Are there some magic tricks to getting pregnant?
A client asked me this via text last week, and I had to tell her- Yes, there are HEAPS! Come in and let’s talk about it. It’s a BIG conversation.
There are multitude of small and large things couples can do to increase their chances of an easy conception, a smooth pregnancy and a healthy happy baby.
Paying attention to diet, lifestyle, nutrition, and general health in the months before conception can have far-reaching beneficial effects.
There is a growing body of evidence supporting the validity of pre-conception healthcare, showing that when it is applied properly, it can:
- reduce miscarriage rates
- reduce fertility issues
- improve birth weights and reduce premature births
- reduce incidence of congenital abnormalities and malformations
- improve children’s immunity and reduce allergy
- reduce difficulties with breastfeeding
Pre-conception healthcare is basically the process of maximising the nutrients and conditions that support fertility, and minimising those which do not. There are some great books written on this subject, and some excellent practitioners out there to support you on your journey. But here is some food for thought to get you started!
Ladies and Gents: At least 50% of fertility issues are due to male factors. It’s really essential that all you guys out there who want to be dads go and get a sperm test done. You can do this with your GP, who will check for sperm count (the number), motility (how well they swim), and morphology (the number that are a bit wonky). If there is any problem, you can investigate ways to address it.
As a couple, the more you are on the same page and supporting each other, the easier and more rewarding the journey towards baby-making will be.
100 days: It’s never too early to start preparing. The standard recommended minimum time period for pre-conception care is 4 months. That’s 4 months before you even start to try some actual baby-making. “Goodness gracious!” some of you will be thinking, “that’s ages!”. To put it in context, it can take up to 116 days for sperm to form, and 100 days for an ova (egg) to mature. So if you think about the cells in your body that will be the very foundation of your baby’s start to life, these are the very cells that we want to be in tip top condition.
Charting: Learning about a woman’s menstrual cycle is an awe-inspiring thing for men and women. The natural rhythms of a woman’s body and the way her temperature and cervical mucus both change at different times of the month to reflect and encourage fertility are truly amazing phenomena. There are many different apps, devices, kits and books you can use and read on this subject, and we encourage both partners to school up on how to tell when a woman is ovulating. This will not only help you maximise your chances of conception when you’re ready to start trying, but also is useful to help identify any hormonal issues that may need addressing before you do.
Calm Conceptions: The ways in which stress can mess with fertility are endless. Stress puts our bodies into a state of physiological emergency, which is not biologically the state we want to be in to make babies! If there is a tiger to run away from, conception is a long way down the list of priorities, and indeed in evolutionary terms, it would be a very dangerous thing to bring a baby into a dangerous situation. During times of stress, the body actually preferentially uses the available building blocks to make stress hormones, depleting the available reserves for making reproductive hormones. Stress can also block the ability of our cells to respond to our reproductive hormones. As we said, it gets messy!
Reducing stress is often easier said than done, but the actions you take to do this will make the whole process of conception and pregnancy so much more enjoyable in the long run. Reducing work hours, starting a yoga class, going for a daily walk, exercising regularly, relaxing and laughing more, these are all steps you can take to a more fertile, more peaceful lifestyle. Instead of trying to squeeze itself into your packed adrenalised schedule, a baby is more likely to come, quite simply, when there is space in your life for it to do so.
Keep it Clean (inside): So this means, yep you guessed it, avoiding coffee, alcohol, tobacco, and any other drugs or stimulants. Yes, this does mean that lone flat white that lights up your morning (and no we don’t recommend an energy drink instead). It is really important for both partners to get on board with this one, not just to support each other, but because these substances affect sperm just as much as they do a woman’s reproductive health. Alcohol can significantly deplete nutrients and have direct effects on reducing fertility and pregnancy outcomes even when ingested around the time of ovulation or conception. While the effects of alcohol and tobacco are more well known, many people think caffeine is a benign pleasure, so ingrained as it is in the weave of our social fabric. Studies have shown that caffeine can reduce male and female fertility by up to 50%. It also reduces absorption of nutrients, which are essential, as we will discuss, for building babies.
