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How Work Stress Affects Female Fertility

The stress of pursuing a career affects a woman’s hormones, which in turn affects her fertility levels. Here are the specific ways work stress affects female fertility, from research from the University of Utah. It explains why career women may find it more difficult to get pregnant.

First, a quip from Helen Gurley Brown about women at work:

“Nearly every glamorous, wealthy, successful career woman you might envy now started out as some kind of schlep,” Brown said.

Could fertility struggles be the trade-off for being a successful at work?

How Work Stress Affects Female Fertility

Women’s figures and fertility levels. Medical research shows that a curvy hourglass figure – a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7 or lower – is connected to higher fertility levels in women, and lower rates of chronic disease. Women with cylindrical figures (and more fat around the waist) may be less likely to get pregnant. Women with cylindrical figures are strong, competitive, and have high stamina…and more testosterone.

How career stress affects how fat is distributed on your body. Stress changes how fat is distributed in a woman’s body. Cortisol is a hormone associated with stress – it helps people cope with stressful situations (think fight or flight). Cortisol also “moves” fat from a woman’s hips to her waist and creates a more cylindrical figure. So, the more career stress women face, the more their bodies change because of hormones, and the more infertility becomes a possibility.

How figures affect fertility levels. “Although the hormonal profile associated with a high waist-to-hip ratio may favour success in some stressful and difficult circumstances where women must work hard, there are well-known costs,” says researcher Elizabeth Cashdan, of the University of Utah. “Women may suffer lower fertility and possibly lower attractiveness to men who may have an innate preference for curviness.”

Since men seem to prefer women with high waist-to-hip ratios or curvy hourglass figures, not only are women with cylindrical figures possibly dealing with lower fertility levels on a biological level…they may be less likely to be “chosen” in the first place on a social level!

If you’re hoping to get pregnant but think work stress may decrease your fertility levels, you may be thinking about supplements. First, read Before You Take Fertility Supplements to Get Pregnant.

What do you think about work stress and female – are you a successful career woman struggling with infertility? Or do you have a low-stress lifestyle and struggle with infertility? Please comment below; I’d love to hear from you!

This research on career or job stress and infertility levels in women was conducted by Elizabeth Cashdan, an anthropologist at the University of Utah.

If you’re having trouble conceiving because of work stress, read Dealing With Depression When You Can’t Get Pregnant.

Are you trying to get pregnant? Fairhaven Health's Hormone Balance Bundle improves egg quality, encourages cycle regularity, and helps your body ovulate regularly.

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This research on work stress, hormones, and female fertility was published in the December 2008 issue of Current Anthropology. Utah News Press Release: Study Explains How Hormones Interact With Waist-to-Hip Ratios in Women.

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9 thoughts on “How Work Stress Affects Female Fertility”

  1. Thank you for your comments on work stress and female fertility! It makes sense that stress affects every part of a woman’s body, which may in turn make it more difficult to get pregnant.

  2. Too much stress is definitely not a good thing and does affect fertility. Remember mental health is equally as important as physical health so watch the stress levels!

  3. I was busy climbing the corporate ladder in the IT world, working full time and doing my masters part time. Life was challenging, to say the least. Then last year I had an epiphany after watching my teammates being let go. What had I done for myself in my personal life in those years? Not much really (although I have the best hubby in the world, so I’ve done something right). After the new org structure set in I got a more high-profile role with added challenges. After a month I realised it was yet another rung in the ladder and there would be more and they would all mean practically nothing in the end, if I didn’t achieve my life goals (of which starting a family was key). So I quit, took up a creative past-time and started trying to conceive (TTC) 6 months later. Guess what? I fell pregnant the very next week! I strongly believe that those 6 months of leisure totally set me up for a successful pregnancy, as the totally mellow and laid-back person I’d become was so different to the stressed out high-achiever I used to be – surely there were physical changes too. Of course I had something creative to work on that I was passionate about so I wasn’t completely idle and also took the opportunity to do some competitive dancing. TTC was also not a major focus for me, since I was experimenting with my freedom. I am now 15 weeks pregnant and wish everyone else on this road as much luck as I had. May your sweet dreams come true!

