Being a healthy weight increases your chances of having a baby. If men or women are overweight, or underweight it can take longer to conceive.
Why? Because it can cause problems with hormone levels, which can affect a woman’s menstrual cycle and the quality of her eggs.
Being overweight can also reduce the quality of a man’s sperm and cause erection problems. It can also affect men's and women's libido (sex drive).
It's not about having some kind of ‘perfect’ body – just a healthy body, because healthier parents have healthier babies.
A man's weight doesn't affect a couple's ability to have a baby.
Men who are overweight or obese have worse sperm quality and are not as fertile as men who are a healthy weight.
How can I tell if I’m a healthy weight?
One way to measure whether you're in a healthy weight range is using the Body Mass Index or BMI. You can enter your height and weight into this BMI calculator to find out your BMI number.
● A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered a ‘healthy weight’.
● A BMI below 18.5 is considered ‘underweight’.
● A BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered ‘overweight’.
● A BMI over 30 is considered ‘obese’.
You can also measure your waist to indicate whether you have a healthy weight.
The facts about weight and fertility
Most of us carry more weight than our parents and grandparents did when they were our age.
In 2014-15, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of Australian adults were overweight or obese, and obesity is on the rise.
A healthy diet and regular exercise improve your health and your chance of pregnancy and having a healthy baby.
Weight and men's fertility
Overweight and obese men have worse sperm quality than men who are a healthy weight. Being underweight can also reduce a man’s sperm quality and therefore his fertility.
Being overweight or obese can cause hormonal changes that reduce fertility and make men less interested in sex. Men who are very overweight are also more likely to have problems getting and keeping an erection. Together, these factors reduce the chances of fathering a child.
Weight, women's fertility and pregnancy health
Being a healthy weight increases the chances of getting pregnant and reduces the risk of complications during pregnancy.
Women who are obese take longer to get pregnant and have a higher risk of:
- hypertension (high blood pressure)
- gestational diabetes
- blood clotting
- the need for medical intervention to bring on labour (induced labour)
- caesarean birth
- premature birth
Babies born to women who are obese are more likely than babies born to mothers in the healthy weight range to:
- be larger than normal at birth
- need intensive care after birth
- have a birth defect
- become obese and have health problems in childhood and later in life.
What you can do
The good news is that by making some changes – eating healthy meals and doing some regular exercise, you can work towards a healthier weight to improve your chance of pregnancy and having a healthy baby.
If you or your partner are overweight or obese, losing even a few kilos can improve your chances of getting pregnant.
Losing weight is not easy, and it takes commitment and time. But for most people, it is possible. Research shows that if partners get healthier together, there’s a better chance of success. Having support from a partner, family or friend can help you set up healthy lifestyle habits for the future.
Ways to make healthier changes
- Avoid short-term fad diets or changes that you are unlikely to continue in the future.
- Set small achievable goals that you can manage (e.g. taking the stairs rather than the lift, using a pedometer to count your steps each day, swapping juice or soft drinks for water).
- Be realistic and build your goals up slowly over time.
- Everyone is different. Find a way that works best for you, and fits into your lifestyle.
The Australian Government’s Healthy Weight website has information about a balanced diet and explains how much exercise you need to reach and keep a healthy weight.
Some medical conditions can affect your weight
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
In women, unhealthy weight can be associated with a medical condition called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a common cause of infertility. PCOS is a hormonal condition that affects up to 1 in 7 women of reproductive age. Early diagnosis, a healthy lifestyle and medication can improve fertility for women with PCOS. Find out more about PCOS here.
Diabetes in both men and women affects the chances of having a baby but it can be controlled to reduce or remove symptoms. It is especially important for both men and women with diabetes have a health check to review your diabetes and general health, at least three to six months before trying to have a baby.
For more information about how to manage diabetes before and during pregnancy visit the National Diabetes Services Scheme (NDSS) Pregnancy & Diabetes website (for women) and Andrology Australia website (for men).
Find out more about diabetes here.
- Best D, Avenell A, Bhattacharya S. How effective are weight-loss interventions for improving fertility in women and men who are overweight or obese? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the evidence. Hum Reprod Update. 2017;23(6):681-705.
- Fullston, T., et al., The most common vices of men can damage fertility and the health of the next generation. Journal of Endocrinology, 2017. 234(2): p. F1-F6
- Stephenson J, Heslehurst N, Hall J, Schoenaker DAJM, Hutchinson J, Cade JE, Poston L, Barrett G, Crozier SR, Barker M et al. Before the beginning: nutrition and lifestyle in the preconception period and its importance for future health. The Lancet 2018;10.1016/S0140-6736(18)30311-8