Can Your Weight Affect Your Fertility?

Maureen Robb's picture
By Maureen Robb on October 16, 2017

Can being overweight hurt your chances of getting pregnant?

Or can it hurt your baby?

Unfortunately, those extra pounds can interfere with both.

“The more excess weight you carry, the more it can affect your fertility and the health of your baby,” said Emily Evans-Hoeker, M.D., chief of Reproductive Medicine and Fertility for Carilion Clinic. 

“If you’re trying to get pregnant, being overweight can disrupt your hormone balance and cause irregular menstrual cycles,” she said.

This is turn can interfere with ovulation. If you’re already seeing a fertility specialist for help in conceiving, excess weight can make egg retrieval and fertilization procedures more difficult.

And it can increase your chances of miscarriage or complications during pregnancy and the baby’s chances of acquiring a birth defect.

How much weight is too much?

“A BMI (body mass index) of 25 to 29.9 means that you’re overweight,” said Dr. Evans-Hoeker. “Any measurement above that is obesity.”

About half of the patients she sees in her practice are either overweight or obese. It’s also a common problem statewide.

Last year, 25 to 30 percent of women in Virginia were classified as obese (not counting those who were just overweight). In West Virginia, the number was 35 percent.

The good news is that women who are infertile due to excess weight can usually correct their condition.

“If you can lose five to 10 percent of your body weight, you can frequently restore your fertility,” Dr. Evans-Hoeker noted.

Being underweight, on the other hand, can also affect your chances of getting pregnant. Women who are underweight (with a BMI less than 18.5) often don’t have regular cycles and don’t produce enough estrogen.

Both over and underweight women can develop irregular periods that interfere with conception.

If difficulty with weight management is making it hard for you to create the family you’ve always dreamed of, Dr. Evans-Hoeker has this advice: Don’t view it as your personal problem that you alone can overcome.

“A lot of people have a hard time accepting that it’s a medical problem and not a personal problem,” she pointed out. “But ultimately it is a hormone problem.”

“Since weight loss—the most common problem—is hard, I generally recommend patients do it with the help of an experienced provider. Women who get help are more successful in keeping the weight off.”

So if you’re having trouble conceiving, explore all your options. Many women have found that losing that extra weight was enough to make their dreams come true. 

Here are six things about weight loss you may not know.