Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common causes of infertility, affecting an estimated 5 million people. But you can get pregnant with PCOS. There are a number of effective fertility treatments available, from Clomid to gonadotropins to in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Most people with PCOS will be able to conceive with a combination of lifestyle changes and fertility drugs. While some will need IVF, the great majority will get pregnant using lower-tech fertility treatments.
Weight Loss to Restart Ovulation
Many (but not all) people with PCOS struggle with obesity. This is because PCOS negatively affects how the body processes insulin, which can, in turn, cause weight gain.
One of the main reasons people with PCOS can’t conceive is they don’t ovulate, or they don’t ovulate regularly. People with PCOS who are also overweight are more likely to experience more severe anovulation, going months between periods.
Studies have found that losing some weight may bring back ovulation. According to the research, losing 5% to 10% of current weight may be enough to jump-start menstrual cycles.
Unfortunately, there’s not much evidence that losing weight alone will help you conceive. You may still need fertility drugs. But people who lose weight have a greater chance of success with fertility treatments.
Losing weight isn’t easy for anybody, and it may be even more difficult for those with PCOS. Also, not everyone with PCOS is overweight. If that's your situation, weight loss isn't a solution to help with fertility.
Fertility Foods to Boost Your Odds of Conception
Diet, Exercise, and PCOS
Eating a healthy diet is important for people with PCOS. This is partially due to the higher risk of becoming overweight, and partially due to their bodies’ trouble with insulin regulation. Is there any one diet that is best for PCOS? That’s a matter of debate.
Some studies have claimed that a low-carb diet is the best one for PCOS, but other studies have not found a low-carb advantage. The most important thing is to make sure your diet is rich in nutrient-rich foods and adequate protein and low on high-sugar foods. Avoiding junk food and processed foods is your best bet.
Fertility-Friendly Eating Tips for PCOS
- Eat a bigger breakfast and a smaller dinner.
- Include more protein and greens in your meals.
- When you eat carbohydrates, make them complex carbs (like whole grains and beans).
- If you eat sweets or a high carb food, combine them with healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, nuts) or protein to slow down the sugar spike.
Regular exercise has also been found to help with PCOS symptoms. In one study, a combination of regular brisk walking and eating a healthier diet improved menstrual cycle regularity by 50%.
Whether diet and exercise alone will help you conceive isn’t clear. However, a healthy lifestyle may help your fertility treatments work better, and it will certainly help you feel better overall. Like weight loss, it’s worth the effort if you want to get pregnant.
Some people with PCOS will need medications to treat the condition and/or to help them conceive. In some cases, your family doctor or obstetrician/gynecologist can prescribe these. Or, you may need an endocrinologist or fertility specialist.
Getting Pregnant With PCOS
Getting pregnant with PCOS can be possible with lifestyle changes to manage PCOS symptoms and regulate insulin. Medical intervention, fertility medications, or egg donation are also available to help those with PCOS conceive. Discuss your condition with your healthcare provider to get personalized recommendations, and don't be afraid to ask for a second opinion.
Ask your doctor to test your insulin levels. If you’re insulin-resistant, taking the diabetes drug metformin can treat the insulin resistance and may help you lose weight. It may also help you conceive.
Metformin is sometimes prescribed to people with PCOS even if they aren’t actually insulin-resistant. Using metformin for PCOS is considered off-label use. However, the drug is relatively safe and may help you conceive. According to the research, metformin may:
- Promote weight loss
- Restart regular menstrual cycles
- Improve the effectiveness of some fertility drugs
- Reduce the rate of miscarriage (in those with repeated miscarriage)
Can metformin alone help you get pregnant? This is unlikely. While earlier research found that metformin increased the odds of a person ovulating on their own, further studies have not found an increase in pregnancy or live birth rates. In other words, improved ovulation didn't lead to increased fertility.
Clomid is the most commonly used fertility drug overall, and also the most commonly used treatment for people with PCOS. Many people who have PCOS will conceive with Clomid.
Unfortunately, it’s not successful for everyone. Some people experience Clomid resistance. This is when Clomid does not trigger ovulation as expected. Studies have found that a combination of metformin and Clomid may help beat Clomid resistance.