  4. Kristen Burris, L.Ac., M.S.T.O.M.

    Your dilemma is a common one and quitting your job doesn’t always equate with less stress. There are some questions you want to ask yourself. Can you afford financially to quit your job? Does your job bring you happiness and satisfaction? If you do quit your job how will you fill your daily life: sitting around watching television or taking up yoga and cooking with whole foods? The latter will bring more healthful rewards and will increase your fertility and the former weight gain and depression. Quitting your job may actually add more stress to your life but that is for you do decide.

    If your job is producing an extraordinary amount of stress then yes, it will increase your fertility to quit and here is why:

    Most people don’t realize the stressors we endure in modern day life. Just as I write this I have numerous stressors that I have learned to ignore 1. The traffic driving by just beyond my computer screen 2. The phone ringing 3. Music in the background 4. The lingering list of to-do for Christmas preparation 5. The pesky worry of the future that pops up from my conscience to every day awareness 6. My husband typing on his computer… you get the idea. We don’t perceive these things as stress but the modern person is constantly multi-taking even in our peaceful office with aroma therapy and soothing music. The majority of people have real intense pressures from spouses, in-laws, neighbors, bosses, and financial institutions. This constant attack we endure stresses our sympathetic nervous system putting our body in a constant state of fight or flight wreaking havoc on our endocrine system and literally shutting down our reproductive system.

    Fight or flight is a state in which we feel under attack that some have theorized was built into our bodies for survival against savage animals when we lived in the wild. When we feel our lives are at stake our pupils dilate to see better, our heart rate increases dramatically propelled by adrenaline so we can run quickly and our breath quickens. Unfortunately our digestive, urinary, bowel and reproductive systems get cut off. There is no need to reproduce or go to the bathroom when all of our energy needs to be expended in order to survive and flee as quickly as possible.

    How this translates to modern day time is that our stressors are constant and overwhelming. The modern conveniences push us to do more, work more, be more. The intensity of the daily news is so traumatic one can’t help but be stressed by the devastating news of the world at large. We are constantly answering phones, texts, emails, paper mail just to get out the door in the morning and get our real work done. We are constantly bombarded by advertisers, telemarketers, politicians, local business men and women, churches, schools, and neighbors, to give, drive, celebrate and donate. We have accepted this as the way of life but it costly us all dearly in our health, weight, emotional well-being and our fertility.

    We often run out the door with coffee sloshing in our mugs taxing our adrenals and slowing blood flow to our reproductive organs. Maybe a handful of crackers are shoved haphazardly in our mouths as we race down the road to sit in traffic and ward off maniac drivers. Then we turn on the radio to be bombarded with talk and gossip and dread. We rush into our offices only to find our irritated boss with a deadline to meet and a pay cut delivered and it’s only 7:30 a.m. The madness must stop. We all need to slow down, calm ourselves and take a good look at our lives to discover how we can reduce stress thereby improving our reproductive successes.

    Here is a list of suggestions of how to reduce stress:

    Work no more than 40 hours a week
    Always plan something fun on the weekends
    Exercise is a priority not a luxury
    Swap Coffee for Green Tea or Teccino (herbal non caffeinated coffee substitute)
    Learn to Meditate or Buy a Mind Body CD
    Enjoy laughter with girlfriends
    Make Love when you are NOT fertile
    Love your job or change careers
    Turn off your TV
    Go on a news fast
    Have lavender aroma therapy at home, work and your car
    Listen to classical music
    Learn to Belly Breathe
    Get Acupuncture Even if your OBGYN says “You are Fine” Unexplained infertility responds well
    Take a yoga Class
    Spend time only with people who nourish you; avoid those who don’t
    Rent a funny movie
    Join Resolve (the non-profit that helps couples who have a hard time conceiving or staying pregnant)
    Just say no to baby showers
    Let it go
    Use an ovulation predictor kit (clear blue easy around $200 is more helpful than just the wands)
    Know that what you are going through is one of the hardest things any human can face but you will get through this so try to find the gems in the journey: meeting fabulous people, rediscovering compassion through your own suffering, a stronger relationship with God a more complete understanding of who you are and what you can endure.

