Often when women go off the birth control pill after having taken it for years, it can take longer than they’d like to get pregnant, and the delay can lead to worry and stress about fertility. Even for women with no fertility issues, it can sometimes take up to 12 months—or longer—to get pregnant. The causes of such fertility struggles are enigmatic to many women and their doctors, so people sometimes point to exercise as an obstacle to pregnancy. Although exercise in and of itself truly has no role in fertility, it can take longer to get pregnant after you go off the pill if you’re burning a lot of fat through workouts.
If you find you need to turn to fertility meds, your provider will probably suggest that you approach exercise with caution. Many specialists advise women to restrict running to fewer than 10 miles per week when they’re trying to conceive, but again, no research exists to support the idea that exercise threatens fertility. That said, fertility drugs may not mix well with aggressive workouts because they enlarge the ovaries from the size of a walnut to the size of, well, a much larger fruit. As they grow, the ovaries get heavier and can twist from the weight, which can be quite painful. Exercise increases the risk of that torsion. At the same time, exercise also increases blood flow throughout your body, and the uterus and ovaries want a good blood flow to assist fertility. As with keeping a healthy balance of calories and exercise, it’s key to balance your body’s desire for activity with its need for moderation.
Many women choose to scale back on running and exercise when struggling with fertility because it gives some measure of control. Some IVF research suggests that highly active women on IVF treatments have more trouble conceiving. A 2006 study found that women with 1 to 9 years of exercise history who worked out at least 4 hours per week were 40 percent less likely to conceive after the first IVF treatment than women who exercised less. Cardio workouts, in particular, lowered the odds of conception after the first IVF treatment for that group. Interestingly, though, women with years of high activity since childhood were just as likely to get pregnant as those who didn’t exercise. Despite these findings, many specialists still insist that there is no relationship between running and the success of IVF. Clearly, there is some ambiguity, and much more research is needed.
When you make your exercise choices during conception, keep this in mind and focus on what feels right for you. If you’re pursuing IVF, you might want to scale back the intensity and volume of your workouts as you try to get pregnant in the months following treatment while not cutting out activity altogether. If training causes you stress over whether or nor you’ll conceive, give yourself permission to rest, and look for stress-relieving physical outlets, such as Pilates, hiking, and yoga, that you can substitute for intense training.
Fit & Healthy Pregnancy is a friendly, comprehensive guide to exercising during pregnancy from athlete-moms Kristina Pinto and Rachel Kramer, MD.
Find Fit and Healthy Pregnancy in your local bookstore or online and learn safe ways to exercise for two!
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Please consult your doctor before embarking on an exercise program during pregnancy.