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  • Size Matters When Getting Pregnant: How Body Weight Influences Fertility

    Being underweight, overweight, or obese can make it harder for you to conceive.
    by Kate Borbon .
Size Matters When Getting Pregnant: How Body Weight Influences Fertility
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  • Fertility issues can be caused by many factors like ovulation disorders and genetic conditions. But weight can also affect your ability to get pregnant and give birth to a healthy baby. Learn more about the association between weight and fertility below.

    Weight and fertility

    In an article for Self, Nita Landry, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn who specializes in disease prevention, healthy pregnancy, and safe sex practices, lists down the different ways weight makes an impact on fertility.

    First, weight can influence the amount of estrogen in a woman’s body. Just like the ovaries, fat cells (also known as adipose tissue) produce estrogen. Dr. Landry points out that if you are at a healthy weight, your body is more likely to produce the right amount of estrogen. But if you are overweight or obese, your adipose tissue produces more estrogen than is needed, leading to a disruption in your ovulation.

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    Conversely, if you are underweight, your body makes less estrogen. It can also have a negative impact on your ovulation because your estrogen levels need to rise so that the egg can be released from its follicle. Being underweight can also stop menstruation.

    Second, weight and fertility are connected because excess weight can affect the hormonal signals being sent to the ovaries. The San Diego Fertility says an increased weight in women can cause higher insulin levels, which can cause the ovaries to produce too many male hormones, thus stopping the release of egg cells.

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    That increase in insulin can also lead to insulin resistance, says Dr. Landry. Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas into the bloodstream. Among its functions is to allow glucose (a type of sugar produced by broken-down carbohydrates) into the muscle, liver, and fat cells, so they can be used as an energy source.

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    In insulin resistance, those cells can’t easily take glucose from the blood, causing the pancreas to create more insulin. High insulin levels can cause metabolic disturbances that interfere with ovulation. Insulin resistance has also been associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

    Another way that weight and fertility are connected: A higher weight can increase a woman’s risk of dealing with pregnancy complications. According to Your Fertility, women who are obese are more likely to deal with health problems such as high blood pressure (hypertension), infection, blood clotting, preeclampsia, and gestational diabetes, as well as miscarriage, stillbirth, and premature birth.

    Moreover, women with obesity are more likely to have babies who are larger than normal at birth, need intensive care after birth, have a birth defect, or become obese and deal with health problems in childhood and later in life.

    The effects of weight on fertility can also be experienced by men. Your Fertility says men who are overweight or obese have worse sperm quality than men of healthy weight. Being overweight or obese can also lead to hormonal changes that not only reduce fertility but also lower men’s sex drive, as well as difficulties in getting and keeping an erection.

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    Dr. Landry explains among men, obesity has been linked to lower testosterone levels. A 2007 study of over 1,600 men ages 40 years and above found that an increase in body mass index (BMI) was associated with a decrease in testosterone.

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    How to achieve a healthy weight for pregnancy

    The good news is that even if you are either underweight, overweight, or obese, with the help of a proper diet, exercise, and healthy habits, you can work towards achieving a healthy weight.

    Know your BMI to determine whether you are at a healthy weight or not. Your BMI (body mass index) is a measure of your body fat based on your height and weight. Here’s a guide of the BMI numbers for each weight range:

    • Healthy weight: BMI between 18.5 and 24.9
    • Underweight: BMI below 18.5
    • Overweight: BMI between 25 and 29.9
    • Obese: BMI over 30

    Note that BMI is a limited tool since it doesn’t consider other important factors like muscle mass, nutrition habits, and medical history, says Dr. Landry. For instance, just because you have a normal BMI doesn’t automatically mean you are completely healthy.

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    To lose weight for better fertility, Better Health Channel recommends cutting back on fast food and sugary drinks, choosing healthy snacks, and doing more physical activity. You may also want to start a diet and exercise plan with your partner, especially if he also needs to lose weight. According to Your Fertility, research has found that when partners work to get healthier together, there is a better chance of them succeeding.

    If losing weight is difficult for you or your partner, talk to your doctor who can help you determine what to do. Be sure to inform him or her about any weight-related struggles or conditions you may have and medications you may be taking.

    Finally, Dr. Landry advises against following regimens or taking supplements that promise quick weight loss. These are usually ineffective and can be dangerous, so they likely won’t help you avoid the above-mentioned negative connections between weight and fertility.

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