Can Stress Affect Fertility? Study of 5,000 Women Says Probably.
A new study of nearly 5,000 women has linked high stress levels among women to greater difficulty conceiving. Which means all the obnoxious people saying, “Just relax and it will happen,” have a point — even as they’re missing the bigger picture.
First, let’s talk about the study: Researchers at Boston University, US, have found women actively trying to conceive, who scored more highly on a perceived stress test, were 13% less likely to become pregnant than women with low scores. The relationship between stress and reduced fertility was strongest among women under 35. The women involved in the study, as well as their partners, had no history of infertility and were in the earliest stages of attempting to become pregnant.
“Although this study does not definitely prove that stress causes infertility, it does provide evidence supporting the integration of mental health care in preconception guidance and care,” says Amelia Wesselink, the study’s lead author and a doctoral student at the Boston University School of Public Health.
Fertility problems can be due to many things entirely unrelated to women’s stress levels; in fact, in roughly 30 to 40% of cases, difficulty conceiving is due to some factor on the man’s side. In the remaining cases, difficulty conceiving could be due to anything from a woman’s age, to lifestyle habits, to reproductive conditions, to genetic factors.
Or, of course, to stress, if not in whole, then perhaps at least in part, as a compounding factor. But the solution is not to tell women to “just relax” — the solution is to examine why women might be stressed. That’s especially true for India, as a 2011 global survey found Indian women to be the most stressed women in the world, especially those between the ages of 25 and 55. Caught between traditional expectations to have children and be the ideal homemaker and mother, and modern aspirations for a career and equal partnership, women’s stress builds within and outside of the home. “More than half (55%) of the Indian women interviewed have encountered workplace bias severe enough to make them consider scaling back their career goals, reducing their ambition and engagement, or quitting altogether, feeding into the very biases they grapple with …” wrote experts in the Harvard Business Review at the time of the survey.
It’s tempting to pin India’s rising infertility rates on the stress many experience simply from being a woman in India. It would be a mistake — there’s a lot about male infertility science doesn’t know yet, as well as a whole host of other factors when it comes to women’s fertility, that play into the trend. Yet, the two don’t feel unrelated. Until a more definitive link is proven or disproven, the only thing to take away from this research is that perhaps the best thing India can do for its citizens who are trying to start families, is spread the pressure and expectations a little more evenly.