Fertility is something that most of us take for granted and assume that when the time is right to have a baby things will happen when we choose. If you are trying to conceive it’s important that you understand how ovulation works, and some of the potential issues that can interfere with fertility. There are many things that can affect your menstrual cycle and fertility, and stress and anxiety definitely have a role to play.
On average a woman ovulates around day 14 of her cycle. The few days leading up to ovulation are the optimum time for sexual intercourse and are considered to be the most fertile days of the cycle. Once the egg has been released there is a window of between six to 12 hours when the egg can be fertilised. In order to conceive you need to have sex either prior to the egg being released, or on the day the egg is released.
If the egg is fertilised it travels down the fallopian tubes to embed itself in the uterus, once it is embedded in the wall of the uterus for long enough, a pregnancy can be confirmed. If the egg is not fertilised the body sheds the unfertilised egg, resulting in a period. For all these things to take place, a complicated interaction of hormones and chemicals needs to unfold.
This is why, if you are trying to conceive, it is essential to know when you are ovulating so you can have sex when you are most fertile. There are several ways to determine if you’re ovulating but it’s not always an exact science. If you’re looking for a reliable way to track ovulation, there are several tools on the market that can help with this.
The best options are ovulation test kits and the ovulation microscope.Traditional urine tests are more common, but a microscope is worth considering – it uses saliva so it can be done anywhere; it’s also re-usable for the whole of your conception journey. Both these tools are reliable and easy to use.
There are many things that can affect fertility. Anything from hormone imbalance, autoimmune disease, poor diet, an unhealthy lifestyle (which includes excess alcohol consumption, use of recreational drugs and smoking cigarettes), being overweight, certain medications, and stress and anxiety can all affect the delicate balance of hormones that play a part in conception.
Elevated levels of stress cause an increase in levels of the stress hormones, cortisol and alpha-amylase. A recent study published in the journal Human Reproduction showed that increased levels of alpha-amylase specifically, reduced your chances of pregnancy by 29 percent. There was no association found between cortisol and fertility.
We also know that extreme stress can cause you to miss your period. If you miss your period, you can rule out a pregnancy for that cycle. And while it is possible to fall pregnant if you have an irregular period, your chances of conceiving are compromised, particularly if you’re not tracking your ovulation. If you’re feeling stressed or anxious this can also impact your libido, and without regular intercourse around ovulation time, your chances of conception are reduced.
Paradoxically, infertility can also cause a great deal of stress, which compounds the frustration. Paying attention to your stress levels is a great place to start when trying to improve fertility, particularly as stress can be sneaky and affect you in ways that you don’t realise. Aiming to do things that help you relax is a great place to start, but try to avoid unwinding with an extra glass of wine, or cigarette.
Investing in self-care, such as taking an extra yoga class, going for a long walk in the park or on the beach will all help, as the simple act of disconnecting from our busy lives can make a significant difference. Other things like journaling, going to bed earlier, having more sex (but not the baby-making kind) have all been associated with reducing levels of stress and anxiety.
Empowering yourself with knowledge and tools is a great way to reign in the stress. Consider investing in some tools that can help you track your cycle so you know when you’re ovulating; taking the guess work out of it can help you feel more in control. Visit your GP to let them know you are experiencing stress and anxiety and you are trying to get pregnant. They can offer useful advice on both. It’s worth doing whatever you can to get your mental health and emotional health in order as it will go a long way to helping you manage the family planning journey, pregnancy and motherhood.