It's a well-known fact that stress can hurt an unborn child. However, as it turns out, stress plays a far larger role in a woman's pregnancy than most are inclined to believe, and can significantly impact a woman's chances of becoming pregnant in the first place.
Researchers at the University of Louisville and Emory University found that women who reported feeling more stressed around the time they were ovulating were 40 percent less likely to become pregnant when compared with other, less stressful months. In a similar vein, women who generally reported feeling more stressed than others were about 45 percent less likely to conceive.
In the study detailed in the journal Annals of Epidemiology, researchers had 400 women up to the age of 40 complete daily diaries, where they tracked stress levels measured on a scale from 1 to 4 (low to high) and other lifestyle and behavioral factors (smoking, drinking, etc.) until they managed to get pregnant or the study concluded.
Researchers found that while 139 of the participants became pregnant, those who reported so much as a 1-unit increase in stress level during their ovulatory period experienced a significant drop in their chances of becoming pregnant, regardless of other factors, such as age, body mass index and alcohol use.
"These findings add more evidence to a very limited body of research investigating whether perceived stress can affect fertility," Dr. Kira Taylor, an epidemiologist at the University of Louisville's School of Public Health and Information Sciences, said in a press release.
"The results imply that women who wish to conceive may increase their chances by taking active steps towards stress reduction such as exercising, enrolling in a stress management program or talking to a health professional."
Interestingly enough, the study also found that women who did conceive experienced an increase in stress at the end of the month in which they became pregnant.
In instances like that, Taylor believes the heightened stress levels are attributable to two factors: a woman realizing she's pregnant after taking a home pregnancy test or hormonal changes caused by the pregnancy itself.
To be clear, this isn't the first time that stress levels have been linked to the potential for pregnancy. Back in 2014, a study revealed that high levels of stress can not only cause a woman to be 29 percent less likely to become pregnant, but actually make her twice as likely to meet the clinical definition of fertility.
However, what separates these two studies is that, while this recent study had women self-report their stress levels, the past one measured biomarkers for stress in saliva.
Regardless of the way these studies were conducted, though, the message is clear: a woman's emotional and psychological state does indeed impact her ability to become pregnant.
"Some individuals are skeptical that emotional and psychological attributes may be instrumental in affecting fertility," Taylor said.
"I hope the results of this study serve a wake-up call for both physicians and the general public that psychological health and well-being is just as important as other more commonly accepted risk factors such as smoking, drinking alcohol, or obesity when trying to conceive."