What happens when you’re too fit to get pregnant

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With popular culture and mainstream media championing the idea that strong is the new skinny, women these days are under more pressure than ever to get fit. Of course, exercising regularly and keeping active is beneficial to your health… but what happens when you take it too far, and your body starts to get too lean?

The answer is Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA), a condition where your menstruation stops for several months at a time due to your body having too little fat. According to fertility experts, you need a certain amount of body fat in order for your menstrual cycle to function properly. If your fat percentage is too low, this impairs the production of hormones in your body, which leads to a lack of ovulation. As you might imagine, this makes it tough for women to get pregnant.

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Past research shows that women who were underweight at age 20 are likely to experience have trouble conceiving later on in their lives, but those who start their obsession with fitness after their early 20s are also at risk of developing amenorrhea.

A 2008 study, for example, states that up to 42% of folks who frequent the gym have “a destructive relationship” with their workout regimen, and a 2012 study shows that 69% of women who participate in sports that emphasize aesthetics or leanness (such as ballet or running) experience some form of amenorrhea. And as the calorie tracking and clean eating mania continues, and the pressure to be fit increases, we can imagine that the number of women who will go on to develop HA is likely to rise as well.

How does HA work?

If you’re experiencing HA, your periods may become irregular, or they may just stop altogether. For some, decreasing the intensity of their workouts will help reverse the effects, but others might not be able to get their periods back even if they do stop exercising vigorously.

For those who are taking contraceptive pills, diagnosing HA is tough. Because your period is artificially regulated when you’re on the pill, you get withdrawal bleeds every month – regardless of whether you have HA or not. If you go off the pill and you realize that you stop menstruating, that’s cause for worry, regardless of whether you’re trying to get pregnant or not. Under these circumstances, you should make an appointment with a gynaecologist to learn more about the situation.

Reducing the chances of developing HA

In a nutshell: ditch the “go big or go home” mentality. If you’re pushing yourself to go further with your workouts each time, you’re doing it wrong – you should be listening to your body, and not over-exerting yourself. At the same time, make sure you look into the other aspects of wellness, such as getting enough sleep, and eating a healthy, varied diet.

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Body fat wise, the ideal percentage for conception is between 22% to 25%, but if this is pretty far off from where you’re currently at, try and hit a minimum of 18% body fat. As a benchmark, fitness models tend to have body fat percentages of between 15% to 17%. These women tend to ovulate irregularly, or not ovulate at all. Again, this hurts their ability to get pregnant.

Fertility consultation with BeNatural’s fertility coach, Marie Otsuka

If you and your partner would like to learn more about conceiving, come down for a 45-minute consultation with Marie Otsuka, BeNatural’s fertility coach. In this session, Marie will seek to understand the couple’s situation, and offer insights she’s gained through her 10 years of experience in working with infertile Singaporeans. Slots are limited and on a first come first serve basis; contact us here to schedule an appointment!

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