Can you get pregnant if you have PCOS?

PCOS woman taking pregnancy test

Polycystic ovary syndrome is a common condition that affects one in five women. PCOS can make it harder to get pregnant, but if you’ve been told you have it, then you’ll be pleased to know that you can still conceive with treatment.

PCOS and pregnancy

PCOS is one of the most common causes of female infertility. It's a condition where large fluid-filled sacs develop in your ovaries, which makes it more difficult to release an egg. They are harmless, but can disrupt your hormone balance. If you have PCOS, you'll produce more testosterone than normal, and you may not ovulate every month. You’ll be able to tell if you’re not ovulating regularly because your periods will be irregular – and some women with PCOS don't ovulate at all. Remember though, that an irregular period is not a diagnosis in itself of PCOS. It’s really important to not rely on doctor Google here and self-diagnose, but if you’re having fewer than eight periods a year, you should talk to your GP.

Do you know when you're ovulating?

Try our ovulation calculator

Other signs and symptoms of PCOS include:

  • excess body hair
  • acne
  • difficulty losing weight
  • thin hair (on your head, alas)
  • pelvic pain
  • dark patches of skin in your groin, neck and armpits (acanthosis nigricans)
  • depression
  • mood swings.

These symptoms (particularly depression) can be caused by other issues, so if you're struggling with any of them, pop to your GP anyway and keep an open mind.

My doctor prescribed me a higher dose of metformin when I got pregnant because of the risk of miscarriage. The increased risk is very low. The biggest challenge is getting pregnant – so I wouldn't panic.

It is also possible to have polycystic ovary syndrome that goes unnoticed because you're not showing the typical symptoms, so if you've been off the pill and trying to get pregnant for a while to no avail, then it’s still worth mentioning your concerns to the GP. If you've come off the pill and are having trouble conceiving it's natural to wonder if the pill caused your PCOS. PCOS is not caused by taking the pill – but it is possible that the pill masked the symptoms of PCOS while you were on it, so you didn't know you'd developed PCOS until you stopped taking the pill and symptoms appeared.

Can I get pregnant if I've got PCOS?

A diagnosis of PCOS does not mean the end of your chances of conceiving naturally – if anything, it's only the beginning of your journey to becoming a parent. Thousands of women with PCOS deliver healthy babies all over the world every day. Conceiving with PCOS might take a little longer – but it definitely does happen.

I have PCOS and have an almost seven-year-old, conceived completely accidentally while on the pill! This was only a few months after I was told by doctors that I would never conceive without IVF.

How is PCOS treated?

PCOS has a number of treatment options. It can't be cured, per se, but its symptoms can be managed to improve your fertility and allow you to become pregnant without the need for more complicated fertility treatments.

What can my doctor do to treat PCOS?

Your doctor can determine the best course of treatment for you, but you may be recommended any of the following:

  • Clomifene – a drug that stimulates ovulation.
  • Metformin – can be prescribed to control your insulin levels. It's normally used for type two diabetes – but can be used “off-label” to help with PCOS-related insulin resistance.
  • Provera and other hormonal treatments – can be prescribed to stimulate your period.
  • Letrozole and Tamoxifen – these are two breast cancer drugs that can also be used “off-label” to treat PCOS if the doctor deems the benefits to outweigh any side effects or risks. They can be taken to treat PCOS before trying to conceive. Use a non-hormonal contraceptive when you're taking them, as Tamoxifen can harm your baby, so you really must follow your doctor's advice on this one – and if you do become pregnant, stop taking it immediately and see your GP.
  • Gonadotrophin injections – help stimulate the ovaries to produce an egg if oral medications haven't worked. However, they can cause multiple pregnancies due to the risk of overstimulation, which might seem like good news, but might be more than you bargained for.
  • Laparoscopic ovarian drilling – this is a surgical procedure, which is nowhere near as bad as it sounds. The surgeon will make a small cut in your stomach, insert a thin tube into your ovary and remove some of the affected tissue.

Lifestyle changes

Healthy granola

Small changes to your lifestyle can play a big part in improving your fertility, including:

  • Losing weight – being overweight can have a huge impact on your fertility. Losing as little as 5% can improve your chances enormously, according to NHS Choices.
  • Regular exercise
  • Eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and a healthy, balanced diet – this pays dividends into your fertility.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol (yes, 'fraid so).
Eating healthy food seems to trigger pregnancy in PCOS women from my experience. Also, make sure you are taking folic acid or multivitamins. If you stick to it, you will be building a healthy environment for your baby to grow in.

And besides, you'll feel better about the stress of trying to conceive once you've got some kale down you as well. (We'd prefer doughnuts, but doctor's orders n'all.)

It's perfectly understandable to feel like you've got the bum end of the deal when it comes to conceiving and there is a woman down the road who seems to have a brood the size of an average primary school class. Polycystic ovary syndrome affects every woman differently – but don't worry, you're not alone. You can chat to the leagues of friendly Mumsnetters who've also got the condition on Mumsnet's talk boards, or there are charities including Verity and PCOS UK where you can find support, too.

The result of my successful PCOS pregnancy is currently one day old and sleeping on my chest. I had a very easy pregnancy with no problems and a very easy birth too.

I'm pregnant and I've got PCOS – how do I stay healthy?

If you've successfully managed to conceive despite your PCOS, then you've definitely got through the trickiest bit – but unfortunately, you're not completely out of the woods yet.

PCOS and pregnancy can mean that you will be poked and prodded a little more frequently than women who don't have it. But on the bright side, you might well see your baby sooner, as earlier scans are advised to check that you have a healthy pregnancy and everything is just tickety-boo.

They will advise on an early scan to check everything is where it should be, and then treat it as a regular pregnancy.

Women with PCOS are at a higher risk for pregnancy and delivery complications. There is an increased risk of miscarriage in the first three months and pre-eclampsia later on. You should also have your blood glucose checked regularly as you have a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes than women without PCOS – if you don't already have type two diabetes as part of your condition. Polycystic ovary syndrome can also put you at increased risk of high blood pressure in pregnancy and the baby being born prematurely.

Do I have to have a c-section if I’ve got PCOS?

If you have PCOS, then you are more likely to need a c-section – but only because you are at an increased risk of complications. Your PCOS itself will not mean you need one – you can still deliver vaginally if you choose to. And of course, if you decide you'd actually rather have a c-section, then that's fine as well.