Stress levels affect conception

High stress levels
can damage a woman’s chances of getting pregnant, researchers warn.

Those who are anxious
are 12 per cent less likely to conceive during their fertile time than those
who stay calm.

It is the first proof
that stress makes it less likely a woman will fall pregnant, despite
long-standing anecdotal evidence that being relaxed can improve the chances.

Although the fall in
success rates appears small, experts claim it can make a big difference to
older women trying to have a baby when their fertility is naturally declining
because of age.

In a study at Oxford
University and the U.S. National Institutes of Health, blood levels of a marker
for a stress hormone called alphaamylase were consistently higher in women who
had trouble conceiving.

Dr Cecilia Pyper,
from the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University, said: ‘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.

‘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.

‘Many couples are
very keen to know what they should do to improve their chances of conceiving
and having a healthy baby, and this will help us provide the best advice.’

The researchers, who
published their findings in the journal Fertility and Sterility, carried out
saliva tests on 274 women aged 18 and 40 who were all planning pregnancy but
not tried for more than three months.

They analysed levels
of the stress hormone cortisol and the enzyme alpha-amylase, which is a marker
for adrenalin  –  the ‘fight or flight’ hormone. Researchers
carried out the tests on day six of each woman’s menstrual cycle for a total of
six cycles or until the woman fell pregnant.

They used fertility
monitors to identify ovulation and confirmed the pregnancies with testing kits.

The study found no
effect from cortisol on the chances of falling pregnant.

But women in the
group with the highest levels of alpha-amylase had a 12 per cent lower chance
of becoming pregnant for each day of their most fertile days than those with
the lowest levels of alpha-amylase.

The researchers said:
‘Irrespective of the day or frequency of sexual intercourse during the fertile
window, women with higher concentrations of alphaamylse were less likely to
conceive than women with lower concentrations.

‘Stress significantly
reduced the probability of conception each day during the fertile window.’

Dr Pyper said it was
unclear how the stress hormone affected fertility, although it might reduce
blood flow in the fallopian tubes which could affect transportation of the egg
or sperm.

She said previous
research appears to have focused on the stress hormone cortisol, rather than
alpha-amylase, which may explain why it has been difficult to prove a link with
fertility chances until now.

‘The difference in
your chances of getting pregnant could be important to older women in their
late 30s trying for a first baby, or even a second or third child, at a time
when their fertility is declining because of their age and it all takes
longer,’ she added.

Dr Pyper said women
were highly likely to benefit from relaxation techniques, particularly as such
therapies had been shown to improve IVF pregnancy rates.

Leading fertility
specialist Dr Allan Pacey described the findings as ‘intriguing’.

‘It’s important for
women to relax when they are trying to have a baby, but it’s easier said than
done,’ he said. ‘My advice to couples is to throw away the fertility charts and
don’t make trying for a baby a chore 
  it will stress you both out.’

It is the first proof
that stress makes it less likely a woman will fall pregnant, despite
long-standing anecdotal evidence that being relaxed can improve the chances.

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