Telling a woman who’s been having trouble conceiving to stop stressing out about it is like telling her to stop wanting a baby—no matter how hard she tries, it’s just not likely to happen.
For many women trying to conceive, it’s way too easy to turn this into a blame-the-mother (to-be) scenario. As much as well-meaning friends, relatives, and strangers love to tell women to “just relax and let it happen”, the truth is that some women are more prone to stress-related hormonal disruption than others. And often, the pressure of trying to force oneself to de-stress only makes things worse.
Fortunately, meditation can counter many of the negative effects of stress and help balance the hormones of the endocrine system in three key ways. This is a critical step, because a balanced endocrine system is the number one prerequisite to successfully achieving and maintaining a healthy pregnancy.
Meditation and Fertility
1. Meditation Reduces Cortisol Levels:
Stress stimulates the production of the hormone cortisol, one of your body’s main fight-or-flight hormones, and high levels of it wreak havoc on your endocrine system. When it comes to fertility, cortisol decreases the monthly surge of luteinizing hormone (LH) which is responsible for triggering ovulation. It also increases prolactin levels, which is the hormone that prevents ovulation during breastfeeding.
Mindfulness meditation has repeatedly been shown to reduce cortisol levels, and similar stress-reduction techniques have been shown to restore ovulation in 75-80% of women experiencing functional hypothalamic amenorrhea (a condition in which the menses and ovulation come to a complete stop due to extreme mental or physical stress). Because of the changes seen in key hormones of the meditators, it’s likely that effect carries over into other anovulatory disorders as well.
2. Meditation Reduces Insulin Resistance
Insulin resistance can be one of the biggest impediments to getting pregnant. Not only can it impair ovulation, it also contributes to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which may be responsible for up to 35% of female infertility cases.
In one study, transcendental meditation was shown to reduce insulin resistance in its practitioners. The exact mechanism of this effect is unknown, but it may be related to cortisol’s negative influence on glucose uptake during times of stress.
3. Meditation Improves Sex Hormone Balance
Cortisol is made from the same precursor as progesterone, one of the major female reproductive hormones. When we’re under stress, our bodies can have a hard time keeping up with the demand for cortisol. To make up for the shortfall, they begin to steal this hormone away from the progesterone production line and shunt it into making more cortisol. The end result—low progesterone and high cortisol—is a deadly combination for women trying to get pregnant.
Low progesterone can prevent an embryo from properly implanting in the uterine lining and is one of the main contributors to early miscarriage. By lowering basal cortisol levels, meditation can have a profound effect on sex hormonal balance, improving the likelihood of a healthy pregnancy.
If you’re not sure where to start with meditation, try progressive relaxation. More accessible than other more advanced forms of meditation, it can be as simple as listening to an audio recording of someone leading you through a series of steps to relax each part of your body. A search for “progressive relaxation” or “guided meditation” should turn up plenty of great, free resources online.
Once you’re ready for something more advanced, find a local meditation group and try going to a few meetings. I find that meditation is a lot less intimidating when you have someone to guide you through the process. There are a million and one different ways to meditate, so feel free to keep searching until you find one that really appeals to you and that you’ll want to practice consistently. Your fertility will thank you!