Study suggests high stress levels may delay women getting pregnant

Healthy women trying for a baby may have reduced chances of becoming pregnant in any month if they are stressed, the results of a study by researchers at Oxford University and the US National Institutes of Health suggest.

The work provides evidence for the first time of an association between high levels of a biological marker for stress and reduced chances of a woman conceiving during the fertile days of her monthly cycle. The study, published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, suggests that some couples wanting to become pregnant may benefit from relaxation techniques.

'This is the first study to find that a biological measure of stress is associated with a woman's chances of becoming pregnant that month,' explains Dr Cecilia Pyper of the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford. 'We looked at a group of healthy women aged between 18 and 40 who were all planning a pregnancy. We found that those women with high levels of a marker for stress were less likely to succeed in conceiving.

'The findings support the idea that couples should aim to stay as relaxed as they can about trying for a baby. In some people's cases, it might be relevant to look at relaxation techniques, counselling and even approaches like yoga and meditation,' Dr Pyper says.

It is well-known that age affects the ability of women to conceive, and there is evidence that smoking, obesity and alcohol consumption can affect the likelihood of becoming pregnant. As a result the advice given to women planning to get pregnant includes stopping smoking, eating a healthy diet, lowering alcohol intake and taking folic acid.

Stress has also been suggested as a factor affecting the chances of couples conceiving, but this has been based largely on anecdotal or indirect evidence. So the research team from Oxford University and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development set out to measure stress levels among healthy women seeking to get pregnant and see whether the levels were related to their chances of conceiving.