Every family has that one kindly aunt and uncle who "never had any
children." And, until you yourself have struggled with infertility, you probably never
wondered why they had no children; you just accepted it. Well, if that aunt and
uncle of yours are now seniors, in their day they could have adopted from a
wide assortment of newborns. But they didn't. Today, they probably live
comfortably in a small condo somewhere, travel a great deal, are enjoying their
retirement, and dote on a large selection...
"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
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
The Science of Stress and Fertility
Pisarska tells WebMD that the effects of stress may be different for each
"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
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.