    Kristen N. Burris, L.Ac., M.S.T.O.M. is a nationally recognized Acupuncturist and Herbalist who has been featured in Parenting Magazine, Natural Health Magazine, National Public Radio (NPR) and KUSI TV News. Ms. Burris’ expertise includes: women’s health, fertility, pregnancy, difficult menstrual cycles, menopausal symptoms, digestive problems, and pain. Ms. Burris has also taught acupuncture to graduate students at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. She and her husband Tony Burris, L.Ac., M.S.T.O.M treat patients with acupuncture, herbal medicine and nutrition as natural medicine in their family-owned, private practice, American Acupuncture Center in Eagle, Idaho. Ms. Burris has treated patients at Top Fertility Centers Nationwide, San Diego Hospice, University of California in San Diego (UCSD) Integrative Clinic, and for UCSD Dental Study. Ms Burris was the creator of fertility retreats for couples and served on the board of RESOLVE, the non-profit organization supporting couples with infertility.

  5. Hi,

    even I am sailing thru the same boat. Its since 4 years we are married and trying since three years..I havebeen meeting the gynaes from last 2 years and undergone a lot of tests and treatments , still here I am with no baby yet:(( Although I have taken work from home from the last one year, in order to combat with the infertility, nothing has clicked so far. I am planning to completely get rid of the ofice work so that i can stay cooly and peacefully…any suggestion? at the same time I am worried that after I quit, I may feel even more frustrated

  6. You’re so right, Vanessa, that being job free isn’t being stress free! Stress can come from your spouse, neighbors, city driving, or even living in a cluttered messy home if you’re a neat freak (messes stress me out big time, and that does not help me relax and get pregnant).

    Good luck with getting pregnant, my friend. I hope quitting your job and reducing your stress level helps increase your fertility.

    I’m sending positive vibes and prayers your way for a happy conception…

    Best wishes,

  7. I believe all of the above to be true, though I have yet to prove it out. I also quit my job in June, taking a step off of Silicon Valley’s fast track. Fast-track careers just make it difficult to have a healthy lifestyle. Exercise and proper eating are always the first to go. That said, being job free isn’t necessarily stress free. It has been an interesting to remove my identity from my job.

    I hope to report back in a couple of months with some success on the infertility front.


  8. Congratulations on quitting your job! Life’s too short to be consumed by work, stress, and building someone else’s company or dream. And I love your quote – “How you live each day lives up to how you live your life.”

    Even if you waited too long, Gena, you can’t beat yourself up about it. It’s done, and you did the best you could in the past. That is, you made your decisions for reasons that made sense to you…and at the time, they were the right ones.

    That said — there’s still hope! Many women have children in their early 40s, and there’s lots of excellent information about getting pregnant and staying healthy as a 40 year old expectant mother.

    I’d suggest getting an ovulation prediction kit and charting your temperatures, so you and hubby can time your “moments of intimacy.” I’m glad you’ve been checked for infertility, and that you’re both fine!

    Good luck, and keep me updated! I’d love to hear how you’re doing, and if you get pregnant soon after quitting that stressful job. 🙂

    All best,

  9. For the last 2.5 years I have been working 50-80 hours/week with high stress. I don’t get holidays or weekends off. I sometimes work up to 16 hours per day and through the night. I am the operations manager of a company that is open 24/7.

    After my husband and I had 1.5 years of unprotected sex and no baby, we got checked out. We are fine.

    So last month I gave notice at my job. My last day is in 2 days. I did not just quit because of the lack of baby. Instead, I decided the stress of the job was affecting so many areas of my life that I had to stop what I was doing. “How you live each day adds up to how you live your life.” Taking that into account, I did not want the way I have been living to be the way I live my life. So time for a new start. And yes, I am hoping the change will help us along in the baby area as well. After all, I am 38. I am running out of baby years. I waited so I could advance my career. And now I am worried I waited too long.