Managing Obesity and Pregnancy: Troubles with Infertility

It is impossible to describe the frustration that comes with infertility to someone who hasn’t gone through the heart-wrenching process of hoping for the chance to build a family, month after month, only to be routinely met with defeat. The excitement that comes with the decision to start a family wears off after the first few months of false hope. What is left behind is an overwhelming dread and heightened anxiety. Every twitch, every odd smell, every happy family–so many insignificant moments on any given day can become overwhelming and full of despair.

Obesity and Infertility

Infertility is something that isn’t talked about very often, and for this reason, there is a large misconception that it is rare. However, almost 20% of women in the United States experience infertility or difficulty getting pregnant. For many women, pregnancy takes over a year to achieve. For those who are obese, the likelihood of experiencing complications with pregnancy or difficulty with the process of becoming pregnant is even higher.

It is estimated that for about a quarter of all cases of infertility, the leading cause of difficulty getting pregnant has to do with weight. There are several medical reasons why obesity creates a challenge for the body when you are trying to get pregnant:

  1. Fat cells disrupt hormone production. When there is an abundance of fat cells in the body hormones are processed differently. These fluctuations can be the difference between a successful conception and not.
  2. Obesity causes the body temperature to rise, and in men, this occurs especially around the scrotum. This puts sperm at an unfair disadvantage on their journey toward contraception. This increased body temperature can cause further hormonal fluctuations and can also decrease sperm count.
  3. Certain obesity-related underlying health conditions can make it difficult to conceive while also making you more likely to gain weight. One of these conditions is PCOS or polycystic ovary syndrome. Many women are unaware that they have PCOS until they begin trying to conceive.

Weight Loss and Conception: An Uphill Battle

Adults who are obese or severely overweight will have a better chance of conceiving a child by losing weight prior to the start of trying for a baby. Losing weight first feels counterintuitive, especially for women who are worried about the weight gain of pregnancy. Many women consider going through the struggle to lose weight only to potentially gain it back while pregnant to be a waste of a hassle. However, it is possible that the excess weight you have on your body as you start trying to get pregnant can influence your chance at pregnancy, and from there has an impact on the health of the child.

Infertility causes a great deal of stress. It puts a lot of pressure on both partners in the relationship, requiring many couples to find support in their communication style as they face the stress of failed hopes month after month. Overcoming fertility problems requires a great deal of patience and resilience. For a lot of people, the process of coping with this stress triggers overeating. Stress eating is one of the leading causes of weight gain. It is not uncommon to see women gain as many as 20 pounds while trying to become pregnant. However, those who participate in a medical or surgical weight loss program and receive ongoing support from their weight loss doctor during those stressful months are more likely to maintain a healthy weight and are more likely to conceive within the first six months of trying for a baby.

Another factor that many women are unaware of regarding obesity in pregnancy is the impact that diet has on your body while you are trying to become pregnant. While trying to conceive the consumption of certain healthy fats and plenty of protein is necessary to support hormone function. If you are trying to lose weight while trying to conceive then you could be working against yourself by cutting too many calories. This is one reason in addition to the health of your child, that it is recommended that those seeking weight loss surgery should plan not to become pregnant until their weight has stabilized at a new healthier weight. In addition, being overweight and pregnant can put you at an increased risk for certain pregnancy complications, like gestational diabetes.

The healthiest approach to fertility when it comes to managing obesity is to work with your weight loss surgeon to lose weight before you start trying to have a child. Then, once you become pregnant, continue to work with your weight loss doctor to maintain a healthy weight so that you are able to focus on a nutrient-rich pregnancy. Feeling healthy and already at your goal weight when the baby is born will make all the prep work you did prior to starting your pregnancy journey worth the trouble, knowing that you and your baby have a chance for a healthier pregnancy and future.

The Bariatric & Metabolic Center of Colorado provides expert bariatric care and metabolic services to help individuals achieve their weight goals and trying to get pregnant or struggling with infertility due to obesity. We offer comprehensive treatments tailored to each individual’s needs, helping them reach their health goals and increase their chance of success.

Schedule your consultation with our top surgeon Dr. Joshua Long today!

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This page was medically reviewed by Dr. Joshua Long, MD, MBA, FACS, FASMBS. Dr. Long is a double-board-certified bariatric surgeon and bariatric medical director for Parker Adventist Hospital.
Full Bio: Dr. Joshua Long, MD, MBA, FACS, FASMBS
Page Updated: January 4th, 2023

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