Overweight or Underweight: Is Your Body Weight Affecting Your Fertility?An unhealthy body weight may prevent you from having a baby. 12% of all infertility cases are a result of women either weighing too little or too much. The main reason why body weight can impact fertility is because of estrogen, a sex hormone that is produced in fat cells. If a woman is overweight and has too much body fat, the body produces increased levels of estrogen, which acts like birth control! Don’t get too excited skinny mini, a woman with too little body fat can’t produce enough estrogen, which shuts down your reproductive cycle. First thing first, who’s to say you’re under or over weight? We want to celebrate all bodies in all of the beautiful shapes and sizes they come in. We also want to give you the best chance of getting pregnant and becoming the amazing mother you’re destine to be. The best way to know if your fertility is being compromised due to your weight is by using the most common measures used by doctors and health researchers today, the Body Mass Index or BMI. BMI is just a simple calculation of your weight in kilograms dived by your height in meters squared. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has a helpful BMI calculator that will do the calculation for you. A ‘healthy’ or normal BMI is between 18.5-24.9. A BMI of 18.5 or under is considered underweight, a BMI of 25-29.9 is considered overweight, and a BMI of 30 or greater is considered obese. Now that we have that covered, let’s talk about exactly how weight affects fertility. We can’t stress enough how important it is to maintain a healthy body weight. It’s long been documented that being overweight can cause serious health problems like hypertension, cholesterol, and diabetes, but it can also have an impact on your fertility, especially if you are significantly over weight. If you are overweight and trying or planning on getting pregnant over the next few years, it might be time to make some lifestyle changes. Dropping even a few pounds can make a huge difference in successful pregnancy. Obesity has been shown to cause infertility by creating hormonal imbalances and problems with ovulation. This is especially true for women who are obese and trying for their first child. One condition associated with obesity and infertility is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, more commonly referred to as PCOS. PCOS can be quite complex to diagnose because there are a wide variety of potential symptoms and no two women have exactly the same ones. With PCOS, ovulation may be prevented or stopped completely, making it difficult for a woman to conceive. Many woman with PCOS go on to conceive naturally, but for those that are overweight with PCOS it’s important to remember that even a 5% drop in weight can improve fertility. But, it’s not just about losing weight in order to conceive; obese mothers have higher risks of complications during pregnancy. Risks include hypertension, pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, infections, blood clots, and possibly the need for early labor induction. In addition, babies born to overweight or obese mothers are more likely to become overweight or obese themselves later in life, which can lead to them having more health problems in the future. Now you may be thinking, ‘what about women who are underweight?” They too can have problems conceiving. Being underweight can also cause hormonal imbalances that affect ovulation and therefore may make it more difficult for a woman to get pregnant. These hormonal changes can shorten a woman’s luteal phase during her menstrual cycle, making time between periods shorter, which may mean she is not ovulating at all. This affect is also very common in athletes who do strenuous exercise on a daily basis. Because of the high muscle to low fat ratio, a BMI calculation may not be the most accurate measure. If you find that you’re an athlete who is missing periods and you’re trying to get pregnant, most doctors will recommend you to scale back on exercising so your body can get back to its regular cycle and boost fertility. Once you have calculated your BMI and determined your healthy weight, there are many things that can be done to help improve your fertility. The goal is to be in the sweet spot of a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9, here is where your body is at its baby-making prime. If you’re normal weight, then keep doing what you’re doing. Keep up the workouts you’ve been doing and keep on eating healthfully. If you’re underweight, up your calories per day by adding in an extra meal or a couple of healthy snacks like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean proteins. This will help get you up to a healthy BMI over time. If you’re overweight or obese, cut back on calories from food and slowly up your exercise to help you reach your ideal BMI. Aim for about 60 minutes of moderate exercise three times a week, walking on a treadmill for example, is a great place to start. Remember to make a gradual change and not crash diet to lose weight, this could also be detrimental to fertility. Eating a healthy diet and exercising are important and should be encouraged for women trying to conceive. You want to be in the optimal baby making sweet spot of 18.5-24.9 BMI. You can get there by taking control of your diet and taking control of your activity level. If you’re concerned about when and how to start, consult your physician who can help point you toward resources like a nutritionist or gym class. As always, we hope this article has given you some helpful information. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or to learn more.
We will do our best to keep you updated on any advancements in the world of reproductive health and together we can help women take charge of their fertility.