When we think about prepping for a pregnancy, the mind can go in a few different directions. Some don’t think much other than picking up some prenatal vitamins, while others fear invasive procedures and thousands of dollars of medical expenses. The truth to properly preparing for pregnancy lies somewhere in the middle– you don’t want to be so flippant as to assume that getting and staying pregnant is as easy as, well, lying there and waiting for it to happen. At the same time, many shouldn’t have to worry about committing to high-cost procedures before setting some groundwork that can save both hassle and money.
There are many holistic approaches to becoming more fertile. The good news is that a majority of them are easily accessible, and are usually positive additions to your personal well-being as well as for your future baby. The biggest downside is that while more studies are popping up every day, there isn’t currently a lot of research or evidence supporting the efficacy of holistic fertility treatments. Before taking the plunge, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor to discuss the changes you want to make and the practices you’d like to implement, especially if they are related to diet and exercise.
After getting the O.K. from your M.D., you’re safe to try incorporating some holistic approaches to your regimen and boosting your chances of making a baby!
One thing that sticks out about holistic fertility treatments is that they center around balance– you don’t want too much or too little of anything, and your focus shouldn’t stay stuck on any one aspect of your health alone. Physical health is important, and there is a lot you can do to improve it– just remember to read on for important additions to other facets of your well-being.
Healthy Diet and Supplements
We’ve covered nutrition for fertility in an earlier article on our blog, and it provides a lot of good information on what to eat and what to avoid before getting pregnant. Current research suggests simple adjustments in dietary choices may be more important to your chances of pregnancy than taking medication. Prenatal vitamins are a smart addition as well, although the decision on which diet and vitamins will work best for your body is best left to your doctor. Ask them what you need more and less of personally, as it can vary from person to person, and to see if a whole food or specialized fertility diet may be beneficial for you. Vitamins can be especially crucial before getting pregnant, as one of the most common complaints in the first trimester is nausea. If it’s hard to eat and keep food down in general, it can be even harder to retain the nutrients you need.
Exercise– The Right Amount
Maintaining a healthy weight makes for better chances of conceiving, as it can help restore your correct hormone levels. In fact, weighing too much or too little is associated with primary infertility in about 6% of women. When you exercise, you see multiple benefits, including sleeping better, being in a better mood, and even increasing your sexual appetite (hooray!). However, you don’t want to go too crazy– too much exercise, or working out too strenuously with high-intensity or cardio-based workouts can actually cause problems with fertility, as it can limit ovulation. Moderate burst or weight training a few times a week along with an hour or so of a fun exercise (such as brisk walking, dancing, or swimming) a day is a great routine to stick with when trying to get pregnant.
Your teeth are probably the last thing on your mind when preparing for pregnancy, but research shows that unresolved dental issues can result in premature birth, preeclampsia, and delivery of a small-for-gestational-age infants. While you’re scheduling your standard doctor’s appointments, be sure to make time to visit your dentist for a teeth-cleaning and dental exam. You can also ask your dentist about the benefits of probiotic-based toothpaste and how it can create a healthier oral microbiome.
Identify and Avoid Toxins
It’s a sad truth that many of the products we come into contact with in our day-to-day lives have less than ideal ingredients. Beauty products, cleaning products, and even food products can contain toxins and chemicals that have been proven to be harmful to reproductive health. The strongest evidence of heavy metals and environmental pollution adversely interfering with healthy reproductive function in women has been found for lead, cadmium, and mercury. Other compounds that can alter hormone function and result in adverse reproductive health effects include:
- Ovotoxicants: can disrupt or even stop ovulation.
- Endocrine disruptors: can interfere with hormone function and cause endometriosis and PCOS.
- Phthalates: in plastic food containers, cling wrap, IV bags, medical supplies, vinyl flooring and packaging at high levels have been associated with miscarriage and testicular toxicity. At low levels, they disrupt hormonal balance.
- VCH chemicals: used in rubber tires, plastics, and pesticides.
- PAH: released from cigarettes, car fumes and road tar
While brief or occasional exposure to these chemicals does not have too big of an impact, there are some chemicals to avoid long-term exposure to when attempting to conceive, or shortly after conception:
- Pesticides: found on non-organic fruit and vegetables, meat, dairy, and unfiltered tap water
- Formaldehyde: found in air fresheners, deodorants, floor polish, upholstery cleaners
- Bisphenols: found in plastic containers and can leach into food and water.
