Before we dive into a bigger discussion, let’s begin here: Yes, it is possible to get pregnant with PCOS.
So you can take a deep breath now, relax your shoulders, and continue reading for a full guide on what exactly you need to know about how to get pregnant with PCOS.
Polycystic ovary syndrome, commonly known as PCOS, is a common health condition that may cause fertility problems. If you have it, PCOS can leave you feeling out-of-control and frustrated with your body.
How does PCOS affect conception and what can you do about it?
First, let’s go over what PCOS is. It is a hormonal disorder that causes the ovaries to form small cysts.
It’s common among women of reproductive age, affecting between 6 and 12% of these women nationwide. Being the most common endocrine disorder affecting this age group, PCOS can be a pain to live with.
We’re still not totally sure what causes PCOS, but it is linked to excess levels of androgens. Androgens are male sex hormones but women naturally have them as well.
High levels of androgens cause dips and peaks in Luteinizing Hormone (LH), and Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH).
These are key hormones in signaling the release of a mature egg, which is the process called ovulation. It’s because of these hormonal imbalances that women with PCOS often have problems with ovulation. For instance, women with PCOS may ovulate several times in a cycle, or not at all.
But irregular ovulations aren’t the only PCOS symptoms. Take a look at these other common symptoms:
- Irregular or longer menstrual cycles: Women with PCOS may have cycles greater than 35 days. They can also go months without a period, or have a period that lasts longer than eight days.
- Acne: High androgen levels in PCOS cause hormonal acne along the jawline, chin, and upper neck. This acne may be more severe and take longer to heal than normal skin irritation.
- Hair growth: Sometimes called hirsutism, women with PCOS may have hair growth where they don’t want it. Hair growth can show up along the jawline, neck, chest, back, and toes.
- Hair loss: It may seem ironic to be losing hair while also growing excessive amounts of it. But women with PCOS may sometimes have alopecia, which is loss of or thinning of hair that occurs most commonly on the scalp.
- Weight gain or obesity: PCOS can cause women to gain weight, most commonly in the belly.
- Skin tags: These are small pieces of skin that may grow on the neck or armpits.
- Darkening of skin: Areas of hyperpigmentation on the armpits, under the breasts, and on the back of the neck are common in PCOS.
- Mood problems: PCOS comes with a high risk for anxiety and mood disorders.
Symptoms like hair growth, acne, and weight gain are distressing, especially when combined with problems of conception.
The good news is that even though PCOS may mess up your menstrual cycle, it’s still possible for many women with this condition to successfully conceive.
To learn more about how to increase your chances of getting pregnant with PCOS, keep reading!
How does PCOS affect my chances of getting pregnant?
According to research, between 70-80% of women with PCOS have trouble with infertility. Getting pregnant can be a frustrating and emotionally draining problem for women with PCOS.
In order for pregnancy to begin, an egg has to be released into the fallopian tube and fertilized by sperm. Since PCOS affects the body’s ability to have a predictable cycle, women living with the condition may experience anovulation.
Anovulation is when the ovaries don’t release an egg during the cycle. On the other hand, PCOS can also lead to hyperovulation, which is when you release multiple eggs in a cycle.
This unpredictability is what often makes conception difficult in PCOS.
PCOS typically begins at puberty, but it’s normal if you only recently found out you have it. Don’t panic. Many women don’t know they have PCOS until they notice problems with conception.
How To Get Pregnant With PCOS?
While the hormonal disorder makes it harder to conceive, getting pregnant with PCOS is still possible with the help of certain methods.
First, medications exist to assist you with pregnancy in PCOS. If you have been trying to conceive for a year or more without success, it’s best to tell your gynecologist about it so that they can help you make a practical plan for conception.
One of the best ways to increase your chances of conceiving is to track your ovulation. But how can you predict your ovulation cycles when PCOS makes them erratic or non-existent? Let’s talk about it.
Tracking ovulation with PCOS
Even though tracking ovulation with PCOS is not a cakewalk – what with all the unpredictability – it is still possible. Accurate tracking will give you an idea of your fertile window, which is your best time to try for pregnancy.
The fertile window is estimated to be 6 days: 4 days before ovulation, the day of ovulation, and the day after ovulation.
Here are a few strategies that can help you track your ovulation:
- Track your cervical mucus. Changes in vaginal discharge can tell you loads about what’s happening inside your body. The color and consistency of mucus varies throughout the month. Near the time of ovulation, the discharge appears slippery, wet, translucent, resembling the feel of egg whites.
- Notice any ovulation symptoms your body may be trying to signal to you. These could range from mild abdominal pain to an increased sex drive. Check out our guide for identifying ovulation symptoms.
- Track your hormones with advanced fertility tracking, using a handy device like the Inito Fertility Monitor. While other strategies will tell you when your body is trying to ovulate, only Inito will confirm that your ovaries have released an egg. In fact, the accuracy with which this tracker identifies your fertile days is known to have increased chances of getting pregnancy by 89%.
