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Nicole the Fertile Chick: Weight & Infertility

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In a bid to lose the weight from her last pregnancy, my best friend started a very popular diet program, along with a number of her colleagues. She fell pregnant with her 2nd child just a few months into this program. Not only did she fall pregnant, so also did 2 of her colleagues on the same diet. If you ask her, she wholeheartedly credits all 3 pregnancies to the weight loss from this program. She has since gone on to recommend this diet program to a few of our friends trying to conceive.

When she came up with this theory, it brought to the fore something I had been thinking about for a long time. No, I am not an advocate of that particular diet program (it’s a bit too hard core for me), but for as long as I can remember, I knew there was some sort of correlation between weight and fertility, but it was mainly with respect to those on the other end of the spectrum, i.e. the underweight. I read many articles about some anorexic woman or the other, all of whom had lost so much weight that their periods had stopped and their fertile systems had pretty much shut down. In my early 20s when I was borderline underweight myself, this was always a concern for me, and was one of the main reasons I made sure I maintained a healthy weight. Fast forward a few years later, and the weight became a little too…ahem…healthy! By the time I was a few months into my marriage, I was a good 10kg heavier than I should have been. Ironic much! As the weight was piling on, I knew it was less to do with food and more to do with my hormones going crazy. And when I found it hard to conceive, I attributed it to the hormonal issues, which I later deduced to be PCOS. And I was kind of right. The PCOS was behind my infertility and weight gain, but you could also say that the weight gain was itself contributing to the PCOS…and the infertility. It was an unfortunate circular reference, and I will shed more light on this later.

As I got to know more about this thing called fertility, I realized how crucial weight management was to it. I realized how much of a difference a few kilos could make. I learnt how important that thing called BMI (Body Mass Index) is. The normal BMI range is between 18.5 and 25. Anything over 25 is considered overweight, and a BMI over 30 is considered obese. One of the studies I came across found that for women with a BMI over 29, the chance of pregnancy is reduced by 4%, and for women with BMI’s between 35 and 40, they have a 23% to 43% less chance of achieving pregnancy compared to the below 29 BMI women. This was enough to catch my attention! Especially as this study had been carried out with women with no established fertility issues, meaning they ordinarily ovulated on their own, had clean and clear tubes, and a spick and span uterus. So, in effect, the weight had converted prime fertility to sub-fertility!

And this is not limited to just women. Studies have shown that underweight and overweight men also suffer a higher incidence of infertility. Men who are overweight or obese have worse sperm quality than men of healthy weight. They are also prone to hormonal changes that impair fertility, make them lose interest in sex and less able to get, or sustain, an erection. Underweight men also face a high risk of poor sperm quality, and subsequently reduced fertility.
For women with PCOS, it is a slightly different story. There is a strong correlation between PCOS and weight gain. So, the same thing behind one’s fertility problems may be the same reason one has trouble losing weight and maintaining a healthy BMI. Like I said, it is an unfortunate circular reference. In this instance, it is important to actually treat the PCOS itself. With the right medication and lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, etc.), one of the first noticeable results is significant weight loss. In about 70% of these cases, ovulation resumes to its normal function, and a good number are able to conceive fairly quickly afterwards.

For women undergoing IVF, a healthy BMI is also important. At the instance of egg retrieval, the extra pelvic fatty tissue pushes the ovaries of an overweight woman farther from the top of the vagina, making it more difficult to visualize, and access, these ovaries and follicles. Apart from that, administering the daily shots might be trickier with more folds of fat to work through, and routine monitoring scans might become even more difficult to navigate, making an already stressful process even more so.

And this is not just theory, but an established fact. Apart from my best friend (and her colleagues), a lot of women I have met in this fertility journey have been able to conceive after losing significant weight. One of these ladies was someone I had already started prepping for IVF. Eating healthy and exercise are some of the things I recommend prior to commencing a cycle, so this lady (who weighed just over 100kg) jumped on both of them with gusto. She anticipated it would take her and her husband about five months to save for IVF, so as they were saving, she was getting herself in shape. By the time of their first IVF consultation, she was down to about 75kg. She and her husband were advised to return when she started her next period. It never came. She was already pregnant with her daughter, and her son followed shortly after, both of them conceived naturally.

The bottom line is that it is important to stay within an acceptable weight range. This is not to say that all overweight women will encounter fertility issues. Far from it. I know a lot of women in the overweight, or even obese, category, who have not had any problems getting pregnant. Likewise, there are a whole lot of women of textbook weight, who are unable to conceive. Whilst there is no hard or fast rule, it is helpful to play it safe and try to be at your healthiest best. If you are overweight and able to conceive, you might be at a greater risk of developing gestational diabetes, hypertension, pre-eclampsia, premature labour, etc.
So, grab an apple, get off your couch, and start moving. You might just be a few kilos away from your BFP!
Baby dust to all!

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Kyle Lee

Nicole is a woman in her late 30s, with a passion for all things fertility related. She suffered infertility for the first 3 years of her marriage, and found it extremely isolating. After she had her kids, she started The Fertile Chick (www.thefertilechickonline.com) to create a community and happy-place for all women, in various stages of the fertility journey.

25 Comments

  1. DocDeola

    May 25, 2015 at 8:20 am

    It is so on point with regards to PCOS and fertility as well as reducing their future chances of becoming diabetic.
    Being fat makes you insulin resistant which results in excess production of insulin. This in effect causes production of immature egg shells or cysts instead of eggs, hence multiple cysts.
    Furthermore having lots of insulin around makes you gain weight, hence the vicious cycle.
    When you exercise, you produce antidotes of insulin, your body requires less insulin as there’s less sugar hanging about.
    When you diet and lose fat, a type of evil hormone when in excess, there’s also less production of insulin, hence increasing chances of egg production on ovulation.
    You also get other positive side effects that the fat doesn’t convert into hairiness inducing hormones or sportiness inducing hormones, problems associated with PCOS or being overweight.

