Stress and conception

Attempting to get pregnant comes with many challenges. Around 1 in 7 couples report having difficulty in conceiving and only around 84% of couples actually get pregnant within a year of having regular unprotected sex.

There are a number of different reasons why you might not be able to conceive after actively trying which can range from age, alcohol intake and weight. But did you know that stress and conception are also linked?

Here we look at how your stress levels can affect conception, and look at some ways to overcome stress for a successful pregnancy.

The Role of Stress

Stress is defined as a state of mental or emotional strain in which the body responds both emotionally and physically. When the body is exposed to a threat or is exposed to excess pressure the body thinks it is under attack and therefore switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode.

This leads to a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine being released which help to prepare the body for physical action.

How Are Stress and Conception Linked?

The menstrual cycle is controlled by hormone signals in the brain and each month the ovaries release an egg after it has matured – this is known as ovulation. The egg enters into the fallopian tube and down to the uterus where it will be ready for fertilisation.

However, stress can interfere with these monthly hormonal shifts and can cause regular patterns and signalling to go off track. This can lead to abnormal cycles and therefore difficulty in conceiving.

In 2018 a study revealed that women who reported feeling more stressed during their ovulatory window were approximately 40% less likely to conceive compared to other less stressful months.

Natural Ways To Beat Stress

Although reducing stress levels isn’t an overarching cure for infertility, there are a number of things that could help. Meditation is one way to reduce stress levels. But also consider taking more regular exercise, or perhaps try holistic therapies like acupuncture, massage therapy or foot reflexology.

All of these methods aim to counterbalance some of the negative effects of stress on the body, in particular, the reproductive system without depending on pharmaceutical interventions.

Fertility Health Checks

If you are concerned about stress and conception, SureScan offers fertility health checks for individuals or couples struggling to get pregnant. One of our dedicated consultant gynaecologists will give you the opportunity to discuss any questions you or your partner might have in a calm and relaxing environment.

If you would like more information then don’t hesitate to get in touch and book a consultation.

rest during pregnancy

Historically exercising during pregnancy has been frowned upon as childbirth is considered to be a high-risk time in terms of health. For centuries women have been told to rest during pregnancy.

However, experts are now concerned that too much rest during pregnancy may not, in fact, be such a good idea.

Lying In

Historically, you may have heard the term ‘lying in’ used which involves limiting movement by remaining in bed or seated for the majority of the day. For centuries, doctors routinely advised limiting movement in order to reduce the risk of pregnancy or postpartum complications. However, this stationary effect can potentially cause harm.

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

During pregnancy, blood plasma can increase by up to 40-50% along with changes to clotting ability. These changes help to provide nutrients for the foetus and also help to safeguard against excessive bleeding during labour. However, prolonged periods of immobility significantly increase the chances of developing clotting issues such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

A DVT is a serious condition where a blood clot forms in a deep vein within the body, commonly the leg. The symptoms of a blood clot can include pain, swelling and tenderness in the area along with a heavy ache and warm, inflamed skin.

This condition is very serious and requires emergency treatment.

The Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy

Exercising during pregnancy can bring with it many benefits both physically and for mental well being. There is evidence to suggest that active women are less likely to experience issues in later pregnancy and in labour.

Building a regular exercise habit can help to reduce feelings of stress, anxiety and depression whilst also increasing self-confidence and mood.

If you do choose to exercise during pregnancy then you should aim to still be able to carry out a conversation. If you become breathless, then you are pushing too hard and will need to slow down to a safer level. Exercise does not need to be strenuous to still be beneficial.

Questions About Rest During Pregnancy

If you are unsure how much you should exercise, or rest during pregnancy, or if you have any other concerns, then please get in touch with our friendly team. We can give you advice and organise an appointment with one of our Pregnancy Service consultant gynaecologists.

female discharge

Vaginal discharge is not often a hot topic for discussion. It is completely normal for all women to experience discharge, and most of the time there is nothing to worry about. Female discharge is an important fluid that helps to keep the vagina clean, moist and also to protect it from infections. The mucus membrane of the vagina and glands on the cervix produce the discharge in order to maintain the health of the reproductive system.

What is ‘Normal’ Female Discharge?

Normal vaginal discharge should not have any strong or unpleasant smells. It is usually either clear or white and can be both thick and sticky along with feeling slippery to touch. The amount present will vary from person to person and also changes in line with a woman’s menstrual cycle throughout the month.

