Health 101: Stress and Fertility

Can excess stress keep you from getting pregnant? Read about the surprising links between stress, anxiety, and infertility -- and what you can do about it.

Can stress cause infertility?

Anyone who's heard the conception advice "just relax and it'll happen" may wonder if stress really plays a role in how soon you're able to get pregnant. The answer: More and more research seems to confirm a link between stress, anxiety, depression, and infertility, says Alice Domar, PhD, executive director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health at Boston IVF.

First, when you're stressed out, you're probably not having sex as often -- a pretty obvious fertility derailment. "You're also more likely to smoke and binge drink," says Dr. Domar, both of which have been known to negatively impact conception.

For some women, chronic stress can affect ovulation by altering signals to the hypothalamus, the center of the brain that regulates some of the hormones that trigger the ovaries to release eggs each month. Women under nonstop stress may ovulate less regularly, making it more difficult to plan babymaking for the exact window when they're most fertile. Some research shows that stress may also affect testosterone levels and sperm production in men.

Other research indicates that stress may have an impact on other aspects of fertility beyond ovulation, including problems with fertilization and implantation in the uterus. One study from the University of California San Diego found that the most stressed women undergoing IVF had less success every step of the way (fewer eggs retrieved and fewer eggs successfully implanted) compared to women who were not as tense. Another study from Israeli researchers tested whether helping women de-stress while undergoing IVF could impact the success rate. They found that women who were entertained by a clown after they received the treatment (laughter is a known stress-soother) were more likely to conceive than those who were not.

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