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A fertility expert weighs in.
September 19, 2022
If you’ve been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), you may worry that you’ll have trouble getting pregnant or have health issues during pregnancy. Thankfully, that isn’t necessarily true. While the condition can sometimes make conceiving a little more difficult, not all women with PCOS experience fertility issues—and the majority go on to have perfectly healthy pregnancies and babies.
While PCOS is one of the most common causes of subfertility, it is generally due to ovulation dysfunction that can be easily fixed with appropriate treatment. Many women with PCOS are able to conceive on their own, and those who can’t will usually respond quite well to low-level fertility treatments like ovulation induction and intrauterine insemination (IUI). There are also more advanced treatments like in vitro fertilization (IVF) if needed, which typically have very good success rates for those with PCOS.
After working as a fertility doctor for over two decades, here are my top tips for getting pregnant with PCOS.
Related: Natural ways to manage PCOS
First, it’s important to understand that the condition causes hormonal imbalances that often lead to symptoms like unwanted hair growth, acne, weight gain, hair loss and insulin resistance.
Irregular periods, high androgens (male hormones), and/or cystic-appearing ovaries are the three typical markers doctors look for when they suspect a patient has PCOS, and you must exhibit two out of those three markers to be officially diagnosed.
If not properly addressed, PCOS can cause long-term problems such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Additionally, women with PCOS are at higher risk for anxiety and depression.
While it may feel overwhelming to acknowledge these potential health challenges, the good news is that most (if not all) are treatable and manageable.
Want to give yourself the best chance at a healthy pregnancy and baby? Seek out experienced healthcare providers and evidence-based resources to better understand PCOS and your potential risk factors.
Though PCOS is a common condition, affecting up to 6% to 12% of women of reproductive age, there is a lot of misinformation about the syndrome, and women are often misdiagnosed. Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself or switch doctors if you feel your concerns aren’t being addressed.
If you know (or suspect) you have PCOS, the best type of doctor to see is a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist, as they have specialized training in diagnosing and treating hormonal disorders.
Once you’ve found a doctor you like and trust, let them know about your family-building plans so they can help you achieve those goals in the best way possible.
Here’s what you should chat about with your doctor:
By consistently communicating your desires and concerns to your doctor, you will be able to get the right support and personalized guidance you need to succeed in growing your family.
Related: Living with PCOS taught me to love and accept my body
Currently, there is no cure for PCOS—researchers aren’t even fully sure what causes it! Until we better understand this complex condition, the best course of action is to make sustainable changes in your lifestyle and self-care habits.
Here are some key areas to focus on:
Women with PCOS have higher levels of anxiety and depression, which means caring for your mental health is all the more important when you have the condition.
According to one study, up to 50% of PCOS sufferers report feeling anxious, with over 27% reporting symptoms of depression. Before you embark on pregnancy and parenthood, consider seeking out mental health counseling or talking to your doctor or another trusted person about how you’re feeling.
Self-care doesn’t have to look like meditating for an hour or having a luxury spa day. It can be as simple as taking five minutes to close your eyes and do breathing exercises between meetings, connecting with friends or family, going to a therapy session, or reading one page of a book before bed. Any action you take with the intention of reducing your stress levels, practicing self-reflection, or increasing your level of happiness counts as self-care.
If your doctor understands PCOS, they will likely request that you complete bloodwork that includes checking your blood sugar levels, including your hemoglobin A1C. By getting a complete picture of how your body tolerates and processes sugars, you can ensure that your levels are within a healthy range —or work with your care team to lower them if needed.
Increasing your physical activity doesn’t have to mean spending hours in the gym. Take a walk outside with friends, try an online yoga class, or do some squats while brushing your teeth—every little bit counts.
There are even specifically-tailored PCOS fitness guides. Rather than focusing on the intensity of your workouts, focus on creating a consistent, sustainable routine.
Move your body past the point of discomfort (not pain) and prioritize strength training over intense workouts like HIIT classes. Building muscle can help increase your metabolism!
Instead of restricting food groups or counting calories, eat regular, balanced meals and snacks that contain healthy fats, whole grains, protein, lean meat or fish and vegetables.
Setting aside some time to prepare a batch of meals ahead of the work week can be a great way to ensure you have healthy options ready when hunger strikes. You may also want to consider working with a nutritionist (particularly one who specializes in PCOS) as you get started.
You know the saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is?” It certainly applies to the world of PCOS and health.
There are many people who tout themselves as experts on the condition, advertising simple solutions or claiming their methods can help reverse PCOS, cure infertility, or magically make your unwanted symptoms disappear.
Unfortunately, there is no “quick fix” for this condition. Don’t fall prey to these false promises.
When in doubt, always ask your doctor for guidance. They will be happy to offer evidence-based information and resources to you so you can safely and sustainably manage your PCOS symptoms and reach your goal of having a healthy pregnancy.
With your doctor’s advice and these tips in hand, you can move forward confidently, knowing that you are on the right track to getting pregnant and ultimately, meeting your future baby.
Mark Leondires, MD, is a reproductive endocrinologist and OB/GYN who founded fertility practice Illume Fertility and Gay Parents To Be, the leading international fertility program serving the LGBTQIA+ community. Dr. Leondires attended medical school at the University of Vermont, completed his residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Maine Medical Center, and completed his fellowship in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Leondires believes that every patient deserves inclusive, expert fertility care. As a father via surrogacy himself, he combines his personal and professional experience to provide high-quality, compassionate care to all. You can learn more about Dr. Leondires and his work by visiting and or following @illumefertility and @gayparentstobe.
Damone AL, Joham AE, Loxton D, Earnest A, Teede HJ, Moran LJ. Depression, anxiety and perceived stress in women with and without PCOS: a community-based study. Psychol Med. 2019;49(9):1510-1520. doi:10.1017/S0033291718002076
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Yes, you CAN get pregnant with PCOS. A fertility expert shares how. – Motherly Inc.
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