- Organic solvents: petroleum-based liquids found in household products, electronics, car repair, health care, photography, agriculture, printing, construction and cosmetics and many more.
- Dry-cleaning chemicals
- Paint fumes
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is vital to health and the production of many hormones. Studies have shown that women with low melatonin and serotonin levels have a shorter luteal phase (time between ovulation and menstruation) and consequently have a lower chance of conceiving. Lack of sleep also impairs the body’s ability to properly regulate adrenaline, cortisol, and insulin, making conception very difficult. While your “required” amount of sleep needed per day can depend on who you are (most people need 7-9, some need as few as 4-6), what’s most important is to be rested instead of just functional. This may mean incorporating naps into your daily routine… not that that’s a bad thing to begin with!
Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, and Smoking
You will see this and hear this advice everywhere, but it bears repeating. Drinking more than two cup of regularly caffeinated coffee a day can seriously hinder your chances of getting pregnant, and increase the risk of miscarriage. Consuming more than five alcoholic beverages a week is ill-advised as well– excessive alcohol consumption causes prolactin to rise, and too much or too little prolactin is associated with infertility. Cigarettes are bad news for your health in general, and even worse for your future baby; it’s best to cut them completely.
Get an STD Check
This may seem like a strange thing to add to a list of holistic fertility treatments, but treating sexually transmitted diseases has a huge impact on reproductive health, especially fertility. Most people assume that they (or their partner) have nothing to worry about, but many STDs are asymptomatic… meaning there are no visible symptoms and it’s impossible to know you’ve been infected without getting tested. One such STD is a Chlamydia infection. In men, a Chlamydia infection can lead to sperm abnormalities, including sperm antibodies. In women, it can lead to scarring, blocked tubes, and even miscarriage. A study found 60% of asymptomatic male partners of infected females attending a fertility clinic were found to be infected with Chlamydia. Most STD’s are easy to treat, so it pays for both partners to have an STD check– there is no point in only one partner going for a test as the other partner can re-infect them again.
It goes without saying that taking care of your body is important when trying to get pregnant, but stress can have a huge impact on your chances of conception. If you’re stressed out, your cortisol levels are elevated, which leads to not only infertility, but all sorts of other physical and mental problems. Stress-management is an equally important facet of the preconception process, and it affects some more than others. Here are a few resources to help you tune out and become calmer, more receptive you.
A great first step in achieving tranquility is meditation: it’s free, easy, and can be done absolutely anywhere. We recently had an entire series dedicated to meditation on our blog– check out our entries from Meditation March to get the basics on starting your perfect meditation practice!
Yoga may truly be the best of both worlds (physical and spiritual) in terms of preparing for pregnancy. It is a great chance to get a bit of light exercise while practicing relaxation techniques such as guided meditation and controlled breathing. There are many different types and experience levels of yoga, so start small and work up to what’s comfortable for you. The goal is to work up a bit of a sweat, but also learn some techniques to help you stay relaxed.
Acupuncture has been proven to reduce stress, and it is often appropriate for patients undergoing fertility treatment. Acupuncture prior to embryo transfer and afterward improves uterine blood flow and can increase pregnancy rates.
Many people seek to use essential oils and homeopathic remedies to ease discomfort related to muscle pain, nausea, headaches, illness, or even treat mental stressors… There seems to be an oil or remedy for any ailment under the sun. It’s no surprise that there are lots of oils and tonics that target treating infertility as well. While some people claim to have had great success with oils and homeopathic remedies, it should be noted that there isn’t much scientific evidence to back up their effects. They may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s always worth it to speak with your doctor to see if what they can do for you.
Last but not least, your mental health is closely tied to both your physical health as well as your emotional well-being. It’s tough to care about your body when your mind is in a dark place, and even easier for your feelings to feel too big to manage when you’re caught unprepared. Proper mental preparation can put you in the best headspace possible for pregnancy.
Get Informed and Connected
If you’re trying to conceive, you are definitely not alone! There are plenty of huge communities out there for you to be a part of, whether you are looking for support or just some helpful information. You can Google or search Facebook for groups that can provide a safe space to ask questions and swap stories. Once pregnant, you can expand your search for lactation groups, baby wearing classes, prenatal yoga, nutrition classes, and mom and baby groups in your area.
When beginning your journey to combat infertility, it pays to think forward. Sometimes, things don’t go according to plan, or you need someone to talk you through what’s happening on an emotional level. You may wish to seek a counselor or therapist that has knowledge in fertility treatments and have them accompany you on the adventure of expanding your family.