A weighty issue
How a woman’s weight impacts the risk of miscarriage
A miscarriage is a devastating experience for couples, perhaps even more so for those who have struggled with infertility and gone through the initial joy of a successful fertility treatment. Statistics have shown that in both natural and IVF conception, about one in six pregnancies will end in a miscarriage before the 20th week, with the rate being higher in older couples.
Understandably, couples are frightened of miscarriages and would rather not think or talk about it. However, it is important for couples to understand why miscarriages happen, as well as what they can do to reduce their risks.
Although the exact reason for a miscarriage is often unexplainable, it can occur due to a number of reasons. These include chromosomal abnormality, improper implantation of the egg and maternal health problems or trauma. The mother’s age also plays a significant role, as does her lifestyle, which includes exposure to stress, smoking, drug use, malnutrition, excessive caffeine, radiation and toxins.
Another well-studied factor than increases a woman’s risk for miscarriage, is her weight. As these studies indicate, if the mother is obese or underweight, this increases her risk of not only infertility, but miscarriage as well, regardless of the method of conception.
According to researchers at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Adelaide, Australia, being overweight increase a woman’s risk of miscarriage by 29%, while being obese can increase the risk by 71% or more. However, for women undergoing assisted reproduction, researchers at the Assisted Fertilization Center, Brazil concluded that maternal obesity could increase the risk of miscarriage by up to 1330%.
Obesity also compounds miscarriage rates in women with PCOS. The Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Faculty of Medicine, Erciyes University, Turkey found that the miscarriage rate in obese women with PCOS is about nine times higher than average.
And while miscarriage is often the result of an unhealthy fetus, researchers from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Stanford Hospital and Clinics, CA, USA found that the risk of miscarriage of a healthy fetus is significantly higher in obese women (with BMIs of 25 or more).
While obesity has been identified as a risk factor for spontaneous miscarriage, the mechanism for it remains unclear. But a study by The Academic Unit of Reproductive and Developmental Medicine, The University of Sheffield and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, Sheffield, UK points to the endocrinological changes in obesity as possibily causing complex adverse effects including circulating adipokines, sex steroids and insulin resistance.
Women who are underweight, with a BMI of under 20, also face an increased miscarriage risk. A study by researchers at the German Cancer Research Centre found that pregnant women who were underweight faced a 70 % higher risk of having a miscarriage.
Therefore, it can be concluded that among intrauterine environmental factors, nutrition appears to play the most critical role in influencing placental and fetal growth. Since maternal undernutrition or overnutrition during pregnancy can impair fetal growth, women must adopt healthier diets and incorporate exercise to lower their risk of miscarriage.
If you have any concerns regarding miscarriage, especially after IVF, please do not hesitate to consult with your fertility consultant for advice.
A good reason to keep moving
Bed rest after embryo transfer negatively affect IVF success
After every embryo transfers, my patients are generally surprised when I ask them to get up from bed to walk almost immediately. Most of them looked at me with disbelief: ‘Doctor, will my embryos fall out?’. Some of them refuted me by telling me that their friends had to lie on bed for 2 weeks after the embryo transfers to ensure that the embryos ‘sticks’. There are some who refused to get out from my operating bed and few had demanded to be warded for 2 weeks.
Well, I can’t blame them for asking that, can I? After all, the internet is full of stories of having to lie in bed to ensure the best outcome for the IVF.
However, is this really true? Does bed rest positively influence the outcome of the IVF? Is this scientifically proven?
Since the birth of the first IVF baby back in 1978, numerous medical advancements have been made to help IVF patients achieve the best outcomes. Among them are procedures like ovulation induction, egg retrieval and sophisticated laboratory techniques. While these primary procedures have been tried and tested, some of the simpler procedures, such as bed rest immediately after an embryo transfer, have not been scientifically proven.
It is generally believed that bed rest, or the reduction of physical activity right after an embryo transfer procedure, is beneficial as it can reduce a woman’s stress levels and aid implantation. However, there is a study that shows bed rest after embryo transfer can be potentially detrimental!
The 2011 study, which was conducted by a team of researchers from Universidad de Valencia, Valencia, Spain, involved 240 patients between the ages of 25 and 49 years old. They were undergoing their first IVF cycle using donated eggs at a private IVF centre. The objective of the study was to evaluate the influence of just 10 minutes of bed rest after embryo transfer on the achievement of live births, as well as implantation and miscarriage rates.
The patients were divided into two groups – the R (Rest) and NR (No Rest) groups. Those in the R group were given ten minutes of bed rest after embryo transfer by being moved from the operating room with the help of a stretcher or in a lying-down position. Meanwhile, those in the NR group had no bed rest and were allowed to ambulate (move around) immediately after their procudure.
The study’s findings revealed that the live birth rates were significantly higher in the NR group (56.7%) than in the R group (41.6%). The NR group also had lower miscarriage rates (18.3%) as compared to the R group (27.5%). Although the implantation rate was higher in the NR than in the R group, the researchers noted that the difference did not reach statistical significance. Meanwhile, neonatal characteristics like height, weight and Apgar score were similar in both groups.
