<img height="1" width="1" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=228564968245544&amp;ev=PageView &amp;noscript=1">
PCOS and Infertility: Can I increase my chances of getting pregnant?

PCOS and Infertility: Can I increase my chances of getting pregnant?

Kindara | June 15, 2021 | trying to conceive
Share this post:

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can cause a variety of symptoms that may or may not seem connected if you don’t know what you’re looking for. One of the defining signs of PCOS is ovulation problems, meaning that you ovulate irregularly or not at all (1). To get pregnant, you need to ovulate and have sex within the 6-day window around your ovulation (this is called your fertile window) (2). As you probably guessed, irregular or absent ovulation can make getting pregnant difficult or even downright impossible. 

Fortunately, having PCOS doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t get pregnant on your own. Healthy lifestyle changes may help you regulate your menstrual cycles and increase your chances of conceiving. Here, we’ll break down why PCOS can affect your fertility and what you can do about it.

Why does PCOS affect fertility?

One in 10 women of childbearing age is affected by PCOS, though many may not realize it (1). PCOS is extremely underdiagnosed, partly because determining if someone has it typically means drawing connections between symptoms that may not seem related. That’s why so many women don’t find out they have PCOS until they go to a doctor to figure out why they’re having trouble getting pregnant (1, 3).

Common symptoms associated with PCOS include weight gain, acne, excess hair growth, multiple cysts on the ovaries, and irregular periods (1), though you don’t have to have all these symptoms to have PCOS. These seemingly unrelated symptoms have one thing in common — they can all be caused by hormonal imbalances. 

Most women with PCOS have above-average levels of luteinizing hormone (LH), estrogen, androgens, and insulin. They also tend to have reduced levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) (4, 5). 

PCOS is also commonly associated with insulin sensitivity, which means that the body has trouble absorbing glucose (sugar) from food. This can lead to heightened blood sugar and insulin levels and an overproduction of androgens, such as testosterone (3, 5, 6).

Put together, these hormonal imbalances can lead to irregular or infrequent ovulation (oligo-ovulation) or a complete lack of ovulation (anovulation) (3). Problems with ovulation are the top cause of female infertility, and over 90% of women that seek help for ovulation issues have PCOS (7, 8). 

However, problems with ovulation may be treatable. Women with PCOS can make lifestyle changes to improve androgen levels, balance blood sugar, and correct hormone imbalances. Even if those lifestyle changes don’t completely solve the issue with ovulation, the benefits of healthy living can still help set you up for success when undergoing other fertility treatments (9).

How can I get pregnant with PCOS?

There’s no cure for PCOS, but lifestyle changes, including exercise and dietary modifications, can often help regulate or restart ovulation (1, 6). These changes may help your body adjust levels of insulin, androgens, and other reproductive hormones. Getting these hormones in balance can normalize menstrual cycles, induce ovulation, and improve your overall health (4, 10). 

Once you’re ovulating regularly, it becomes easier to pinpoint your fertile window and time sex for when you’re most likely to conceive. If lifestyle changes don’t work, your doctor may recommend fertility medication to help (3). Keep in mind, PCOS affects everyone differently (which is one of the reasons it’s so hard to diagnose), and there’s no one-size-fits-all fertility fix. Instead, you’ll need to work with your doctor to figure out which steps are right for your specific situation (3).

PCOS, nutrition, and fertility

For some women, making healthy changes to their diet may help improve PCOS symptoms. If you’re experiencing insulin sensitivity, cutting down on foods with added sugars and avoiding simple carbs may help lower blood sugar and regulate ovulation (9). Examples of simple carbs include white bread, pasta, donuts, soda, and cereals (11). Also, sticking to organic foods can help you avoid endocrine-disrupting chemicals in many foods that may cause PCOS symptoms to get worse (12).

According to Dr. BreAnna Guan, a licensed naturopathic doctor specializing in fertility, “a good rule of thumb is to eat at least 4 ounces of protein with every meal and leafy vegetables with 2-3 meal each day.” She also recommends including high fiber foods, flaxseeds, and berries in your diet (9).

