Scientific Link Between Stress and Difficulty Becoming Pregnant

Sad Couple Pregnancy Test

New research indicates that stress may affect a woman’s probability of achieving a pregnancy within a menstrual cycle.

New research suggests that stress may affect a woman’s fecundability, or her probability of achieving a pregnancy within a menstrual cycle. The study will be published today, September 21, in the journal Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica.

In obstetrics and gynecology, fecundability is the probability of becoming pregnant in a single menstrual cycle, and fecundity is the probability of achieving a live birth within a single cycle.

444 women who were trying to become pregnant took part in the study, which assessed the allostatic load of the participants. Allostatic load refers to the cumulative “wear and tear” of chronic stress and life events. Women with higher allostatic load scores—based on nine indicators such as blood pressure, cortisol, blood sugar, noradrenaline, and cholesterol—were less likely to become pregnant within a year. For example, the women with an allostatic load score of 5-6 would have a 59% reduction of fecundability compared with those with scores of 0.

“What we found provides a new idea for preconception counseling. But obviously, how to objectively assess the stress is a complex scientific question, and how to intervene and reduce the impact of chronic stress is a burning problem, which are all things we need to study further,” said senior author Bei Wang, PhD, of Southeast University in Jiangsu, China.

Reference: “Female fecundability is associated with pre-pregnancy allostatic load: Analysis of a Chinese cohort” by Xiang Hong, Jiechen Yin, Fanqi Zhao, Wei Wang, Xiaoling Ding, Hong Yu and Bei Wang, 21 September 2022, Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica.
DOI: 10.1111/aogs.14443


View Comments

  • Not surprising. In the situation humans evolved in, stressors would have been food scarcity, danger from predators, or other humans, or extremes in weather. Any of these are poor circumstances for rearing offspring that take over a decade to mature.
    It would sometimes be evolutionarily advantageous to wait for better conditions to procreate.


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