Fertility

Tracey Sainsbury

Tracey is a Fertility Counsellor at the Lister Fertility Clinic.

Through her years of experience supporting patients at the Clinic in Chelsea, Tracey has supported individuals and couples during their fertility journey and is an advocate of helping people prepare and understand how to navigate different aspects of their lives when considering fertility treatment.

Here Tracey shares her knowledge of how stress affects fertility and offers advice on how to approach fertility treatment.

The impact of stress

Stress can impact on your pathway to parenthood whether you are trying to conceive naturally or with assistance.

Research reassures, thankfully, that stress does not impact on the outcome of IVF treatment, but it can make a big difference to how people cope with assisted conception, sometimes leading to couples making the decision to stop trying to conceive before having the best chance of a successful outcome.

Stress: When trying to conceive

When trying to conceive naturally high levels of stress can affect both male and female fertility. For women stress can disrupt the delicate balance of hormones needed for ovulation, and can contribute to irregular menstrual cycles. In men, stress can lower testosterone levels, reduce sperm production, and affect sperm morphology (shape) and motility (how it moves).

IVF can overcome many of those challenges, but promotes its own added stress too; we can grieve the loss of fantasy around how conception was planned and clients regularly acknowledge feeling a loss of time, as life is often put on hold and/or lifestyle changes actioned to promote a pregnancy. Organising time off for appointments, when life was already busy, can feel like you have another job.

If you are trying to conceive it is therefore important to have a large selection of stress management techniques, if you become stressed about being stressed – you become more stressed. Embracing stress as a routine part of every day life and managing it well is key.

Your strategies might include moderate exercise, meditation, deep breathing, peer support via Fertility Network UK, the national fertility charity, or seeking support from a mental health professional.

Eating well and having a good sleep hygiene routine can also help, not just in working with your body to optimise the chance of conception, but in also promoting robustness and resilience to manage stress better.

Stress: During pregnancy

Being stressed during pregnancy is often not talked about and it can cause babies to be stressed in utero, so building a stress tip tool kit when trying to conceive means you have tried and tests techniques to cope with pregnancy and parenting too.

Whatever your relationship status, sexuality or gender, thinking about fertility, and the options available to you, together with your parenting goals, can promote a sense of isolation, whether you already have a child or not. Support is available for couples, people hoping to be solo parents, people embracing treatment with their own gametes or donor conception, with primary or secondary fertility journeys being planned, and for people planning to conceive now or freezing eggs, sperm or embryos for the future. No one is alone.

Controlling stress

If you feel yourself spiralling, a quick tip is STOP!

(Literally) Stop
Take a step back
Observe what’s going on, internally and externally, take a minute to think how you can respond to yourself with compassion. 
Proceed mindfully.

It is not about being mindful to be positive, rather being real, acknowledging any thought or feeling is OK.

Learn more about our counselling services at Lister Fertility Clinic