I’m no Mystic Meg and this post isn’t about me predicting if you’ll conceive or not in 2018. But, if you’re planning on trying to conceive at some point this year, or even if you’ve been trying for a while, and you want to improve your fertility, then this post is for you.

Recently I’ve been hearing from a lot of women who are preparing to conceive, and that gets me feeling excited because not only do I love doing this work but I’m also impressed by their forward planning. For me, it’s always amazing to start working with a woman at least 3 months before she and her loved one start trying to conceive, but ideally before then. Not necessarily by treating her on a weekly basis, but definitely with the idea of making a plan and suggesting things that she and her partner can do on their own in the year that they’ll start trying to conceive.

The trouble is that my diary is pretty loaded at the moment, so because I’m not able to see all the women that I’d like to right now, I’ve put together some information to get you started.

Here are my top suggestions:

If you’re using hormonal birth control, stop.

It can take some women a while to start ovulating again, and ovulation is clearly going to be key when it comes to conceiving because it ain’t gonna happen without it. Ovulating regularly means you’ll start to produce progesterone, the hormone which dominates the second half of your menstrual cycle and that is chiefly responsible for maintaining a pregnancy.

You don’t make progesterone when you’re on the pill, and if you think you’re ok because you’ve been taking a “progesterone only” pill, you’ve actually been taking progestin, not progesterone, and because they’re different molecules, you haven’t been receiving all the health-boosting benefits of progesterone.

If you’d like support whilst coming off the pill then check out the author of Sweetening the Pill; Holly Giggs-Spall’s closed Facebook Group, and Nicole Jardim’s birth control protocol. Dr. Jolene Brighten specialises in post-pill syndrome (yeah, it’s a thing), and you can find her free guide to detoxing after coming off the pill here.

In addition to it taking a while for your cycle to return, the birth control pill is notorious for depleting your levels of vitamins B2, B6, B12, C, E, as well as magnesium, selenium, and zinc [1]. All of which are crucial for your reproductive health, fertility, and pregnancy. You don’t want to start off pregnancy in an already depleted state, so get off it pronto and work on replenishing yourself.

Speaking of which…

Start taking some decent supplements.

And avoid folic acid.

Yeah, I know you weren’t expecting that one, after all, folic acid is the one thing women trying to conceive are told that they should take. But here’s the problem; around 40% of the population has a genetic mutation which prevents them from absorbing synthetic folic acid, so what you want to take is methylated folate instead, which we can all process and use.

A great way of assessing whether a multi-vitamin is decent or not is to look at whether it contains folic acid or folate (which can also be labeled as 5-mthf). If it’s the former, then you should be questioning its quality. Also, anything that contains colouring and nasty additives should be skipped.

I’m a fan of Nutri-Advanced Pregnancy Essentials which can be taken throughout the childbirth year, word of warning though, it will make your pee turn bright yellow because of the high levels of B vitamins in it. B vitamins are great because they help with PMS [2], period pain [3], reduce pregnancy nausea and vomiting [4], and as I said before if you’ve been on the pill, it’s probably left you deficient in B vitamins. Thorne research also has a great prenatal.

Omega 3 fish oil is also a great idea because it helps to reduce inflammation which can cause and contribute to menstrual cycle and fertility issues. It’s thought to improve the quality of both egg [5] and sperm, not to mention embryonic development [6] once you actually conceive, as well as reducing your risk of miscarriage [7] and pre-term birth [8]. A lot of fish oils make me burp, and I’m going to assume that, like me, you don’t want fishy burps, so check this one out.

If you want to geek out on why folic acid is a bad idea, then read this and this.

Consider if you’re a healthy weight or not.

Excess weight increases the length of time [9] it takes couples to conceive and is associated with reproductive conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis and fibroids, all of which can negatively impact fertility.

Being underweight is also an issue because your body will realise that you don’t have enough in the store cupboard to menstruate, let alone conceive. It’s important to note that you can eat regularly and still not be eating enough to support your reproductive hormones because what you’re putting in may not be enough to match your energy output.

If your Body Mass Index (BMI) classifies you as underweight or overweight, then I recommend working with a qualified practitioner like Dr. Rachel Sterry to bring in the change that you need and want.

Stop smoking and avoid second-hand smoke.

This is really important when it comes to fertility because smoking reduces the female reproductive lifespan by 1-4 years, increases your risk of ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages, and if you have IVF it could take you almost twice as many cycles to conceive compared to non-smokers [10].

