Infertility rate in Millennials rising: stress perpetuates the cycle

by Emily Newton
Names have been changed for security reasons.

Australia’s fertility rate has fallen to 1.77 births per woman as young couples continue their struggle to conceive, well below the fertility replacement rate.

Last year’s fertility rate was 1.8 which continued Australia’s steady decline in fertility since 1971, aside from a small rise between 2007 and 2010 that coincided with the mining boom.

The Australian birth rate has stayed below the replacement fertility rate since 1968, and this is expected to continue as today 22% of women currently around 30 years of age will never have children.

While an increasing number of couples are choosing to have children later in life, or opt to live child free, many others are trying to fall pregnant for years with no success.

It is estimated that one in six couples are deemed infertile, making it an increasing occurrence. With changes in lifestyle through generations, a rise in stress is a major contributor to infertility.

Researchers from the Public Health School in Louisville (USA) followed the cycle of 400 women aged 40 or less measuring stress levels and collecting urine samples until they fell pregnant.

They found earlier this year that women reporting high levels of stress during the ovulation period have 40% less chance of conceiving during that cycle compared to cycles when they are under less stress.

Western Sydney resident, Katherine Peters, 28, has been trying with her husband to fall pregnant for the past three years.

“You try to fall pregnant and when it doesn’t happen, you freak out about it, and then you get yourself worked up and stressed… not only does that impact your health and the chances of falling pregnant but, at least in our experience, you’re so let down that you don’t even want to try because the disappointment just hurts too much,” she says.

After a year with no success, Mrs Peters went to her doctor for help to conceive. Multiple doctors say that health problems such as weight, anxiety and hormonal imbalances play a huge role on an individual’s chance of fertility.

However, as Mrs Peters does not have private health insurance or the money to invest in IVF treatments, there is little she and her husband can do aside from eating healthy and exercising to increase their chances.

Mrs Peters is also currently undergoing testing for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which would greatly impact her chances to conceive further as there is no cure, and little is understood about the condition.

Up to 10% of women and 30% of obese woman suffer from PCOS, which takes on average 7 to 12 years to diagnose.

While her current doctor is incredibly supportive and honest, Mrs Peters says the comments from family, friends and peers can cause the most amount of stress.

“I know they mean well, but sometimes they can say the most damaging things, like ‘it will happen when it happens,’ especially when you see other friends fall pregnant almost immediately, or talk about their disappointment after one failed cycle…It’s been years of people making comments and I can tell you, unless you’re a doctor or nurse, it’s not helpful,” Mrs Peters says.

“It’s definitely something taboo, we’re not supposed to talk about the struggle, or the hardship, but not being able to talk about it is only hurting us and our chances of falling pregnant more.”

Overall the Public Health School’s study found that women who were exposed to high levels of stress were 45% less likely to fall pregnant than other participants.

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4 Comments

  1. This series is very interesting and also thought provoking.
    We are often oblivious to the struggles and pain experienced by couples in their efforts to begin a family, or unnecessarily and unfairly judgemental of couples who choose not to have children based on our own very narrow experience and this series is a reminder that we can never presume to know the mind or heart of others.

    1. Very well said! I have one more story with Katherine that is more emotionally charged, but wanted to push this article with facts and figures before so people can see that for many people, this is a real struggle and no longer able to be seen to be a rare occurrence.

  2. The stress thing is crap, and only perpetuates the blaming of infertile couples that if they “just relax, it’ll happen”. AMH sharply decreases with age…did the researchers study that? Did they look at FSH or the fact that age not only affects ovarian reserve but also endometrial health? As an infertile woman, I take serious offense when studies try to connect stress to this medical condition.

    1. Thanks for your comment. This is one of a part of interviews and articles looking at different women’s personal experiences with fertility.
      As in this article, stress is just one of many key elements, and as Katherine has expressed herself when people tell her to “relax” among other things it too infuriates her. The act of telling people to “not stress” in many cases only causes more anxiety and as a result completely defeats the purpose.
      I myself am infertile as well, and for me it is a completely different issue – stress plays no part. In many cases, infertility is not necessarily a condition, but the result of a different one. For this couple interviewed however, there is no set diagnoses, instead there exists a combination of elements, of which stress does play a part.

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