Have you been diagnosed with PCOS and want to get pregnant? Are you imagining a bleak future where pregnancy is just not possible for you?
Most women dream of the moment they become mothers, but there are many health conditions that may pose a threat to that desire. How do you face that threat and overcome it?
In this article, we’ll discuss your PCOS treatment options, from lifestyle and diet changes, to fertility drugs and IVF.
What Is PCOS?
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a condition where the ovaries develop small cysts and the body cannot ovulate regularly. It’s one of the leading causes of infertility and causes trouble getting pregnant, along with the related health factors that PCOS causes (1).
Symptoms of PCOS
PCOS affects 1 in every 10 women, so if you’re coming to terms with this diagnosis, take heart that it’s really quite common.
Many women struggle without ever knowing what’s really behind their infertility or other frustrating symptoms. The lack of education about PCOS can be disheartening, but fortunately, a little understanding can go a long way.
Some of the most common side effects of PCOS aside from infertility include:
- Weight gain: Women with PCOS may notice weight gain without an obvious reason why.
- Hair loss: Thinning hair or hair loss, particularly on the scalp, could be a sign of PCOS when paired with other symptoms. This can also be the result of poor health or stress.
- Hair growth: The most embarrassing part of PCOS is hair growth everywhere. Your face, back, and even your feet can suddenly start sprouting hair where there was none before. The medical term for this is hirsutism and it is a significant challenge for women with PCOS.
- Excessive bleeding and cramping: Periods are often reported to be much worse if you suffer from PCOS. Luckily, there are treatments available if your period is beginning to disrupt your daily life.
- Irregular cycles: On the other hand, trying to get pregnant while you have irregular cycles can make you feel like you’re on a monthly roller coaster you never signed up for.
- Skin problems: Acne, skin tags, and even discoloration can happen if you have PCOS.
If you’re concerned you may have PCOS and that it could explain your infertility, ask your health practitioner about it. They’ll be able to put your mind at ease and discuss possible treatment options with you.
Can You Get Pregnant with PCOS?
The misconception that PCOS removes any chance of pregnancy can really shatter hopes and dreams, which is why I was so inspired to write about it. A close friend of mine struggled with PCOS and now has two beautiful, healthy children. It takes a little extra work, but, yes, you can get pregnant if you have PCOS (2).
Improving your PCOS, increasing your chances for regular ovulation, and handling the undesirable side effects can be done with a little patience and lifestyle changes. Many women can address their infertility from home, but in many cases, medical help is needed.
There is no reason to get discouraged about your chance to have children, with or without PCOS. Our bodies work in magical, wonderful ways!
Why Does PCOS Impact Pregnancy Chances?
PCOS significantly affects the part of the body that’s perhaps most involved with fertility — the ovaries. In general, the reason why PCOS causes infertility is because it disrupts hormone levels and can even prevent ovulation- the act of releasing an egg. Irregular periods make it much harder to conceive a child.
The hormonal imbalance that PCOS causes also can affect the development of your eggs or the way your body handles them. You may ovulate, but the egg isn’t prepared for fertilization, and in the end, you don’t conceive (3).
Three Home Treatments for PCOS Infertility
Not everyone has the time, money, or motivation to go through medical treatments to address PCOS. While it’s true professional help will bring quicker and more reliable success rates than simple changes in your lifestyle, it never hurts to try to tackle the problem on your own before reaching out.
As always, have an open line of communication with your doctor about everything you’re doing.
They’ll be able to offer more advice and information and steer you in the right direction if you’re trying to get pregnant with PCOS.
1. Weight Loss
Since PCOS can affect your metabolism, many with the condition find they struggle to lose weight. The trouble is that being overweight has been proven to affect your chances of conceiving, with overweight women having 35 percent less of a chance of getting pregnant than women at a healthy weight.
Losing weight with PCOS can be challenging, but it’s possible, just like being pregnant is! Fortunately, losing even a little weight with diet and exercise will greatly improve your chances of becoming pregnant.
Remember that the basis behind many cases of PCOS is insulin resistance. For this reason, losing 5-10 percent of body weight can reduce insulin resistance and can improve irregular menstrual cycles. By improving the way your body produces insulin and responds to glucose, you can improve your likelihood to become pregnant!
