Overweight and fertility in women
Being an unhealthy weight can affect a woman’s fertility by causing:
• hormonal imbalances
• problems with ovulation (releasing an egg from the ovaries)
• menstrual disorders
Obesity is also associated with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a common cause of low fertility or infertility.
Overweight and fertility in men
Being very overweight or obese can also reduce a man’s fertility. This is likely due to a combination of factors including:
• hormone problems
• problems with erection
• other health conditions linked to obesity
Weight loss in men who are overweight or obese can significantly increase total sperm count and quality. Reaching a healthier weight at least 3 months before conception can improve the chance of conception. This is because sperm takes about 3 months to develop and being in the healthy weight range during this time helps develop healthy sperm.
Overweight and pregnancy health
Getting closer to a healthy weight before conception increases the chance of the baby being healthy at birth and into adulthood. Obesity and excess weight gain during pregnancy is also linked with a number of pregnancy complications.
These include increased risk of:
• high blood pressure
• gestational diabetes
• caesarean birth
Babies born to very overweight mothers have an increased risk of childhood and adult obesity and other long-term health problems.
While the facts about obesity and reproductive outcomes can seem daunting, there is some good news. In women who are obese, even a small weight loss improves fertility and pregnancy health. Also, some diet and lifestyle changes that limit excessive weight gain during pregnancy can improve health outcomes for both mother and baby.
Getting ready for pregnancy
If you are planning to get pregnant, starting a healthy eating and exercise plan now improves your chances of getting pregnant and having a healthy baby. By making healthy changes to your diet and increasing your daily physical activity, you’ll be taking steps toward reaching a more healthy weight. Weight loss through diet, lifestyle and other changes significantly improves these outcomes. Ask your doctor about any dietary supplements you may need, such as folic acid and iodine.
Try these steps to a healthier weight:
• Follow a healthy balanced diet
• Cut back on discretionary foods
• Eat regular meals and limit unhealthy snacking.
• Swap sugary drinks and alcohol for water.
• Make half your plate vegetables at lunch and dinner.
• Use a smaller plate to help reduce your portion sizes.
• Get moving every day. Fit in regular physical activity like walking to the shops, taking the stairs and walking with a friend.
• Spend less time sitting by getting up regularly while using a computer or mobile device, and swapping screen time for other activities.
• Set a realistic weight goal. It can help you feel motivated and active. Aiming for weight loss of half to one kilogram per week until you reach your target weight is a good goal.
• Start a healthy eating and exercise plan together with your partner to increase the chance of getting pregnant and having a healthy baby.
Making these lifestyle changes will make a difference to your overall health, even if they don’t lead to weight loss. Begin making these changes before you start trying to conceive, and keep them up throughout your pregnancy and beyond.
Remember, if you’re already pregnant and want to lose weight it’s important to talk to your doctor or a dietitian first, before you start making any lifestyle changes.