Stress During Early Pregnancy May Impact Male Fertility


A recent study conducted by the University of Western Australia suggests that men are more likely to struggle with male fertility if their mothers were subject to stressful life during pregnancy.

In this study, which compiled data on reproductive hormones and sperm quality and quantity for 643 men at age 20, it appeared that the test subjects whose mothers experienced one or more stressful life experiences early in pregnancy had lower testosterone, lower sperm count, and poor sperm motility (sperm that was less able to move through the female reproductive track to fertilize an egg).

Stress and Male FertilityFor the sake of this study, “stressful life events” were defined as separation or divorce, other marital problems, death of a loved one or friend, job or income loss, a residential move, or pregnancy complications.

Overall, 407 men, or 63% of the men who participated in the study, had mothers who lived through at least one stressful life event early in pregnancy. Mothers of 87 men had endured at least three stressful life experiences early in pregnancy.

In addition, mothers who reported no stressful life experiences early in pregnancy were more likely to be affluent and of a healthy weight prior to pregnancy, the authors point out.

As part of the study, researchers also asked pregnant women about any stressful life experiences they had gone through in the previous four weeks at two specific points in their pregnancy: 18 and 34 weeks gestation. As a result, it was determined that stressful life events later in pregnancy did not appear to affect male fertility.

So why is a stress-free early pregnancy so important to a man’s ability to produce an offspring? The biological connection isn’t totally clear, notes an article in Reuters, but weeks 8 to 14 of pregnancy are a very critical period for male reproductive development, the study team explains. One theory is that it is possible that stress exposure during this time might interrupt the normal development process of the male fetus.

But it really is just a theory, say experts. It’s hard to determine how different people react to stressors in their lives, so what greatly affects one person may have little impact on another. In addition, the study team did not request that the women express their feelings about these so-called stressful life experiences so their reactions to their struggles weren’t readily available.

What is clear, however, is that the study shows how important it is to manage stress during pregnancy and the fact that stress is indeed connected to physiological, metabolic and hormonal changes in the body.

“For a couple planning a family … the best time to try to attempt to conceive is when both the female and the male partner are as healthy as possible, both with respect to their physical and mental health,” pointed out Dr. Roger Hart, the senior author of the study and fertility researcher at the University of Western Australia.

“The health of the couple at the time of conception, and for the woman her health during pregnancy, has a significant impact on the health of the offspring after birth, through childhood and into adulthood.”

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