PCOS and Pregnancy – FAQs
14 January 2021 by - Dr Pandelis Athanasias
Polycystic ovary syndrome, widely known as PCOS, is a common condition which affects around 20% of women. It is a chronic, long-term condition in which there is no definitive cure. PCOS affects the way in which a woman’s ovaries function and is, therefore, a common cause of infertility in women.
Continue reading as we answer some of the most common questions asked in relation to PCOS and pregnancy.
Can I get pregnant if I have PCOS?
Although PCOS is a common cause of fertility problems in women, many women with PCOS can and do manage to get pregnant naturally. On the other hand, some women may need to take medication to help them begin ovulating or to regulate ovulation and therefore get pregnant. With the right treatment and positive lifestyle changes, most women with PCOS are able to get pregnant.
How can I get pregnant with PCOS?
Medication aside, living a healthy lifestyle, which includes regular exercise and a balanced diet, is highly recommended. A large number of women with PCOS struggle with their weight – a common symptom of the condition. If you are overweight, your doctor will advise that you lose weight before trying to get pregnant. Maintaining a healthy weight can help to regulate your menstrual cycle, improve your PCOS symptoms and reduce your risk of pregnancy complications.
Similarly, a nutrient-rich, balanced diet which avoids processed or junk foods is extremely beneficial. Some fertility-friendly nutrition tips for those with PCOS include eating high-fibre green vegetables and lean proteins, switching white carbohydrates with complex carbohydrates (e.g. whole wheat pasta, brown rice), avoiding sugary snacks and drinks, and consuming healthy fats such as avocado and nuts.
Whether good diet and exercise alone can help a woman with PCOS become pregnant is unclear. Nevertheless, making positive lifestyle changes can certainly improve PCOS symptoms and may help make fertility treatments more effective.
What treatment can women with PCOS undergo to help them get pregnant?
If healthy lifestyle changes have proven ineffective, medication may be prescribed to help a woman with PCOS get pregnant. Ovulation induction preparations (like Clomifene or Letrozole) are commonly prescribed. It is medication which works by encouraging the monthly release of an egg from the ovaries.
Metformin may be also recommended. Metformin is normally used to treat type 2 diabetes, but it has traditionally been used for women with PCOS, helping to lower insulin and blood sugar levels. A consensus group has recommended against the routine use of metformin for ovulation induction except in women with glucose intolerance.
Where ovulation stimulating medications are prescribed, women should monitor their health and any possible side effects carefully.
If medication is unsuccessful in helping a woman with PCOS get pregnant, they may be offered assisted conception treatment.
Another option for PCOS-related fertility issues (where medication has been unsuccessful) is to undergo minor surgery, called laparoscopic ovarian drilling (LOD). LOD is carried out under general anaesthetic and involves a small cut being made to the lower abdomen and then a thin microscope being passed through so that doctors can look inside the body. It is also referred to as laparoscopic ovarian diathermy or electrocoagulation. It works by breaking through the outer surface of the polycystic ovary and lowering the amount of testosterone produced by the ovaries.
What are the pregnancy risks for people with PCOS?
Women with PCOS have an increased risk of pregnancy and delivery complications, including preterm birth, gestational diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure). They are also three times more likely to have a miscarriage in early pregnancy than those without the condition.
All of these risks are especially high for women who are overweight, which is why it is important to reach a healthy weight before trying to conceive. Women with PCOS should also be routinely checked for gestational diabetes by 20 weeks pregnant.
Can I breastfeed with PCOS?
Yes, it is safe to breastfeed with PCOS, even if you are currently taking insulin medication to help control your blood sugar levels. Women who have developed gestational diabetes are at risk of getting type 2 diabetes in the future, but studies suggest that breastfeeding can help to reduce this risk.
Breastfeeding has many benefits for both mother and baby, so those with PCOS should certainly explore the option if they feel it is right for them.
Can pregnancy cure PCOS?
No, unfortunately, PCOS is a chronic condition. However, it is not uncommon for women with PCOS to experience a cessation of their symptoms while they are pregnant. Moreover, many women with the condition have reported an improvement to their regular menstrual cycle after they have been pregnant.
At London Women’s Centre, we are specialists in the diagnosis and management of PCOS. To discuss your symptoms in confidence, book a consultation with us today.