Pregnancy after weight loss surgery

In the last few years, weight-loss surgery has become more common. Celebrities such as Carnie Wilson and Al Roker have spoken publicly about having these operations and their reasons for doing so. The number of women in their childbearing years having this surgery is rising.

How is the surgery done?

The most common weight-loss surgery is called "gastric bypass." In this operation, the surgeon staples the stomach across the top and leaves a small pouch that can hold only a small amount of food. Then the surgeon cuts a part of the intestine and sews it onto the pouch. This procedure limits the patient's ability to absorb calories from food. 

How does weight-loss surgery affect pregnancy?

Early reports of women who became pregnant after weight-loss surgery warned of possible complications. Problems included bleeding in the woman's stomach or intestines, anemia and limited growth of the baby in the uterus. 

More recent studies are more reassuring. They suggest that weight-loss surgery may help protect obese women and their babies from these health problems during pregnancy:

What should keep in mind if you're thinking about weight-loss surgery and may get pregnant in the future?

  • Weight-loss surgery is not for everyone who is overweight. It is for people who are extremely obese and who have health problems as a result.
  • Because weight-loss surgery is still fairly new, we know very little about the long-term effects of this surgery.
  • Talk to your health care providers, including the medical professional who will deliver your baby. Learn about the risks and benefits of weight-loss procedures. Risks include gallstones, bleeding ulcers, and even death. Be sure you are well informed before your make your decision.

What should you do if you've had weight-loss surgery?

  • Since you will lose weight rapidly right after surgery, avoid getting pregnant for 12-18 months after your operation. Rapid weight loss may deprive a fetus of the nutrients it needs to grow and be healthy.
  • Talk to your health care provider before you get pregnant.
  • Be aware of your need for vitamins and minerals. Weight-loss operations can result in low levels of iron, folate, vitamin B12 and calcium. All of these are needed for a healthy pregnancy. Pregnant women who have had weight-loss surgery may need to take vitamin pills.
  • Some women have a type of weight-loss surgery that uses a gastric band. This band is used to make a small pouch for food in the upper part of the stomach. If you have a gastric band, speak to your surgeon, preferably before you get pregnant. The surgeon may need to adjust the band for pregnancy.

This article is based, in part, on Committee Opinion 315 (September 2005) produced by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

For more information

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
CDC Show Your Love Campaign

Last reviewed December 2005

 

Most common questions

Can dad's exposure to chemicals harm his future kids?

Dad's exposure to harmful chemicals and substances before conception or during his partner's pregnancy can affect his children. Harmful exposures can include drugs (prescription, over-the-counter and illegal drugs), alcohol, cigarettes, cigarette smoke, chemotherapy and radiation. They also include exposure to lead, mercury and pesticides.

Unlike mom's exposures, dad's exposures do not appear to cause birth defects. They can, however, damage a man's sperm quality, causing fertility problems and miscarriage. Some exposures may cause genetic changes in sperm that may increase the risk of childhood cancer. Cancer treatments, like chemotherapy and radiation, can seriously alter sperm, at least for a few months post treatment. Some men choose to bank their sperm to preserve its integrity before they receive treatment. If you have a question about a specific exposure, contact the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists at www.mothertobaby.org/.

I've been diagnosed with PCOS. Can I get pregnant?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a medical condition that can affect a woman's menstrual cycle, hormones, heart, blood vessels, appearance (especially excessive hair growth) and the ability to have children. Although women do make small levels of androgens, also called male hormones, women with PCOS typically have high levels of androgens. This creates a hormonal disorder that affects ovulation and fertility. PCOS can cause many infertility cases. However, with the right treatment, many women have been able to get pregnant.

Women with PCOS often have trouble keeping a healthy weight. Having a healthy weight and increasing physical activity will help maintain ovulation and fertility. It'll also help prevent other complications like diabetes and heart disease. Your health care provider might consider the following treatments to help you get pregnant.

- Medications to help improve insulin resistance and ovulation
- Medication to induce ovulation

My menstrual period is irregular. Can I get pregnant?

Every woman's menstrual cycle is different. Some women have their cycle like clockwork. Others have trouble knowing when it's going to happen. If you have only slight variations from month to month, but you have your menstrual period at least once every 25 to 35 days, this could be normal. However, if your cycle is absent for more than 2 months, you bleed too little or too much and you can't predict when it's going to happen, talk to your health provider. Having an irregular menstrual cycle may mean that ovulation isn't happening or it's happening only a few times a year. This will affect your ability to get pregnant. Your health provider will probably check your thyroid, pituitary and adrenal glands. After a checkup your health provider will discuss your treatment options.

©2013 March of Dimes Foundation. The March of Dimes is a non-profit organization recognized as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3).