Supplements for PCOS

Some doctors may recommend nutritional supplements to help with PCOS symptoms. Many women with PCOS have a vitamin D deficiency, and research suggests that taking a vitamin D supplement may improve both reproductive function and insulin sensitivity (13, 14). Other supplements, such as inositol, berberine, and cinnamon, may help women with PCOS improve insulin sensitivity (9).

Exercise to boost fertility

Research has found that exercise may help improve menstrual regularity, as well as pregnancy and ovulation rates in women with PCOS (15, 16). It may improve insulin sensitivity too, which can give your fertility an additional boost by lowering insulin levels in the blood. And lower insulin levels can lead to lower testosterone levels. Balancing these hormones may increase your chances of having regular menstrual cycles, conceiving, and having a healthy pregnancy (17, 18). 

Exercise may also help with weight management, lower blood pressure, and decrease the cholesterol and triglycerides (a type of fat) found in your blood (3, 19). It can also help with mood, body image, and chronic stress, which is great whether you’re trying to conceive or not (3).

For best results, try to get at least 150 minutes (2 and a half hours) of exercise each week (20). Weight-bearing exercises like yoga, strength training, jogging, and hiking can be especially helpful (9). Don’t be afraid to experiment with different types and lengths of workouts until you find a routine that you enjoy.

3cc exercise recommendations

Medications and other options to treat infertility

If lifestyle changes aren’t working (or aren’t working fast enough) and you’ve already ruled out other causes of infertility, your doctor may recommend another form of fertility treatment. Depending on which type of doctor you’re going to at this point, your provider may refer to you a specialist that’s better equipped to help with your current situation, such as an endocrinologist, gynecologist, or reproductive endocrinologist (6).

Your doctor may suggest prescription medications, such as clomiphene (Clomid) or gonadotropin injections containing FSH to help induce ovulation. FYI: Women who conceive with the help of these medications have a higher chance of getting pregnant with two or more babies (21, 22). Metformin may also be prescribed to help lower blood sugar and androgen levels in hopes of regulating ovulation (1, 21). 

Some women with PCOS may need a surgery called ovarian drilling to help with ovulation. During this procedure, a doctor makes a small perforation in an ovary, which decreases androgen production and may temporarily restore ovulation (1, 21). 

If the above options don’t help, it may be time to start considering assisted reproductive technologies, such as intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF) (1).

PCOS and pregnancy complications

Women with PCOS may be more likely to experience pregnancy complications than women without PCOS. It is unclear whether this is because of the syndrome itself or the symptoms that often accompany PCOS — mainly, obesity and insulin sensitivity (23). 

Either way, pregnant women with PCOS have been found to experience higher rates of complications from gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced hypertension (high blood pressure), and preeclampsia (more severe high blood pressure accompanied by protein in the urine) (23). PCOS is also associated with an increased risk of miscarriage, preterm birth, cesarean section (C-section), and admission to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) (1, 23).

Don’t worry, there’s good news too. All of the things that you’re doing to help increase your chances of getting pregnant — nutritional eating, exercising, reaching a healthy weight — may also help lower your risk of problems during pregnancy (1). Other ways to set yourself up for a healthy pregnancy include taking folic acid supplements and reaching healthy blood sugar levels, either through the lifestyle changes we mentioned above or by taking insulin sensitivity medications (1). Scheduling regular prenatal care visits with your provider can also help you avoid serious problems during pregnancy (24).

Getting pregnant with PCOS may require a little extra attention and planning (and a few added conversations with your doctor), but it’s possible for many women. And the benefits of these lifestyle changes go far beyond increasing your chances of conceiving. They can help set you up for a healthy pregnancy, decrease your PCOS symptoms, and improve your overall health and quality of life. Talk about multitasking!

About the author

Catherine Poslusny is a writer and content marketing strategist based out of Norman, Oklahoma. She's written for healthcare companies since 2016, and she's most passionate about her work in women’s health, fertility, and reproductive rights. You can find her at catherinerosewrites.com.

References +
How Not to Waste Another Month When Trying to Conceive
Download Your Free eBook