How stress impacts your fertility
“You’re too stressed.” “You’re making yourself sick stressing yourself out like that.” “You need to let go of your desire for motherhood: you’ll see, the day you relax, it will come by itself.” If you are reading this today, you may have heard these words before. Words that are meant to be reassuring but are extremely judgmental. Extremely frustrating. In today's article, there is no question of making you feel guilty: we explain to you in a completely neutral way how stress impacts your fertility, your menstrual cycle, your periods. And we offer you solutions if you realize that you are in this situation of anxiety.
How can stress cause a late or missing period?
We promised you objectivity and neutrality: let's start with a reminder about the menstrual cycle to better help you understand the role of stress on the menstrual cycle.
Menstrual Cycle Reminders
The menstrual cycle is the process that occurs every month in menstruating people of childbearing age. Its beginning is marked by the rules. At the same time the follicular phase begins where an egg is created. This phase ends at ovulation when the egg is released. Then it's the luteal phase. These steps prepare the body for possible pregnancy. If fertilization does not occur, the cycle ends with menstruation and a new cycle begins!
The length of a menstrual cycle is often reduced to 28 days for convenience. However, it can be very variable, from one person to another, but also from one cycle to another, in the case of irregular cycles. It can be natural to have a short cycle of 22 days , or a long cycle of 38 days . This has no impact on fertility.
The role of hormones on the menstrual cycle
Hormones are the conductor of the menstrual cycle. The best known are estrogen and progesterone but other hormones, such as FSH and LH are essential. It is their levels which will have the effect of triggering the phases of the menstrual cycle which, themselves, will allow the other hormones to be present in the body.
Why are you talking about hormones here? Because stress has a major role on the secretion of hormones and this is why it can play an important role on the menstrual cycle.
The role of stress on the menstrual cycle
In a stressful situation, during a one-off episode or over a longer, chronic period, the body secretes several hormones, such as adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol. These interact with the hormones that organize the menstrual cycle.
Several effects can thus be observed:
Chronic or acute stress can disrupt the hormones responsible for the menstrual cycle (including luteinizing hormone (LH) and progesterone), potentially leading to a delayed period. It's quite perverse: the more you stress because you don't have your period, the more they can be delayed!
Irregular menstrual cycle
Recurring stress can disrupt the hormonal balance needed for a regular menstrual cycle. Irregular menstrual cycles may include variations in cycle length or the length of the follicular and luteal phases.
Amenorrhea / Absence of periods
High levels of stress, especially if combined with significant weight loss, can lead to a missed period, called amenorrhea.
Intensified premenstrual syndrome
Some women may experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms more intensely during times of stress, which may include mood swings, headaches, breast tenderness, and other symptoms.
Can stress affect my fertility?
Yes. Stress, whether occasional or chronic, can affect fertility and, potentially. This is done by making cycles irregular or by eliminating periods.
Chronic stress, by disrupting the regularity of menstrual cycles, can have an impact on fertility. Periods always occur 14 days after ovulation: also, when a menstrual cycle is irregular, this means that ovulation does not occur at the same time.
However, as part of a baby plan, knowing your ovulation date and being able to predict it is particularly interesting for increasing your chances of fertility. Having irregular ovulation thus makes the process more complicated and therefore affects fertility.
🌈What if, rather than predicting, you measured your ovulation? In addition to learning to recognize your ovulation symptoms , you can measure your basal body temperature (BBT) . The latter changes when ovulation approaches or occurs. To measure it, you can use a connected basal thermometer to track your temperature every day.
Following significant stress or in the context of a chronic stressful situation, the body sometimes pauses. Ovulation and periods stop: this is amenorrhea. It is quite easy to understand how amenorrhea can impact fertility.
How do I know if my late period is due to stress?
Beyond chronic stress, occasional stress can also have consequences on your menstrual cycle and your periods. The more you stress about missing your period, the more it can cause you to be late!
If your periods are generally regular, a late period is considered to begin as soon as there is one day late from the expected period. Please note: even if your menstrual cycle is regulated like clockwork, it is possible that it can be modified during a cycle for physiological, psychological or pathological reasons.
If your periods are generally irregular, a delay of up to nine days is considered normal: try not to worry outside of these times.
What can cause late periods?
Are you stressed because your period is late? Here are some reasons that may cause a delay if you are generally regular.
- Physiological: it can happen that periods are late for no real reason;
- Occasional stress: as we have said, an acute stressful situation can lead to a delay in periods during one or more menstrual cycles;
- Travel: a trip, due to the stress and the change in eating habits and schedules that it causes, can be the cause of a temporary shift in the menstrual cycle;
- Pregnancy: Pregnancy is necessarily the first reason we think of when we consider late periods.
