Growing number of women are having weight-loss surgery to help infertility issues: doctors

A growing number of women struggling to have a baby are going under the knife and getting weight-loss surgery to boost their fertility.

While some doctors are wary, one Manhattan surgeon says 15% of his female patients choose bariatric surgery because they’re hoping to get pregnant.

“In Manhattan, the classic stereotype of women who are going for fertility treatment [is] Sarah Jessica Parker. That’s not who I operate on,” said Mitchell Roslin, chief of obesity surgery at Lenox Hill in Manhattan.

Jassira Espailat Batista had bariatric surgery at Lenox Hill in 2008 after eight years of failing to get pregnant.

“Doctors told me if I want to have kids one day, I have to lose weight,” she said.

She lost 170 pounds and got pregnant twice. She delivered her son Liam in 2009, and her second child is due in December.

“If I hadn’t lost the weight, I never would have had kids,” said Batista, 31, who lives in Garfield, N.J.

Obesity can cause infertility in women when extra fat cells disrupt the balance of the hormones needed to get pregnant. Very overweight women are also prone to polycystic ovarian syndrome, which makes it difficult to ovulate and conceive.

“When obese women lose weight, they ovulate – there is nothing more fancy than that,” said Roslin.

The research on bariatric surgery and fertility is meager, but a study out this month found that six obese women diagnosed as infertile got pregnant after the operation.

Babies born to women with gastric bands around their stomach were as healthy as the general population, according to research last year at NYU Medical Center.

“It’s becoming more accepted as a treatment,” said Christine Ren-Fielding, chief of bariatric surgery at NYU. “The recommendation for obese women trying to get pregnant is to lose weight, but no one gives them a way that will work.”

One of her patients, a 42-year-old Connecticut woman who asked not to be named, said she futilely tried a combination of dieting and fertility drugs for years. “I was at the end of my rope,” she said.

After getting a stomach-shrinking “lap band” in 2003, she lost more than 100 pounds and gave birth to two children, now ages 2 and 5. During her second pregnancy, she had the band loosened to alleviate acid reflux symptoms, but had no other issues.

Ren-Fielding cautioned that women who have bariatric surgery are at a higher risk for iron and folic acid deficiency – the two vitamins most needed for a healthy pregnancy.

Some fertility experts are on the fence on whether to recommend weight-loss surgery.

“Surgery is a last resort. It should be offered to patients that can’t reduce their weight significantly other ways,” said Avner Herschlag, medical director of the Center for Human Reproduction at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Manhasset, L.I.

“You can’t just say, ‘You haven’t gotten pregnant because you are obese, so go to bariatric surgery,'” he said. “You have to be cautious.”




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