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Overweight Women and Fertility Treatment
by Rachel Gurevich, June 29, 2010
A few weeks ago, yet another study came out showing that being overweight can lead to fertility woes. In this study, women who had a BMI over 25 had a higher risk of miscarriage than women with a BMI under 25. Also, there are many previous studies that have shown high BMI to raise the risk of infertility.
(Quick note, for those who don’t know: BMI, or body mass index, considers your height and weight togetherto help you gauge whether you are at a normal weight. A BMI over 25 is considered to be overweight.)
Advice to Lose Weight
Every time one of these studies on weight comes out, there’s talk about strongly advising overweight women to lose the weight before they receive fertility treatment. In the harsher opinion pieces, it’s been said that women should be refused treatment if they are overweight.
Also, it’s no secret in the fertility community that women who have higher BMIs are often told by doctors to go lose weight, and then come back if they still can't get pregnant. Or, when treatments fail, women are told the reason is their weight, and that they should lose it to solve the problems.
Sometimes, weight is brought up when it’s not even that high. I had my gynecologist tell me the reason I stopped ovulating and was miscarrying was related to my weight. Except in my case, I was only five pounds overweight — weight I gained from all the miscarriages! (A reproductive endocrinologist, later told me that my weight had nothing to do with my infertility. Plus, I later lost that weight. It didn't help.)
I understand why doctors would want to encourage a couple to drop some pounds. (They should advise men AND women to lose weight, in my opinion). Not just because of the increased fertility risks, but also the increased risks of pregnancy complications and general health concerns.
But refusing treatment doesn’t seem right to me. In fact, simply telling a woman or man that they should go home and come back when they are thinner is downright stupid.
Why Fertility Treatment Shouldn’t Be Refused
Losing weight is not easy. Because losing weight requires support, information and sometimes medical help if the weight is connected to an untreated health issue. (Thyroid problems, for example.)
Instead of just telling a woman she should drop a few pounds, what if clinics offered weight loss as a treatment? Maybe they would have a dietitian on staff who would speak to couples, help them look into what they can change to improve their health, and support them along the way.
There would be screening for undiagnosed medical problems that may lead to weight problems. They would also screen for age-related infertility, so they can advise a couple whether or not they have time to try weight loss first.
What if clinics offered weight loss support groups? They could be led by a psychologist or social worker who is versed in infertility, but also in eating disorders, including emotional eating (something many women coping with infertility deal with.)
I still think that if the woman so chooses, she should get standard fertility treatment as she wishes, even before she loses the weight.
But for those who do want to give weight loss a try, it’s cruel to just tell them to go lose the weight without any support or help.
These are my thoughts. What are yours? Do you think women should have to lose weight before receiving fertility treatments? Do you think clinics offering weight loss support are a good or bad idea? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!