If metformin and Clomid are not successful, your doctor may consider the drug letrozole. Also known by its brand name Femara, it is not a fertility drug but is frequently used as one in people with PCOS. Letrozole is actually a cancer medication. However, studies have found that it may be more effective than Clomid at stimulating ovulation in people with PCOS.
Don’t be scared off by the fact that the drug is originally intended as a cancer drug. The side effects are relatively mild, and it has been heavily researched in people who are trying to conceive.
If Clomid or letrozole is not successful, the next step is injectable fertility drugs or gonadotropins. Gonadotropins are made of the hormones FSH, LH, or a combination of the two. Brand names you may recognize are Gonal-F, Follistim, Ovidrel, Bravelle, and Menopur.
Your doctor may suggest a combination of oral and injectable fertility drugs (for example, Clomid with a trigger shot of LH mid-cycle). Another possibility is a cycle with just gonadotropins.
Or, your doctor may suggest gonadotropins with an IUI (intrauterine insemination) procedure. IUI involves placing specially washed semen directly into the uterus via a catheter. The semen may be from a sperm donor or your partner.
One of the possible risks of gonadotropins is ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). This is when the ovaries overreact to the fertility medication. If untreated or severe, it can be dangerous. People with PCOS are at a higher risk of developing OHSS.
Your doctor may use lower doses of injectable fertility drugs to avoid this. Ideally, your doctor should use the lowest effective dose. During treatment, if you have any symptoms of OHSS (such as rapid weight gain, abdominal pain, bloating, or nausea), make sure to tell your doctor.
If gonadotropins are not successful, the next step is IVF (in vitro fertilization) or IVM (in vitro maturation). You’ve likely already heard of IVF.It involves using injectable fertility drugs to stimulate the ovaries so that they will provide a good number of mature eggs. The eggs are retrieved from the ovaries during a procedure known as an egg retrieval.
Those eggs are then placed together with sperm into Petri dishes. If all goes well, the sperm will fertilize some of the eggs. After the fertilized eggs have had between three and five days to divide and grow, one or two are transferred into the uterus. This procedure is known as an embryo transfer. Two weeks later, you take a pregnancy test to see if the cycle was a success or not.
As with gonadotropin treatment alone, one of the risks of IVF, especially in people with PCOS, is overstimulation of the ovaries. That’s where IVM comes in.
IVM stands for in vitro maturation. Instead of giving you high doses of fertility drugs to force your ovaries to mature many eggs, with IVM you receive either no fertility drugs or very low doses. The doctor retrieves immature eggs from the ovaries, and then matures these eggs in the lab. IVM is not offered at all fertility clinics. This is something to consider when choosing a fertility clinic.
Using an Egg Donor
It's highly unusual for people with PCOS to require an egg donor, unless there are additional fertility issues at hand, like advanced age.
However, people who have had procedures such as ovarian drilling or ovarian wedge resection to treat PCOS may have lower ovarian reserves. In this case, an egg donor may be necessary. This is one reason why surgical treatment for PCOS is not recommended.
A Word From Verywell
If you have a diagnosis of PCOS, you can get pregnant. It may take some extra time and effort, but it is certainly possible. Talk with your doctor for personalized advice on the best ways to treat PCOS, restart or regulate ovulation, and conceive a pregnancy.
How many years does it take to get pregnant with PCOS? ›
Summary. If you have PCOS, you can still expect to conceive within a year (or even less) as long as you are ovulating normally and have no other risk factors for infertility.How easy is it for someone with PCOS to get pregnant? ›
So women with PCOS are more likely to have trouble conceiving than other women. While most women who have PCOS become pregnant, they often take longer to fall pregnant and are more likely to need fertility treatment than women without PCOS.How can I increase my chances of getting pregnant with PCOS? ›
- Diet. Women with PCOS are often found to have higher than normal insulin levels. ...
- Exercise. Regular exercise has been shown to improve fertility in women with PCOS. ...
- Medication. The primary fertility problem with PCOS is the lack of ovulation. ...
- Don't Wait.
Most women with PCOS have a 20 to 40 percent chance of getting pregnant with IVF treatment. Women who are 35 years old and older or who are overweight have a lower chance of getting pregnant.Does PCOS increase chance of twins? ›
PCOS and twins
Women with PCOS may be more likely to have multiples (twins, or more). One study found that while the multiple pregnancy rate is 1.1% in the average population, it is 9.1% for women with PCOS patients.