The link between obesity and fertility

Obesity is linked to several health problems, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension and infertility. In the recent years, the link between lifestyle, weight, nutrition and fertility has gained more public exposure.

For a woman, the decision to finally conceive is fraught with a lot of doubts and questions regarding her health and well-being. A smooth, hassle free pregnancy is only possible once preexisting health concerns are addressed prior to conception. The presence of a chronic lifestyle condition can prove to be a major roadblock in the path to having an ailment free pregnancy. One such lifestyle condition that can affect the health of the mother and her baby during the period of pregnancy, is obesity.

Clinically, obesity is a condition wherein an individual amasses so much body fat that it starts to affect their health and well-being adversely. Obesity can be measured in two ways. The first and more direct way is to measure a person’s bodyweight. If their body weight is 20% higher than what it should have been based on their height and age, they are considered to be obese. The other way that obesity is measured is by calculating a person’s body mass index or BMI. BMI is a statistical measurement that is derived using a person’s height and weight. If an individual’s BMI falls between 25 and 29.9, they are considered overweight and if the person’s BMI is 30 or more, they are considered clinically obese. There are a number of factors that contribute to the weight gain that eventually manifests itself as obesity, with most of them being lifestyle factors such as the consumption of too many calories, lack of any physical activity, hormonal imbalance and smoking.

Unfortunately for many women who are looking to get pregnant, the effects of obesity on fertility are not discussed enough. Thus, due to a lack of knowledge and insight, many women end up conceiving despite having high body weight, and this in turn adversely affects their health and the health of their baby during the pregnancy. On the other hand, there are also numerous women whose fertility gets compromised either directly or indirectly due to the underlying condition of obesity.

Obesity can affect fertility by causing hormonal imbalances and problems in ovulation, particularly for obese women having their first baby. Obesity is also associated with poly-cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a common cause of infertility. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a hormonal imbalance that affects a woman’s fertility, physical appearance, menstrual cycle etc. The ovaries are hampered because of the increased level of male hormones in the female body causing the ovaries to function differently. Insulin and other hormones are also produced in higher levels in the female body causing a number of other dysfunctions.

Apart from affecting a woman’s fertility in the aforementioned ways, obesity can also have harmful effects on the health of a pregnant woman and the baby that she is carrying. Being obese during pregnancy can cause the following serious health issues for a woman and her baby:

Gestational diabetes is first diagnosed during pregnancy. This condition can increase the risk of having a cesarean delivery. Women who have had gestational diabetes also have a higher risk of having diabetes in the future, as do their children.

Preeclampsia is a high blood pressure disorder that can occur during pregnancy or after pregnancy. It is a serious illness that affects a woman’s entire body. The kidneys and liver may fail and preeclampsia can lead to seizures, a condition called eclampsia. And in severe cases, the baby may need to be delivered early.

Sleep apnea is a condition in which a person stops breathing for short periods during sleep. During pregnancy, sleep apnea not only can cause fatigue but also increases the risk of high blood pressure, preeclampsia, eclampsia, and heart and lung disorders.

Pregnancy loss—Obese women have an increased risk of pregnancy loss (miscarriage) compared with women of normal weight.

Birth defects—Babies born to obese women have an increased risk of having birth defects, such as heart defects and neural tube defects.

Macrosomia—in this condition, the baby is larger than normal. This can increase the risk of the baby being injured during birth. For example, the baby’s shoulder can become stuck during delivery. Macrosomia also increases the risk of cesarean delivery. Furthermore, Infants born with too much body fat have a greater chance of being obese later in life.

Preterm birth—Problems associated with a woman’s obesity, such as preeclampsia, may lead to a medically indicated preterm birth. This means that the baby is delivered early for a medical reason. Preterm babies are not as fully developed as babies who are born after 39 weeks of pregnancy. As a result, they have an increased risk of short-term and long-term health problems.

Despite the serious health risks that obesity can pose during and after a pregnancy, managing obesity is as straightforward as changing one’s lifestyle and habits. By understanding the root cause that has led to obesity, you can take necessary steps to tackle and neutralize it, prior to conceiving. If it is a change in lifestyle that is necessary, reduction in the quantity and quality of the food you eat, as well as taking up a regular physical hobby can be extremely effective in helping you shed those pounds and bringing your weight down drastically. If the condition is medical, then talk to your trusted physician about it and they could prescribe the medication that is necessary to treat your disorder and the obesity caused by it. Although weight gain is an inevitable effect of pregnancy, being obese prior to or after conceiving should be looked upon seriously and dealt with immediately.

Aster IVF & Women clinic offers IVF Lite as a treatment option for obese women. IVF Lite is an affordable and minimally invasive fertility treatment in which mild stimulations result in fewer but chromosomally normal eggs. This technique can be used to treat women over the age of 40, women who have had previous unsuccessful attempts of IVF, women with low ovarian reserve, women who are poor and hyper responders. Such women generally struggle to get pregnant even with IVF.

IVF Lite can help obese women have positive results. According to John Zhang et al’s publication ‘Obesity adversely impacts the number and maturity of oocytes in conventional IVF not in minimal stimulation IVF’, eggs retrieved from regular stimulation in obese women are bad quality and eggs retrieved from obese women through minimal stimulation are good quality. Basis this study we say that Minimal stimulation IVF or IVF Lite is a better choice for obese women.

To discuss whether IVF Lite is suitable for you as your treatment option discuss it with our fertility experts at Aster IVF & Women Clinic or visit