There have been old wives tales for years that if a woman stresses about getting pregnant, she will have trouble conceiving. Now, a new study shows that it is true that stress when trying to get pregnant increases a woman’s risk of infertility.
The study, published in the April 2014 issue of Human Reproduction, investigated the relationship between stress and infertility. The conclusion shows that women with higher levels of stress biomarkers have two times the likelihood of infertility (having unprotected sex for 12 months without getting pregnant) than women who do not show stress biomarkers.
From 2005 to 2009, the researchers examined saliva samples from 500 couples who were starting to try and conceive in Michigan and Texas. The participating women were between the ages of 18 and 40 and free from other fertility problems.
Saliva samples were taken at the start of the study and after the women had their next menstrual cycle (first failed attempt at getting pregnant). Saliva was used to study the stress level because someone who is stressed secretes a biomarker enzyme in the saliva called alpha-amylase that is part of the body’s “fight or flight” response system. Unlike other biomarkers, alpha-amylase is more indicative of chronic stress. The couples were then followed for 12 months, the standard time used to define infertility, to see if they conceived. Fertility monitors were used along the way to track ovulation and ensure that was not a contributing factor.
The year-long study, led by the director of reproductive epidemiology at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center Dr. Courtney Denning-Johnson Lynch, was completed by 401 of the couples. The woman became pregnant in 87 percent of them and did not in 13 percent. The researchers then looked at which ones had high alpha-amylase levels. The data showed that those who had high amounts of the stress marker do have 29 percent lower chance of getting pregnant than those who do not exhibit signs of chronic stress.
The data also showed that those with the highest levels of chronic stress who did become pregnant took longer to conceive than those who had lower levels. This shows that even if they were not technically infertile, the stressed-out woman had more difficulty getting pregnant.
Other findings negated the common belief that couples who are more stressed have less sex and that stress can delay ovulation. The stressed study participants had as much intercourse as those with low stress levels. Additionally, the women with high levels of alpha-amylase did not show signs of delayed ovulation.
The study authors point out that stress alone is not the only factor that might prevent a woman from getting pregnant. But, women who are trying to conceive and fail initially might look at ways to minimize their stress. They also caution that they were unable to study whether stress levels increased as months went by and women failed to conceive due to fiscal constraints.
Additionally, the woman’s stress level may not be the reason for infertility. The researchers emphasize the one-third to one-half of problems conceiving are related to the male, not the female. A common one is a low sperm count.
A new study shows that stress when trying to get pregnant increases the risk of infertility. This is the second study on stress and fertility conducted by the researchers, who plan to delve further. Lynch notes that the way stress affects fertility is not understood and that they had not yet analyzed data on men’s stress levels in trying to conceive. However, the important lesson in this analysis is that stress is a factor that can impede a woman from getting pregnant so those trying to conceive should do what they can to not get stressed about it.
By Dyanne Weiss