August 11th, 2010
05:36 PM ET

Relax and you might help yourself get pregnant

If you're trying to get pregnant, you may benefit from reducing your stress levels, according to a new study.

Couples trying to have a baby are probably familiar with the notion that too much stress can contribute to problems conceiving.  But there hasn't been any clear scientific evidence to prove this in couples without infertility problems, according to the lead study author Germaine Buck Louis.

This is the first study to show that women with the highest levels of stress had the lowest probability of getting pregnant each day during the fertile window of their monthly cycle says Louis.  She is the director of the Division of Epidemiology, Statistics, and Prevention Research at the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD), which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

274 women hoping to become moms between the ages of 18 and 40 and living in the United Kingdom participated in the study.  They were asked to keep detailed diaries and take a saliva sample on the 6th day of their menstrual cycles. The saliva samples were tested for two substances that the body releases during times of physical or psychological stress: Cortisol and alpha-amylase. Louis says cortisol can be a measure of long periods of stress, while alpha-amylase is a marker for shorter stress response – when the body's fight or flight reflex is activated

Louis says the study results suggest that stress does matter.  Researchers found that 25 percent of the women in the study had the highest levels of alpha-amylase and their chances of getting pregnant was reduced by 12 percent compared to women with the lowest level of this substance.  "The first time people try, they only have a 25-33 percent chance of getting pregnant," Louis explains.  "So to have a 12 percent further reduction can have a very powerful effect."

Unlike previous studies, this new research found that cortisol did not have a negative effect on conception. "We're quite surprised that the effects [of alpha-amylase vs. cortisol] were so different and in opposite directions," say Louis.

She says this study does not explain why high levels of alpha-amylase may reduce the chance of getting pregnant, but it could be because stressful situations may reduce blood flow and delay the transport of fertilized eggs, which can contribute to the failure to conceive.

"I'm very excited by this data because it does support what I've spent my entire career to prove," says Alice Domar, a leading expert in mind/body women health, who is not involved in the research.  "This is a phenomenal first step" says Domar, adding that more research needs to be done to validate these results, a conclusion also reached by Louis, the study's auhor.

Louis and Domar also agree on another point: Couples who want to become parents don't have to wait for more studies to be completed. "Do whatever you can do to reduce your stress," says Louis. "It sure is not going to hurt you to reduce the stress in your life," Domar adds.

Neither Domar nor Louis recommend stress-relievers like smoking or drinking alcohol because they also reduce the chance of getting pregnant.  Domar recommends: "Find a relaxation technique that works for you."  Louis says yoga, meditation and just talking about your problems (blowing off steam) are all effective ways to reduce stress."  Domar cautions that while exercise is a good way to relax, some women are less fertile when they exercise, so walking may be a good way to go.  She says another important way to reduce stress, particularly the kind that can build up if couples have been trying to get pregnant for a while, is to stop the negative thought process. Domar  says couples can relieve some of this pressure by recognizing that if they try to get pregnant for a while and don't succeed, there are ways modern medicine may be able to help.

soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. RandyCrawford

    When I was a kid, my pediatrician and his wife tried and tried to have a baby. Even after extensive consultations with fertility experts over several years, no medical problems could be found in either the pediatrician or his wife, and no cure was obtainable. So, finally they gave up hope of ever having their own biological child, and they opted for adoption. Once they gave up the anxiety of trying for their own biological child– you guessed it! She turned up pregnant about 2 months after the adoption. Just like women need to be well-nourished and have adequate body fat (about 15%) to be able to become pregnant, women also need to be emotionally settled enough for everything to come together. Pregnancy is a big deal, and so evolution and natural selection have made sure that only when nutrition and anxiety are at healthy levels can the effort of a pregnancy be justified in the human body. Put another way, a pregnancy is in many ways nature's diagnosis that the mother qualifies for a clean bill of good health. Exactly how this or that level of body fat and this or that level of contentment may feed back to the maturing of an egg and ovarian follicle and nourishing endometrium is largely unknown, but observed outcomes demonstrate there is a close correlation to insure the next generation is well provided for, and the current generation is not unduly taxed by the demands of reproduction.

    August 11, 2010 at 18:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Melone

      You are wrong. Nature has not "made sure that only when nutrition and anxiety are at healthy levels can the effort of a pregnancy be justified." If that were the case, drug addicts/HIV pos. women/ women living in poverty/alcoholics/the mentally ill/ women being severely abused, etc. would not be getting pregnant left-and-right.

      Furthermore, it's incorrect to state "pregnancy is in many ways nature's diagnosis that the mother qualifies for a clean bill of good health" for the exact reasons stated above. If you or your wife were dealing with infertility, you'd understand infertility with no known cause is not necessarily due to stress or any other reason you can "find." If you were worked in social work, the legal system, etc. you would realize that women who take absolutely atrocious care of themselves (by which I mean major drug addictions, daily heavy drinking and smoking, etc.) are often easily able to get pregnant, unfortunately for their offspring.

