For many couples, the desire to start a family is very strong. That’s why it can be so frustrating when you try and try, without success. Unfortunately, this scenario is becoming all too common.
Thankfully, there’s a lot that can be done. Fertility is a natural state that occurs on its own once we get rid of the things that are blocking it. The best way to do that is to focus on your own health. When you both are healthy and thriving, it will be effortless to conceive. This guide for Natural Fertility will get you to that place.
This is going to be a long one, so I’ll give you an overview first. The topics we’re covering today are Diet, Stress, Toxins, Cycle Health, Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine. So let’s dive in!
I’m sure it comes as no surprise that diet plays a huge role in health and fertility. There are foods that you can add to your diet, and then some that you’ll want to consider cutting out for the time being. Remember, it’s not forever, it’s just while you’re working on your fertility.
First, you want to make sure you’re getting lots of vitamins and minerals from you food. This means as many vegetables as you can eat. To be sure that you’re absorbing all that goodness, eat most of your veggies warm and cooked. Lean towards steaming, sautéing, roasting, and other cooking methods, and eat less raw salads and smoothies.
In addition to eating your veggies (and fruit), anything that comes from the sea is loaded with minerals that are hard to get elsewhere. This includes fish and other seafood (especially mussels/clams/oysters), sea vegetables, and even good quality sea salt.
Since you’re making all that effort to eat mineral rich food, you’re going to want to avoid things that block mineral absorption, or steal minerals from your body in order to be digested. This includes coffee, alcohol and sugar. The sugar I’m most concerned with here is refined sugar, or anything with added sugars, including stevia, monkfruit, and artificial sweeteners. Things like fruit, honey and maple syrup come with their own vitamins and minerals built in, so they are fine in moderation. Be sure to check the labels on any package of food you eat. You’d be surprised to find sugar (including corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, etc) in things like crackers, tomato sauce and yogurt.
You might think this seems like a tall order, taking away your wine and chocolate. I get it. But if you’re feeling resistant to giving these up temporarily, challenge yourself. Experiment and see what happens without them. You might be happily surprised.
You may be familiar with the autonomic nervous system, which includes your “fight or flight” response, as well as the “rest and digest” system. When you are overworked or stressed out, that fight or flight response is in full gear. This system tells your body to send blood to your extremities, heart, and lungs so you can run from a bear, or fight a lion. It activates adrenaline, cortisol and insulin.
The flip side of this is the rest and digest response. This happens when you are calm and relaxed. Your blood flow is now headed to your digestive and reproductive organs, and your body is in repair mode. The hormones in charge here are melatonin and your reproductive hormones (estrogen, progesterone and testosterone).
There are a few big reasons this is important. Number one, if your body thinks you’re in danger, even though you are just stuck in traffic or approaching a big deadline, your hormones will get the signal that it’s not safe to have a baby. Blood flow is diverted away from your reproduction system. And secondly, if you can’t relax enough to get your body to repair itself, then all the rest of this work is pointless.
So, make stress management priority number one. Start meditating, take some yoga or tai-chi classes, check in with your thoughts and body throughout the day. Are you breathing deeply? Are your muscles relaxed? Are you moving slowly and mindfully? Carve out a little time for yourself every day to focus on this, so that as you move through your day you will notice when stress pops up.
It’s really unfortunate that we even have to have this conversation, but the reality is that our modern world includes lots of synthetic chemicals that can affect our health and fertility. The biggest of these are endocrine disruptors. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) website, endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with the body’s hormones, and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife.
Endocrine disruptors can mimic natural hormones, which causes overproduction of estrogen, progesterone, androgens and thyroid hormones. Or the opposite can happen, and the synthetic chemical binds to the receptor site for a hormone, causing it to deactivate. Either way, you end up with a hormone imbalance.
Endocrine disruptors can be found in many places, including plastics from water bottles, toys, and metal can linings, pesticides used on food, cosmetics and personal health care products, among other places.
While it’s probably impossible to avoid all chemicals all the time (and trying to will cause your stress to skyrocket), it’s wise to take a few simple actions to minimize your exposure. First, buy the highest quality food you can afford. Free range, hormone free, organic as much as possible. If your budget is limited, the higher something is on the food chain (meat being the highest, then eggs/dairy, and plant foods at the bottom) the more concentrated pesticides are, so focus your money there. And check out the Clean 15 for fruits and veggies that are low in pesticides.
