Patient Resources

Weight Loss and Conception

weight lossIf you are one of the 7.3 million couples in the United States battling infertility, there are steps you can take toward your goal of achieving pregnancy.  Your weight may be one important obstacle you can overcome with lifestyle changes that could lead to conception.

First, let’s define infertility; the American Society for Reproductive Medicine states that infertility is a disease of the reproductive system, affecting men and women equally with about 20% of cases unexplained.

Recent studies show that 12% of couples facing fertility issues are a result of their weight.  Obesity brings to mind hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease.  Yet, most people are surprised to learn that there is an association between obesity and infertility.

Fat Cells in women produce a sex hormone called estrone, which negatively affect their ovulation and other reproductive functions.  “Losing 10 – 15% of body weight can trigger a woman’s ovaries to start working properly,” according to Sameh Toma, M.D. and Medical Director of the North Carolina Center for Reproductive Medicine (NCCRM) in Greensboro.  “Looking at a woman’s weight is part of our first consultation at NCCRM because it can have such an impact on our ability to help her get pregnant.  Some women who are overweight also have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) that prohibits them from ovulating and conceiving.  Again, losing weight can correct this.”

On staff at NCCRM is a Registered Dietitian who assists couples in achieving a healthy body weight.  Maria Kennedy, MPH, RD, LDN stresses the importance of appropriate weight when thinking about pregnancy. “Reaching a healthy weight prior to pregnancy helps increase your chances of having a healthy baby and an easy delivery. Being overweight or obese during pregnancy increases your risk of developing complications such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, needing a c-section for a safe delivery or having a miscarriage or stillbirth.  Once you are pregnant, weight loss is not recommended. However, you will likely be asked by your care provider to gain less weight than women who are at a healthy weight at conception.”

There are other considerations to think about as well if you are overweight and want to have a baby.  The risks to both mom and baby can be significant, including birth defects and macrosomia, a condition where a baby grows very large and increases chances of injury during vaginal delivery.  There also is evidence that being overweight when pregnant can increase the chances that your baby will be overweight, obese or develop type 2 diabetes later in life.

Kennedy offers this advice to future parents: “Prior to conception, it is important for women and men to eat healthfully. Following a healthy meal pattern and engaging in regular physical activity to include both cardio and resistance training is the best way to lose and maintain a healthy weight while making sure your body gets the nutrients it needs for both mom and dad.”

So can you be on a diet and still try to conceive?
According to Kennedy, “This would not be the time for drastic “diets” or severe restriction of calories and nutrients. It is the time to follow a healthy meal pattern. The Mediterranean Meal Pattern actually has been shown to help increase conception rates when compared to the typical American way of eating. The Mediterranean meal pattern includes 7+ daily servings of vegetables and fruit, lots of grains, nuts/seeds, beans, fish/shellfish, small amounts of olive oil, cheese, eggs, and chicken. It offers very limited red meat. It does not include typical American processed food, fast foods or soda. It has also been shown that drinking whole milk increases the odds of conception.”

If you are trying to conceive and would like more information about reaching a healthy body weight, call 800-933-7202.

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