Q. Can emotional stress affect fertility?
A. Severe stress can prevent ovulation, and that, of course, makes it impossible to get pregnant. Significant stress can affect the hormones in the brain that direct egg development; the eggs stop growing and there’s no ovulation. The stress doesn’t have to be something horrible; for example, a move to a new house or starting a new job can be stressful. And certainly negative stress—divorce, the death of someone close, family problems—can affect ovulation.
A more difficult question to answer is whether the subtle stresses that most people experience regularly can keep women from getting pregnant. But if you look around, you see tons of women who have stresses in their life who have children. Most routine, daily stress should not affect fertility.
Another aspect of all this is whether stress affects fertility treatment; are women more likely to get pregnant if they’re not stressed-out during fertility treatment? That’s a bit controversial. There was a study in Israel that looked at laughter as a stress reliever during fertility treatment; the women who had “clown therapy” did better. And there’s some indication that acupuncture can improve pregnancy rates during fertility treatment, too. With the acupuncture, one theory is that simply spending time in a quiet room with someone caring for them helped women to relax, which raised the pregnancy rate. There’s a lot of mind-body work being done at various centers, and some have been showing improved pregnancy rates.
The bottom line, when you look at all this, is that it certainly doesn’t hurt for women who are trying to get pregnant to try stress reduction activities—yoga, acupuncture, meditation, support groups—and it may help.