Stress makes getting pregnant twice as hard

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Study finds stress can increase problems with infertility.

Stress has long been known as a culprit that can raise your risk for heart disease and other health conditions, including depression – and, now, a new study has found that it can also contribute to a woman’s struggle to become pregnant.

Researchers from Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found that women who had high levels of stress were more than twice as likely to be infertile.

The study, published in the journal Human Reproduction, follows on the heels of previous research conducted by the team by the researchers that discovered a connection between high stress levels and infertility.

Study leader Dr. Courtney Denning-Johnson Lynch, director of reproductive epidemiology at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, said that she’s hopeful the findings of their study will encourage women struggling to get pregnant to “look for ways to reduce their stress with methods such as meditation, yoga and mindfulness stress reduction.”

For the study, Lynch and her colleagues analyzed data from 501 couples trying to have a baby between 2005 and 2009. Each couple was participating in the Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility and the Environment (LIFE) Study at two research centers in Michigan and Texas, where they were followed for up to a year while trying to conceive.

The data that was collected and analyzed included saliva samples from female participants between the ages of 18 and 40 without any known fertility problems. Saliva samples were given in the morning when these women initially enrolled in the study, as well as in the morning after their first period following enrollment.


The research team then measured the women’s saliva samples to detect levels of cortisol and alpha-amylase, both of which are biomarkers for stress.

Among the 401 women who completed the 12 months of the study period, 347 (87 percent) became pregnant, whereas 54 (13 percent) did not.

When the researchers analyzed the data, they discovered that the female participants with the highest levels of alpha-amylase had a 29 percent reduced chance of conceiving each month, compared with their counterparts who had low levels of the biomarker for stress.

Moreover, the female participants who had the greatest levels of stress were over twice as likely to be considered infertile, which is defined as not being able to get pregnant after having 12 months of regular, unprotected sexual intercourse.

Even after adjusting for other factors – including age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity and lifestyle factors like consuming alcoholic beverages, caffeine and smoking while trying to get pregnant – the results of the study remained the same.

Dr. Lynch said that their research is the first to show how stress is a “potentially clinically meaningful” factor, which was linked to over a two-fold increased risk of infertility in the women who participated in the study.

In addition to learning ways to better manage stress, Lynch also said that couples should keep in mind that stress is just one of many possible factors that can contribute to the inability to conceive, so they should not blame themselves for having difficulties getting pregnant.

SOURCE: Human Reproduction, Preconception stress increases the risk of infertility: results from a couple-based prospective cohort study - the LIFE study; C.D. Lynch, R. Sundaram, J.M. Maisog, A.M. Sweeney, and G.M. Buck Louis; published online March 23, 2014; DOI: 10.1093/humrep/deu032