Your Weight Could Be a Fertility Issue

Have you considered your weight as one of the possible obstacles to your dreams of having a baby? This isn’t about being fat or skinny; no judgment about your appearance is being made. Your weight can play a significant part in the ability of your body to ovulate, produce quality eggs and maintain a healthy pregnancy, especially if you are extremely underweight or overweight.

You may already have some idea about your weight’s impact on your reproductive system if you have had irregular menstrual periods, the onset of a thyroid condition or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or vitamin deficiencies.  What you may not know is that very overweight or underweight women have a much lower chance of conceiving, even with fertility treatment. As a result, many fertility specialists won’t take on a patient who wouldn’t benefit as much from their help and/or whose unsuccessful treatment would affect their success ratings.

Many clinics will use your weight, or Body Mass Index (BMI), as criteria for accepting you as a patient.  There is no hard and fast rule on this because one athletic woman with developed musculature can weigh more and carry less fat than another woman of similar age and height.  BMI of 19 – 24 is considered normal and 25 – 29 overweight. If either your weight or BMI falls under 19 or above 29, you may encounter a delay in being accepted for treatment, with instructions to lose or gain weight before coming back.  Whether you are still trying to become pregnant naturally, or if fertility treatment is your next step and your weight is a possible issue, here are some steps that you can follow to move forward with your family plan.

Your Attempts to Conceive Keep notes, not only of your weight, but also how often you have a period and how often and when you have sexual intercourse without the use of contraceptive devices. There are books available that provide a structure for tracking essential information for fertility, but any journal or notebook will do.

Identify Your Obstacles See your doctor to identify whether your current weight is a possible obstacle to conception. You must be forthcoming about your pattern of weight gain and loss, your eating habits and any extreme dieting or exercising you have done, even if you find these topics embarrassing.  You may be tested for high or low blood pressure, thyroid function, diabetes, vitamin and mineral deficiencies and the level of oestrogen you are producing.

Eating Disorders Serious eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and extreme compulsive overeating require medical supervision, structured programs and counselling over a lengthy period to ensure and support recovery. Anorexia and obesity can both affect ovarian function adversely and bulimia is linked to PCOS, so pregnancy is unlikely, though not impossible. If you do conceive while battling an eating disorder, it could impact negatively upon the baby’s ability to thrive as well as your own health. Think about everything you eat and drink passing to the baby in your womb, though in a slightly different form. Not only nutrients are taken in by the baby, but also the high calorie/ high sugar and high fat content of your less nutritious food.

Recovery from an eating disorder can be a long and difficult process; it’s not only about what you eat, but also why you eat it that needs to be determined.  The destructive cycle of thought and behaviour has to be broken and relearned in a positive way.  The baby will be dependant upon you and require a fully present parent.

Eating disorders actually require an enormous amount of mental energy, planning the next binge, the next purge (self-induced vomiting) or how to avoid eating without anyone else noticing.  These disorders are nearly always accompanied by some degree of self-hatred. Dissatisfaction with the sufferer’s appearance, social relationships and/or self-belief fuels the fire and that brings on more irrational and dangerous behaviour.

If you think, or know, that you have an undiagnosed eating disorder, don’t waste a minute before you consult a doctor.  I am not minimizing the difficulty in admitting it to oneself; it will take courage and commitment.

Your GP can probably refer you to a specialist medical unit where counselling  and other practical assistance is offered.  There are also many groups where you can meet with people who have experienced similar disorders and receive confidential support.

Lifestyle Changes for Self-CareYour health is vital before, during and after you conceive, carry and deliver your baby.  You can’t breathe a sigh of relief upon conceiving and then let yourself go to pot.  Bad habits don’t disappear overnight, so get working on them immediately.

If your current weight is due to poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking or over-consumption of alcohol, a nutritionist and an experienced personal trainer can advise on necessary changes in your lifestyle.  This is no time for a crash diet or the use of over-the-counter weight-loss or weight-gain drugs or powdered drink mixes. Don’t put all of yourself into a weight-loss or weight-gain scheme just to win the approval of your RE, only to let it all go back the way it had been afterward.  Careless indulgence in bad habits means that you aren’t prioritizing self-care.

