Infertility can have many causes, many of which are beyond our control. But there are some lifestyle changes you can make to increase your chances of getting pregnant. One of most important changes is losing weight, particularly for couples who are considered obese.
Obesity is most often measured by BMI (body mass index). To find your BMI, take your weight divided by height in inches squared, multiplied by 703. You are considered overweight with a BMI between 25.0 and 29.9, and obese with a BMI over 30. Morbidly obese is categorized as 40 BMI or above.
Everybody knows that obesity increases the risk for diabetes, chronic hypertension, heart attack, stroke, shortened life expectancy and many types of cancer, but you might not know how in can negatively affect fertility.
The link between obesity and infertility
Women who are obese may experience irregular or no periods, as well as or irregular or no ovulation, which is often caused by excess abdominal fat distribution. Both of these issues make it more difficult to get pregnant.
Obese women who undergo fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization may not respond as well to medication as women who are average weight. They are also at increased risk for miscarriage and pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension, preeclampsia, preterm delivery and stillbirth. Obese women are more likely to require delivery by C-section.
A woman’s obesity also puts her unborn child at increased risk for birth defects, such as heart, brain or spinal cord defects. Plus, babies born to obese mothers are at increased risk for becoming obese themselves.
Male partners who are obese can negatively impact a couple’s chances of getting pregnant as well. Men who are severely overweight are more likely to have low sperm count or motility, reduced semen quality, decreased testosterone production and impaired erectile function.
Increasing your chances of conception
To maximize the chances of a successful pregnancy, women should have a BMI of less than 35 prior to conception. You may continue to lose weight after you get pregnant, as long your doctor confirms that the baby is growing appropriately.
Weight loss strategies can be grouped into two main categories: non-surgical options, which include behavioral changes (diet and exercise) and medications; and surgical options, such as lap banding or the gastric pouch, which decrease the size of your stomach and make you feel full, faster.
Experts recommend you set a goal to lose 10% of your current body weight over 6 months. This approach takes time but is more sustainable long term than popular (and frustrating) crash diets. For example, if your starting weight is 200 lbs., set a goal to lose 20 lbs. over 6 months. That’s just 3 lbs. per month.
The basics of weight loss are to decrease the calories you eat and increase your exercise. Eat more often but less at each meal. So, try three small meals and three snacks throughout the day. Decreasing your daily calorie intake by 500-1,000 calories should lead to about 1-2 lbs. lost each week.
Try to cook from scratch. Premade frozen and reheated meals contain a lot of hidden carbs and fats. Eat lots of fresh fruit and fresh veggies. Minimize your sugar and alcohol intake, eliminate sodas and eat whole grain instead of white bread. Try calorie counting app or join a weight loss group for support.
As for exercise, start small and work your way up to the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week. Even two, 10-minute walks can make a difference! Find a type of exercise you like — running may not be your thing, and that’s OK. Try cycling, Zumba, swimming, yoga or weightlifting at a local gym. There are a million excuses not to exercise today, but you just have to get up and do it!
Other ways to lose weight
Depending on your age and overall health, you may want to consider medical weight loss treatments such as Orlistat or Phentermine. Many hospitals offer weight loss management programs under physician supervision. But please note you shouldn’t be taking these medications when trying to become pregnant or during pregnancy.
You may also be a candidate for surgical weight loss options, which can provide rapid weight loss initially. Don’t try to get pregnant for 12-24 months after the initial weight loss to ensure your body has adjusted to the new weight and is not depleted of iron, folate, Vitamin B12 and other nutrients that often are not absorbed well after the procedure.
Weight loss is one of the hardest, but one of the most rewarding challenges you will ever take on. It is important for your health at any stage of life. But when you’re trying to start a family, it’s even more essential for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.
If you’re overweight and struggling to get pregnant, call us for a consultation at 502-897-2144.