Menstrual Cycle and Female Discharge

Egg white discharge is a sign that ovulation is approaching. The egg white consistency of the discharge creates the perfect sticky fluid for sperm to travel through the cervix ready for fertilisation.

Creamy discharge usually occurs before or after the ovulation stage. This is primarily due to the dominant levels of progesterone which turn vaginal discharge from a clear fluid into a thick white mucus.

As long as the vaginal discharge does not have a bad odour these are both completely normal.

Other Causes of Female Discharge

If you notice changes in vaginal discharge for example in smell, colour or texture this could be a sign of infection that should not be ignored. The following conditions may be a cause of discharge, that you should get checked if you have any symptoms:

Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common cause of unusual vaginal discharge which often causes a strong fishy smell, particularly after sex. This condition is not serious, however, it is important to be treated with antibiotics to reduce the chances of further complications.


Thrush is a common yeast infection that can occur in both men and women. The common symptoms for women include a white vaginal discharge, often described as a cottage cheese consistency that does not usually have an odour. Thrush is usually harmless but can be uncomfortable if left untreated.

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s)

Sexually transmitted infections can cause vaginal discharge to change as the harmful bacteria replace the healthy bacteria. This change often causes the vaginal discharge to become thin, watery, change in colour (sometimes to yellow and green) and increase in the amount present. If left untreated this can cause severe complications.

Get It Checked

For reassurance or if you are concerned about abnormal vaginal discharge then get in touch today to book a consultation with one of our experienced specialist gynaecologists. They can carry out a gynaecological scan and provide a diagnosis. They can also discuss treatment options with you.

male fertility

It is a biological fact that as women and men age, the likelihood of conceiving decreases alongside fertility health. In fact, the combination of both partners’ age could determine the chance of a healthy pregnancy. It is true that across the population, women who are younger than 35 and men who are younger than 40 are believed to have a better chance of having a child than those who are older.

When it comes to fertility, women’s health is often the hot topic however male fertility decline plays a contributing factor in 30-40% of infertility cases.

Age and Fertile Eggs

Women are born with all of their fertile eggs at birth, known as the ‘ovarian reserve’ which is estimated to be around 2 million. By the time puberty and fertile age is reached, this number is thought to have reduced to around 400,000. This number continues to decrease further with each menstrual bleed as this involves the shedding of the unfertilised egg and uterine lining each cycle.

Evidence suggests that from puberty through to menopause only around 400-500 eggs will actually reach maturity and be released from the ovary to be potentially fertilised in the female reproductive system.

Age and Fertile Sperm

For men it is slightly different as in contrast to the limited amount of eggs women have, men, create up to 100-200 million fresh new sperm every single day. To put it simply, this means that there is no risk that men will run out of sperm as they age.

However, there are a number of factors that do affect male fertility including reductions in sperm health and sperm motility (moving sperm). And these are both thought to continually decrease between the ages of 20 and 80.

Pregnancy and Birth Risks

Due to the changes evidenced in both eggs and sperm as we age, children of older parents have a higher risk of developing birth defects and genetic abnormalities. The risk of mental health issues and autism spectrum disorder is also marginally higher in those with fathers older than 40.

A 2018 study reveals that higher paternal age was associated with an increased risk of premature birth, low birth weight along with a low Apgar score (a checking system used by midwives and doctors to assess newborn health).

Book a Fertility Health Check

If you are planning a family, but are concerned about how your age might affect your chances of conceiving, then get in touch with Surescan. We can carry out a Fertility Health Check to assess several factors that affect your fertility, including a semen analysis. We can check for low sperm count and low sperm motility, but also assess any other problems that may affect your chances and discuss treatment options with you and your partner.

menstrual cycle

It is well known that the menstrual cycle plays a huge role in many aspects of life, including exercise. The bodies fluctuating hormone levels throughout the month can cause energy levels and performance to dip up and down depending on the menstrual phase.

Instead of eliminating all exercise, it is really important to gain an understanding of the different parts of the menstrual cycle and what this means in terms of exercise.

Working With Your Cycle

There are many benefits to be gained from exercise, especially during a period as it can trigger an endorphin and serotonin release. Exercise can help to manage depression, enhance mood and provide elements of natural pain relief which can be great for eliminating abdominal period cramps.