How fit you are will also determine how you carry a pregnancy.  Over the nine months, you may be carrying anywhere between 18 and 45 extra pounds, putting extra pressure on your skin, muscles, veins, spine, breasts and joints.  Stretch marks only mar the surface of your body, but varicose veins can result from carrying too much weight and excess blood flow during pregnancy and knee trouble is quite common in obese women.  That’s just during pregnancy.

Then comes the aftermath: life with baby.  Think about how often mothers  have to bend over, crouch down on the floor, get in and out of the car or bus, lift car seats and play cots and balance a baby on one hip.   If you were quite overweight before conceiving, and continue your poor habits, you could easily find yourself 75 to 100 pounds above your optimal weight before you give birth.

Trading One Habit for Another Keep in mind that what you ingest (not just food) during pregnancy and breastfeeding, your baby will too. Do not consider turning to cigarettes, alcohol or caffeinated, artificially sweetened soft drinks to help you avoid eating.  Nicotine and damaged lung tissue stay in your system for a very long time.  Smoking itself can cause low birth weight and nicotine addiction in newborns.  Alcohol could result in your baby being born with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, which could cause low birth weight, developmental problems or epilepsy among other symptoms that could affect him for life. The soft drinks will just fill you up, make you gassy and add no nutrition relative to the volume you consume.  Since you need extra nutrients for optimal health at conception, don’t waste space on junk drinks.

Your Motivation Finding the motivation to change your behaviour should be simple because you already have a goal in mind. You want to become pregnant and give birth to a healthy baby. Use that goal as motivation to change your attitudes and behaviour.  Think of yourself as a healthy vessel for conceiving, carrying and then caring for your child. When you are on the verge of bingeing, skipping a meal or eating junk food, consider how that would impact upon your weight and health and ultimately upon your attempts to conceive.

Your Plan Bad habits take a long time to embed, so they are not going to change over night. If you and your doctor believe that you can make positive weight changes yourself, formulate your own structured plan. Write down your:

  • specific weight,
  • a realistic time frame,
  • a list of quality foods in moderate quantities and
  • the exercise you will do to boost your health and strength
  • other healthy strategies to achieving your goal weight.

Keep track of your efforts and your achievements as you move toward your goal. While there may be other obstacles to conceiving a healthy pregnancy, if you persevere, you will have eliminated weight as one of them.

Lisa Marsh is a qualified life coach in
London, UK, specializing in Fertility and Miscarriage Support. She is dedicated to educating and supporting men and women concerned with reproductive health, infertility, fertility treatment and all forms of family building.

To find out more about Lisa and her work as a fertility coach, visit her blog at  She can be contacted at lisa@yourgreatlife.co.uk  for coaching, article writing or speaking engagements.

2 thoughts on “Your Weight Could Be a Fertility Issue”

  1. i found your article useful & would urge anyone with a weight problem who is having difficulty conceiving to read it
    I have recently been diagnosed by my doctor with polycystic ovarian syndrome. After years of struggling with my weight it was helpful to find out the reasons and things that i can do to help. I am trying to get pregnant & my doctor is going to refer me to hospital. She has advised me to try to lose some weight before I go to the hospital appt which can be hard at this time of year.
    I joined a local slimming club a couple of weeks ago & so far have lost 4lbs-its a start. I am aiming to try & lose a 1lb a week

  2. Hi Maria,

    I’m glad that my article about how weight can work against fertility was useful to you. Weight loss involves breaking some eating habits that have imprinted over time and “learning” new ones. In your case, PCOS can make maintaining a healthy weight even more difficult. Well done for that initial 4 lb loss! The one thing I would like to add is that when your weight loss is motivated by your desire to conceive a baby, it is absolutely vital that the plan is a healthy one. It’s great that you have your doctor’s support.

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