Stress and Infertility

By: Jon Henshaw, M.A.

For many years, scientists and infertility specialist have shrugged off the idea that stress affects infertility. Even early research suggested that stress didn't seem to have any correlation.

The idea that stress doesn't have a relationship with infertility has also offered reassurance for many women experiencing infertility. For example, when well-meaning friends and family give unsolicited advice to just relax, and you'll get pregnant, she can usually rest in the fact that stress isn't really a factor.

The separation of stress and infertility also fits well into American culture. Today, more than ever, women are expected to excel in business, and to handle just as much stress and responsibility as men do. So the idea that stress might affect infertility would not be well received by most successful women. Especially since it doesn't fit into the goals and aspirations that they've made for themselves.

As with all progress in science and research, new insights and discoveries are being made everyday. Fortunately, stress has continued to play a major role in infertility research. Scientists and specialists have continued to research stress and infertility, mainly because they started to find a correlation between stress and the success of Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART). They also pursued it, because mental health workers started to document the intense stress many infertile couples were experiencing.

A recent study by Wasser, Sewall, and Soules in the journal of Fertility and Sterility, suggested that psychosocial distress contributes significantly to the etiology of some forms of infertility. Negro-Vilar in the journal of Environmental Health Perspectives, reported that Environmental factors are often invoked as contributing to many cases of unexplained infertility. These are just two studies out of several that are now suggesting an apparent link between stress and infertility.

Although less scientific, many women who participate in online discussions and support groups, are reporting a connection between their stress and infertility. Many women are stating that they were able to become pregnant after quitting a stressful job, or removing a major stressor from their life. This is also consistent with my own wife, who after two years of not being able to conceive, quit her stressful job, and got pregnant immediately thereafter.

So what does this mean to couples who are experiencing infertility? Should women with successful, high-stress careers quit their jobs? Not necessarily. Stress is only one of many factors that can affect fertility. The best course of action is to first seek out an infertility specialist. An infertility specialist has a battery of tests that can bring clarity to why couples are experiencing infertility. Conception is a very complex process, that requires a lot of unique events to function correctly in order to conceive.

Stress should always be considered when trying to understand infertility, but it's only one of many factors that can contribute to it. However, once a couple has been through most of the tests, and they find themselves categorized as unexplained infertility, they may want to seriously look at the possibility of how stress may be affecting their ability to become pregnant.

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