The menstrual cycle consists of several phases which are controlled by hormone fluctuations:

1. Menstrual Phase

This is the first phase of the menstrual cycle and is when a woman experiences bleeding. Progesterone and oestrogen drop to their lowest levels during menstruation as the body sheds the uterine lining. These drop-in hormones and blood loss are usually paired with a lack of energy.

Low-intensity exercises such as restorative yoga are ideal for this phase as it allows the body to flow and relax without the stress of high-intensity activities. This practice can also help to relieve symptoms of bloat, heavy bleeding and PMS.

2. Follicular Phase

During this second stage the body signals for the ovaries to release an egg, whilst oestrogen levels rise to thicken the uterine lining in preparation for the arrival of an egg. This rise brings with it increases in energy levels making it the perfect time to step up the intensity with exercise.

During the follicular phase when energy is high, it could be a great time to push yourself a little more with your training. This could be vigorous aerobic including high-intensity workouts, strength training, running and spinning which all use all of the major muscle groups.

3. Ovulation Phase

The ovulation phase sees oestrogen levels peak, which signals to the pituitary gland to release a surge of hormones causing the ovaries to release a mature egg. Energy levels during this phase still remain high which means great for continuing the high energy workouts of the follicular phase.

4. Luteal Phase

The last phase of the menstrual cycle that is just before menstruation is called the luteal phase. At the end of this phase oestrogen, testosterone and progesterone peak before then, declining until they hit their lowest point just before bleeding occurs.

During this phase, the body’s metabolism speeds up along with resting cortisol levels. It is advisable to avoid high-intensity workouts during this time and opt for gentler movements such as yoga, pilates or non-cardio strength training.

Speak To Our Specialists

If you would like to find out more about understanding your menstrual cycle or are suffering from symptoms such as pelvic pain that could be putting you off exercise – get in touch with SureScan today to speak to one of our specialist gynaecologists.

COVID during pregnancy

Up to one in five women will experience a miscarriage in their lifetime and 1% of women will suffer three or more miscarriages. There are large gaps of knowledge related to miscarriage which means that many women do not get an explanation as to why it happened or the ability to predict the chances of it happening again in the future.

Since 2016 researchers have been following women and collecting data throughout pregnancy to understand miscarriage better and find ways to predict the occurrence. Over 1,500 pregnant women have had a huge amount of information collected with 230 of these pregnancies sadly resulting in miscarriage.

As an additional focus, the research is also using the data from this study to find out more about whether COVID infection during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage or other complications later in pregnancy.

The Early Pregnancy Observational Study

For several years researchers have been asking women to take part in The Early Pregnancy Observational Study (EPOS) which follows women from early pregnancy, right up to birth.

This form of study allows researchers to collect a vast amount of data about women’s clinical history and the outcome of their pregnancy. Evidence collected includes taking blood samples, urine and vaginal tests, and over 1,500 women have been included with ongoing work still happening.

Clinically Vulnerable in Pregnancy

At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, pregnant women were classified into an ‘at risk’ group as they were clinically vulnerable and therefore were advised to shield. However, the true effects of COVID during pregnancy are unclear and there is some emerging evidence that suggests that pregnant women are actually at no greater risk of becoming seriously unwell than other healthy adults.


The information gathered from the EPOS work is now being used to find out more about the effects of COVID during pregnancy. The samples taken will now also be checked for COVID antibodies and biological markers associated with the COVID infection. The research will observe the final pregnancy outcomes to assess whether contracting a COVID infection during pregnancy is linked to early or late pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, sow growth, premature birth, or miscarriage.

Get In Touch

If you are concerned about the impact of COVID on your pregnancy, we are here to support and reassure you. We understand that it can be a very worrying time, particularly if you have been experiencing fertility difficulties or miscarriages previous to conceiving. We offer reassurance scans at any point from six weeks. Our expert consultants can offer valuable information about how your pregnancy is progressing, provide peace of mind as well as clear guidance on your pregnancy date.

We also offer a Recurrent Miscarriage Service which involves a comprehensive appointment with one of our expert consultant gynaecologists. Get in touch today to book an appointment to begin investigations into the possible causes.

Sexual dysfunction

A new study that involved over 3,000 women, revealed that poor sleep quality, but not sleep duration, was associated with a greater chance of female sexual dysfunction. Contrastingly, good sleep quality has been linked with sexual activity.

