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Does stress contribute to infertility?

SEATTLE - Anyone who has ever struggled to build their family has most likely encountered this advice from well-meaning strangers (or even friends and family members) at some point along the way: "Just relax, and it will happen!" or "Try not to stress - you'll only make it worse!"

My husband and I certainly heard our fair share of different versions of this, and to be honest, it absolutely got into our heads. Without meaning to, telling someone to relax or stop stressing suggests that perhaps it's their fault they aren't pregnant yet. It feels like we're being told, "You would be pregnant if you weren't allowing all of this stress into your life. You could get pregnant if you didn't worry so much about it and just relax a bit."

I know that's not how people intend to come across, but the truth of the matter is... well, are they right? Does stress cause infertility?

The answer, it turns out, is complicated.

"Honestly, we don't know," says Dr. Shahine, a reproductive endocrinologist (fertility specialist) at Pacific NW Fertility. "I think they go hand in hand, and it's hard to say which one is the chicken or the egg. I think that being infertile or struggling to start your family in any way is stressful."

But before you start being too hard on yourself, consider this: "There are women and men that conceive in the middle of war and famine, in the middle of what we'd consider the most highly stressful life events possible," Dr. Shahine goes on to say. "So it can't all be related... You can't control stress- you can't control what happens to you, but you can learn how to manage it, and we can all benefit from that."

And that is what many experts agree on- working on a way to manage - not control- the emotions and stress that comes with going through infertility. "A huge part of fertility treatment is self-care," advises Dr. Shahine. "Getting sleep, taking good care of yourself, eating well, and taking care of your emotional health."

Taking care to recognize the emotional struggle that goes along with building a family can make a huge difference, and Dr. Shahine recommends her patients consider everything from counselors and nutritionists, to acupuncture. (Click here to read our story on the eastern medicine approach to fertility, and how eastern medicine views/treats stress.)

A good resource for finding support groups that can perhaps help you and your partner navigate the emotional roller coaster and stress of building your family: RESOLVE, The National Infertility Association. Click here for more- they have free support groups you can meet up with in-person, and even online support groups they suggest to get you started.