Polycystic ovary syndrome (shortened to PCOS) presents some challenges for women who want to become pregnant.
If you’ve got PCOS and are thinking about getting pregnant, here is some information to help you boost your chances of success.
What is polycystic ovary syndrome?
First, let’s find out what polycystic ovary syndrome is.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition women experience due to an imbalance in their reproductive hormones.
Polycystic means ‘many cysts’ and refers to the many follicles that partially form on the ovaries. Each partially formed follicle contains an egg but these rarely mature or produce eggs that can be fertilized.
Women with PCOS often have high levels of insulin or high levels of androgens (male hormones); in some cases, they have both.
Although the cause of polycystic ovary syndrome isn’t really understood, it’s believed lifestyle factors such as diet and environment can influence the development of PCOS.
PCOS is frequently associated with obesity, insulin resistance, and metabolic disorders. These conditions can lead to type 2 diabetes or gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
Polycystic ovary syndrome is also one of the most common endocrine and metabolic disorders in premenopausal women when the functionality of their ovaries decreases.
We think you might like to read Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) for more detailed information about PCOS, signs, and symptoms.
Women with PCOS and pregnancy
Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) produce a higher than average amount of male hormones.
These hormones can prevent the release of an egg (ovulation) and cause irregular menstrual cycles. This means getting pregnant can be a little harder for women with PCOS.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is one of the most common causes of female infertility, affecting around 1 in 10 women of childbearing age.
Can you get pregnant with PCOS?
Yes, you can get pregnant with PCOS!
Women with polycystic ovary syndrome can get pregnant if they’re still releasing eggs, but there are a number of other factors that influence the ease of conception.
One is age; this can affect the quality of eggs beings released. It can also be more difficult to monitor when your fertile window is, and in which menstrual cycle your ovaries release an egg, if your cycles are irregular.
With a number of lifestyle changes, women with polycystic ovary syndrome can overcome some of the challenges to pregnancy.
If you aren’t on birth control and you are sexually active, PCOS doesn’t mean you can’t get pregnant.
How to get pregnant with PCOS?
If you’re one of the many women with PCOS and are actively trying for pregnancy, you might be looking for ways to improve your chances.
One of the biggest problems for women with PCOS is the way their body processes insulin. This means weight gain can become problematic for women with polycystic ovary syndrome.
The more weight you carry, the more likely it is for women with PCOS to struggle to get pregnant. Weight loss can increase your chances of getting pregnant as it might mean more regular ovulation.
You might find it helpful to read about these tips, lifestyle changes, and treatment options to help you conceive.
#1: PCOS diet for pregnancy success
Your health should be your top priority when trying to conceive. Women with PCOS might find they need to make some adjustments to their diet, but it doesn’t meant you have to stop eating delicious, nutritious food.
Many women with PCOS have insulin resistance. This is when the cells in the body don’t respond normally to insulin, glucose builds up in the blood, and energy can’t be used. Insulin resistance can be reversed by diet and weight management.
Insulin plays a very important role in women with PCOS. Being able to manage your insulin levels is one of the best ways to keep polycystic ovary syndrome under control.
Here are some dietary ideas to help women with PCOS keep their insulin and blood sugar levels well balanced in a natural way:
- Eat natural, unprocessed food. The more natural, fresh products you eat the better. Avoid meals that come prepared and packaged, as they’re high in calories and low in nutrients. Leave them just for emergencies
- Reduce sugar and refined carbohydrates like bread and pasta. Most of their nutrients and fiber have been removed. A diet high in refined carbs can mean insulin resistance is harder to control. Try having whole grain cereals like spelt or rye. Be sure to read Low Carb Diet Increases Your Chances Of Pregnancy
- Eat high fiber foods like fruits and vegetables, seeds and nuts (in moderation as they are very high on calories), and wholemeal products such as brown rice or pasta
- Eat as many raw foods as possible. Stock up on your favorite fruits and vegetables, to have as a snack, and make them the biggest part of your meals
- Eat omega 3 rich foods, such as avocados, oily fish, and nuts and seeds. Research has shown omega 3 fatty acids have a positive impact on insulin regulation and ovulation in women with PCOS
- Leafy greens are highly recommended in most diets, as the amount of nutrients, fiber, and vitamins in them help regulate insulin production, keep blood sugar at a healthy level, and improve digestion.