During midlife, it is common for women to experience both sleep deprivation and sexual function problems. Over a quarter of women experience severe sleep symptoms that could even be defined as insomnia. Sleep issues are becoming more common and are known to worsen during perimenopause to postmenopause when women report the most sleep issues. And up to 43% of women also experience sexual dysfunction during this time.

Menopausal Sleep Disruptions

Understanding the link between sleep and sexual dysfunction is important. But this is particularly challenging for women who are experiencing poor sleep quality whilst also experiencing menopause. This is because the symptoms of menopause are reported to cause significant disruptions to sleep.

Menopause is a stage in a woman’s life when the ovaries stop producing the hormones oestrogen and progesterone. This results in the menstrual cycle coming to an end and marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years.

The most common sleeping issues reported by menopausal women include hot flushes, insomnia, and sleep-disordered breathing along with anxiety and depression.

Hot Flushes

Hot flushes are sudden, unexpected sensations of heat all over the body which are then accompanied by excess sweating. They generally begin in the face before spreading to the chest and the rest of the body and can last anything from 30 seconds to 5 minutes. The heat and adrenaline associated with hot flushes can make it very difficult to get back to sleep and the frequent awakenings reduce sleep quality.


Insomnia is a chronic issue whereby difficulty in falling and staying asleep occurs for more than three nights a week. The resulting sleep deprivation from insomnia can increase feelings of anxiousness and irritability, impair focus and memory along with increasing headaches and inflammation. The risk of insomnia increases as women move into their menopause stage with as many as 61% of postmenopausal women reporting insomnia symptoms.

Sleep Disordered Breathing

Research suggests that lower progesterone levels such as those in menopausal women can contribute to the development of sleep apnoea. This is where your breathing stops and starts whilst you are sleeping and can have detrimental effects on the quality of sleep. It is believed that progesterone can prevent the relaxation of the upper airway which causes the lapses in breathing associated with sleep apnoea.

Need More Advice?

Here at SureScan, we offer a range of specialist health consultations for women including a Menopause Health Check, a Sexual Health Check, and Well Women Check. Get in touch today to find out more and book an appointment with our dedicated consultant gynaecologists.

Iron deficiency

Research funded by the University of Oxford has revealed iron deficiency anaemia in early pregnancy could significantly increase the risk of the baby developing serious health conditions such as congenital heart disease.

Further findings suggest that the risks of having a child with congenital heart disease could be increased up to threefold in women who have low iron during early pregnancy.

What Is Iron Deficiency Anaemia?

Iron deficiency anaemia is a condition caused by a lack of red blood cells or haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is a protein found within red blood cells which plays a vital role as it helps to transport oxygen from the lungs and carries it around the body. A key ingredient in the production of haemoglobin is iron. So if there isn’t enough stored around the body then the amount of haemoglobin drops meaning less circulating oxygen is present.

In the UK, the most common reason for developing anaemia is not having enough iron within the body.

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency Anaemia

The common symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia are tiredness, breathlessness, heart palpitations, weakness, headache, dizziness, chest pain and irritability.

How Is Iron Deficiency Detected?

Fortunately, iron deficiency anaemia is very easy to measure and can be detected by a simple blood test which can detect your haemoglobin levels within the blood.

Is There Any Treatment for Iron Deficiency Anaemia?

A healthy balanced diet is vital to ensure that you digest optimum levels of iron. Iron is most easily absorbed through red meat, fish, poultry, lentils, fortified cereals and green leafy vegetables such as spinach. Vitamin C can also help your body to absorb iron from food which can be found in orange juice and a range of fruits and vegetables.

Iron supplements are often very effective at replacing the iron needed to gain optimum haemoglobin levels which come in both tablet and liquid formulations.

You can find more information on iron-rich foods and foods to avoid here.

The Next Steps

It is vitally important that you speak to a trained health professional before making any changes to your diet or supplement regime. Here at SureScan, we can put your mind at rest by checking your Haemoglobin levels as part of a Well Woman check.

You can find out more information about our Well Woman Clinic and check service at SureScan here or get in touch to book an appointment with one of our dedicated consultant gynaecologists.

