Fertility specialist says getting to a healthier weight may boost pregnancy chances

About one in five women who want to get pregnant have a hard time conceiving after a year.

Some turn to fertility specialists like Dr. Desiree McCarthy-Keith, medical director of Shady Grove Fertility in Atlanta.

"We see many women who present to us, and they say they’re ready to start treatment, ready to have a baby," McCarthy-Keith says.

One of the challenges, she says, is getting to a healthy weight going into your pregnancy.

She says they typically shoot for getting to a body mass index, or BMI, of between 18 and 25.

"And what we know is that the metabolic risks for a woman increase when her BMI is over 30," Dr. McCarthy-Keith says. "So, just a risk of developing hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, all that is higher."

McCarthy-Keith says women a BMI of 30 or higher may also be less likely to respond to fertility treatment, have a harder time getting pregnant, face a higher rate of miscarriage, and may not ovulate regularly. "There’s a common condition, PCOS or polycystic ovary syndrome, and that’s characterized by irregular cycles, irregular ovulation, weight gain, pre-diabetes or diabetes," she says. "And, we know that that can affect fertility and ovulation. If you’re not ovulating regularly, is going to be harder for you to get pregnant."

But losing as little as 5 to 10% of your body weight can boost your chances of getting pregnant.

McCarthy-Keith recommends lifestyle changes, but some have had success with weight loss medications, with a catch.

"You have a woman who’s anxious to get started, and she comes in, and she’s been on the medicine to lose weight, we have to talk about the need to stop this and postpone your treatment for at least 2 months now that you’ve been on this type of medication," Dr. McCarthy-Keith says.

For women with a very high BMI, weight loss surgery may also be an option.

But, again, McCarthy-Keith says, there is a wait time.

"It’s usually recommended that they wait at least close to a year after having that type of surgery, when they kind of stabilize metabolically before they get pregnant," she says.