Keep it Clean (outside):Minimising exposure to the hundreds and thousands of synthetic chemicals we have in our environment is a primary step towards increasing fertility. This means those we are exposed to at work, at play, and at home. Builders for example may be exposed to significant levels of arsenic through treated timber, painters may be exposed to old lead paints and new solvents, and office workers may be exposed to more radiation from computers, which while not chemical in nature, can still have negative effects. Look at ways to minimise exposures and support detoxification of any existing toxins. At home, take a close look at cleaning products and cosmetics. Remember that we absorb a whole lot through our skin, and we are a generation of guinea pigs, exposed to a greater number of chemicals than previous generations dreamed of. Many chemicals have the ability to mimic our reproductive hormones in various ways; these are known as ‘endocrine disruptors’. For obvious reasons we want to avoid these where possible, and one basic way to do this is to avoid eating and drinking out of soft plastics, and never ever heating plastics to eat from (read here for more on endocrine disruptors). We have it within our power to at least minimise our chemical exposures at home and at work, even if we still have to drive through rush hour traffic fumes!
Good Kai! Preparing fresh food from scratch is the best way to increase your nutrition. Minimising sugar and white flour, which actually use up our body’s precious nutrients instead of providing them, is a really good plan. We are a nation increasingly reliant on sugary carby snacks, and steering away from this towards fresh fruit and vegetables and good clean protein will not only boost your vitamins and minerals, but also even out your energy levels and, for some, your mood as well. Hydration is important for many reasons, for example seminal fluid is more than 80% water, so don’t let yourselves get dehydrated guys, we want free-flow!
Vitamins and Minerals for Fertility: In this day and age, good clean food and water often isn’t enough. While naturopaths have been saying this for long while, GPs and midwives are also increasingly becoming aware of the need for additional nutritional support during pre-conception and pregnancy. While in the past just folate was given routinely to women wanting to conceive, these days iodine is also a standard prescription, iron will always be tested, and often Vitamin D levels too. This is still a short list; there is abundant research now showing many more nutrients have positive influences on fertility for both men and women. Some multivitamins fall short of providing enough of the specific vitamins and minerals that are useful for fertility, while some are a really good start. Different people have different requirements depending on their age and health, so it is always best to ask a qualified practitioner to assess you and offer advice. Many people are low in zinc, for example, which is one of the most important fertility minerals for men and for women. For a more specific list of the nutrients important for fertility, see part 2, coming soon!
Sex: As you may know by now, sex really is the best and easiest way to make babies. Even if you’re not able to make babies in this way, sex is still important for you. For women, think of the uterus as a muscle (which it is); the more you work it out the healthier it gets. Research clearly shows that regular sex has positive influences on regulating a woman’s cycle and increasing fertility.
Help! There are many health conditions that can have detrimental effects not just on fertility but on your baby’s health outcomes. A short list might include obesity, allergies, heavy metal toxicity, autoimmune conditions, genito-urinary infections and thyroid imbalances. Hormonal imbalances and conditions such as endometriosis and PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) will also have implications for fertility. There are many many wonderful practitioners who can help support you, and if you feel you would like help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Helping sort out your health concerns now will not only make conception easier, and your baby healthier, it will also make you stronger and build a good foundation to meet the challenges of parenting.
To sum up, every little thing you do now can have the potential to affect your future child for its whole life. Giving up a daily coffee or two, not having a beer with the boys after work, these are small short-term sacrifices to make which can contribute to your child’s lifetime of fulfilling its own potential. Every positive choice you make is just that, positive. If it all feels like far too much change, just take it slowly, one thing at a time, and remember that every little step you take is better than taking no steps at all.
While we may not be able to make conception happen exactly when we want it to, what we can do is learn about fertility, understand it, encourage it, nurture it, optimise it. We can give it every good chance going and then wait for the magic to happen!