Is Depression Keeping You From Getting Pregnant?

A new study sheds light on the surprising link between emotional health and fertility. 

Can Depression Lead to Infertility? LuminaImages/Shutterstock

Many women struggling to get pregnant report feelings of depression along the way. And according to a new study, depressive symptoms can actually make it harder for a woman to conceive, potentially compounding her likelihood of experiencing infertility.

The study was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and found a 38 percent decrease in the probability of a woman conceiving during a given menstrual cycle if she reported experiencing severe depressive symptoms. Meanwhile, the use of antidepressants didn't seem to negatively impact fertility.

"Our findings suggest that moderate to severe depressive symptoms, regardless of current psychotropic medication treatment, may delay conception," explained lead study author Yael Nillni, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Boston University School of Medicine and a researcher with the National Center for PTSD.

Researchers at the Boston University Schools of Public Health and Medicine looked at 2,100 women, ages 21-45, who were trying to conceive and are enrolled in a study called PRESTO (Pregnancy Study Online), which is attempting to understand factors influencing fertility. It was determined that 22 percent of participants had a clinical diagnosis of depression, 17.2 percent were former users of psychotropic medication, and 10.3 percent were current users of such drugs.

Interestingly, the use of benzodiazepines (sedatives that treat anxiety and other disorders) was linked with a decrease in the ability to get pregnant. But women taking SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) for depressive symptoms saw improved chances of conception.

The study stopped short of offering definitive answers for why depression can thwart baby-making efforts. But anecdotally, I can offer my own experience in trying to get pregnant with my third child. After TTC for nearly nine months, I was feeling extremely down, and had myself convinced that baby #3 would never happen.

That's when my husband suggested we throw away all the ovulation kits, and try to have a little fun with baby-making. Fun, and faith, too. We decided to see what happened, and not put so much pressure on ourselves to have a baby. Well, wouldn't you know that as soon as I stopped fixating on when I was going to get pregnant, I did!

I strongly believe my defeatist attitude affected my body in ways I wasn't even aware of. Of course, that is just my experience and my mood may have nothing to do with why I finally conceived, but I'm sure many women can relate. And given this study, it's clear the mind has a lot to do with the body when it comes to fertility.

The takeaway: Do what you can to treat your depression, whether it be caused by TTC, or other reasons. Talk to your doctor about the best plan to help you get happy, and hopefully, pregnant.