How Stress Can Hurt Your Chances of Having a Baby

Urit Chaimovitz was sitting in a Boston infertility clinic when a poster for a mindfulness-based program to help women conceive caught her eye.

At the time, Chaimovitz had been trying to have a baby for 2 years without success. She had managed to get pregnant four times before, both naturally and with IVF. But each time, she lost the baby around the second trimester.

“It’s so stressful when you don’t know why you’re having trouble,” says Chaimovitz, now 42. “I wanted a baby so badly I would have hung upside down or drunk gallons of green juice if I thought it helped.”

So Chaimovitz eagerly signed up for the mindfulness program led by Alice Domar, PhD, executive director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health. The 10-week sessions included yoga, meditation, and learning behavioral techniques like overcoming negative thoughts. Several months after finishing the program, Chaimovitz got pregnant again. Her daughter, Romi, was born in 2018.

“When you’re trying to get pregnant and someone tells you to just relax, you get annoyed,” Chaimovitz says. “But in my case, I really do think it helped. I stopped feeling like my body was the enemy.”

It’s not easy to tease out all the reasons why some couples seem to conceive easily and quickly while others have much more trouble. But research suggests that stress may be one factor that can affect the conception math.

The Science Behind Stress and Fertility

Several recent studies have found links between the women’s levels of day-to-day stress and lowered chances of pregnancy. For example, women whose saliva had high levels of alpha-amylase, an enzyme that marks stress, took 29% longer to get pregnant compared to those who had less.

“Your body is smart, it knows that (periods of stress) aren’t good times to have a baby,” says Domar, a longtime infertility researcher who also is director of mind/body services at Boston IVF.

At the same time, stressed women probably also have sex less often, Domar says. And they may be more likely to smoke or drink too much alcohol or caffeine — behaviors that can hardly improve their odds.

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