How being overweight impacts fertility

One of my coaching clients was told she needed to lose weight by her specialist to increase the chances of falling pregnant while doing IVF. She’d come to me to help her shift the extra weight and boost her chances of having a successful transfer.

During our recent session I asked her if she knew the reason behind why she had to release the weight? She didn’t know, only that it would help.

I know for me, when I’m aware of why I’m doing something, I’m more likely to follow through and stay motivated. So if you’re also in the same situation as my client, then read on.

When we look at couples who use IVF to conceive, it’s been shown women who are overweight or obese have a lower chance of a live birth and significantly higher miscarriage rate than women with a normal BMI.

But this applies to everybody however you conceive your baby.

So why does being overweight and obese such a weighty issue when it comes to FERTILITY?

Being overweight impacts a woman’s chance of conceiving a healthy baby because it:

  • Causes hormonal imbalances
  • Triggers problems with menstruation and ovulation
  • Increases risk of complications with pregnancy such as a miscarriage, diabetes or premature birth

How?

When we have excess fat, these fat cells produce a hormone called leptin that can disrupt the hormone balance and impacts the menstruation cycle.

Another reason, in a study of 726 Australian women aged 26-36 years old, they found the women who were considered obese were significantly associated with having irregular menstrual cycle which was influenced by the high amount of insulin in the blood and decrease levels of sex-hormone-binding globulin (a protein that is responsible for regulating androgen and estrogen).

In other words, insulin can disrupt the hormone balance and impacts the menstruation cycle.

When your menstruation cycle is impacted, this reduces fertility as it’s difficult to track or know if or when you’re ovulating.

Now get this, excess weight and obesity also increases the risk of anovulation which is when no egg is release by the ovaries and if this happens, fat chances of you getting pregnant (mind the pun.) Women with a BMI above 27 are three times more likely than women in the normal weight range to be unable to fall pregnant because they’re not ovulating.

Now if you’re overweight or obese and are ovulating, the truth of the matter is that the quality of your eggs are also reduced!

Which explains why being overweight impacts a woman’s chance of conceiving a healthy baby due to increased risk of complications with pregnancy such as a miscarriage, diabetes or premature birth.

so what can you do about it?

According to IVF Australia, a “healthy BMI range is between 18.5 to 24.9 for young and middle-aged adults. Under 18.5 is considered underweight and over 25 is overweight. If a woman’s BMI is greater than 35, the risk of problems become more significant.”

If you suspect your overweight or obese and is affecting your fertility, then let’s find out what your BMI is:

Click here to calculate your BMI

overweight or obese?

It can seem a bit overwhelming to hear some of the facts on how being overweight and obese impacts fertility but there is good news.

If you have clicked on the link above to checked your BMI and realised that you fall in the category of being overweight or obese, you have the power to change this, just like my client is doing right now.

The good news!

According to IVF Australia here are a few things you can start doing now:

  • Stopping smoking, as it reduces fertility by around 40%, and also increases the risk of miscarriage
  • Reducing alcohol and caffeine intake
  • Optimising weight by following a healthy diet and exercise routine
  • For a female, taking folic acid, ideally for three months prior to trying to conceive, as it is one of the few nutrients known to prevent neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida
  • Managing known conditions, such as diabetes. This improves the chances of a healthy baby, and reduces the risk of miscarriage
  • Reviewing current medications and any implications for pregnancy with a GP
  • Understanding your menstrual cycle

As an Integrative Health Coach, my role is to support my clients to make those diet and lifestyle changes so they can start balancing their hormones naturally and increase their chances of falling pregnant.

If you feel you need support, then apply to book in for a free hormonal health and fertility assessment.

Photo by Negative Space

References:

The one thing to give up to reduce your risk of a miscarriage

When I was at university, I worked part-time at an Italian restaurant and drank a lot of coffee. I drank so much that I pretty much became immune to this delicious drug. I could drink easily 4 cups before bed and still go to sleep. Now I don’t know what the quality of my sleep was like but let’s just say, coffee didn’t keep me awake.

Since then, my love affair with coffee has made me become a bit of coffee snob and café maven. Before kids, when I drove past a new café, it was a must that the car was to be stopped to try out what was on the drip.

Now with kids pretty much attached to me 24/7 it’s sub-standard coffee on the go, although I’m hanging out for the launch a new collagen coffee (watch this space).

If someone said to me that coffee was bad for my health, well then we would have to come to some sort of compromise because hey, we need balance in our lives right?

Fortunately, the jury is out on that, as there are some pros for good coffee.

But if someone said to me that coffee increases my risk of a miscarriage, well that was an obvious coffee ban on the spot.

woman holding gray ceramic mug
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

I know what it’s like to have a miscarriage. Both of my boys were conceived after a miscarriage, so I get the heartache and the disappointment to learn that pregnancy didn’t progress.

Although I cannot fully comprehend how hard it would be to have a miscarriage one after another, I have worked with clients who have and helped them with their pregnancy to full term.

What’s interesting is many of my clients happen to also be coffee addicts too so as painful as this might sound for those who love coffee and are trying to get pregnant, I’ll share some information to soften the blow.

I think firstly it’s important to know that miscarriages are more common than we know.

We just don’t talk about it.

Around 60-80% of miscarriages happen due to genetic abnormalities because it’s the body’s design to ensure we are destined to have healthy babies. Especially in our modern-day culture, we don’t really share our pregnancy news until the 12-week mark.  