How to get pregnant if you have PCOS?
Many women with PCOS are able to get pregnant and have successful outcomes. We hope you will be able to, as well! Here are a few more strategies to try if you know you have PCOS and are trying to conceive.
1. Weight Loss
Between 40-85% of all women with PCOS are overweight. The hormonal imbalance of PCOS makes women more prone to putting on weight, especially around the abdomen. Obesity is linked to PCOS, and the condition can even worsen because of it.
Weight gain leads to insulin resistance, causing the ovaries to release even more androgens than usual. This can prompt other PCOS symptoms to get worse. At the same time, obesity and insulin resistance in women can also increase risks of conditions like diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease.
Your fat cells release estrogen to support the hormonal requirement in your body. When you are obese or overweight, the fat cells produce more estrogen thereby leading to a further hormonal imbalance in PCOS.
Losing weight can make living with PCOS better. While weight loss won’t cure PCOS, it may ease the symptoms, which can in turn help in the regulation of your fertility cycle. Regulating your blood sugar levels and bringing down your Body Mass Index (BMI) can help prevent other diseases like diabetes and heart problems.
In studies, women with PCOS who lost weight experienced better menstrual regularity and more regular ovulation. This will make it easier for you to track your cycles and help to get pregnant with PCOS.
But you don’t need us to tell you that losing weight is easier said than done. Especially because PCOS often results in women gaining more weight over time.
Rather than going on crash diets, try incorporating these lifestyle changes to increase your chances to get pregnant with PCOS:
- Set aside time for exercise.
For weight loss, 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week is recommended for women with PCOS. This means that you need to spare 30 minutes daily for swimming, running, or zumba five days a week.
- Eat low-carb, high-nutrient foods.
Bringing down your carb consumption helps with insulin resistance, and has been proved to help with fertility among women with PCOS. A diet with less carbs and more lean protein and healthy fats can help you lose weight, feel better internally, and decrease your risk for other health problems. Think leafy vegetables, high-fiber fruits, fatty fish, nuts, and seeds.
- Behavior Therapy
If you’re wanting to lose weight and are having trouble, working through the problem with a behavioral therapist can set you on the path to your goals. This exercise will give you motivation and accountability, helping you reach your weight loss goals.
Behavioral therapy has benefits beyond weight loss: it can help you process the complex emotions that PCOS causes. If taking this route could help you lose weight, increase chances of conception, and give you a better quality of life, what is there to lose really? Give it a chance.
2. First-Line Medication To Get Pregnant With PCOS
If you’re diagnosed with PCOS and are seeking treatment, your doctor will likely opt for first-line medications for you, after some tests and ultrasounds.
These medications carry relatively lower risks and are non-invasive. They stimulate the ovaries to release an ovum, using different mechanisms of action.
3. Second-Line Strategies for getting pregnant with PCOS
If oral medications haven’t helped with PCOS, your fertility doctor may recommend more invasive options. These typically include:
- Gonadotropins: These are synthetic forms of the LH, FSH, and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) hormones. These are given as injections into subcutaneous tissue. They are often paired with other strategies to induce fertilization, such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and intrauterine insemination (IUI).
- Laparoscopic Ovarian Drilling (LOD): Drilling? We know, this sounds scary. But LOD is a viable alternative to gonadotropin therapy. In PCOS, the ovaries can become encapsulated in a shell of hardened cysts. This prevents them from releasing an egg.
The LOD procedure is done under general anesthesia, when a surgeon will go in through the abdominal wall to drill through this hardened shell. The goal is that after creating this opening, the ovaries will be able to ovulate with the help of ovulation-induction agents.
Assisted Reproduction and PCOS
- In Vitro Fertilization
IVF is the most effective way to get pregnant with assistance. Mature eggs are collected from the ovaries. In a lab, they’re fertilized by sperm. The fertilized eggs are then reintroduced back into the uterus where they will grow.
- In Vitro Maturation
IVM goes a step back in the process. Instead of collecting mature eggs, IVM involves collecting immature eggs and then helping them mature in a lab. Mature eggs are then fertilized and put back into the uterus.
IVF and IVM both have good success rates, even for women with PCOS. IVF outcomes between women with and without PCOS are similar, and nearly 50% of women who get IVF done are able to conceive.
Speak with your doctor about problems with conceiving. They should be able to refer you to a fertility specialist who can help you with strategies to get pregnant with PCOS.
- PCOS is a hormonal disorder where the ovaries produce more androgens than normal.
- Excess androgens affect your ability to get pregnant because they prevent you from ovulating, or can make you ovulate unpredictably.
- It’s still possible to track your ovulation with advanced fertility tracking that confirms an egg has been released.
- If you’re having problems getting pregnant with PCOS, there are several strategies to conceive. Losing weight is a non-medical option that can be helpful, but there are also medications and advanced fertility treatments.
- IVF and IVM can also be helpful ways for women with PCOS to get pregnant.