The moment you decide to try and conceive, waiting to hold a positive pregnancy test can feel daunting and, sometimes, frustrating. With that frustration comes, inevitably, stress. There's plenty of conversations going around about how mental health plays, or doesn't play, a role in fertility, miscarriage, and pregnancy, but to what extent is unclear. I can, however, tell you that I've heard "relax and it'll happen" more times than I care to admit. But does relaxing help you get pregnant, or is that just something well-meaning people say when they have no real (or helpful) advice?
A 2001 study from Harvard University Medical School reports that for women struggling to conceive, relaxation techniques (such as group therapy or meditation) more than doubles the chances of successfully becoming pregnant. The study concluded that by putting too much focus on something that may or may not happen, you're only making yourself vulnerable to stress, anxiety, and depression. Jean Twenge, psychology professor and author of The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant, tells The Bump that when it comes to excessive worrying while trying to conceive, you should “allow yourself to think about what’s worrying you for 10 minutes and then stop.” Twenge goes on to add that, of course, it's definitely easier to say you'll relax than actually relaxing, but by a simple act of distracting yourself (reading or watching a movie), a particular moment of stress can, at least momentarily, pass.
The connection between infertility and stress is a complicated one to unravel. However, as Alice Domar, PhD, executive director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health at Boston IVF, points out to Parents, recent research confirms there are at least some links between stress and fertility issues. "Most people who cannot get pregnant have an actual physical explanation," she says, adding that the more time that passes without a pregnancy the greater chance, "high levels of stress can still make getting pregnant more difficult." The American Psychological Association agrees, at least to some extent, stating that studies show introducing some interventions to reduce a "patients' anxiety, depression, and so-called infertility-specific stress," but that it varies with every woman because there isn't a one-fix-for all option.
A 2016 study published in Annals of Epidemiology found that higher stress levels when a woman is ovulating might reduce the possibility of successful conception. It makes sense that learning to "relax," or seeking out meaningful, therapeutic coping mechanisms to deal with every day stressors, would help reduce high levels of stress and, as a result, contribute to a higher probability of getting pregnant, right? The problem, however, with merely trying to "relax" is that sometime, underlying conditions, such as endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCS), make it less about your mental or emotional state and more about a physical condition you have no control over. So, of course, these physical barriers to pregnancy should be ruled out before you and your health care practitioners focus only on your mental and emotional state.
Still, t should go without saying that reducing stress and learning to relax is beneficial to your overall health and wellbeing. Health.com has some helpful tips on how to relax, including getting off social media more often, shortening your to-do list, utilizing exercise and decompression strategies, and practicing mindfulness. In terms of whether or not you'll get pregnant after mastering the art of relaxation, there's no guarantee. If you've ruled out any underlying medical conditions, and are actively managing your stress, but still aren't pregnant after a considerable length of time, you should talk to your doctor about other ways you could potentially move things forward on the path towards parenthood.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.