Ask the Doctors if Stress could be Contributing to Infertility for my Husband or Me?

Let's first look at a few statistics that are specific to women. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6.1 percent (or 44%) of married women are infertile. 12.3% of those women aged 18-44 have difficulties getting pregnant. The causes of infertility are known to include alcohol and smoking.

Psychological stress is a common part of modern life. Today's stress can be caused by driving, shopping, managing finances, and work. A Dutch study found that women who worked more than 32 hours per week took longer to first become pregnant than those who worked between 16 and 32 hours, but that both groups did eventually become pregnant at the same rate.

One of the most successful studies on stress and pregnancy involved 401 couples from Michigan and Texas who were trying to get pregnant. The women in this study were followed for 12 months. Participants completed questionnaires and were asked to rate their stress levels. They also took part in measurements of salivary amylase. Psychosocial stress can be measured by salivary amylase, which has been demonstrated to be reliable. Its levels rise when there is more activity in the sympathetic ("fight or flight") nervous system.

This study found that the group of women with the highest level of amylase was 29 percent less likely to become pregnant than those with the lowest level of amylase. The questionnaires showed that amylase level was correlated to women's stress levels.

So it seems reasonable from this study, and from a similar study in the United Kingdom, that psychological stress can reduce the chance of getting pregnant.

Further, simply trying to become pregnant -- and being unable to do so -- can create stress, as many studies have shown. A Korean study found that the levels of psychological distress were significantly higher in women who had difficulty conceiving compared to women who were able to conceive. The distress levels in these women were twice that of their male counterparts.

The stress associated with fertility treatments can impact a woman’s ability to get pregnant. One study found that women who were undergoing fertility treatment and were part of a support or therapy group had a 54 percent conception rate, while those who were not in a support group had a 20 percent conception rate.

Stress can have negative effects on men. Studies have shown that men who have had to deal with more stressful events in their lives have lower levels of sperm motility, sperm concentration and morphology.

I could easily tell you to stress less. No one is more familiar with your life's stressors than you. I offer three pieces of advice. First, reach out to your husband . Because you both are together in this, he is in the best place to help you. The second step is to learn relaxation techniques or meditation. The sounds of waves, birdsong and the views from the mountain are all soothing ways to calm your day.

A fertility specialist can help you if it is still not possible to get pregnant. Knowing the answers to your questions can help you reduce stress and point you in the right direction.