Northwestern Medicine

Emotional Stress and Reproduction: What Do Fertility Patients Believe?

Northwestern Memorial Hospital Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital March 29, 2021

Study finds majority of women seeking fertility care believe emotional stress impacts success of fertility treatment

The majority of women seeking fertility care believe emotional stress could reduce the success of fertility treatment, despite there being no established link between emotional stress and infertility.

The study, published in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics, also found that beliefs about emotional stress and reproduction differ significantly based on race and ethnicity, income and education.

Tarun Jain, MD, reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at Northwestern Medicine, led the study to help put some numbers to the narratives commonly heard in his office.

“I frequently get questions about stress from women who are going through fertility treatment or who have had a miscarriage,” Dr. Jain said. “They’re really worried about how stress may play a role and I can see that they’re struggling.”

Of the 1,460 women who participated in the survey:
• 28.9% believed emotional stress could cause infertility
• 69% believed emotional stress could reduce success with fertility treatment
• 31.3% believed emotional stress could cause a miscarriage

The study also highlights the need to break misconceptions from a sociocultural aspect. Black women were significantly more likely to believe that emotional stress can cause infertility, while Latinx women were more than twice as likely as White women to believe stress can reduce fertility treatment success.

“We have to be more mindful about the disparities in various ethnic groups and realize it might take more effort and more work among certain ethnic groups to break these misconceptions that are out there,” Dr. Jain said.

Although no research to date has shown a connection between stress and infertility, stress remains a concern for many women struggling to conceive.

“There’s a lot of guilt and blame associated with this,” said Dr. Jain. “If a woman believes stress is the problem, then she will feel it’s her fault and struggles to cope with it.”

To compound things even more, women dealing with fertility issues are often told from friends and family to, “just relax and you’ll get pregnant.” While people may have good intentions with such statements, Dr. Jain says it often makes things worse.

“It’s a really painful thing for the person receiving that message, because it again sends the indirect message that she can’t get pregnant because she’s so stressed out,” he said.

By drawing attention to these concerns, the authors of the study hope other physicians will make it a priority to alleviate women’s fears about stress and infertility and encourage them to find healthy ways to manage the stress of what is already a difficult situation.

For more information about Northwestern Medicine’s offerings in Fertility and Reproductive Medicine, visit https://www.nm.org/conditions-and-care-areas/womens-health/fertility-and-reproductive-medicine.

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Central DuPage Hospital, Delnor Hospital, Kishwaukee Hospital, Valley West Hospital and Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital Desiree.Battaglia@nm.org 630.933.7328