We all know that eating right and exercising regularly offers a multitude of health benefits including a decreased risk of heart disease, type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure and some cancers. Now there’s another reason to make a healthy change: your fertility.
Whether you’re trying to get pregnant naturally or you’re undergoing fertility treatment, being at a healthy weight is one of the most powerful ways you can help give yourself the best chance for success.
Numerous studies have confirmed the link between obesity and infertility, with obese fertility patients at a higher risk of complications in treatment and assessment. Obese patients are less likely to respond to treatment and the treatment options are limited.
In particular, obese mothers are at risk of:
- pregnancy loss and still birth
- preterm birth
- birth defects (congenital abnormalities)
- admission to neonatal intensive care
- blood sugar abnormalities (gestational diabetes)
- blood pressure disorders
- blood clots
- emergency caesarean section
- reduced success in fertility programmes
And it’s not only the mothers who are at risk. There is increasing evidence that the children of obese mothers may also suffer long term health effects. These children may be at risk of obesity themselves and may have a higher chance of developing diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure problems, or have a shorter life expectancy.
This issue may be more common than you realise: about 1 in 5 patients attending fertility clinics are obese and 1 in 3 are overweight.
Weight control is difficult, and our time-poor, convenience-obsessed society doesn’t make it any easier. Increasingly, foods available to purchase are higher in calories and larger in size, with more and more people opting for fast, pre-prepared foods as opposed to home cooked meals. People are also exercising less as the pressure on their time is increased.
What’s more, women are more likely to gain weight than men. And the larger a woman becomes, the more difficult it is for her to lose weight as her body becomes highly efficient at using the energy in food. It is not unusual to find a woman eating far less than her normal weight partner and still gain weight.
So, what can women do to make sure their weight doesn’t affect their chance of pregnancy?
When it comes to eating right, the first thing to know is that there is no substitute for real, fresh food. There are a multitude of quick-fix fad diets out there, but more often than not, any weight lost in these programs ends up coming back.
Choose a wide variety of foods from the four food groups – bread, other cereals and potatoes; fruit and vegetables; milk and dairy foods; and meat, fish and alternatives (such as beans or lentils).
The below simple rules will also help to guide you in your healthy weight loss efforts.
Rule 1: Limit processed foods
You should avoid foods that have been purchased pre-prepared. This includes frozen foods (such as meat pies), snack bars (including muesli or chocolate bars), chips or pre-packaged snacks.
Rule 2: Avoid sugary drinks
You should avoid soft drinks, fruit juices and cordials. These are often very high in sugar and high in calories, with little to no nutritional benefit. Replace these drinks by drinking plenty of water.
Rule 3: Three hours of exercise.
You should exercise for at least three hours per week, with each session at least one hour long. The type of exercise you do is irrelevant, but you must work up a sweat and raise your heart rate. For instance, walking without raising a sweat should not count towards your three hours.
Basically, what you’re aiming for in your efforts is to have a BMI between 18.5 and 25. A BMI greater than 25 is classified as overweight, and a BMI greater than 30 is defined as obese, and marks the point at which mortality rates increase. To calculate your BMI, divide your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in metres.
With the stakes so high, it’s time to start thinking seriously about whether your weight could be affecting your fertility. It could be that your journey to pregnancy starts with a few simple diet changes.
Eve Health’s fertility specialists are able to give you guidance on whether your weight may be affecting your fertility.