The first time a doctor told Hlumela Ntshakaza-Mlondobozi that she was “too big” to have a baby, she dropped 30kg in seven months, and gave birth to her “miracle baby” a year later.
Mlondobozi (48) says she went for a routine check-up in Cape Town after she had struggled to fall pregnant for years. Following a doctor’s recommendation in 2016, she went from 110kg to 80kg.
“I went to the store and bought my new groceries, and all I did was obey the rules,” she tells Health For Mzansi.
Mlondobozi works at the Western Cape department of agriculture and is the proud mother of Ntateko, her initial “miracle baby” and Rhandzu.
Mission-driven health journey
Ntshakaza-Mlondobozi tells Health For Mzansi she met the love of her life, Menza Mendrick Mlondobozi, in 2000. Together, they tried and failed to conceive visiting doctors at fertility clinics until they eventually gave up.
“I was told that my fallopian tubes were damaged and my husband’s sperm count was poor. The third time I went, I had an ovarian cyst,” she says. “I used to dread going to my co-workers’ baby showers, always making an excuse. I guess not having a baby after so many years of marriage was eating me up.”
She struggled with her weight for year until she changed her diet.
“I was blown away when I dropped from 110kg to 80kg in seven months. I had to control my portion sizes, eat balanced meals, and drink enough water.”
Following her victorious weight loss journey, she and her husband went on vacation in the summer of 2016.
When she returned, she went to the spa with a friend and continued feeling ill and went to a doctor. She never imagined receiving the news that she was three months away from giving birth.
“When I saw the doctor, he told me I was expecting a baby. I couldn’t believe it, and I was still having my periods, though they were occasionally skipped. Our house became home after baby Nkateko was born in August 2017. Our daughter Rhandzu was born in February 2018, and we refer to her as one of our miracle babies.”
So, what’s weight got to do with it?
According to the Association for Dietetics in South Africa spokesperson Nathalie Mat all women need high amounts of folate* when trying to get pregnant.
Folate is a nutrient that is found in many foods including dark leafy greens, fruit, and beans among others. “In South Africa our bread and pap are also fortified with folic acid,” adds Mat.
Women who have unhealthy low energy diets often experience folate deficiency. Women who are especially overweight and obese are often stigmatized by the very medical professionals who treat them.
“Weight stigma is rife in the medical field and many women are told the answer is weight loss when it may be something else underlying fertility,” she says.
Matt shares insights on four questions on weight and fertility
Does being obese make it harder to conceive?
Being both underweight and overweight can cause disturbances in hormone metabolism. There is an overlap with the health conditions that can lead to weight gain, for example women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), metabolic syndrome and thyroid issues, and difficulty falling pregnant.
If one has not been able to do so, you may consider going to the doctor to check for underlying health conditions that may be affecting your ability to conceive. Your weight may be a clue to something underlying affecting your health. Many overweight and obese women are able to conceive without issue and so one should not assume that living in a bigger body means you will not fall pregnant.
Could you elaborate on the connection between obesity and infertility?
There is a correlation between obesity and some of the factors that reduce fertility; these include insulin resistance, inflammation, and oxidative stress to name a few. The type of diet and lifestyle that we would use to manage these are the same changes that would often lead to weight loss. Living a physically active life with a healthy diet, is associated with increased pregnancy outcomes. Improving fertility is not about losing weight in any way possible but rather about creating a healthy lifestyle that will support a healthy pregnancy.
How true is it that people who eat a healthy diet despite having difficulty conceiving can conceive once do they lose weight?
You are more than your weight. Weight stigma is rife in the medical field and many women are told the answer is weight loss when it may be something else underlying fertility. If you have been living a healthy life and not conceived in the first year of trying, consider asking you doctor what he/she would say to a woman in a smaller body. There may be something deeper than your body size at play.