Fertility is a common cause of concern among women with PCOS and many fear they may never be able to conceive. However, this is not true. While women with PCOS do struggle with infertility, with the right lifestyle changes and medical help, several women with PCOS have successfully conceived and carried their pregnancy to term.
If you are someone who is planning to start their family and are trying to conceive with PCOS, here are answers to your questions on fertility and PCOS.
I have PCOS, does it mean I am infertile?
The short answer is no. However, it is important to understand how PCOS affects your fertility and why you might be finding it difficult to conceive.
As PCOS is a hormonal condition, women with PCOS usually produce higher-than-normal levels of male hormones or androgens. This affects their menstrual cycles, making them irregular, and can also affect ovulation. In the absence of ovulation (no mature egg being released), there can be no fertilization, and hence no pregnancy. Thus, women with PCOS might find it hard to conceive.
What should I do to make it easier for me to conceive?
The first order of business is to regulate your periods and to ensure that you're ovulating. Lifestyle changes can prove to be very significant in not only regularising periods but also ensuring that your body is prepared for pregnancy.
Add exercises to your daily routine
This might sound like run-off-the-mill advice that you may hear frequently, however, there is some element of truth to it. PCOS makes you prone to obesity because of insulin resistance. This lowers your metabolic rate, leading to weight gain around the abdomen and making it difficult to lose weight. Weight loss is possible with the right guidance around diet and fitness. Weight loss (5-10 % of your current weight) can regulate your hormones and can also aid in regularising your menstrual cycles. This is important because regular periods are necessary for ovulation and this is critical if you're trying to conceive.
Switch to a PCOS friendly diet
If you are someone who has been living with PCOS for a while, you know the importance of following a healthy diet. There are countless articles and videos on the internet that proclaim to have the perfect PCOS diet that you must follow. However, what works for someone, might not always work for you. Hence, it is important to understand your own concerns and needs and try and tailor your diet depending on that.
A great way to do this is by working with a nutritionist. With an understanding of your concerns, underlying deficiencies, and dietary triggers, a nutritionist will be able to come up with a meal plan that suits you best. PCOS is also a metabolic disorder that can occur due to chronic inflammation or insulin resistance. An ideal diet:
- tackles the root cause of your concerns
- focuses on identifying dietary triggers that can worsen your PCOS symptoms
- identifies underlying deficiencies common with PCOS (such as Vitamin D, or B12) and focuses on correcting for them
Additionally, when you're trying to conceive, it becomes even more critical to follow a diet that has all the nutrients. Avoid sugary items, processed food, and limit or stop consumption of alcohol. Include freshly cooked vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and protein in your meals. You might have to take supplements such as folates, vitamins (C, D, E, and B12) to boost your fertility.
If you have been diligently making lifestyle changes for 6-12 months and trying to conceive with no result, you might need some help from fertility specialists. These can include some medications to help regularize your menstrual cycles to ensure ovulation, balance your insulin levels, or ones that will help the ovaries to send out more eggs.
You can also resort to fertility procedures such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF), ovulation induction, or Intrauterine insemination (IUI).
You might worry that PCOS might cause problems in your journey towards pregnancy. But you can get pregnant with a mixture of lifestyle changes and seeking help from experts when the need arises.
- Haqq, L., McFarlane, J., Dieberg, G., & Smart, N. (2014). Effect of lifestyle intervention on the reproductive endocrine profile in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Endocrine connections, 3(1), 36-46.
- Moran, L. J., Hutchison, S. K., Norman, R. J., & Teede, H. J. (2011). Lifestyle changes in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (7).
- Sharma R, Biedenharn KR, Fedor JM, Agarwal A. Lifestyle factors and reproductive health: taking control of your fertility. Reprod Biol Endocrinol. 2013;11:66. doi:10.1186/1477-7827-11-66