When you type “PCOS and pregnancy” into a search engine, over 53 million results come up. You’re bombarded with a wealth of conflicting and sometimes alarming information, which is often the case when consulting Dr. Google!
In short: yes, PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) is a women’s health issue that can affect fertility and pregnancy. But as the most treatable cause of infertility, it’s entirely possible to conceive and have a healthy pregnancy if you have PCOS.
Please note this blog post is not a substitute for official medical advice and is for informational purposes only. If you are concerned about your PCOS symptoms, suspect you have fertility problems, or wish to start a new diet/lifestyle/supplement plan, please consult your doctor or a fertility specialist first. Neither the author(s) nor the publishers of this content take responsibility for any potential health consequences experienced by any person reading this educational content.
First up…how does PCOS affect getting pregnant?
Women with PCOS have a hormone imbalance that interferes with the growth and release of eggs from the ovaries (ovulation). In a normal menstrual cycle with ovulation, a number of eggs mature in follicles in the ovaries. The ripest egg is released into one of the fallopian tubes, where it meets the sperm if there is any.
People with PCOS have irregular periods, or no periods at all because the ovaries aren’t getting the right hormonal signals from the pituitary gland. Abnormal levels of androgens (often referred to as “male” hormones) disrupt the monthly cycle of ovulation and menstruation. If a healthy egg isn’t released, it can’t be fertilized by sperm, meaning you can’t get pregnant.
Can PCOS cause pregnancy complications?
Women with PCOS have a higher risk for certain problems or complications during pregnancy if symptoms have not been managed before the pregnancy occurs. The most frequently reported pregnancy complications in PCOS are gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, miscarriage and preterm delivery, hypertension, and preeclampsia.
But don’t panic: a combination of lifestyle factors, early screening, and frequent medical check-ups can play a key role in managing or preventing such issues.
It’s important to note that pregnancy complications are often a result of PCOS co-factors and comorbidities that can be managed and dealt with before pregnancy. For example, many PCOS Cysters are overweight or insulin resistant, which increases the chance of miscarriage and gestational diabetes.
Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome give birth to healthy babies every day. As for any woman, the best way to increase fertility and give your baby the best start in life is to adopt a healthy lifestyle and take extra care of your physical and mental well-being.
International, evidence-based guidelines for assessing and managing PCOS show that weight management, sleep, exercise, diet, and stopping smoking/alcohol consumption are the most important factors in improving the likelihood of your pregnancy. These factors are also key in maintaining a healthy pregnancy.
How to have a healthy pregnancy with PCOS
Weight gain is a common effect of PCOS. The condition can trigger insulin resistance, which causes the pancreas to overcompensate and produce more of the hormone. That extra insulin promotes fat storage and increases hunger, which can lead to weight gain.
If you’re overweight or obese, losing just a small amount of weight before pregnancy may help reduce your risk of developing gestational diabetes (high blood sugar that develops in some people during pregnancy, which can increase the chance of a caesarean section or premature birth). Eating a healthy diet is a simple yet effective way to support weight loss, balance blood sugar levels, and help you maintain a healthy weight. Most patients who have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes can maintain stable blood sugar levels with diet and exercise.
Where possible, try building your meals around foods that raise your blood glucose levels relatively slowly after eating.
What you eat now will help your baby grow and develop healthily, giving them the best possible start in life. Make sure you eat regularly – 3 meals a day and a couple of snacks in between if necessary. Eating foods that are rich in fiber, protein, iron, calcium, and healthy fats will keep you and your baby as strong and healthy as possible. Needless to say, smoking and drinking alcohol should be cut out altogether!
Protein-rich foods include:
- Meat (but avoid liver)
Opt for lean meat, remove the skin from poultry, and avoid adding extra fat or oil when cooking meat. Make sure it’s cooked thoroughly and steaming all the way through.
When you’re pregnant, avoid eating more than 2 portions of oily fish a week (such as trout, salmon, mackerel and herring), because it can contain pollutants (toxins).
Fiber-rich foods include:
- Whole grains
- Dried fruits
When you reach for the snacks, opt for nutritious options such as:
- Salad vegetables, such as celery, cucumber, or carrot
- Hummus with vegetable sticks
- Ready-to-eat apricots, figs or prunes
For a more exhaustive list of PCOS-friendly snacks, check out our blog post on PCOS snack ideas.
It’s a good idea to limit your caffeine intake while pregnant, as high levels have been linked to pregnancy complications. If you’re drinking coffee and caffeinated beverages because you’re tired, the best thing you can do to boost your energy levels is to exercise and eat a balanced, PCOS-friendly diet.
Regular, pregnancy-safe exercise can have a hugely positive effect on your blood glucose levels and lower the risk of gestational diabetes. Try to aim for around 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week. This should raise your heart rate, make you breathe a little faster, and make you feel warmer. Try to practice something you enjoy – be it yoga, stretching, swimming, brisk walking or slow, weighted workouts.
Thankfully, most women with PCOS who develop gestational diabetes have healthy babies providing the condition is managed successfully during their pregnancies.
Speak to your healthcare provider
If you have PCOS and get pregnant, work with your health care provider to promote a healthy pregnancy and delivery. If you are concerned about your symptoms or worried about complications, always speak to your doctor. The risk of these complications can be reduced by monitoring PCOS symptoms, making healthy lifestyle changes, and taking extra care during your pregnancy.
With or without PCOS, it’s sadly not always clear why pregnancy complications arise. Despite this, avoiding alcohol, giving up smoking, staying physically active, and managing your weight are key factors in contributing to a healthy pregnancy.
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