Some more small steps you can take include changing your makeup, personal care products and household cleaning products to natural versions, using a steel or glass water bottle instead of plastic, and not heating up food in plastic containers.
While this is mostly for the ladies, it’s important that our male partners are aware of our monthly cycles and are willing to support us through the changes that happen.
The first step in improving your cycle health is to understand it. This involves tracking your cycle. The most in depth way to do this is by tracking your basal body temperature and cervical mucus throughout the month. There are a number of free apps that allow you to record your findings and automatically chart it for you. I like Kindara, because it’s easy to use, but also gives you space to record things like ovulation tests, cervical mucus supplements your taking, or anything else you want to track.
To do this, get a basal body thermometer and take your temperature first thing upon waking. I leave my thermometer on top of my phone so that when the alarm goes off I have to grab it to turn the alarm off. Try to do this at the same time each day, even on the weekends if you can (your temperature rises throughout the day, so this can affect your results).
In a healthy cycle, your temperature will stay somewhat constant after your period until you ovulate. Then the temperature should spike on ovulation day. If you’re not sure, you can double check with an ovulation predictor kit and note the results on your app. Your temperature should stay at the higher level until your period starts, then it drops back down. During ovulation, you should also notice your cervical mucus increases and gets slippery. This is the consistency that best guides sperm up into your uterus and fallopian tubes.
There are 4 parts to your cycle; menstruation (which starts on Day 1), the follicular phase (after your period until ovulation), ovulation (around Day 14, but this can vary quite a bit) and the luteal phase (after ovulation until menstruation). Now that you know when you ovulate, you can make some lifestyle changes to support each phase of your cycle.
If you have any issues with your hormones or your cycles, you might notice changes in your body and energy levels throughout the month. Many women have pain, headaches, digestive changes and more during menstruation and/or ovulation. Others feel their energy levels soar during the follicular and luteal phases and dip at other times. If any of this sounds familiar, go with it. Do more during the times when you have energy, and give yourself more rest right before and during menstruation. Eat very simply during times you know you’re digestion is more likely to act up.
Women’s hormones are so different than men’s. Every day they wake up and their arc of hormones throughout the day is the same. Every day. And this is the concept the world is built on. We feel pressure to be the same every day, to stick with routine no matter what. But women’s hormones are different every day. We can’t do the same things every day and expect to feel the same.
Another easy way to get those hormones balanced is seed cycling. It sounds simple, but just by eating a few tablespoons of seeds a day, you can feed your body what it needs to balance. During menstruation and the follicular phase, add 1 tablespoon each of ground flax and pumpkin seeds to your diet each day. The flax seed will bind to excess estrogen and escort it out of the body, and the pumpkin seeds will support progesterone levels. After you ovulate, change your seeds to ground sunflower and sesame seeds. Give this method a few months and you will notice a shift in your cycle.
Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine
If you’ve worked your way through all these steps, and are still struggling, ask a professional for help. Acupuncture and herbs are well documented to help with fertility, both male and female. A skilled and licensed practitioner can put together an individualized plan to boost your fertility.
Acupuncture reduces stress, balances hormones, increases circulation to the reproductive organs and more. With herbs it can address more serious issues that may be blocking your ability to get pregnant, such as endometriosis, PCOS, or thyroid disease, among others.
The benefit of acupuncture and herbs is that they make you healthier and stronger overall, the best shape you can be in for when you do conceive. Western medicine’s options are more invasive, and come with uncomfortable side effects that can make you feel worse if you do get pregnant.
Couples can get so wrapped up in the desire to have a baby that they don’t think of how it will feel once they conceive. You want to feel good, have a smooth pregnancy and labor, and have enough energy to enjoy taking care of your child once he or she is born. This whole process is where acupuncture really shines.
I know this seems like a lot of information, and it is, but I’ve only just scratched the surface. An entire blog post could be written about each of these topics (and I’m sure there have been). Start slowly, and choose one thing that you can start right away. Then in a few weeks you can add another. Just keep going and before you know it, you’ll have a baby in your hands.
Elizabeth Allen is an acupuncturist in Greenville, South Carolina, specializing in pain management, women’s health, and psycho-emotional issues. She’s passionate about helping people feel their best and sharing her wealth of knowledge with the community. Elizabeth is the owner of AcuMed Spa, on Wade Hampton Boulevard. Appointments can be made by calling 864-451-4313, or scheduled online here.