How IVF Can Impact Your Weight

Oct 24, 2021 10:38am

Does IVF make you gain weight?

Think of how your hormones typically effect your diet throughout the month - now multiply that by a million...

Hormones, stress and general disruption to your normal routine can all wreak havoc on your eating habits. As if fertility treatment did not make you feel powerless already, there's a good chance that your taste buds will now be uncontrollable, too. In a recent online study, IVF patients reported gaining 3-15 pounds during treatment. Once treatment was over and they went back to their "normal" day-to-day however, so too did their weight.

Another factor that may not come to mind right away is how medications can impact your emotions and, in turn, your weight. This, coupled with increased stress levels, can throw even the healthiest of BMIs (Body Mass Index) out the window. Let’s break down these causes a little further to understand why.

What causes weight gain during IVF?

The weight gain during IVF can almost always be traced back to hormones. Your treatment protocol involves all sorts of hormones - some taken orally and some taken through injection - which can cause emotional rollercoasters. In addition, your once staunch commitment to exercise might disappear. And, even if it doesn't, many of the early morning appointments at your fertility clinic can put a damper on your morning workouts.

During IVF your estrogen levels are spiked. This is because your body needs to prepare itself to release more eggs for the process to work. The two main hormones injected are Gonadotrophin Releasing Hormone, Follicle Stimulating Hormone and Luteinizing Hormone, more commonly referred to as GnRH, FSH, and LH.

  • GnRH actually acts to prevent your Luteinizing hormones from rising too early. In other words for as long as you take GnRH your body acts as if it is menopause.
  • FSH has been linked to studies as one of the main possible culprits for weight gain around the waist area. This hormone is produced by the pituitary gland and has the primary function of helping women release their eggs.
  • LH is also produced by the pituitary gland and works closely with FSH for the release of your eggs. It gets your body ready for pregnancy by increasing your levels of estrogen. This directly increases fluid retention and can make your stomach feel bloated.

Let’s talk about these hormones in relation to medications, your emotions, the procedures, and how they also affect your activity levels.

Do Fertility Medications Cause Weight Gain?

There are quite a few medications that trigger different hormones during the process of IVF. This allows for doctors to time the process a little better as well as make the female patient more fertile. But with these medications can come heavy side effects.

For most women, it is a common side effect to feel like your stomach may be bloated or feeling heavy when taking these medications. Note that oral medications are taken in addition to your injectables.

Because medications are prescribed differently from patient to patient, this also makes it hard to predict how much weight one will gain. Hence the range from three pounds to over 15+. Some patients may need more medications than others to increase their hormones.

Which Medications Cause Weight Gain During IVF?

Here are some of the common oral medications that are taken with injections.

  • Clomiphene Citrate (Clomid)
  • Letrozole (Femara)
  • Progesterone Supplements

Likely you will take these oral medications, beginning on the first day of your period, for a few days. This is a double-whammy when it comes to hormones and feeling bloated because we normally feel a little bigger and a little heavier during our menstrual cycles to begin with!

Clomid

Temporary weight gain is a common side effect while taking Clomid or any form of Clomiphene Citrate. Why? Because Clomid blocks your estrogen receptors to trick your body. Then, estrogen levels start to spike. Bloating is one of the primary side effects that links to the feeling of weight gain which is due to significant water retention.

Femara

Femara is also an oral tablet that can cause temporary weight gain. It's primary function is to stimulate FSH and LH to produce more fertile eggs. With this drug in particular you may feel your body start to swell. This leads to unintentional weight gain among feelings of tiredness and possible hunger cravings.

Progesterone

Progesterone helps prepare the uterus lining for implantation. In other words, we want the fertile egg to stick so that we become pregnant and progesterone helps make that stick more likely. All the previous medications are likely to affect your progesterone levels so it’s important to ramp it back up in time for the eggs. While progesterone hasn’t been linked to gaining weight, it is a hormone that is likely to alter your appetite.

Is It Normal to Gain Weight After The Egg Retrieval Procedure?

It is completely normal to gain weight during all stages of the process. Since IVF is a handful of procedures over the course of roughly three weeks there is a lot going on with the body and how it changes and responds to various stimuli. Let’s just talk about the procedures within one round of IVF and how your body is likely to respond in these stages.

How Does the Specific Process of Ovulation Induction Impact Weight?

This is when doctors use all the types of medications listed above to prepare your body to produce eggs. There are 4 mini-stages in this process and you can see where you possibly may gain weight depending on what medications you are taking.

IVF Stage 1: GnRH analogs prevent your body from ovulating too early. Once you're ready, it's time to stimulate your ovaries with gonadotropins. 

  • At this point, weight gain due to IVF might be minimal if at all.

IVF Stage 2: The second batch of medications are intended to help your follicles grow and mature more than one egg. Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (or COS) often utilizes Clomid or Letrozole.

  • The first day or two you may notice little weight gain. As the week progresses, however, water retention - and moodiness - begin to escalate.

IVF Stage 3: The next stage of the IVF process includes medications that put your body into ovulation overdrive.  Also known as "stims", these drugs stimulate the release of luteinizing hormone, encouraging ovulation.

  • The "trigger shot", taken just prior to retrieval, actually contains a pregnancy hormone. So if you're feeling fat and bloated, it should come as no surprise.

IVF Stage 4: Finally, when it is time for egg retrieval, you will take progesterone to get your uterus lining ready for implantation.

  • Not only can progesterone interact with other hormones to cause weight gain, but it can also slow down the digestion process. The result? You guessed it! Sluggishness and bloating.

With all these rapid changes in hormones, it’s easy to see how weight and body changes will occur due to bloating and swelling. But also they have a major impact on our emotions.

What Is Emotional Weight Gain During IVF?

IVF, as you can see, has your body going through the wringer in a very short period of time. Naturally with all the emotional stress, it's natural to feel out of sorts to begin with. Unfortunately, these medications and injections don’t help. They can cause mood swings and have a big effect on our emotions.

There are two ways that medications and our emotions can contribute to weight gain through the process of IVF.

Stress

If you are someone who is a stress eater then this is something to be conscious of. This process can be draining and stressful on our bodies and make us feel similar to when we are menstruating- to the nth degree.

Stress eating is one of the most commonly reported factors with weight gain that women talk about with IVF. What normally happens here is that we crave sugar and salt and all the things that aren’t so great for us. Stocking your kitchen with healthy snacks and focusing on balanced meals does help. Plus, never underestimate the power of meal planning!

Mood Swings

It is very common for the rise and drop of hormones such as estrogen and progesterone to cause mood swings. It would happen naturally in pregnancy but since you may be on more medication to encourage higher levels, you may feel even heavier side effects. This causes emotional drainage and a possible change in appetite. Some women may not be interested in eating while others may feel hungry because they are more tired and seeking energy.

How Does My Change in Activity Level Impact Weight Gain?

Last, but certainly not least, is our change in activity level. The process of IVF is draining for our minds but it also has a noticeable effect on our bodies. Reported swelling and bloating is not the first thing that will make you want to jump up and head to the gym. Most of the time, women will want to relax and take it easy since their body is experiencing so much change.

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

What happens though is with less physical activity combined with more stress eating and bloating results in unintentional weight gain. You also may feel that your body swells more when you are lying down more often and this is because you aren’t getting normal levels of activity. With all these things combined, you may feel even more stressed for feeling like a couch potato and store body fat as a result. Be mindful of  how you feel throughout the process and do whatever is necessary to give yourself a leg up on feeling good. Be it resting up, ordering in a healthy meal or going for a relaxing bike ride to get that body moving, treat yourself to whatever your body needs the most (not another cookie).