Signs of infertility

Signs of infertility are often overlooked until it comes to starting a family and difficulties in conception arise. It’s not an uncommon problem as around 1 in 7 couples experience difficulty in conceiving. Although for some it can happen quickly, for others it can take longer.

To minimise risk it’s a good idea to be aware of the following signs of infertility.

Irregular Menstrual Cycle

Our bodies give us signals that we might not be thriving, and one of the early signs of this is an irregular period. Your period is an excellent indicator of your fertility status and if you are having irregular periods, no periods or abnormal bleeding this could mean that you aren’t ovulating. In order to get pregnant, having sex during your ovulation phase will give you the best chance of getting pregnant.

Tip: One thing you can easily do is to take control and learn how to track your own menstrual cycle. Gain an understanding of its four phases: menstruation, follicular, ovulation and luteal phases and what these mean for you in relation to getting pregnant.

Changes in Vaginal Discharge

In addition to tracking your cycle, it is also important to take note of your vaginal discharge. Throughout the month its colour and consistency will change depending on which menstrual phase you are in.

Spotting brown blood is common and can occur for a number of reasons including ovulation, implantation and hormonal fluctuations with most of the causes being benign.

However, if you notice brown spotting for 2 or more days during the build-up to your period it could indicate that you are suffering from low progesterone levels. This can be a contributing risk factor for infertility and miscarriages.

Undiagnosed Infections

If you are planning to start trying to conceive it is a good idea to get a full sexual health check-up to ensure that you do not have any undiagnosed infections present.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are common and often come with no symptoms meaning the infection can be present for some time before an infection is detected. If left undiagnosed these infections can cause low-level inflammation and create an unfriendly environment within the reproductive system which is unlikely to support pregnancy.

But it’s not just STIs that could be causing infertility issues. Urinary tract infections, yeast infections and bacterial overgrowth could also be playing a part.

Hormonal Imbalances

Hormone imbalances happen when there is an incorrect quality of one or more hormones within the bloodstream. These hormones play an important part in reproduction as they help to regulate the development and release of the female reproductive cells and eggs.

Common symptoms of a hormonal imbalance include absent or irregular periods, spotting in between periods, painful periods, increased hair growth on the face/neck/chest and back and unexplained weight gain.

Fertility Health Check

If you are planning a family and have any concerns, or have noticed any symptoms mentioned above, don’t hesitate to book a consultation with one of our fertility specialists. We offer a full fertility MOT, and can quickly assess you, and give you guidance and support.

Pregnant woman getting the vaccine

The COVID vaccine is in full swing within the UK and it is now being offered to everyone over the age of 16. But there have been some concerns raised by pregnant women.

To address these concerns, the Government is introducing a new £7.5 million Preg-CoV clinical trial. This trial focuses on the immunity response of women during pregnancy to vaccination at varying dose intervals.

COVID in Pregnancy

The concerns of pregnant women largely stem from a concern that pregnant women were not included in the initial COVID vaccine trials. However, extensive real-world data now shows that vaccines are both safe and highly effective for pregnant women.

It is important to note that research suggests pregnant women are more likely to become seriously ill from COVID. But following an influx of hospital admissions of unvaccinated pregnant women with COVID, recent research revealed that in fact 98% of pregnant women that were admitted to hospital with COVID had not been vaccinated.

Preg-CoV Clinical Trial

Following a successful vaccination programme including pregnant women in the USA, a clinical trial named Preg-CoV has now been launched in the UK. This looks at the immune response to vaccination at different dose intervals – either 4 to 6 weeks or 8 to 12 weeks.

This data will determine the best timings for vaccines in order to give optimal protection to pregnant mothers and their babies. Furthermore, it will reduce current gaps in knowledge and inform policy recommendations for future vaccination programmes in pregnancy.

The trial includes over 600 pregnant women who will be vaccinated using either the Pfizer/BioNTech or the Moderna vaccine. These women will then be closely monitored throughout their pregnancy and post-birth. It focuses on women who are between 18 and 44 years old, with no pre-existing health conditions.

The women will be given 2 doses of the vaccine at either 4 – 6 weeks or 8 – 12 weeks. Throughout the trial, the pregnant women will regularly have their blood analysed. This will be to gather information on their immune response and how the vaccines are offering protection.

The results from this study are expected to be published towards the end of 2021. If you still have concerns about the COVID vaccination and your pregnancy, book a consultation with our consultants at SureScan.