04/30/2014 03:51 pm ET Updated Jun 30, 2014

Don't Do This While Trying to Conceive

By Tara Weng for

While planning a pregnancy can be an excitingly blissful time, it can also be extremely stressful when it's not happening as quickly as you'd hoped. But agonizing over not getting pregnant can be the exact thing that's keeping you from conceiving.

A recent study conducted by the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center followed over 500 women during a 12-month period and found that women with high levels of stress during preconception were less likely to conceive than their less stressed counterparts. This research found that 29 percent of the participants who measured with high stress levels (found in their saliva) were less likely to conceive month-to-month and twice as likely to be considered "infertile."

"It's a known fact that cortisol, a stress hormone, has a great impact on a woman's fertility," says women's health expert Dr. Nancy Simpkins. The stress that couples, and women in particular, experience while trying to get pregnant can have a snowball effect on the body, which makes stress management a top priority.

How to Change Your Behaviors and Manage Stress Better

Licensed acupuncturist, herbalist and author of the upcoming book Yes, You Can Get Pregnant: Natural Ways to Improve Your Fertility Now and into Your 40s, Aimee Raupp, says we really need to "chill out" when it comes to conception.

"This is a lifestyle, not a quick-fix," explains Raupp. "I encourage my patients to let go and allow their bodies to do the work."

In her private practice, Raupp counsels couples dealing with infertility and works on changing both their minds and bodies.

"I'm a big proponent of meditation; I think it's imperative in our society," says Raupp. "We have to allow for 'chill out time,' even if it's just sitting and breathing quietly for a few minutes during our work day. This is time to check out and tune into your body."

Raupp's approach to stress management is not new to fertility and medical programs. For example, there's one offered at the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health in Massachusetts that works with couples on stress management and taking on a more holistic approach to conception.

"Women need to feel calmer, and couples need to get a handle on their basic life stresses," suggests Dr. Simpkins. "Stress management can be achieved through exercise, yoga -- things which promote endorphin release -- which counteract the stress hormones."

Both Dr. Simpkins and Raupp say the de-stressing process can take months to achieve results.

Couples and their families need to buy into the idea that this could be at least a three to six-month process, according to Dr. Simpkins. "It can take up to three months to work de-stressing techniques into their lives and get their bodies where they need to be."

Stress management is a way to take your body off "high alert" and manage the release of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Among the proven stress hormone fighters are:

  • Regular physical activity: 20-30 minutes a day of aerobic activity like walking, swimming, biking will lower your cortisol levels.
  • Deep breathing/meditation: Both of these practices will go a long way to reduce cortisol levels, anxiety and lower your heart rate.
  • Ask for help: Feelings of isolation will only lead to agitation and elevated stress hormone levels so reach out, stay connected and lean on others when necessary. If you're stressed about not getting pregnant, you can also find some support online through groups like The American Fertility Association, Fertility Ties, and Attain Fertility.

If you're not getting pregnant after six months of trying, you should talk to your primary care physician who might recommend seeing a fertility specialist. In the meantime, make sure you're leading a healthy lifestyle and try your best to enjoy the time of preconception.

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