Editor's Note:Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, RN, CNM
2. Track Your Ovulation
Did you know that even if you don’t ovulate, you can have a period? It’s true!
Many women with PCOS are confused and don’t quite understand why they aren’t conceiving. Track your ovulation to get a clearer idea about what is going on, when to try, and how to maintain a healthy, regular cycle. Understanding the rhythms of your monthly cycle can help you pinpoint areas you need to address or identify problems you might not have noticed before.
However, just because you have a cycle every month does not mean that you are releasing eggs every month. It is important to look to other signs to esure that your body is following the proper steps to become pregnant.
Editor's Note:Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, RN, CNM
3. Take Supplements and Stay Healthy
Caring for your body when you have PCOS is extremely important. The symptoms that frustrate you most will probably be the extra hair growth, acne, or weight gain. But many women with PCOS also lack essential vitamins they need, and this affects their fertility, too.
Start with Vitamin D, as it’s a great supplement for any woman trying to get pregnant. Vitamin D can improve your chance of conception, but it’s even more vital for women with PCOS.
The healthier your lifestyle, the less your body suffers from your PCOS, which improves your chances of conceiving.
Three Medical Treatments for PCOS Infertility
Have you tried everything under the sun and feel like you’re out of ideas? Don’t panic. Modern medicine has advanced and there are plenty of safe and effective treatments available that can reverse your PCOS symptoms and get your body to the place where it can conceive.
IVF, or In Vitro Fertilization, is where your eggs are taken and fertilized in a lab, and then reintroduced into your body once they show viable signs of life. IVF has helped many people overcome the hurdle of conception and go on to become parents.
In fact, this treatment is used to treat a variety of infertility issues affecting both men and women. It’s one of the best treatments, if not the best treatment if you and your partner have struggled with infertility for a long time (4).
2. Fertility Medication
One of the more popular methods of treating PCOS and improving your fertility is through a medication called Clomid. This medication is designed to help your hormones balance, stimulate your ovaries, and improve your odds of conception.
Clomid is not the only pill available, but it is the most prescribed. It’s best for treating irregular cycles, which is the main problem with PCOS, and is a great option for women with this condition (5). Another medication that you may hear about is letrozole.
3. Fertility Injections
Gonadotropins are fertility drugs that jumpstart your ovulation. These are especially popular with women who have PCOS. Some women take the injections in conjunction with an IVF treatment schedule, but they can be taken on their own, too.
This option is obviously a little more invasive than pills, since you self-administer regular injections that are designed to help your hormones and body prepare for pregnancy. You’ll be carefully monitored during this time (6).
Does PCOS Cause You to Miscarry?
For all the same reasons PCOS makes it hard to conceive, it makes it more likely to miscarry. I know, enough bad news already!
The bright side is that everything you can do to get pregnant helps you stay that way. A miscarriage can happen in any pregnancy. PCOS increases the chance of miscarriage, but that doesn’t mean the risk can’t be managed.
Good health, regular preconception appointments, a wholesome diet, and pregnancy-safe exercise can improve the chances for a full term, successful pregnancy. Once you put your body first, you’ll begin to see a better you, and improve your chances for a successful pregnancy.
Other Risks While Pregnant with PCOS
Once the first trimester has passed, the chances of miscarriage drop. However, there is still one thing to watch out for when it comes to PCOS.
Gestational diabetes is more common in women with PCOS, which isn’t too surprising since diabetes has a higher chance of occurring in those who are overweight, to begin with (7). Going into a pregnancy with a healthy weight and eating plan can help improve your chances of sailing through pregnancy in good health.
Multiple Children with PCOS?
Once you’ve had your first baby, it might seem impossible to ever conceive again if you struggled with PCOS symptoms the first time around. Years of infertility can really teach you to appreciate a child, but it’s natural to want more than one.
With PCOS, is it even possible to go through all the same infertility hoops to get pregnant again? That’s a question that can only be answered by you, but be encouraged that it is not impossible to have as many children as you want.
The good news is that once you’ve had a successful pregnancy, you’ll have a better idea of exactly what treatments work for you. At that point, you’re an expert on your own body, so keep doing what worked and wait for another positive test!