‘Nuff said?

Look at what you’re eating.
  • Whilst doing a juice fast might seem like a good idea to you, it probably isn’t. Sure, it’ll support phase one of liver detoxification and move toxins out of their hiding places, but then what? Where are they gonna go? Without proper phase two liver detoxification – eating a specific diet that supports converting toxins into bile and urine – all those nasties you’ve freed up are going to cause more of an issue. This is why working with a qualified naturopath is really wise.

 

Sort your gut out.

I’ll start off by saying that digestive upsets are not pleasant, and yet most of us put up with them. This is never a good idea because your physical and emotional health is contingent upon being able to absorb nutrients from the food we eat and eliminate the waste, and that’s before we even bring in your fertility and a possible pregnancy.

If you’re not pooing on the regular, then your ability to excrete oestrogen may be compromised, and when it comes to oestrogen, you really want to use it and lose it, because excess oestrogen can cause PMS, heavy periods, cyclical headaches and migraines, brain fog, fibroids, ovarian cysts, fibrocystic breasts, and is associated with an increase in breast and uterine cancer.

If your digestion is slow then make sure you’re drinking enough water to float the boat, don’t fight your urge to poo and hold it in because you’ll remove more water from your stool and that’ll make it even harder to go, up your intake of fibre, use exercise to get things moving and make sure you read about the self-care massage I mention toward the end of this post.

Think about his fertility too.

So much of fertility is focused on women, but male partners need to take care of themselves too! This post from Jessica Drummond explains what a healthy sperm diet looks like.

Men who are overweight and/or smoke have poorer semen parameters [11], and having a male partner who smokes is known to reduce fertilisation rates, and success rates in IVF and ICSI [12].

20 units of alcohol – that’s around 6 large glasses of wine or 6-10 pints of beer a week depending on strength – significantly increases the length of time it takes a couple to conceive [13].The NHS recommends limiting alcohol intake to 14 units spread out over a week.

If he uses his laptop on his lap, you’ll want to tell him that this can raise scrotal temperature to the point where it can impact on the development of his sperm [14], and so does keeping his mobile phone in his pocket [15].

Consider tracking your cycle.

This is a great time to learn about your cycle. To figure out when you’re fertile in each menstrual cycle, you can buy a digital thermometer and start tracking your basal body temperature (BBT) by taking it orally first thing in the morning before you move or get out of bed, and after at least three hours of consecutive sleep, and then charting it using good old pen and paper, or an app like Natural Cycles.

Your BBT is lower during the first phase of your cycle and jumps up by around 0.4℃ after ovulation, and can be used to figure out when you’re fertile in each cycle, in addition to keeping an eye (or finger) on your cervical fluid and cervical position. When you’re actively trying to conceive, 18 high temperatures post-ovulation should have you suspecting pregnancy.

If you’re unsure what I mean when I say that you can monitor your cervical fluid, then this post is for you.

Another fabulous option is to use the medically certified fertility calculator Daysy, which does it all for you! All you have to do is take your temperature upon waking, let it know when you have your period, and it’ll learn your cycle and give you red light and green lights to indicate when you’re fertile (it can be used to avoid pregnancy as well as achieve it). I love my Daysy, if you’re curious about it then check it out and speak to one of their amazing support team. If you decide to invest in one, then make sure you hit me up for my sweet discount code.

I’m a massive fan of charting the menstrual cycle because it’s a simple tool that helps women to get to know themselves in an awesome way, and as a practitioner, it tells me a lot about my clients’ health and how I can help them. The trick is to maintain a curiosity about it, to see it as a way of gathering data instead of getting stressed and obsessed by it. This is why doing it long before you start actively trying is a grand idea.

Beyond the physiological way of charting, you can also chart your experience of your cycle.

Keep your feet warm.

In Chinese medicine we place great importance on having a warm uterus to improve the flow of Qi and Blood to support fertility and pregnancy, and because several organ channels originate in your feet, having cold feet and walking on cold floors is a sure fire way to bring cold into your body… and your uterus, which can cause menstrual pain and fertility issues.

Think this is just a weird Chinese thing? You’ll find cultures all over the world that place an emphasis on having warm feet; a colleague of mine was slapped by a midwife in Belize for going barefoot on cold tiles even though it was a hot day, she was sharply reminded to always keep her feet warm. And in France, there’s a saying which translates into, “if you want a baby, wear socks”!

