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Being Overweight Affects Chances of Conceiving

Katlyn Joy |29, June 2011


When trying to build a family, women often try to make all the important lifestyle changes. Cut out smoking, stop the cocktails and switch to decaf. However, one of the most important things a woman can do if she's trying to get pregnant is know her BMI or body mass index. If a woman's BMI is between 25 and 29.9 she is considered overweight. A BMI of 30 or more is considered obese.

According to the March of Dimes, about 1 in 4 women of childbearing age are obese. And about half of women ages 20 to 44 are overweight. This extra weight can impact a woman's chances of becoming pregnant, her present and future health, her pregnancy, and her future child's health, as well.

How Extra Pounds Can Affect Fertility

Ovulation. Fat cells produce estrogen. An overweight woman may have increased estrogen production which will create imbalances in hormone levels that lead to ovulation problems. Overweight women may not ovulate, or ovulate regularly which makes it difficult to conceive.

Physical issues. Size can lead to difficulty in sperm getting to the cervix, if fat tissue gets in the way or the cervix is set too deep.

Polycystic Ovaries or PCOS. This endocrine disorder can cause irregular periods or make periods non-existent, and may lead to ovarian cysts. It is one of the more common fertility issues among overweight women.

Luteal Phase Defect. Having too much estrogen or having PCOS can become further complicated by giving rise to LPD. The luteal phase is the time between ovulation and getting your period, and when this phase is impacted, fertility problems can occur.

Those who carry their excess weight around their waist, rather than being pear-shaped, tend to have more conception issues.

Risks for Overweight Pregnancies and Babies

Gestational Diabetes. Overweight women are at much higher risk of developing this condition where the body cannot handle glucose levels properly.

Gestational Hypertension. This condition is where pregnant women experience a sudden peak in blood pressure, typically in the middle of the pregnancy.

Pre-eclampsia or eclampsia. This life-threatening condition is identified by high blood pressure readings and protein in the urine. Pre-eclampsia is cured through delivery of the baby, which may be premature. If untreated, eclampsia can occur and cause seizures, stroke or even death to mother and child.

Risks for Obese Pregnancies

  • Miscarriage.
  • Stillbirth.
  • Prematurity due to medical issues complicating the pregnancy.
  • Birth defects such as neural tube defects like spina bifida, heart, abdominal defects and limb deformities.
  • Birth injury.
  • Newborn death, SIDS.
  • Childhood obesity.

Tips for Overweight Women

First, get into your physician as soon as possible, preferably even before trying to start your family. If you have a significant weight problem, your doctor may want to test you for diabetes. Getting your blood sugar levels under control can be an important issue for your health and the odds of a healthy pregnancy and newborn.

Your doctor will recommend a diet and weight loss program to follow prior to trying to conceive, or during your family building attempts. An increased amount of folic acid may be recommended due to overweight mother's increased risk of neural tube defects.

Pregnancy weight gain guidelines have been changed in recent years, so that an overweight woman is typically told to gain between 15 and 25 pounds, while obese women should limit their gain to only 11 to 20 pounds.

However, fad diets or strict regimens are not advisable. Rather follow a sensible, nutritious diet. In general, you'll want to have a nice variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Those carbs are important, too, but get them in healthy forms known as complex carbs. Avoid empty, junk food calories.

Begin a healthy exercise program under physician's care. These most likely could include brisk walks, swimming, stationary bikes or prenatal aerobics.

In an ideal world, an overweight woman will get to a healthy weight a few months before conceiving, but rest assured with conscientious lifestyle choices and good prenatal care, changes made even while the pregnancy is underway will yield positive results. Just be careful not to overdo it. Joints are especially vulnerable during pregnancy and extra weight makes them more prone to injury. Too extreme changes too quickly can be dangerous, so take it one day at a time.

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