- Dark berries are part of a healthy anti-inflammatory diet. They’re lower in sugar than other fruits and help your gut and digestive system to work free of inflammation. Try to eat berries on an empty stomach, as the natural sugar and nutrients these fruits contains is best processed on its own. Stock up on cherries, blueberries, dark grapes, and blackberries, and make a yummy and healthy snack out of them.
- Eat more legumes and pulses. Lentils, beans, and chickpeas are a very important part of a healthy diet. Their digestion is slow, meaning your blood sugar level stays stable throughout the day. Their nutrition value is very high and they’re also rich in fiber, which makes your digestive system work as it should. This means better nutrient absorption and increased weight loss.
- Stay hydrated. Don’t reach for fizzy soda drinks, loaded with artificial sweeteners or sugar. Stick to drinking plenty of water; herbal teas and mineral waters are a great option too.
#2: Exercise with PCOS to get pregnant
What and how much you eat plays an important role in losing weight and reversing insulin resistance, which improves your chances of becoming pregnant with PCOS. Exercise has an important role too. It improves your metabolism, which is about how many calories you burn each day and how your body functions.
Exercise is also excellent for other things, such as improving your gut bacteria and looking after your mental health. Regular exercise helps you to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight in the future.
Moderate exercise like jogging, brisk walking, cycling, or swimming can greatly improve women’s health (with or without PCOS) and is a great help in keeping blood sugar levels normal.
With this type of exercise, your body’s sensitivity to insulin increases, reducing your risk of cardiovascular problems and of developing type 2 diabetes.
As you’re doing this to get pregnant you’ll be happy to know Exercise During Pregnancy Could Shorten Your Labor.
#3: Understanding your menstrual cycle
A big part of getting pregnant with PCOS is understanding your menstrual cycle and when your fertility windows are.
Knowing how your menstrual cycle works means being informed about the different stages, the hormones involved, and what to expect for women without PCOS.
This article Menstrual Cycle – Stages, Phases and What To Expect can help with that.
Although it can be tricky, it’s important to pay attention to signs you’re about to ovulate, so as to maximize your chances of getting pregnant.
Keep track of your menstrual cycles so you can get to know them and identify when ovulation is likely to happen. This can also be useful to see whether changes occur as a result of improving your health or whether you might need fertility treatments down the track.
#4: Reducing stressors
Stress has a huge impact on our bodies and, in terms of getting pregnant, it’s right up there with one of the biggest problems affecting fertility.
Not being able to fall pregnant easily tends to increase stress and anxiety in women; this can push them towards unhealthy behaviors that affect fertility. These include lack of sleep, drinking alcohol, smoking, or simply not following a healthy diet and exercise plan.
Research is ongoing in this area, but a 2018 study by the Boston University School of Public Health found women who had high levels of stress experienced lower levels of fertility than those with less stress. It’s thought that the ongoing levels of cortisol cause physical changes that have an impact on the reproductive system.
Trying to get pregnant, and failing, can place a stressful burden on you and your partner, which unfortunately doesn’t improve your chances of conceiving.
There are the added pressures of trying to lose weight, stay healthy and track your fertile window, which can also act as stressors.
The whole time you’ve been trying to fall pregnant can feel stressful, because you know you might have to resort to fertility treatments. Or perhaps you want to already but have to wait for a particular time frame.
Yoga and meditation are very good allies if you’re trying to get pregnant and you can feel the stress building up.
How to get pregnant with PCOS quickly
It’s hard to say how quickly women with PCOS can get pregnant. The best way to find out is to start now.