So if it’s cold or damp where you are, pack away your ballerina flats and buy yourself some sheepskin liners for your winter boots.

Balance your hormones.

Survival always trumps reproduction, and if you’re skipping meals, running around town and feeling generally quite stressed, then the health of your reproductive system is going to take a back seat because as far as your body is concerned, it’s not a good time to get knocked up.

When you are under continued stress – let’s say you have a commute that is far from enjoyable, a nightmare boss, fertility issues, a relationship problem, postpartum anxiety, or essentially, any issue that you stew on for a while – in circumstances such as these, your body releases cortisol on a regular basis, and that has a massive impact on your health, suppressing your immune system and libido, increasing your blood pressure, and contributing to acne and obesity. And it royally screws with your ability to produce progesterone, the hormone that you need to conceive and sustain a pregnancy.

When left unchecked, sustained periods of stress (which we are all subject to), can cause chronic high levels of cortisol, and when your body reaches the point where it starts to struggle to produce enough cortisol to keep up with what’s stressing you, it compromises production of progesterone by stealing pregnenalone (the mother hormone that’s the precursor hormone to progesterone) and instead of using it to make progesterone, uses it to make more cortisol.

As if that wasn’t enough, cortisol does a number on progesterone in another key way, by blocking progesterone receptors. When hormones are released into the bloodstream, we don’t want them to affect every cell in our body, only their intended target, so each hormone we release travels around the body, looking for a cell which is receptive to it and has a lock on it that the key, or hormone, fits in to. Cortisol blocks progesterone sites when we are stressed because it has deemed that it is not a safe and suitable to conceive and that responding to what it thinks is a wooly mammoth is a better idea.

Take a look at what’s causing you stress in your life, and make some decisions about what you can change or get rid of.

If you’ve got any reproductive issues, get professional help.

Here’s what I mean by issues:

  • Absent periods.
  • Light periods.
  • Heavy periods.
  • Any period pain that goes beyond a small amount of cramping.
  • Short/long/irregular cycles. For me, when it comes to supporting conception that means anything either side of 26-32 days.
  • More than 24 hours of spotting before your period starts.
  • A history of miscarriages.
  • Conditions such as PCOS, endometriosis, fibroids, interstitial cystitis, and vulvodynia.

To that list I’d also add any digestive or sleep issues, and any condition that requires you to take medication, especially if you won’t be able to take that medication whilst pregnant (speak to your GP as there may be other options that are deemed safe during pregnancy, but if you can safely reduce your need to use medication, then even better).

Often all of the above can be greatly improved with acupuncture/herbs/nutrition/ATMAT®/physical therapy and simple lifestyle changes. It’s better to get them addressed before you start trying because dealing with them will support achieving and sustaining an enjoyable pregnancy, and it’ll allow your practitioner to use the full scope of how they practice as they won’t have to treat you as if you’re pregnant after you ovulate in each cycle.

Try ATMAT®

The Arvigo Techniques of Maya Abdominal Therapy® (ATMAT) is a traditional form of therapy from Belize, Central America and is a wonderful way of dealing with any reproductive or digestive issues that you’ve got so as to support your health and fertility. It works by using external massage and other techniques to improve the flow of blood, Qi, and lymph through your abdomen, and encourage your womb into her optimal position. I particularly love it because it’s largely a self-care practice, which means you don’t have to see a practitioner week after week.

If you want to read about its history and a full list of benefits you can do so here and you’ll find a qualified practitioner near you here.

Want to work with me?

I’ve got space in my diary to take on five new ATMAT clients in February and March, so if you live in, or are happy to travel to Margate, then now is your chance to receive this beautifully healing massage, and learn how to do it yourself.

Wishing you a smooth and enjoyable journey to motherhood!

References:

1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23852908
2 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25363099
3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25363189
4 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18272271
5 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5624332/
6 http://www.fertstert.org/article/s0015-0282(10)02807-4/abstract
7 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8305926
8 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20974414
9 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14967378
10 https://www.clalit.co.il/he/pregnancy_and_birth/preparing_pregnancy/Documents/meirav_smoke.pdf
11 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22078783
12 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12801558
13 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14967378
14 https://academic.oup.com/humrep/article/20/2/452/603276
15 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4074720/