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Stress and Infertility

Doctors offer insights on how daily stress can disrupt fertility -- and how relaxation can help.
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WebMD Feature

"You're just trying too hard."

"You're too stressed. Just relax and it will happen."

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"You've got to calm down and let nature take its course."

If you've been trying six months or more to get pregnant, you've probably lost count of the number of times well-meaning friends and family offered this or similar advice.

Though the idea that "trying too hard" was once a popular notion, dramatic advances in infertility treatments -- particularly in the past decade -- all but did away with that idea.

Now, however, the wheel has turned yet again, and doctors are once more looking to the idea that stress -- and sometimes "trying too hard" -- may actually play a role in up to 30% of all infertility problems.

"It's becoming more and more important, in terms of what studies we do, to focus our efforts on the physiological effects of stress and how they may play a role in conception," says Margareta D. Pisarska, MD, co-director of Center for Reproductive Medicine at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and editor-in-chief of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine News.

While doctors say that right now there aren't enough data to draw a clear and obvious link, many believe it's only a matter of time before we connect all the dots and see the bigger picture.

"What we do know now is that when stress-reduction techniques are employed, something happens in some women that allows them to get pregnant when they couldn't get pregnant before," says Allen Morgan, MD, director of Shore Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Lakewood, N.J.

While the exact pathways between fertility and stress remain a mystery, Morgan believes hormones like cortisol or epinephrine -- which rise and often remain high during times of chronic stress -- play a key role.

Morgan says that it's also possible that reducing stress may help enhance proteins within the uterine lining that are involved in implantation. She says that stress reduction may increase blood flow to the uterus, which also affects conception.

The Science of Stress and Fertility

Pisarska tells WebMD that the effects of stress may be different for each woman.

"Stress may cause one set of reactions in one woman, and something else in another, so ultimately the reasons behind how or why stress impacts fertility may also be very individual," says Pisarska.

While doctors may not know the exact links between stress and fertility, a series of studies shows the impact is hard to ignore.

In research published in the journal Human Reproduction, doctors compared pregnancy rates in couples that reported being stressed and those who were not.

What they found: Pregnancy was much more likely to occur during months when couples reported feeling "good" -- happy and relaxed. It was less likely to occur during the months they reported feeling tense or anxious.

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