Higher levels of stress in women may reduce their chance to conceive a baby, a study has found. Women who reported feeling more stressed during their ovulatory window were approximately 40% less likely to conceive during that month than other less stressful months.
“These findings add more evidence to a very limited body of research investigating whether perceived stress can affect fertility. The results imply that women who wish to conceive may increase their chances by taking active steps towards stress reduction such as exercising, enrolling in a stress management programme or talking to a health professional,” said Kira Taylor, researcher at the University of Louisville, US.
In the study, 400 women who were 40-years-old and younger and were sexually active recorded their daily stress levels measured on a scale from one to four (low to high). The diaries also contained information regarding menstruation, intercourse, contraception, alcohol, caffeine and smoking. Urine samples were also collected and women were followed until they became pregnant or until the study ended for an average of eight menstrual cycles.
Researchers in the study published in the journal Annals of Epidemiology calculated mean stress levels during each phase of the menstrual cycle, with day 14 as the estimated time of ovulation. They found the negative effect of stress on fertility was only observed during the ovulatory window, and was true after adjustments for other factors like age, body mass index, alcohol use and frequency of intercourse.
The study also found that women who did conceive experienced an increase in stress at the end of the month in which they became pregnant. Taylor concluded that this could be the result of two factors -- women became stressed after taking a home pregnancy test and learning they were pregnant, or most likely the increased stress was the result of changes in hormone levels caused by pregnancy itself.
“Some individuals are skeptical that emotional and psychological attributes may be instrumental in affecting fertility,” Taylor added.