Having a miscarriage even in the first few months can be heartbreaking. I believe it’s important that women can feel safe to share within the inner circle of their pregnancy news so if it things don’t go to plan; they have a support network to comfort them during this venerable time.

In a study done by the Researchers from the US healthcare firm Kaiser Permante in Oakland, California, they found in their study that caffeine intake increases the risk of miscarriages. Now the study wasn’t talking about coffee specifically but coffee would be the biggest dietary source of caffeine. So if you’re not a coffee drinker, then consider other sources where you might be consuming too much caffeine, such as tea and energy drinks. Just drinking more than 200 milligrams of caffeine daily, increases the risk of a miscarriage twofold.

What we found was that if women have heavy caffeine intake — greater than 200 milligrams a day — they have double the risk of miscarriage than women that don’t have any caffeine.

Dr. Li a Reproductive and Perinatal Epidemiologist

But why?

Although it’s not clear how caffeine affects conception, what we do know is that caffeine crosses the placental barrier and can reach the developing foetus according to the study.

Some medical professionals speculate that caffeine can have an impact on the developing embryo in the uterus or even the maturation of the egg before conception even occurs.

The good news!

It’s not forever. Bottom line, it’s probably a good rule of thumb to completely give up caffeine when you’re trying to conceive and at least for the first trimester of your pregnancy to reduce any risk of a miscarriage. Hey, there is always decaffeinated coffee!

For more tips to get you pregnancy ready, you can download my free 7 Day Hormone Cleanse here.

Natural solutions for infertility

Let’s talk about infertility and what that really means because there is likely a ton of people who think they are infertile, panicking and the reality they’re not. I remember clearly when we started our journey on starting a family, on the first month of trying I didn’t fall pregnant. I panicked as I was convinced I should have fallen pregnant, I mean how is this possible! So the next month, I decided to get an ovulation test kit so I knew exactly when I was ovulating as baby making had now become a science project. As much as I tried to be relaxed and be spontaneous about getting it on, underneath it all I was riddled with anxiety.

Every day I peed on a stick, waiting for the stick to say I was ovulating, as each week went by I grew ever so more anxious. It got so ridiculous that I even order hubby to get his sperm checked because clearly it was his fault! Poor guy, I was literally a train wreck. When his results returned as positive, I was dumbfounded, convinced there was something wrong with me. I booked us in to see a Fertility Specialist and next minute we were sitting in her office and discussing our problems. She asked us how long had we been trying, I said we’re in our second month but I wasn’t ovulating so something must be wrong. I remember her just looking at me strangely and although she was trying to be as diplomatic as possible, see said come back to her after 6 months of trying. Whether she felt sorry for me or I was very convincing about my concerns of my lack of ovulation, she sent me off for a round of tests.

Being impatient with the whole experience, it became all consuming me obsession and I couldn’t concentrate at work. I woke up one morning for a split moment I entertained the idea that I could be pregnant but of course that’s can’t be, cause I didn’t ovulate but I followed my intuition I did a pregnancy test. Now by this time my husband was getting quite frustrated at me at the amount of money I spent peeing on a sticks. One time he caught me with 3 pregnancy sticks stashed in the bin all in the same day. After being completely adamant I wasn’t pregnant, when I saw two faint lines on the pregnancy stick, I was convinced it was a mistake. So I suggested I should pee on another stick, he said Merly, relax just give it another week. But I couldn’t relax and the next day, I didn’t it again and was confirmed I was in fact pregnant with JohnnyMax.

So the reason why I was out of my mind bonkers, it was all hormonal, I had actually fallen pregnant in my first month of trying, my period in the first month was in fact implantation bleeding and explains why I didn’t ovulate in the second month. Now there was some cause to my insanity, I had always suffered from irregular, heavy and painful periods, a sign of disordered ovulation. Fortunately through balancing my hormones naturally to the point that it was clockwork every 30 days, my heavy 7 day period went down to 3 days light to medium and the pain was nearly non-existent. Better still, my mood swings weren’t swinging around like an adolescence Spiderman on a mission to save the world which is why I was so convinced I’d fall pregnant even if hubby just breathed on me. When I thought I didn’t and coupled with the fact my hormones were raging without me knowing, it just goes to show how stressful it is for couples who are able to fall pregnant, let alone couples who are struggling with infertility.

My point is that there is plenty of healthy couples going around thinking they have infertility issues because they don’t really know what that actually means.

Infertility is defined as being unable to fall pregnant after 12 months of unprotected sexual intercourse. In Australia, infertility affects about 15 of every 100 Australian couples of reproductive age. I know couples who have been trying a couple of months and worry that they are infertile.

One of the most common forms of infertility is ovulation disorders, which is an umbrella term that accounts for 1/4 to 1/3 of cases that include poly-cystic ovarian syndrome POCS and irregular ovulation. The second is male factors and the third tubal disease.

However there are many reasons a woman may have difficultly becoming pregnant and there is a number of things you can do to increase the likelihood of pregnancy. Things you can start today include making healthier lifestyle changes where a Health Coach can support you every step of your journey as well as simple ways to balance your hormones naturally.

Many people are unaware that diet can play a huge part in improving fertility, studies have shown making simple changes as follows can help:

  • Choosing whole grains and low GI over refined carbohydrates
  • Avoid trans fats and instead use monounsaturated fats like olive oil
  • Favouring vegetable sources of protein over animal protein sources
  • Eating adequate about of folate and iron from plant sources
  • Taking quality supplements to support the endocrine system
  • Aiming for a healthy weight
  • Engaging in vigorous exercise at least 30 minutes a day