Several Recent Studies Have Found Links Between Stress and Infertility

Several recent studies have found links between the women’s levels of day-to-day stress and lowered chances of pregnancy.

For example, women whose saliva had high levels of alpha-amylase, an enzyme that marks stress, took 29% longer to get pregnant compared to those who had less.

 “Your body is smart, it knows that (periods of stress) aren’t good times to have a baby,” says Domar, a longtime infertility researcher who also is director of mind/body services at Boston IVF.

Researchers widely accept that stress and fertility are connected. “We know now that stress hormones such as cortisol disrupt signaling between the brain and the ovaries, which can trip up ovulation,” says Sarah Berga, MD, an infertility specialist and vice chair of women’s health at Wake Forest Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Everyone gets stressed once in a while. So if you’re frazzled for a few weeks at work or feel anxious about a big move, it likely won’t hurt your baby-making abilities. But if your stress goes on for a long time or if you’re dealing with a major upheaval like unemployment or a death in the family, then your ovulation might get thrown out of whack, Berga says.        

About 1 in 10 women of childbearing age have trouble conceiving or finishing the pregnancy, according to the CDC. Usually, there is a physical reason, such as blocked fallopian tubes.

But as months go by without conception, stress may kick in. 

“Women struggling with infertility have the same levels of anxiety and depression as women diagnosed with cancer or HIV,” Domar says. As a result, a vicious cycle starts.

Domar’s mind/body program aims to curb that stress through several approaches. First is talk therapy to help reframe your feelings. You learn to challenge automatic negative thoughts like, "I’ll never get pregnant,” or blaming yourself.

Domar’s clients also practice a type of yoga called hatha yoga, which pairs yoga postures with deep breathing exercises. She says it’s a way for women to nurture themselves.

 “A lot of my patients are angry at their bodies, so they stop taking care of it,” Domar says. “This is a way for them to feel connected to themselves again.”

Domar says it’s also important for the women and their partners to talk and to listen to each other about their shared struggles. That, along with plugging into support groups, can help ease the mental and emotional toll from infertility.

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Michael Hickey