How to Get Pregnant With PCOS

Lifestyle and Fertility Treatment Options for PCOS

Getting pregnant with PCOS

Verywell / Jessica Olah

In This Article
Table of Contents

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common causes of female infertility, affecting an estimated 5 million women.?? But you can get pregnant with PCOS. There are a number of effective fertility treatments available, from Clomid to gonadotropins to IVF.

Most women will be able to conceive with a combination of lifestyle changes and fertility drugs. While some women with PCOS will need IVF, the great majority will get pregnant using lower-tech fertility treatments.

Weight Loss to Restart Ovulation?

Many (but not all) women with PCOS struggle with obesity. This is because PCOS negatively affects how your body processes insulin, which can, in turn, cause weight gain.??

One of the main reasons women with PCOS can’t conceive is they don’t ovulate, or they don’t ovulate regularly. Women with PCOS who are 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 will help you conceive on your own. You may still need fertility drugs. Research has found that women who have lost weight have a great chance of having fertility treatment success.

Losing weight isn’t easy for anybody, and it may be even more difficult for those with PCOS. Also, not all women with PCOS are overweight. If that's your situation, weight loss isn't a solution to help with fertility.

Diet, Exercise, and PCOS

Eating a healthy diet is important for women 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.
  • When you eat carbohydrates, make them complex carbs (like whole grains and beans).
  • If you eat sweets or a high carb food, combine it 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.

Medications

Some people with PCOS will need medications to treat the condition and/or to help them conceive.

Metformin

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 woman ovulating on her own, further studies have not found an increase in pregnancy or live birth rates.?? In other words, the improvement with ovulation didn't lead to increased fertility.

Clomid

Clomid is the most commonly used fertility drug overall, and also the most commonly used treatment for women with PCOS. Many women with PCOS will conceive with Clomid.

Unfortunately, it’s not successful for everyone. Some women with PCOS will 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.??

Letrozole

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 women with PCOS. Letrozole is actually a cancer medication. However, studies have found that it may be more effective than Clomid at stimulating ovulation in women 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 women trying to conceive.?

Gonadotropins

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. Women with PCOS are at a higher risk of developing OHSS.??

Your doctor may use lower doses of the 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.?

Fertility Procedures

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, your doctor will order 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 women 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 mature these eggs in the lab.?? IVM is not offered at all fertility clinics. This is something to consider when choosing a fertility clinic.

Will You Need an Egg Donor?

It's highly unusual for women with PCOS to require an egg donor, unless there are additional fertility issues at hand, like advanced age. However, women 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.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ndefo UA, Eaton A, Green MR. Polycystic ovary syndrome: A review of treatment options with a focus on pharmacological approaches.?P T. 2013;38(6):336-355.

  2. Tan S, Scherag A, Janssen OE, et al. Large effects on body mass index and insulin resistance of fat mass and obesity associated gene (FTO) variants in patients with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). BMC Med Genet. 2010;11(1):12. doi:10.1186/1471-2350-11-12

  3. Frankfurter D. Getting Pregnant with PCOS. In: Davies T, editor. A Case-Based Guide to Clinical Endocrinology. New York: Springer; 2015:317-326. doi:10.1007/978-1-4939-2059-4_38

  4. Mahoney D. Lifestyle modification intervention among infertile overweight and obese women with polycystic ovary syndrome. J Am Assoc Nurse Pract. 2014;26(6):301-308. doi:10.1002/2327-6924.12073

  5. Seifarth C, Schehler B, Schneider HJ. Effectiveness of metformin on weight loss in non-diabetic individuals with obesity. Exp Clin Endocrinol Diabetes. 2013;121(1):27-31. doi:10.1055/s-0032-1327734

  6. Metformin therapy for the management of infertility in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Scientific impact paper no. 13. BJOG. 2017;124(12):e306-e313. doi:10.1111/1471-0528.14764

  7. Nestler JE. Metformin in the treatment of infertility in polycystic ovarian syndrome: An alternative perspective.?Fertil Steril. 2008;90(1):14-16. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2008.04.073

  8. Kazerooni T, Ghaffarpasand F, Kazerooni Y, Kazerooni M, Setoodeh S. Short‐term metformin treatment for clomiphene citrate–resistant women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Int J Gynaecol Obstet. 2009;107(1):50-53. doi:10.1016/j.ijgo.2009.04.022

  9. Kar S. Clomiphene citrate or letrozole as first-line ovulation induction drug in infertile PCOS women: A prospective randomized trial. J Hum Reprod Sci. 2012;5(3):262. doi:10.4103/0974-1208.106338

  10. Lin H, Li Y, Li L, Wang W, Yang D, Zhang Q. Is a GnRH antagonist protocol better in PCOS patients? A meta-analysis of RCTs. PloS One. 2014;9(3):e91796. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0091796

  11. Gremeau AS, Andreadis N, Fatum M, et al. In vitro maturation or in vitro fertilization for women with polycystic ovaries? A case–control study of 194 treatment cycles. Fertil Steril. 2012;98(2):355-360. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2012.04.046

  12. Al-Hussaini TK, Zakhera MS, Abdel-Aleem M, Abbas AM. Premature ovarian failure/dysfunction following surgical treatment of polycystic ovarian syndrome: A case series. Middle East Fertility Society Journal. 2017;22(3):233-235. doi:10.1016/j.mefs.2017.03.008

Additional Reading