"Take it easy!" "Relax!" "Don't stress out!" Women hoping to conceive have been hearing this advice from their mothers, aunts, sisters, and friends since the dawn of time. Now research is finally proving that there's science behind this age-old wisdom.
Stay Calm on the Baby Track
British and American researchers tracked the fertility and stress levels of 274 British women, ages 18 to 40, who were trying to become pregnant. For six menstrual cycles (or until they conceived), the women used fertility monitors to tell when they were ovulating, then used pregnancy test kits to see if they had become pregnant. They also took a sample of their own saliva on the sixth day of every cycle, which researchers tested for cortisol and alpha-amylase, compounds produced by the body under stress.
The outcome: Women with the highest levels of alpha-amylase were 12 percent less likely to conceive compared with women having the lowest levels. Cortisol levels weren't correlated with conception rates. (Women in this study had no known infertility issues.)
Why High Stress Could Hurt Fertility
The researchers say that high levels of alpha-amylase might affect receptors that play a role in blood flow and egg movement along the fallopian tubes -- the hair-thin tubes that carry one or more eggs from your ovaries to your uterus each menstrual cycle. Conception happens in the fallopian tubes when an egg meets sperm. Alpha-amylase may also simply be a sign of high stress that's harming conception chances in other ways that haven't yet been discovered, the scientists add.
What It Could Mean for You
Reducing stress is always a good idea for you and your partner. You will feel happier, more energetic, and more likely to make healthier choices. Lowering stress can also be a relationship booster. Right now, scientists don't know which de-stressing methods are best for conception but hope to test proven stress-busters such as meditation, yoga, and emotional support from friends and family.
Keep in mind that relaxation is a smart move but not a quick fix. Your odds for conceiving in any single cycle are about one in five at best, so don't get frustrated if it takes a few months to become pregnant. If you've been trying to conceive for 6 to 12 months without success, it may be time to talk with your gynecologist about a fertility evaluation.