Infertility can be painful and deeply frustrating. You may find yourself wondering why this is happening to you. And while infertility treatment can be highly effective, it presents some additional challenges: some, but not all, people who undergo in vitro fertilization (IVF) experience weight gain. This can be frustrating, but significant weight gain is unlikely. So let’s separate IVF weight gain fact from fiction. Here’s what you need to know.
Does IVF Cause Weight Gain?
It’s not IVF unto itself that causes weight gain, but the medications your doctor prescribes to prepare your body for IVF. In preparation for an IVF cycle, you will take several different hormones, usually in an injectable form. These drugs suppress your natural cycle, induce ovulation, and depending on your treatment plan, may support your body to produce multiple eggs.
Hormones are the body’s chemical messengers. They send information from one area of the body to another. This means that changing a person’s hormones can change a lot about how their body processes things, including things that have nothing to do with fertility. Consequently, many people experience IVF side effects; including weight gain.
Weight gain during fertility treatments can happen for a few reasons. First, IVF may slow your metabolism or otherwise affect how your body manages and uses energy -- this can cause weight gain. Second, IVF may cause food cravings that ultimately cause you to eat unusually fatty or sugary foods -- this may also trigger weight gain.
It’s important to keep in mind that this weight gain is usually minimal -- five to ten pounds at most. For most women, the gain is even smaller -- just a pound or two. Most IVF weight gain is related to water retention, so you may notice that your weight fluctuates more during an IVF cycle. Once you’re no longer using IVF drugs, the weight should come off fairly easily.
IVF Injections and Weight Gain: How Much Weight Might I Gain During an IVF Cycle?
If you’ve ever taken hormonal birth control, your response to those medications can give you a decent understanding of what to expect on IVF. IVF, like hormonal birth control, uses hormones. Though it can subtly change metabolism and the way your body responds to food, IVF cannot create calories and fat where none exist. So IVF alone will not cause you to gain significant amounts of weight.
Most women find that their weight fluctuates a bit more while on IVF medications. A smaller group notice weight shifts due to water retention. This weight usually drops after you get your period or if you get pregnant, after you have the baby. A smaller group notice more significant weight gain that sticks around even after they go off of IVF drugs. When this happens, the weight gain is typically no more than five to ten pounds. Anything more than this is unlikely to be due to IVF drugs alone.
Excessive weight gain, especially very rapid weight gain, almost always indicates another problem. So if you notice sudden weight gain or a change in your appearance overnight, call your provider right away.
Lupron Weight Gain Basics
Lupron is one of many drugs that some women take during an IVF cycle. This drug can be used to treat a wide variety of conditions, including some types of cancer. It is also used on an off-label basis for IVF. Off-label use means that the use is not approved by the FDA, but is generally considered to be safe and effective. Lupron is notorious for causing temporary weight gain, usually within the five to ten pound range.
Lupron is a GnRH agonist. When used for IVF, it suppresses a woman’s natural cycle, allowing IVF medications to work. It also can trigger ovulation. Not all women pursuing IVF take Lupron. Some use HCG to trigger ovulation. So it’s important to talk to your doctor about which medications and combinations are safest for you. If you experience unpleasant side effects, your doctor might be able to change the medications you take.
Is it Safe to Try to Lose Weight When Trying to Get Pregnant?
We live in a weight-obsessed culture. If you’re already feeling anxious and frustrated about infertility, weight gain is probably the very last thing you want to deal with. Weight and infertility interact in some interesting ways. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can cause weight gain by triggering insulin resistance. IVF is a key treatment for PCOS. Research also shows that losing weight may improve the effectiveness of IVF and other PCOS treatments.
Even if you don’t have PCOS, if you are overweight, your odds of getting pregnant drop. Being overweight or obese can also increase the risk of pregnancy complications. So there are very good reasons to worry about weight gain.
It is generally safe to attempt to lose weight when you are trying to get pregnant if, and only if:
- You are currently overweight. If you are a normal weight, losing weight may actually make it harder to get pregnant.
- You adopt a healthy, balanced diet. Avoid crash diets, fasting, and very low-calorie diets. Weight loss should be slow and steady, not immediate.
- You remain physically active. During pregnancy, greatly increasing physical activity levels can be dangerous, so start slowly and gradually build upon your successes.
- You have your doctor’s permission. Talk to a provider before embarking on a weight-loss plan, especially when you are trying to get pregnant.
Once you get pregnant, a restrictive diet robs your developing baby of much-needed nutrition. It’s fine to cut back on binge or overeating or unhealthy snacks, but you should not try to lose weight during pregnancy. Instead, talk to your doctor about a healthy pregnancy eating plan, and about your ideal pregnancy weight gain. Sufficient protein intake is especially important for a developing baby, so ensure your diet is rich in lean meats, nuts, legumes, eggs, dairy, and other protein-rich foods. Your goal should be to get your calories from foods that are very nutritious, so steer clear of high-calorie, low-nutrition foods such as white bread, sugary snacks, and processed foods such as potato chips.
Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome and Weight Gain
In some women, IVF hormones can cause a serious condition called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (HSS). This causes the ovaries to become swollen and painful. In most women, HSS is mild and short-lived, causing only temporary pain that dissipates as soon as the woman stops taking the medication.
However, in some women, HSS can cause serious and even life-threatening side effects, including:
- Ovarian torsion, which happens when the ovary twists. This can cause the ovary to rupture, and may even cause the loss of the ovary, further endangering fertility.
- An infection in the abdomen.
- Blood clots in the legs.
- Shortness of breath.
- Decreased urination.
- Swelling or tightness in your stomach. You might suddenly look pregnant.
- Intense pain in your abdomen or side.
- Bleeding between cycles or blood in your urine.
Your doctor should carefully monitor you for HSS. But if you experience pain, shortness of breath, or a fever, these are important symptoms that you should report to your doctor immediately. Some women also experience sudden weight gain -- often five to ten pounds overnight. Some may gain even more weight -- twenty to thirty pounds or more over the course of several days. Any weight gain of more than a few pounds is a red flag you must not ignore.
If you gain significant weight -- more than a few pounds -- in a day or two, it is a medical emergency. If this happens over the weekend or you cannot get ahold of your provider for any reason, go to the emergency room.
Other Potential Causes of Weight Gain
People gain weight for many reasons, including during an IVF cycle. Some other reasons you might notice a few extra pounds include:
- Changes in lifestyle. If you quit smoking to get pregnant, you might gain a few pounds, especially if you don’t exercise.
- Stress-eating. Many people respond to the stress of infertility or IVF by eating more. If you eat out more to distract yourself and your partner, it might be harder to monitor your caloric intake.
- Less activity. Some people spend more time sitting at the computer googling symptoms during an IVF cycle. If you become less active because of stress, you might gain a few pounds.
- Diabetes or insulin resistance. Several conditions that also affect fertility may cause weight gain. Diabetes is chief among them.
Weight gain is more than just an inconvenience. It’s an important clue about your health. So don’t assume your weight gain is because of IVF. Talk to your doctor about any unexplained weight gain -- even if it’s only a few pounds.
Other IVF Side Effects
Every woman’s experience on IVF is different, and for most, the benefits of IVF far outweigh the frustration and inconvenience of IVF side effects.
Aside from weight gain, the most common side effects include:
- Depression, anxiety, and mood swings. This is often due to a combination of IVF medications and the stress of infertility.
- Hot flashes.
- Gastrointestinal issues such as constipation and diarrhea.
- Breast tenderness or changes in breast size.
- Changes in cervical mucus.
IVF also greatly increases the risk of multiple births.
When to See a Fertility Specialist
A fertility specialist is your best ally in the fight to get and stay pregnant. Many people are reluctant to seek help, citing fears about the safety and effectiveness of fertility treatments, or concerns that seeking help means giving up. The truth is that fertility has a clock attached to it. The longer you wait to get help, it will become increasingly more difficult to obtain a successfully pregnancy until ultimately your time will run out.
IVF is one of the most effective fertility treatments available. Choosing the right IVF clinic is critical to the success of treatment, since the skill of the provider is a major predictor of treatment success. So research your options and choose wisely. Also keep in mind that IVF is just one among many fertility treatment options, so if you’re reluctant to give IVF a try, rest assured that other treatments may also help.
You should seek help for infertility if:
- The woman is under 35 and you have tried for longer than 12 months to get pregnant.
- The woman is over 35 and you have tried for longer than 6 months to get pregnant.
- The woman has had 2 or more consecutive miscarriages.
- The woman does not ovulate regularly, or has very irregular periods.
- Either partner has a prior history of infertility, even with a different partner.
- You have a chronic or progressive medical condition, or a history of cancer or organ transplants.
The Center of Reproductive Medicine has treated many, many people just like you. We understand the fear and trepidation with which people often approach fertility treatment. We want you to know, however, that treatment works. We partner with you to select the right treatment, to minimize side effects, and to ensure you understand your entire range of treatment options, from lifestyle changes to IVF and beyond.
Infertility cuts to the core of who we are. The desire to have children is one of the most powerful drives there is. So when your efforts at having a child are stymied, it’s easy to feel hopeless, and even to turn on your partner. You’re not alone when you partner with us. We’re here for you, at every step of this difficult journey. We get to know you as a person, and are always there to remind you that fertility is never the sum total of who you are.
Let us support you in your path to parenthood. Give us a call today to get started!