Many couples feeling stressed about not being able to conceive naturally make radical lifestyle changes, including changing jobs or taking a holiday, in the hope that it will improve their chances of having a baby.
But the quest for a more relaxed lifestyle may not actually deliver the conception and baby they so desperately desire.
An Australian study reported at a major Hong Kong conference on human reproduction has indicated that everyday stress driven by factors including work pressure, relationship issues, family or financial considerations, does not reduce the likelihood of natural conception.
Speaking at the 9th Congress of the Asia Pacific Initiative on Reproduction, Professor William Ledger, one of Australia’s leading fertility specialists, said the outcomes of the study analysing data from the United Kingdom showed that couples should focus more on having sex at the optimal time of a menstrual cycle to conceive.
“Keep trying for six or twelve months and, if nothing happens, then it is time to seek help from your general practitioner or a fertility specialist,” he said.
Professor Ledger, Head of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of New South Wales, said everyday stress should not be confused with extreme stress that in men could cause erectile dysfunction and in women failure to ovulate.
“The study looked at the everyday factors that people generally confront in their lives,” he explained.
“A total of 210 women were recruited via the Internet to participate in this study and 115 of them were provided with a free home ovulation test kit to determine the time in their menstrual cycle when conception is most likely.
“Home ovulation test kits detect rises in luteinizing hormone (LH) levels that signal the ovary to release an egg.
“The remaining 95 women in the study did not use the ovulation test kit, but received evidence-based guidance on achieving conception.
“Comparisons were made to ensure a balance of factors between the two groups including age, weight, exercise levels, alcohol intake, number of past live births and months trying to conceive.
“Stress levels were measured at specific times over two menstrual cycles by testing urine levels of cortisol, a hormone that regulates a wide range of processes in the body, and through detailed questionnaires about general well-being.
“Seventy seven of the women conceived in the study period, including 49 from the group using the ovulation test kit, and 28 from those not using the kit.
“The study measured stress levels at the start and several times during the study using both questionnaires and measurements of stress hormones. Significantly, there was no significant difference in the measured stress levels in the women who became pregnant and does who did not.
“This was a small study, but there is a clear suggestion that everyday stress does not impact on the chances of natural conception.”
Professor Ledger said the take home message for couples trying to conceive naturally was to maintain healthy lifestyles and enjoy sex at the optimal time each month, but not make radical changes in response to daily pressures related to work, family, relationships or finances.
“However, older couples ¬– those in their 30s and 40s when fertility is in decline – should consider options such as IVF sooner rather that later if they are having trouble trying to achieve a pregnancy,” he added.
The ASPIRE 2019 Congress at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre has attracted around 1,700 fertility specialists from 50 countries to explore latest developments in human reproduction.
Professor William Ledger is available for interview.
To arrange, please contact Trevor Gill, ASPIRE 2019 Congress Media Relations, on 0418 821948 (Australian number) or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org