Make the changes to diet and lifestyle, as outlined above, as soon as possible and have a full consult with your midwife or doctor about your future plan.
Remember, having sex during your fertile times is crucial but it’s important not to make your relationship just about getting pregnant.
Have sex for fun and connection with your partner; this can really help to reduce your stress and improve your hormone balance.
Can I get pregnant with PCOS without treatment?
Women with PCOS can get pregnant without fertility treatments, but in some situations, treatment might become necessary.
If changes to your lifestyle, such as improving your diet and weight loss, haven’t helped you become pregnant with PCOS after 12 months, it might be time to consider fertility treatment.
If you’re over 35 years of age, it’s more common to seek treatment after 6 months of trying to conceive naturally.
The most common first-line treatment for PCOS is to try ovulation induction. This is when you are given medication, either as tablets or injections, to stimulate the ovary to increase egg production.
You can read more in Clomid – What Is It And What Are The Side Effects?
Once the ovary has released an egg, sperm is needed – either through sex or with inter-uterine insemination (IUI), when collected sperm is placed into the uterus.
How to get pregnant with PCOS naturally
Getting pregnant with PCOS can happen naturally, but it’s a lot to do with mindset as well as overcoming your fertility difficulties.
Being aware of how much you can do to improve your chances of getting pregnant with PCOS is important. Putting your plans into action is equally important, and you should have the support of your partner and your healthcare team.
Being positive and having a healthy mind and body will help you do everything you can to get pregnant with PCOS naturally.
PCOS and irregular periods
Many women with PCOS don’t have regular periods, so it can be difficult to know when ovulation occurs.
Focus on the PCOS lifestyle changes we discussed above. Start immediately. This will help to reverse insulin resistance, bring your blood sugar levels under control and lose any weight that might be causing your periods to be irregular.
As your body starts to balance, ovulation will be more predictable and you can aim to fall pregnant with PCOS.
PCOS and no periods
Some women with PCOS will have no periods for three or more cycles. This is called amenorrhea and it means there is no egg being released, so the uterine lining isn’t being shed.
This is a good reason to know what a healthy menstrual cycle should be like. It also means you can keep track of yours and report any major changes, such as a lack of periods, to your doctor. It’s important to have this investigated, as amenorrhea can happen for other reasons other than PCOS.
If PCOS is the main culprit, making the lifestyle changes, as suggested above, will work towards balancing your hormones and help your cycle to return.
PCOS and endometriosis
Endometriosis is a disorder where tissue, similar to the lining of the uterus, grows in other places, such as the ovaries. Endometriosis is unrelated to PCOS but, unfortunately, some women suffer from both.
You can read more in Endometriosis Stages – What Happens At Each Stage.
If endometriosis is having a big impact on your fertility, it’s important to seek the guidance of your healthcare provider. You might need treatment for endometriosis before being able to tackle the PCOS.
Be sure to read Endometriosis Treatment – What Are My Treatment Options?
PCOS and thyroid
The thyroid is a small gland situated in your throat, but it has a big influence over your whole body. It manages how fast your metabolism is as well as affecting other body systems.
If it’s working overtime (hyperthyroidism) it speeds up your metabolism. When it’s slow (hypothyroidism) then your metabolism slows down, causing you to gain weight or have problems losing weight. This is obviously similar to the effect of polycystic ovary syndrome and how it affects your ability to lose weight.
The thyroid also produces hormones that your body cells need to function properly. These hormones can affect your menstrual cycle and, therefore, your fertility.
If you have PCOS, it’s a good idea to have your thyroid hormone function checked as well. Hypothyroidism is more common in women with PCOS than in the general population.
Chance of getting pregnant with PCOS
The main reason women with PCOS don’t get pregnant is because they don’t ovulate regularly, or don’t ovulate at all.
