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Fat: An Obstacle to Getting Pregnant

Tuesday, February 22, 2005; Page HE05

Many overweight and obese women may not even get to the pregnancy stage. That's because being overweight can impede fertility.

Lesa Childers learned that lesson. In 1992 the Whittier, N.C., resident, then 22, had been trying to get pregnant for three years when she was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal and metabolic disorder that is tied to obesity and marked by irregular menstruation. Childers was 5-foot-3 and her weight hovered near 196 pounds, giving her a body mass index, or BMI, of almost 35 -- well into the obese range.

Lesa Childers didn't get pregnant until she lost weight through diet, exercise. (Pcostrategies.org)

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Not until five years later, she said, when she was diagnosed with diabetes, did doctors suggest that better nutrition and exercise could help improve her health and her weight. Childers changed her diet and began walking three miles several times a week along the steep mountain roads near her home.

Over the course of a year, Childers lost 55 pounds and got her BMI down to 25. Her hormones and blood sugar began to stabilize. With the aid of fertility drugs, she became pregnant in 1999 and delivered a healthy baby girl, now 5. Then, two years later, she became pregnant again, this time unexpectedly. That led to her son, now 2.

Childers -- a social worker who is president of the nonprofit PCOStrategies (www.pcostrategies.org), a group that educates women about the syndrome and helps them make lifestyle changes that enable them to become pregnant -- says the nine years she struggled with infertility could have been greatly abbreviated if she'd known that getting in shape could help control her condition.

"All along, my fertility was in my own hands," said Childers. "It was all about lifestyle -- taking care of myself and getting my body in a place where it was balanced and healthier."

Many overweight women whose hormonal fluctuations seem normal also have difficulties conceiving.

A study presented in October at the annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine showed that women with a BMI over 35 were less likely than healthy-weight women to become pregnant after attempting in vitro fertilization.

Men, incidentally, aren't immune to the effects of overweight on fertility. A recent Danish study showed that men who are overweight or obese have significantly lower sperm counts than men of normal weight.

-- Suz Redfearn

© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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