How much can stress affect fertility?

Intuitively, you may assume that stress affects fertility, and the existing research confirms this hunch: Higher levels of stress are linked to longer time to conception and a higher risk of infertility. Similarly, treatment outcomes appear to be worse in fertility patients that suffer from stress and anxiety, particularly if it’s affecting the hopeful parents’ relationship. That’s one of the reasons we created Ovally – to provide you with the emotional, logistical, and educational support you deserve, and to turn your treatment into a relaxing getaway. The research on fertility and stress also had a few surprising findings:

In a study of 500 women in Texas and Michigan who were hoping to conceive, stress levels predicted their outcomes: Higher levels of stress markers  were linked to a longer time to conception and a higher incidence of infertility. The study controlled for various other variables that could explain the outcome, including age, income, and the use of alcohol, caffeine, and cigarette. The same group of researchers also tested whether higher stress levels would predict higher changes of miscarriage during pregnancy and did not find that to be the case. The study had a few limitations, most notably that stress levels were only recorded at the outset and not repeatedly.

We know that many patients undergoing fertility treatment experience high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Infertility treatment can also put a lot of stress on the hopeful parents, and a study of 800 Danish couples showed that fertility-related stress was linked to poorer treatment outcomes (i.e., needing more IVF cycles to conceive) in both women and men, though the effect of stress was more pronounced in women. Marital stress seemed to have the most pronounced negative effect compared to personal or social stressors. Similarly, a Chinese study showed that women with higher levels of anxiety during fertility treatment were less likely to have a successful outcome.

A recent study out of Spain yielded interesting results for anxiety and depression in IVF patients who were already pregnant: During the third trimester of pregnancy, IVF patients had higher levels of anxiety than the pregnant group who’d conceived naturally. However, the IVF patients’ levels of depression were significantly lower both before and after birth.

The above research indicates that higher levels of stress seem to negatively affect not just natural conception, but also fertility treatment outcomes. This seems particularly unfair, as the vast majority of fertility patients undergoing IVF or IUI following an infertility diagnosis experience higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression. That’s why it’s important for anyone hoping to conceive to think through how you could lower your stress: Seeking out social support often makes a big difference, as does taking some time off, or doing activities (such as acupuncture, which we wrote about in a previous post) that relax you.



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