It’s no surprise to anyone in the U.S. that many of us struggle to maintain a healthy weight, especially as we get older. But let’s put aside the social and cultural issues. Weight problems are not just bad for your health, they are also linked with infertility. Being over- or underweight can make it harder for you to get pregnant.

Obesity Can Affect Fertility
Obviously, all overweight women are not infertile. But overweight women do face increased risks for fertility problems compared to those women who maintain a healthy weight. Here are five ways that weight problems can affect your health and your fertility.

Being overweight can:
1. Increase your chances of having irregular or absent periods
2. Raise your risk of miscarriage
3. Cause your body to produce too much estrogen, which can make it harder to get pregnant
4. Be linked with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a major contributor to infertility in women
5. Increase the chances of having complications during infertility treatments

Obese and overweight women are at a higher risk for the following complications when pregnant:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Fetal malformations
  • Need for caesarian sections

Assisted reproductive technology (ART) procedures like in vitro fertilization (IVF) are not as successful for obese women as they are for women who are at an ideal fertility weight. It is strongly recommended that all obese and overweight women achieve a normal BMI prior to conception. For some, this will actually help them conceive WITHOUT needing fertility treatment.

Underweight Women Also at Risk
Now you know that obesity can be linked with infertility – but did you know that being too thin can also make it harder to conceive? Being underweight, or having a very low percent of body fat, can be seriously risky for women trying to conceive. Women who are underweight may have issues with their hormone levels, like having very low estrogen levels. They may also experience irregular or absent periods (anovulation), which could make it harder to conceive.

Male Infertility & Weight

Male factor infertility is also linked to weight problems and obesity. Even carrying an extra 20 pounds can increase a man’s risk for being infertile.  To find out if your partner is at a healthy fertility weight, first calculate his body mass index (BMI). If your partner is overweight or obese, talk to him about making a change. Let him know that weight problems could be increasing the risk for the following male fertility problems:

  • Issues with sperm count and sperm health
  • Hormone problems
  • Erectile dysfunction

Healthy Fertility Weight

Ask your doctor to help you find your BMI and identify your ideal fertility weight. If your ideal weight seems out of reach, work with your doctor to design a healthy diet and lifestyle plan.

  • If you are overweight or obese, maintain hope and discuss weight loss options with your doctor. At least one study reports that obese women with ovulation problems showed improved fertility after weight loss.
  • If you are underweight and fertility problems persist, talk to your doctor and identify a plan to help you achieve your ideal fertility weight.
  • If you are already at a healthy weight, keep doing what you’re doing. Continue to make good food choices and exercise regularly to maintain good health.