There is a 24-hour window of fertility in each month in a healthy, regular cycle. If you’re not ovulating, or only ovulating infrequently, this makes your chance of pregnancy drop significantly.
The good news is that studies have found losing 5-10% of your current weight might be enough to get your menstrual cycles back on track. There is limited research into whether losing weight alone is enough, however, although it has been shown that weight loss does improve the success of fertility treatment.
Research has shown nearly 80% of women with PCOS who use the fertility drug Clomid successfully ovulated. Half of these women became pregnant naturally within six months.
If you are trying to get pregnant with PCOS, you might only need treatment with medications.
A medical study found that almost 80% of women with PCOS who were treated with the drug clomiphene citrate successfully ovulated. Of these, half of the women became pregnant naturally within six-period cycles.
Some women with PCOS will go on to have IVF fertility treatment. There is about a 20-40% chance of getting pregnant with IVF.
PCOS pregnancy symptoms
Getting pregnant with PCOS can happen spontaneously, after a few healthy lifestyle readjustments or after various fertility treatments, such as pharmacological ones (using fertility medications) or in vitro fertilization techniques.
Although pregnancy symptoms are common to all pregnancies, regardless of different reproductive conditions a woman might have, symptoms can vary, depending on your PCOS. Some of these symptoms might not be noticed, especially those we might confuse with the syndrome itself.
If you’re having regular periods, it would be easy to be aware that your period was late and you might be pregnant. But for many women with PCOS, irregular periods are frequent.
Feeling tired despite sleeping well, sleeping more and better than usual, having increased basal temperature or breasts changes are some of the symptoms you might experience.
You can read more about pregnancy symptoms in our articles:
- Pregnancy Symptoms
- Pregnancy Symptoms Before Missed Period
- Pregnancy Symptoms Week By Week
- Do Pregnancy Symptoms Come And Go?
How can I improve my egg quality with PCOS?
There’s not a lot of evidence to show whether PCOS affects the quality of a woman’s eggs.
Some research suggests women with PCOS will produce an increased number chromosomally abnormal eggs than those without PCOS. This is not because of any natural defect in women with PCOS; rather it is more likely due to being exposed to high levels of male hormones. The studies indicate this increase is not large but it is something to bear in mind.
Fertility relies on ovulation and egg quality. As women age, they have fewer eggs available to be released and the quality of those eggs declines. This is the reason why fertility decreases after the age of 35, as women will have only about 5% of the egg supply they were born with.
Most eggs with abnormal DNA aren’t fertilized at all if they are released. Age is the main driver in reducing egg quality so it’s important to take this into consideration if you have PCOS and are trying to get pregnant.
There is no test that can be done to check for quality; it can only detect how many eggs are in reserve. If you have concerns about egg quality – for example, if you’ve been a long-term smoker or exposed to toxins that could have affected your fertility – seek the guidance of a fertility expert.
How to stay pregnant with PCOS
If you are pregnant with PCOS, congratulations! That’s wonderful news.
If healthy lifestyle changes have led to conception, we hope this will encourage you to stay focused and committed to remaining healthy during pregnancy.
Your body and your baby depend on you being at your optimal healthy weight, as well as keeping your blood sugar levels within a normal range.
Your baby will develop fast and will rely on you to provide the nutrients needed for this growth.
In the early stages of pregnancy, you might feel really tired and even nauseous. Try to focus on resting, exercising, and healthy eating as much as possible during this stage.
As you move into the second trimester, these early pregnancy symptoms will ease off and you can continue with your healthy diet and exercise, to keep your weight within healthy range and your blood sugar levels stable.
This will reduce your chances of developing gestational diabetes, or other concerns such as preeclampsia. High blood sugar levels and blood pressure are complications that can lead to preterm birth, induction, and interventions such as c-section.
If you’re pregnant thanks to a fertility treatment, your doctor and team will closely monitor your pregnancy and your baby’s development.
If fertility drugs are being used your healthcare providers will make sure their levels are optimal as the pregnancy develops.