For years, I’ve been on a path of studying hormones and their relation to fertility. As many know, I was diagnosed with a condition called Hypothalamic Amenorrhea before getting pregnant with Bodhi, essentially where the reproductive system shuts down as a result of too much stress on the body and the mind. I wrote a little about that here.
It’s time I start sharing some of that information with you: optimizing your fertility, understanding the role different hormones play, how to support the body & mind through preconception and pregnancy, and then taking this knowledge to postpartum.
Let’s start by talking about cortisol. Cortisol is often known as the “stress hormone” in our modern vernacular. It’s the hormone that is released when we enter into the “fight or flight” state as a result of a perceived threat (aka immediate stress).
Cortisol is not all bad, though. In fact, it’s pretty key. The hormone can help control blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, reduce inflammation (that’s right!), and even supports a developing fetus during pregnancy.
But, what happens when cortisol levels spike too high?
Blood sugar levels within the body become unstable, which can bring about lethargy, that 3:00 p.m. “crash,” irritability, and anxiety
Libido can be affected
The menstrual cycle can stop or become irregular
HIgh cortisol levels are linked with anxiety, depression, and poor sleeping patterns
If you’re trying to get pregnant:
Too high cortisol levels could suppress the pituitary gland’s ability to secrete the hormones necessary for ovulation. Without ovulation, pregnancy cannot occur. It can also create irregular menstrual cycles, making it hard to track ovulation.
If you’re pregnant:
Cortisol levels will naturally rise. If they rise too high as a result of too much stress, this could increase risk of premature birth, low birth rate, hypertension, perinatal anxiety, and has been linked to the cognitive development of the baby after birth.
During labor and birth:
Too high cortisol as a result of stress and fear can slow and stall labor, and suppress the ability to cope with pain or sensation. After all, birth is a psychological process as well as physiological.
We live in a heightened state of fight or flight mode, often being praised for “busy,” long work days, crammed calendars, multiple high impact workouts a week, etc. But, that lifestyle contributes to stress. We must learn to work with our stress levels, and encourage the body into the “rest and digest” state to allow it to function optimally. I know…easier said than done.
So, what can we do? Yoga, meditation, yoga therapy, talk therapy, long walks, reading for pleasure, cooking dinner, listening to music, eating without distraction, going on date nights, sex, spending time with friends, making time for our art are all ways to reduce stress levels in the body. Read more about self-care here. The point is, we have to make more space for rest, for enjoyment. Space to get to know our bodies and ourselves, while also celebrating them, too.
What is your relationship to stress? How are you feeling lately? Anxious? Depressed? Burned out? Tired? If so, these are signs of too much cortisol present in the body that affects so many areas of well-being. Examine your lifestyle: How do you move? Do you move too much or too little? What types of foods are you eating? How often are you making space for stillness? For enjoyment? What is your work life like?
This link between stress and fertility/pregnancy/postpartum, is something I’m studying in yoga therapy right now. We can also work together (even over Skype!) to create a yoga program that will support reducing stress and promoting a better relationship with your body/mind. I’d love to help you. As always, write to me and share your thoughts. I read every single message.
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I share encouraging, informative, and down to earth messages, each with a healthy dose of humor and honesty. Basically, the kind of thing I'd want to read during pregnancy and later postpartum...because gosh motherhood is confusing. When you subscribe, you'll receive my messages on What I wish I would've known before baby & a quick guide on the Yoga poses to avoid during pregnancy.