HOW TO BOOST FERTILITY FOR WOMEN
So, you’re ready to become a mom.
You know you’re ready to become parents. You dream about babies. You see babies everywhere you go. You imagine life with a little one in your arms. You start picturing where you will put the crib…
There’s no denying it, you feel ready to start trying to conceive. Now you just have to make it happen. But in a world where women are trying to conceive later in life, and infertility concerns are growing, you may be questioning your fertility and wondering how easy it will be.
Infertility challenges are very, very real.
Many couples struggle with infertility and some can go years without an answer as to why they can’t conceive. The current statistic indicates that 1 in 6 couples will experience infertility, making it a very valid concern. Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after 12 months of regular, unprotected sex. In many cases, people immediately believe that infertility is a result of something gone wrong with the female body. Women are responsible for a lot in regards to fertility – a healthy egg, a healthy uterus, and balanced hormones to allow for ovulation, implantation and growth of an embryo. But men are equally essential in the process and are responsible for a portion of infertility cases as well. Men need to develop healthy, mobile sperm in sufficient quantities to create an embryo and give life. However, sperm counts continue to drop year after year.
Knowing these statistics might make some people nervous, but it’s also incredibly powerful. There are many things that you and your partner can do to prepare your bodies for a (hopefully) smooth conception and healthy baby. Let’s look at how we can support the female body while trying to conceive and optimize fertility.
Supporting women’s fertility
Firstly, women need balanced hormones to experience a regular, healthy menstrual cycle. During the menstrual cycle, a woman’s ovaries produce an egg. Once it’s mature, the egg is released (ovulation). If a pregnancy is not achieved, the woman experiences menstruation 10-14 days post-ovulation. If pregnancy is achieved, the woman’s hormones (progesterone, namely), support implantation and growth of the embryo. Balanced hormones are essential for this cycle, and are especially important to create and grow a healthy egg.
Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to keep your body healthy and your hormones balanced.
Begin preparing early!
Did you know it takes 3 months for a woman’s egg to fully mature before ovulation?1 That means whatever you were doing in the past three months can affect the health and quality of your egg.
The earlier you can begin taking care of your health, the better. Three months before conception, you want to consider eating for fertility, reducing your alcohol and caffeine intake, supporting your body with whole food supplementation, practicing healthy movement, and implementing stress management techniques.
Foods for Fertility
The goal is to be our healthiest selves so we can create a healthy human and feel great during pregnancy. Our bodies function at their absolute best when we nourish them with the right foods. As a whole, we want to keep our blood sugar balanced, support our hormones, and reduce inflammation. Here are some key tips to keep in mind while nourishing your body:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables are the best way to get solid nutrition in your diet. Varying your fruits and vegetables will flood your body with vitamins and minerals that you need to thrive, along with lots of different antioxidants which will help to neutralize free radicals that may cause inflammation. Aim for at least 5-7 servings of veggies per day.
- Swap out refined grains like white pasta and white breads for whole grains, like oats, brown rice and buckwheat. These ingredients are filled with fibre which balances our blood sugar, reducing inflammation and stress on the body. Many of them also contain B-complex vitamins and zinc, which support fertility.2
- Consume protein at each meal to balance your blood sugar and give your body the building blocks (amino acids) that it needs to regenerate new cells. Enjoy lean proteins like chicken and turkey, or healthy fish like wild caught salmon – and don’t forget amazing plant-based protein options like lentils, beans and chickpeas! The fibre content of these foods is also incredible for gut health, which has a major impact on our overall well being!
- Nuts and seeds contain amazing healthy fats, like omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, to support brain health, hormone health and cellular health.3 If you want to balance your hormones and optimize egg quality, be sure to consume a variety of healthy fats during your day. Stay away from trans fats and hydrogenated fats which often lurk in prepared foods, as they are inflammatory and can affect your blood sugar levels.
Eliminating – or at least significantly reducing- alcohol and caffeine is also important for fertility health. Studies have shown that consuming alcohol and caffeine can reduce one’s chance of conception in a particular menstrual cycle.4 If you’re trying to conceive, chances are you don’t want to do anything that will reduce your chances of pregnancy!
