October 17, 2022

Does Having Excess Weight Affect Your Chances of Getting Pregnant?

How a BMI in the overweight or obesity range affects ovulation and how to increase fertility

Loving couple ready to have a baby hugging outdoors.

Break out the baby onesies! You finally feel like it’s the right time to create a mini-you … but as the months pass without a positive pregnancy test, your patience starts to wane. What could the problem be? And could your weight be impacting your ability to conceive?

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Losing even 10 pounds could make a difference in your ability to get pregnant. Ob/Gyn Rebecca Starck, MD, breaks down the connection between weight and fertility, including what you can do to give your body the best possible chance at pregnancy.

Will having a BMI in the overweight or obesity range affect your ability to get pregnant?

Yes, having obesity or significant overweight may make it harder to get pregnant.

“It’s a complex dance between the hormones that trigger ovulation and your progesterone and estrogen levels,” Dr. Starck explains. “Fat cells often produce higher estrogen levels, which can work against your body when it’s trying to ovulate.

In other words, having obesity can disrupt your reproductive health, which can make it harder to get pregnant.

And while out-of-balance hormone levels don’t always mean you’ll have trouble getting pregnant, you may experience less regular ovulation and menstrual cycles — which can make it harder to conceive.

Does it matter where you carry your extra weight?

Having central obesity, which refers to weight around the abdomen, is generally considered higher risk for ovulation difficulties and diabetes — which can, in turn, impact your ability to get pregnant.

You may have central obesity if you are “apple-shaped,” for example, meaning you carry most of your weight in your stomach.

“People who carry weight more proportionally or in their lower extremities or butt tend to have a little less risk,” Dr. Starck says. “They may be genetically wired to have that body type, while central obesity is often the result of lifestyle and habits.”

Healthy body mass index (BMI) for pregnancy

Doctors use body mass index, or BMI, to determine if a person has obesity or overweight. BMI uses height and weight to calculate body fat. It’s a numbers game: A BMI between 25 and 30 is considered overweight, and a BMI over 30 is considered obesity.

The conversations and concerns about BMI are more complex than that. But when it comes to trying to conceive, BMI is still a good place to start.

Advertisement

“To optimize your health before and during pregnancy, we recommend aiming for a BMI below 25,” Dr. Starck says, “but the healthiest BMI for pregnancy is different for everyone.”

One person in the ideal BMI range may have a hormonal imbalance that causes irregular ovulation. Another person may technically have obesity but ovulates every month and has regular periods, resulting in a higher chance of pregnancy.

How much weight should you lose to increase fertility?

“There are all sorts of factors involved in both weight loss and conception,” Dr. Starck says, “so while there is no magic number, 10 pounds is a good place to start.”

To help you reach your goal, focus on making healthy choices every day. That can sometimes make all the difference in helping your body start to ovulate regularly.

What’s the best way to lose weight to increase fertility?

Dr. Starck encourages her patients to focus on balancing their diet before trying to conceive. “But try not to focus too much on the end goal, which can be overwhelming,” she warns.

1. Make healthy diet changes

Focus on doing something healthy every day:

Just don’t fall for diet trends that claim to offer a quick fix for weight loss.

“As a longtime Ob/Gyn, there’s nothing harder than the yo-yo dieting I see people attempt year after year,” Dr. Starck says. “A fad diet will never be as effective as healthy habits.”

2. Find workouts you enjoy

Balance healthy diet habits with rigorous exercise most days of the week — the kind that gets your heart rate and pulse up.

If you’ve never exercised before, try to find at least one activity you truly enjoy, which will help you gain and maintain momentum. Work on starting an exercise routine that includes a warm-up, a conditioning phase and a cool-down phase.

Advertisement

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Making healthy lifestyle changes and trying to lose weight can be hard, but you don’t have to do any of it alone. Talk to your doctor or a nutritionist, who can help you plan a healthy diet and create a doable exercise plan.

“Get your partner on board, too, by planning menus or signing up for an exercise class together,” Dr. Starck suggests.

Medications that can help increase fertility

A medication called metformin is often prescribed to people who have Type 2 diabetes and people who aren’t ovulating. Although it can help, it’s not a cure-all.

“Achieving a healthy body weight has a much better payoff, especially with all the risk factors that come with being overweight and pregnant,” Dr. Starck says.

Start now!

Reaching a healthy weight may help you conceive and will lead to a smoother overall pregnancy. And even if you know you don’t want kids for years down the road, embracing healthy habits now will put you in the best possible position for pregnancy when the time comes.

“I’m a firm believer in prevention and developing good lifestyle habits at a young age,” Dr. Starck says. “Working on developing healthy diet and exercise habits will benefit you throughout your life.”

It’s never too early (or too late) to make smart, sustainable lifestyle choices that will keep you — and your future family — healthy and strong.

Related Articles

Doctor shaking hands with patient, with large heart and EKG line behind them
February 19, 2024
How Weight Affects Your Heart

Having underweight, having overweight and having obesity can be dangerous for your heart

Male with eyes closed sitting hunched over, pinching area between their eyes
January 29, 2024
Headache and Fatigue: 11 Possible Causes That Can Trigger Both

Many factors, like dehydration, a cold or even your medication, can result in these common symptoms

pregnant mother with father on couch with son
January 25, 2024
Baby on the Way? Here’s How To Prepare Siblings for Their Arrival

Talk with them about their new sibling early and often

Pregnant patient lying in dentist chair during examination with dentist beside her
January 1, 2024
Is It Safe To Go to the Dentist While Pregnant?

Dental care is not only safe during pregnancy, but it’s also highly recommended

close up of green coffee beans
December 14, 2023
Should You Go Green? What To Know About Green Coffee Bean Extract

There’s no evidence to prove this supplement can help with weight loss, and it may come with risks

Pregnant person thinking about food choices as they circle their head.
November 6, 2023
Nutrition During Pregnancy: Foods To Include and Foods To Avoid

A healthy pregnancy diet includes good amounts of folic acid, DHA, calcium and more

doctor talking to pregnant couple outside office
October 15, 2023
Understanding the Risks of STIs While Pregnant

If left untreated, you risk complications, early labor and passing the infection to your baby

PCOS and weight
September 12, 2023
Getting Pregnant With PCOS

Lifestyle changes, like a healthy diet and exercise, can help with fertility issues

Trending Topics

White bowls full of pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate and various kinds of nuts
25 Magnesium-Rich Foods You Should Be Eating

A healthy diet can easily meet your body’s important demands for magnesium

Woman feeling for heart rate in neck on run outside, smartwatch and earbuds
Heart Rate Zones Explained

A super high heart rate means you’re burning more than fat

Spoonful of farro salad with tomato
What To Eat If You’ve Been Diagnosed With Prediabetes

Type 2 diabetes isn’t inevitable with these dietary changes

Ad