      Saying "observed outcomes demonstrate" is silly- it's just hearsay, and using hearsay to hurt women (and men) struggling with infertility is just wrong.

      I wish more people would realize it's wrong to tell women to relax or be patient or that they must have a health issue that's preventing pregnancy. Wait until it happens to you, or your sister, or your daughter.

      To those trying to get pregnant: I know you are doing the best you can. Don't let articles like this, or comments like the one above, make you feel you are not doing all you can. Best of luck and peace to you.

      August 12, 2010 at 08:06 | Report abuse |
    • Melone

      I would like to add to my comment above that I am not saying women who have a health issue (including HIV) should not get pregnant. That is your right, as long as you are taking medication and getting prenatal care. I simply meant nature doesn't discriminate as he is implying. I did not mean to judge those who are ill. However, if you have an addiction, please overcome it before becoming pregnant.

      August 12, 2010 at 08:10 | Report abuse |
  2. Christine

    While I feel this study validates certain information regarding stress and the ability to get pregnant I think it's a fallacy to assume that "just relax" will do it every time. Additionally, I think Mr. Crawford's comments are totally ridiculous. You have no idea how many anecdotal tales are told about women adopting and then turning up pregnant. Sorry charlie for most women who have fertility problems (defined by the ACOG as the inability to attain or maintain a pregnancy for over one year if you are under the age of 35, 6 months if you are over 35) this is not the case. If one more person in my life told me to just "relax" I probaly would have hurt someone.
    As it turns out you cannot control all fertility issues by "just relax." And in a way it annoys me that this study validated that hypothesis because now poor infertile women everywhere will be hearing "but I read on CNN that some study said just relax will get you pregnant" UGH

    August 12, 2010 at 12:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Melissa

    While I agree with these physicians that it certainly NEVER hurts individuals (women or men) to minimize the stress in their lives, perpetuating this "old wives' tale" approach to combating infertility does a disservice to all women- not just those struggling to become pregnant. Women's health needs need to be taken as seriously as men's needs- across the WHOLE illness spectrum. We have been fighting to do this for decades- through participation in research to active listening and fighting physician bias through medical education. I am embarrassed (although not surprised) that these female physician-researchers focus more on their agenda than the big picture and the impact of their statements on women and women's health initiatives.

    August 12, 2010 at 15:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Tanya

    Why do these studies lag so far behind what most know as facts? I found this to be true approximately 8 years ago and it was my ob/gyn who told me that I was stressed. As soon as the stress factors were removed, I got pregnant with my second child. I think we need to be more proactive here. Also think we should be more vigilant about some of the issues around teeting in babies/young children. Most Paediatricians will agree that babies will have runny noses/fevers while teething, but the medical journals/studies say otherwise. Incredible! Will it take a "study" for us to confirm this?

    August 12, 2010 at 17:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Waffles

    I worked in advertising in NYC and started trying to become pregnant at 37. After consulting a myriad of specialists (just short of Zev Rosenwaks), I went to a new one. She recognized how stressful my job was. After one round of injectable fertility shots I became pregnant with my first child. Surprisingly, when my daughter was 3 months old, I found I was pregnant with twins, without assisted technology and intercourse only once during that time. Since I gave up any thoughts (and stress) of ever having any more, it miraculously happened. Once the stress went away, so did the barriers.

    August 12, 2010 at 19:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Miss Z

    If this study were true, how do you explain women getting pregnant in famine-ravaged countries, during wartime, via rape, etc. Women conceive in highly stressful situations all the time!

    August 12, 2010 at 22:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Are you serious?

    This article makes me livid.

    While stress reduction may work for some couples in the "mildy infertile" category, this article should have acknowledged that MANY people have REAL PHYSICAL problems that create infertility. No amount of stress reduction is going to fix a physicall abnormality. There is such a stigma on couples who can't get pregnant and saying "just relax" is one of the most insensitive things a person can say to an infertile. This article is only going to increase ignorance.

    August 13, 2010 at 12:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Annoyed

    If stress were at the heart of all or most fertility issues, that would imply that everyone who ever wanted a baby but had trouble immediately went into full on fight or flight mode from day one of trying. Most couples start with simply not preventing, and it isn't until many months (or even years) later that they start to suspect something is wrong, and THEN it becomes stressful. In our infertility journey of over 2 years, I got pregnant the month I was extremely stressed, and I did not get pregnant on the cycles that we took a "break" from charting. So, clearly, "just relax" is not a cure. There is plenty of evidence to show that the number of people who get pregnant after adopting is the same as the number of people who get pregnant in time anyway (whether they are still doing treatments or not). I don't believe that for people trying for years that their alpha-amalyse is elevated all that time. If you have been trying for a few months and are under stress causing you not to ovulate, yes, relaxing may help, but it is completely insulting that there are people who still try to shove this myth down the throats of infertile women as if we are all hysterical, stressed out, control freaks 100% of the time. Yes, infertility is stressful, but it more sad than anything else, and telling us to "relax" is not doing anyone any favors.