Many women don’t consider supplementing with a prenatal multivitamin until after they have conceived, but it’s always a good idea to start early. If you know you’ll start trying soon, begin taking your prenatal now. When purchasing a prenatal vitamin, look for high-quality ingredients that you’re going to absorb. The Pranin Organic Womens A-Z is a great whole food based multivitamin, making it very absorbable and bioavailable for your body. Your prenatal multivitamin should include a variety of vitamins and minerals, especially folate (not the artificial folic acid!), vitamin D, zinc, and calcium. This can help to prepare your body for pregnancy and should be taken throughout the pregnancy as well.
In addition to a multivitamin, consider other supplements that might support your chances of conceiving. Healthy Omega 3’s (EPA and DHA) are key for brain health and hormone balancing and can come from supplementing with fish oil, or a vegan EPA/DHA from algae. Research suggests that coenzyme Q10 may improve egg quality and has been shown to improve sperm quality in men. Food sources of coenzyme Q10 include fatty fish, lentils, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, and sesame seeds. Iron may be critical if you are anemic or have low iron levels because when conception does occur, your body will need more iron to support the additional blood volume in your body. And of course, ensuring that you’re consuming enough B-vitamins since they are very important for fertility, but also because consuming folate during pregnancy can help prevent spina bifida. Always be sure to speak with your healthcare provider before starting new supplements.
Managing stress is a huge part of supporting fertility. Our bodies are constantly under stress – whether it’s physical, mental or emotional – and stress has the ability to shut down many of our non-essential functions.5
When your body exists in a high-stress environment, it doesn’t perceive your environment to be conducive to supporting new life – meaning you may have a harder chance of getting pregnant. When we are stressed, our adrenals produce a hormone called cortisol to help our bodies manage the stress. Unfortunately, when we produce too much cortisol, our other hormones take a back seat. For example, stress can affect our luteinizing hormone (LH), responsible for maturing our eggs, by disrupting or even stopping ovulation completely.6 Progesterone can also be affected, which is the hormone required to maintain a pregnancy once conception has occurred. Women who struggle with low progesterone are at a higher risk of miscarriage in the early weeks of pregnancy.7
Reducing stress and adopting good stress management techniques are important for enhanced fertility. Here are some tips to help you reduce and manage stress:
- Learn to say no when something doesn’t serve you;
- Create boundaries for yourself and respect them;
- Practice self-care regularly, and make sure that you don’t forget about the needs of your own body and soul;
- Regular exercise is important for heart health, mental health and reproductive health;
- Yoga and meditation practices can be great for managing and reducing stress.8
If there’s a “right time” for self-care, it’s now. Do what you need to do to keep your body in a relaxed state, and create an inviting environment for new life.
What about supporting men?
Sperm counts have dropped significantly over the past few decades, and more and more men struggle with low sperm count or low-quality sperm. We will explore what men can to do support their fertility in a future article, but here are some quick suggestions that men can begin implementing today:
- Consume a nutritious diet, much like the one your partner is enjoying. Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables for high nutritional value, to reduce inflammation and balance blood sugar.
- Reduce alcohol consumption. Even 5 drinks a week may reduce sperm quality and reduce testosterone levels.9
- Maintain a healthy level of physical activity to promote optimal health, raise testosterone, reduce inflammation and manage stress.
Kelly Maia Agnew, CNP, ROHP, RNCP is a holistic nutritionist with a passion for women’s health and wellness. Upon receiving her Honours Bachelor of Commerce, with a specialization in marketing, she began her corporate career in buying for a multi-billion dollar corporation. After neglecting her health and quickly burning out, she decided to make a career change. She graduated from the Institute of Holistic Nutrition in 2017 with first class honours – all while working as a marketing associate for a national crown corporation. Learn more about Kelly by visiting her website.
1- Book: Making Babies, by Sami S. David, MD and Jill Blakeway, LAc. Page 57
2- Book: Optimum Nutrition Before, During and After Pregnancy. Patrick Holford. Page 5
3- https://drbrighten.com/all-about-fat-3-fast-fat-facts/ , and Book: Optimum Nutrition Before, During and After Pregnancy. Patrick Holford. Page 5