⚡A periodic late period is rarely due to a pathological reason: generally, diseases such as PCOS or endometriosis permanently disrupt the menstrual cycle. If your periods suddenly change, going from a regular rhythm to a completely irregular rhythm and this irregularity sets in over time, it is worth consulting a doctor.
How do I know if my late period is due to stress?
Are you late for your period and don't know what's causing it? If you feel particularly stressed, it may be linked to stress but as we have just seen, other reasons can be given.
The only thing you need to check, as you might suspect, is that you are not pregnant. If you are more than a week late on your expected period date (i.e. 3 weeks after your ovulation), it is interesting to take a pregnancy test. The latter will be able to tell you if you are pregnant.
What can I do to relieve my anxious state?
You feel in a situation of significant anxiety and you fear that this could affect your fertility and your desire to have children.
Doctor / Psychologist
The first response to an anxious state, if it prevents you from living, is to talk to your doctor. The latter is trained in mental health and will be able to support you. Either by offering you treatment, if he thinks it is necessary, or by recommending that you consult a psychologist. Consulting a mental health specialist can really be helpful in providing relief.
🌈We are currently working on a directory of health professionals judged to be caring and attentive by our community. Do not hesitate to consult it to find professionals in your region.
Stress can be induced by many factors such as fatigue or deficiencies. This is why it can be interesting to accompany your body and support it, in particular through food and, why not, food supplements.
Among the solutions that can address your anxiety disorders, CBD is interesting. Authorized in France since 2020, the Cannabidiol molecule (abbreviated as CBD), included in hemp flowers, is particularly interesting. It is known to have anti-anxiety properties.
🌈On the shop, we particularly like the sublingual CBD oils from the Équilibre CBD brand: the 1000mL sublingual oil is interesting to start with! Of exceptional quality, made in France, they allow you to know exactly the quantity of cannabidiol you are taking and how much you need to feel more peaceful.
Adaptogenic plants are plants used to regulate emotions and stress in traditional Indian medicine. They come to support the organization and help it overcome the problems it encounters. Less known than CBD at the moment, they are an interesting response to stress.
When should I see a doctor?
It is interesting to consult from the moment stress handicaps your daily functioning. You can consult your GP, your gynecologist or even a psychologist to share your doubts and questions.
If you are going to consult these professionals because you are unable to conceive and think that it may be due to stress, they will first study the different causes that could be at the origin of your infertility. They will carry out the necessary medical examinations to check that everything is well for you and your companion. If everything is going well on a physiological and endocrine level in a design project, they will be interested in the potential impact of stress.
Can stress make my periods more painful or heavy?
Yes. By acting on hormones, stress can increase the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). It is therefore not impossible that this increases your abdominal cramps or the abundance of periods.
⚡Stress cannot be held responsible for all of your symptoms: if you notice a change in your symptoms over several consecutive cycles (including more painful or heavier periods), this may be due to a pathological reason such as PCOS or endometriosis, for example. We advise you to consult when significant changes occur over more than three consecutive cycles.
Can we confuse the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) with those of stress?
Stress can lead to symptoms similar to PMS, including migraines and abdominal cramps. Even more, stress can have the impact of increasing PMS symptoms.
Do emotional stress and physical stress have the same impact on the menstrual cycle?
Stress, whatever it is (emotional, physical, chronic or acute), generates hormones which themselves can have an impact on the hormones which regulate the menstrual cycle. Each menstruating person will be more or less sensitive to these changes and upheavals.
In cases of prolonged stress, how long does it take for the menstrual cycle to normalize?
There is no general rule that can apply to all menstruating people. In some people, the cycles will remain undisturbed whether there is stress or not. For others, the slightest bit of stress will disrupt everything. In still others, even without any stress, periods will be irregular. This is why we advise you above all to think about yourself. Think about yourself and your mental health before you think about your menstrual cycle. The more you put pressure on yourself to be less stressed in order to have a more stable menstrual cycle, the more guilty you will feel. So think about yourself and consult a health professional to support you if you feel the need.
- “Association between psychological stress and menstrual cycle characteristics in perimenopausal women” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15589774/
- “Stress of COVID-19 pandemic caused irregular menstrual cycles, study found” https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/09/210929155707.htm
- “The Impact of the Menstrual Cycle and Underlying Hormones in Anxiety and PTSD: What Do We Know and Where Do We Go From Here?” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33404887/