Sustained long hours behind the desk could be lowering women’s chances of conceiving.

In a study by researchers at Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, it was found that working for more than 40 hours a week was linked with a 20% increase in the amount of time taken to get pregnant, compared to those working 21 to 40 hours. The sample size of the survey was 1,739.

Stress is a known factor in the struggle to fall pregnant with worries and pressure at work leading to poor quality of sleep, raised cortisol levels and hormone fluctuations. Constant stress can affect ovulation by altering signals to the hypothalamus, the center of the brain that regulates some of the hormones that remind the ovaries to release their eggs every month. Women under relentless stress may ovulate less regularly, making it harder to plan for the most fertile times to have intercourse. Overworking was also associated with decreased interest in sex and many hours at the office also stole from hours spent in the bedroom.

Says Wijnland Fertility Clinic’s specialist fertility psychologist, Lizanne van Waart, “Women who work too hard and for too many hours will inevitably encounter a variety of health problems. Ultimately preparation for parenthood should include striking a healthier work/life balance. Mom’s who work too hard before pregnancy are as likely to put their pregnancy under strain by continuing to slave away when they most need to rest. When baby arrives its simply not sustainable to work more than 40 hours a week.”

Van Waart advised would-be Mothers to start being mindful of their body’s need to rest and rejuvenate. “Start putting some boundaries in place and make your wellbeing a priority. Take a lunch hour to sit in a park or go for a walk. Start the day with a meditation or some stretching. Get home in time to cook yourself a healthy meal.”

Key to working smarter but not harder is time management. Many women benefitted from putting away their phone and all its distractions after 8pm, whilst others made working time about work only, focusing on the completion of tasks within their own personal deadlines.

Robert A. Greene, MD, coauthor of Perfect Hormone Balance for Fertility has these tips for women wishing to find a better work-life balance:

  • Salute the Sun“If you’re not the type to sit and meditate for an hour every day, yoga may be the next best thing,” says Dr. Greene, who recommends hatha yoga, a style that focuses on breathing and movement without concentrating directly on meditation.
  • Early to Bed. Over 80 percent of women ovulate between midnight and 8 a.m. so sleep becomes essential to prevent hormonal imbalances. Not to mention that sleep helps you cope with stress in general. If you are waking up tired or feel as if you are running on empty, you’re not getting enough.
  • Have sex – for the sake of it. Don’t turn sex into a fertility project, relax and enjoy the intimacy.
  • Do this 10-minute stress Rx. Try progressive muscle relaxation, an exercise that involves tightening and relaxing every part of your body from head to toe. Furrow your forehead for five seconds, then relax your face for five seconds. Then wrinkle your nose for five seconds, and relax it for five seconds. Do the same with your jaw, and so on, for 10 minutes, or more if you have time. “This helps you to physically feel what your body is like when it’s tense versus when it’s relaxed,” says Dr. Domar.
  • Put it on the page. Dr. Greene is a big fan of journaling to soothe stress. “Putting your worries on paper is one of the best ways to get perspective and feel like you’re more in control of your problems,” he says. Writing in a journal regularly, even for just a few minutes a day, can help you feel more positive and less.

Wijnland Fertility Clinic’s specialist fertility psychologist, Lizanne van Waart, says that bringing stress under control may take time and practice. “Working with a therapist can help you manage stress successfully and permanently.”