  2. DocDeola

    May 25, 2015 at 8:21 am

    *spottiness as opposed to *sportiness

  3. ssah

    May 25, 2015 at 8:50 am

    lobatan. ok o

  4. Katie

    May 25, 2015 at 9:01 am

    I think what we need to do is to try and make diets and exercise easier to stick to.

    Personally, I follow a Paleo diet and I love it. I lost a lot of weight, it helped my constant tiredness and I go through life with much more positivity.

    I’ve now actually taken an interest in cooking paleo meals, to help others I’ve written about one of my favourite cookbooks: http://cookbook-reviews.net/review-the-paleo-grubs-book/

    • nicolefertilechick

      May 25, 2015 at 10:23 am

      Thanks for sharing, Katie. I also agree that one should love whatever diet or exercise routine they start, as this will make it more sustainable. I will surely check out your link, as I’m still on the lookout for the perfect diet for me 🙂

  5. Toyin

    May 25, 2015 at 9:17 am

    Pls what weight loss program is that … I have PCOS and I have been trying to lose weight but it’s been so difficult

    • nicolefertilechick

      May 25, 2015 at 10:23 am

      Hi Toyin. I feel you about the PCOS. It was the Cambridge diet my friend tried.

    • Iswearbycambridgediettoo

      May 25, 2015 at 12:08 pm

      Funny how I’m not that your friend, but I expereienced same thing. Was overweight, did cambridge and lost a lot it weight from size 16 to size 8 in 3 months, got pregnant 6 months after, been trying for 4 years. For my second, I had 6kg to lose to get back to my pre pregnancy weight, got on Cambridge, got pregnant within a month again.

  6. KWAKWACITY

    May 25, 2015 at 9:34 am

    Hello Nicole, my current weight is 82kg and I’m TTC but I’m trying to lose weight. Is my weight ideal at the moment?

  7. TrulySpeaking

    May 25, 2015 at 10:07 am

    I have always been an advocate of the fact that you cannot be obesed and claim healthy.
    Fat does no one any good whatsoever!!!

    • nicolefertilechick

      May 25, 2015 at 10:25 am

      True talk, TrulySpeaking. Even though a lot of overweight women don’t have fertility issues, it’s always better to play it safe.

  8. deb

    May 25, 2015 at 10:25 am

    Some hard core bleaching creams also causes weight gain&infertility. If you are TTC take it easy on bleaching creams.

    • Manny

      May 25, 2015 at 3:41 pm

      This is true as most contain steroids. I think most people forget that the skin is an organ connected to other internal organs.

  9. dazzle

    May 25, 2015 at 10:48 am

    Weight really does inhibit your chances of conception, using myself as an example i was advised to lose some weight, it wasn’t easy but 50 pounds and 4 dress sizes after, there was a pea in the pod :). That pea is a healthy 9 month old girl

    ps: I didn’t follow any diet plan, i just eliminated all junk food, reduced the portions of my carbs and “walked” my butt off

  10. naijaflo

    May 25, 2015 at 10:49 am

    It will be nice to know the programme and the exact weight that is overweight for ttc. I know fat is not good in ttc and too slim is not good too.
    naijaflo.com

  11. KWAKWACITY

    May 25, 2015 at 11:59 am

    I am 1.78cm

    • Pink

      May 25, 2015 at 1:25 pm

      You can get BMI calculators online. From your weight and height, your lowest weight should be 59Kg and your highest 79Kg.

  12. Chige

    May 25, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    Thanks Nicole for enlightening us as usual.
    I just wanted to enforce what @dazzle said. Most times we may not need any hardcore diet,just simply eliminating junk food……coke or soda as our American people call it and balancing our plenty starchy food with protein,vegetables and fruits may just be the way to go. Also Simple exercises like walking,not everyone needs to be a gym junkie.
    Baby dust to all TTC,May your bundle of joy come sooner than later.

  13. ChicadimplesNG

    May 25, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    Baby dust to y’all…
    E no easy o

  14. kaay

    May 26, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    Nicole, this article couldn’t have been more timely. I had a final trimester loss about two months ago. I have gained a lot of weight from comfort eating. I am probably 10 kg heavier than my pre pregnancy state. Today, I decided to lose that 10kg by starting with the Jillian Michaels 30 days shred and see how it goes from there. Dieting isn’t really my cup of tea. I love to eat so I am sticking to working out and a good meal plan. bye bye meat pie and malt.

    • nicolefertilechick

      May 26, 2015 at 10:48 pm

      I’m so so sorry about your final trimester loss hun. As a comfort eater myself, I can perfectly understand why you resorted to that. But you have absolutely made the right decision. Good luck with the diet. I’ll check it out as well. I am really looking for something that will work for me.

  15. Debbie

    June 8, 2015 at 10:14 am

    It’s amazing to hear this home truths from my fellow women cos its difficult to open up on social media especially on issues like this do you think being obese could cause other gynecology diseases and then how do you lose weight when you are breastfeeding because that’s the easiest way to gain excess weight

  16. Tabea

    December 19, 2015 at 8:59 am

    The best thing to do is find a healthy diet you can stick to combined with a good exercise regime.
    I’m on the paleo diet myself and I love it. I lost a lot of weight and I feel much better with much more energy!
    The beauty about the paleo diet is that whilst there is a focus on good foods, there are so many resources to help you make these into delicious recipes. This is one of my favourite cookbooks: paleocookbookreviews.com/the-paleo-grubs-book

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