Stress May Double Risk of Infertility

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If you want to have a baby but are having a hard time conceiving, don’t stress out—doing so may only make it even harder to grow a bun in the oven, new research says.

According to a study published today in the journal Human Reproductionthe higher a woman's levels of alpha-amylase—an enzyme in saliva that indicates stress—the lower her chances of conceiving. In fact, the most stressed-out ladies had double the risk of having unexplained infertility, defined as having unprotected sex for 12 months and still not becoming pregnant.

Stay calm, though: The scientists emphasize that this study is about giving infertile couples more information and more options to try. "Eliminating stressors before trying to become pregnant might shorten the time couples need to become pregnant in comparison to ignoring stress," says Germaine Buck Louis, the study's principal researcher. 

This is exactly why Ingrid Rodi, M.D., a gynecologist and reproductive endocrinologist at Saint John’s Health Center, makes mental health care as much of a priority as the physical care for her patients. "The number one thing I recommend to all my clients is preconception counseling as soon as they are even thinking of trying to get pregnant," she says.

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Not only can your doctor check to make sure you and your man are ready to conceive physically, ruling out any obvious impediments like a blocked tube or low sperm count, your ob-gyn can also talk about mental issues, particularly stress, and make a plan from the beginning to help deal with them. "People think that getting pregnant is one of those things that should just happen naturally, but sometimes it's not that easy," Rodi says. 

She adds that there are psychologists who specialize in fertility issues and can teach you techniques like guided meditation, breathing exercises, and time management to help reduce stress in addition to providing emotional support for the ups and downs of trying to get pregnant.

Courtney Denning-Johnson Lynch, director of reproductive epidemiology at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and the lead author of the study, adds that women should also consider other techniques like yoga and mindfulness. And if those don’t help, don’t blame yourself—stress is not the only or most important factor involved in a woman's ability to get pregnant. Plus, as we all know too well, feeling guilty only leads to more stress. So take two deep breaths and call your doctor in the morning. 

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