Therefore, the researchers concluded that bed rest immediately after embryo transfer has no positive effect, and in fact can be negative for the outcome of IVF. They surmised that this could be due to the common anatomical position of the uterus, as concluded by another study.
It is believed that the force of gravity could cause the loss of newly-transferred embryos. However, since the cavity of the uterus is in a more horizontal position when a woman is standing than when she is lying down, a horizontal position after embryo transfer would not be beneficial.
As a result of their findings, the researchers suggest that IVF clinics change their practice of encouraging bed rest after embryo transfer. They also call for more research to be conducted on the physiological or psychological reasons for the benefits of no bed rest after embryo transfer.
The results of such studies provide us with more clues on how best to maximise IVF success. Should you have any questions or concerns about IVF procedures, as well as what to do or not do after an embryo transfer, don’t hesitate to speak to your fertility specialist.
Baby in the making- Study shows 3 out of 4 couples undergoing IVF will have a baby within five years
There are various causes for infertility, including endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, damaged fallopian tubes and ovulatory problems in women, and low sperm count and motility or problems with erections or ejaculating in men. Unhealthy lifestyle habits such as smoking, illnesses like diabetes, as well as being overweight are also contributing factors.
In most cases, infertility can be treated, but for many couples who are struggling with infertility, In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) is their best option. Couples undergoing IVF are often faced with uncertainty and wonder – What are our chances? When will we have a baby? Some undergo IVF multiple times without success, and as they are unsure of their chances, they end up giving up.
There has always been a debate on how best to measure the success of fertility treatments, however, now a Danish study is providing realistic information that’s reliable for the long-term prediction of treatment.
The long-term study was conducted by researchers at the Copenhagen University Hospital, who referred to rigorous registry records. Denmark is one of the few countries in the world where such a study could be carried out, due to their practice of keeping detailed records that link all fertility treatments to all live births.
The researchers analysed nearly 20,000 Danish couples from 2007 and 2010, following them from the moment they started their fertility treatments. The study’s findings were recently presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (July 2016).
The team found that more than half of the women (57%) had their baby as a result of treatment within two years, 65% had children within three years and 71% within five years. This means that almost 3 out of 4 couples undergoing IVF will eventually become parents within five years, whether as a result of the treatment or following natural conception.
The study also found that while most causes of infertility can be overcome, the odds of conception are heavily influenced by a woman’s age. They found that in women under the age of 35, about one in three IVF cycles were successful and 80% had children within five years.
However, the total birth rates fell to 61% in those between 35 and 40 years old; and fell again to 26% in women aged 40 and over. The study also revealed that women with a Body Mass Index under 30 and didn’t smoke also had better outcomes.
These figures provide encouraging news for couples who are seeking or embarking on fertility treatments, as they reveal that their chances of having a baby are good. According to study presenter, Dr Sara Malchau, “We are now able to provide couples with a reliable, comprehensible, age-stratified long-term prognosis at start of treatment”.
Although individual prognosis and factors play a role in the success of IVF treatments, this study has shown that overall, IVF treatments are working, but they take time. Therefore, couples may need several treatment cycles for their best chance at conception.
I am extremely pleased and excited to announce the arrival of my book: “Catching My Baby Dust’, which came to a reality after many months of hard work. This book consist of inspiring true stories on the journeys couples had been through in trying to have a baby. Many of these stories detailed the trials and tribulations of their Fertility journeys. These stories are deeply touching and in many ways humbled me as a Fertility Specialist.
Here is the small note I have written for the publication of this book:
Welcome to the first edition of ‘Catching My Baby Dust’. As the Chief Editor of this book, I would like to thank you for taking your time to read this special book, which is extremely close to my heart.
As a Fertility Specialist, I have the opportunity to work with women who are from various backgrounds, ethinicities & educational levels. They have one thing in common: They all want to have a baby.
As a mother of three, I can fully understand their desire to have these little bundle of joy in their arms, and how these tiny little babies would complete and fulfill their lives. However, the reason that they are sitting in my clinic is that pregnancies did not happen naturally, and therefore they are here to seek guidance and assistance.
I must say that I feel privileged that I can do something to help them. My greatest pleasue of my daily life is to help these patients to identify the issues which prevent them from conceiving naturally and rectify their problems. Some need just a little bit of reassurance and things happenned. Unfortunately, some need much more than reassurance. And the good news is that most will eventually have a baby in their arms following fertility treatments.
Throughout these journeys, I have come across many women who had deeply touched me with their perserverance and determination which greatly humbled me. Some of these stories bring tears to my eyes and I hereby express my greatest gratitude to them by agreeing to share their stories with people out there who are trying to conceive.
I would like to thank my senior colleague, Dato Dr Prashant Nadkarni, the Medical Director of KL Fertility Centre for his valuable input. My co-editors, Dr Natasha Ain Mohd Nor & Dr Agilan Arjunan, who shared my passion in the field of fertility and had worked fervently in making this book a reality.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ms Sylvia Khoo, the director of Pitter Patter Sdn Bhd, Ms Adline A Ghani and Ms Lee Siew Fong helped us to co-ordinate the production of this book.
Last but not the least, I would like to thank all the readers for their constructive comment to further improve the quality of this book.
Dr Helena Lim Yun-Hsuen
Catching My Baby Dust