    March 1, 2014 at 23:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Debbie

    I have something important to share, for over 4 years now of my marriage i have been trying to get pregnant, this almost made my husband to divorce me because my mother in-law was planning to get him another girl, i was always crying everyday because my marital life way going down. My mother in-law made my husband believe that i was the cause of us being able to give birth, i was always crying, my heart was broken into pieces. My husband and I have been seeing a fertility specialist. We have done one IUI with no luck. My husband has a sperm count which goes up and down, the doctor has recommended him taking the Preseed supplement which he is doing over 3 years with no change in the situation my husband who has low sperm count? It just seems to me that if the sperm are unable to fertilize the egg it will not matter how many are produced. I am was so confused until i contacted this powerful spiritual coven online who I saw a number of testimonies of how he has help so many of them so I sent fountain waters coven a mail and I told them all my sorrows and pain they replied me and ask me not to cry any more that they will help, the sent me some instructions and caution, fountain waters performed the ritual rights and send me a spiritual medicine, they told me to have sex with my husband within 2weeks of doing this I felt dizzy and I went to the doctor and it was confirm that I was pregnant thanks to fountain waters spiritual waters powers now am a mother of a bouncing baby boy and joy has been restored to my marital life and am very happy, no more stress from my mother in-law. If any one needs such help don’t wait all life time to get help in getting pregnant contact fountain waters now on his personal email : fountainwatercoven@yahoo.com Or whatsapp them on +2349054913842

    June 13, 2016 at 21:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Jolie Robin

    I am here to share this testimony on how me and my husband was able to be become parents. we tried for so many years to get a child of ours but there was no success of child bearing. We went to different hospitals but they keep saying the same thing that i was the problem and my husband was perfectly okay. One day i decided to try traditional and spiritual help, i contacted a woman who i came across on the internet called Iya Basira i ask her for help and she told me that i was the cause of me inability to bear a child. I became more confuse and worried and at this time my husband was making moves for a divorce. I told the woman everything and she decided to help me, she told me she is going to help me by praying for and given me traditional medicine to drink, that i will be blessed with a child. At the end of the day i followed her instructions, because i wanted my husband to see it as a miracle because he was a strong christian. I did all she ask me to do and i got all the results i needed without my husband knowing and today am a mother. Thanks to mother Iya Basira i will forever be grateful. i will drop her contact here anybody needs her help also nativeiyabasira@yahoo.com

    December 17, 2016 at 10:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Diana Ernest

    Hello everyone am Diana Ernest from USA i have been married to my husband for 7years without no issue. on this faithful day, i decided to check the net for updates on healthy living and i came across a story of a man who Iya Hindi helped his wife to conceive a baby. i decided to put a try because this has been my greatest problem in life. today i am a proud mom. words will not be enough to explain what this man did for me. hes medicine for pregnancy really help me conceive i noticed i was pregnant on the 7th day after using the root and herbs . i am a happy mother, the pride of my family, a miracle in my town. i know there is someone in same condition and you feel there is no way. i urge you to contact him via email hindinative@yahoo.com.This is the solution to every single mother around the globe. distance is not a barrier, he will surely make your dreams come trough. you want your lover back or any other miracle in your life, contact him today .hindinative@yahoo.com so the world can be a better place to live. bye!!!

    February 1, 2017 at 10:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. nicole alex

    I was married at 32 and immediately tried to get pregnant. When I was unable to conceive I had blood tests for fertility and was told that I had an FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) of 54 and would not be able to have children. Even though the doctors knew that I had been diagnosed with Hashimoto's thyroiditis since age 25, no one bothered to check my thyroid levels. my TSH was measured at .001. My Synthroid dosage was lowered. a friend advise me to contact a spiritualist who help with fertility with her medicine, i collected her contact an explain my situation to her she prepared for me a herbal medicine which i took as describe I by her. became pregnant very quickly, I had a successful pregnancy. I have my baby august 2014. to get pregnant at age 35 with my 2nd child in september 2016, thank you mama , this is her email contact if you require her help nativeiyabasira@yahoo.com

    February 11, 2017 at 15:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Juliana Rivera

    I would like to share my success story to every woman out there trying to conceive, My husband and I have been trying to have a child since we got married June 2013 and nothing happen so i was online searching for a solution when i come across a comment of a lady talking about Iya Hindi Root and herbs that she use and she got pregnant with it so decided to give a try to Iya Hindi herbal Medicine product for one month and i got a positive result i became pregnant .Our son is now 10 months old and we are so blessed! We thank God everyday for our precious gift.I will definitely recommend Iya hindi native to anyone who is also searching for a solution to Contact him .( hindinative@yahoo.com ) .Please continue with your good work to make more couples happy.

    April 7, 2017 at 03:18 | Report abuse | Reply

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