Stress 'can harm a woman's chances of conception'

14 September 2016

A new study has provided fresh evidence that women trying to conceive need to take care of their mental wellbeing just as much as their physical health.

Conducted jointly by the University of Louisville and Emory University, the research followed 400 women aged 40 and below to see how their levels of stress affected their likelihood of successful conception.

For this study, published in the journal Annals of Epidemiology, the participants recorded their daily stress levels in diaries that also contained information on their menstruation, intercourse, contraception, alcohol, caffeine and smoking habits, in order to take into account both mental and physical factors. Urine samples also were collected throughout the study.

The women were followed until they became pregnant or until the study ended for an average of eight menstrual cycles, with mean stress levels calculated during each phase of the menstrual cycle. Day 14 was taken as the estimated time of ovulation.

Analysis of the results revealed that women who reported feeling more stressed during their ovulatory window were around 40 per cent less likely to conceive during that month than during other, less stressful months. Moreover, the participants who generally reported feeling more stressed than other women were approximately 45 per cent less likely to conceive overall.

This negative impact of stress on fertility was only observed during the ovulatory window, and continued to be a significant factor even after adjusting for other potential influences such as age, body mass index, alcohol use and frequency of intercourse.

It was also shown that women who successfully conceived experienced an increase in stress at the end of the month in which they became pregnant, which was attributed to the tension experienced after taking a home pregnancy test and learning they were pregnant, or more likely as a result of changes in hormone levels caused by the pregnancy itself.

Based on these findings, the researchers say their study reinforces the idea that perceived stress can have an impact on fertility. Currently, the amount of published research on this topic is relatively limited, but the data so far supports the idea that women trying to conceive could stand a better chance of doing so by taking active steps to reduce their overall stress levels.

Possible measures could include upping their overall level of physical activity or enrolling in a dedicated stress management programme. Would-be mothers seeking guidance on this issue may also benefit from speaking to a health professional.

Study leader Dr Kira Taylor, a University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences epidemiologist, said: "Some individuals are sceptical that emotional and psychological attributes may be instrumental in affecting fertility.

"I hope the results of this study serve a wake-up call for both physicians and the general public that psychological health and wellbeing is just as important as other more commonly accepted risk factors such as smoking, drinking alcohol or obesity when trying to conceive."

Posted by Edward Bartel

 


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