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How Stress May Impact Fertility

October 18, 2016

If you experience stress during ovulation, you’re 40 percent less likely to get pregnant, according to one recent study’s findings.

The study, conducted by researchers at University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences, involved 400 women age 40 and younger who reported their daily stress on a scale of one to four. Participants filled out a daily diary that included information about their lifestyle and behaviors, details about their menstrual cycle, contraceptive use and sexual behavior. They tracked their activity for up to 20 menstrual cycles or until they became pregnant. All the women were having unprotected sex without birth control, but only a third of them were actively trying to get pregnant.

Stress May Reduce Fertility

During the study, 139 women became pregnant. Researchers found that for each unit of stress a woman experienced around the time of ovulation, her chances of becoming pregnant decreased by 46 percent. The results remained the same even after researchers considered factors such as age, weight and the frequency of sexual activity.

Women who did not get pregnant also experienced higher levels of stress toward the end of their cycle, which researchers think may have to do with hormonal changes. The researchers said that even after a woman gets pregnant, expectant mothers may experience more stress because of hormonal changes and the realization they’re going to be a parent.

The study’s authors said this may be the first time a study has examined the impact of stress during different times throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle. However, this isn’t the first study to look at how stress affects fertility. One 2014 study used saliva tests to gauge the stress levels of more than 400 women who were trying to get pregnant. Women who had some of the highest levels of alpha-amylase, a stress-related enzyme, in their saliva had double the risk of infertility and took 29 percent longer to become pregnant compared to women who had lower levels of this indicator. A 2010 study also found that women with high levels of the same enzyme have a more difficult time getting pregnant and were 12 percent less likely to conceive than women with the lowest levels of alpha-amylase. Stress had the biggest impact on a woman’s chances of becoming pregnant when it occurred during her fertile window.

To be clear, stress plays a smaller role in fertility compared to factors like obesity, age, smoking or issues within the reproductive system. One-third of fertility issues have to do with male infertility, so some women may experience challenges getting pregnant for this reason rather than stress.

Still, we know that stress does have an impact on overall health, but to varying degrees in every person. Staying calm is easier to achieve in principle than practice, but you should make every effort to control your stress if you are trying to get pregnant. Get regular exercise, do things you enjoy with people you love and eat healthy foods that boost your mood (stay away from caffeine and eat more foods with omega-3 fatty acids, like fish). Also learn stress management techniques like muscle relaxation, meditation and mindfulness to control your stress. Integrating these approaches into your everyday life could increase your chances of getting pregnant, but they’re also just good everyday practices to manage stress and not let it impact your health.