Getting pregnant is one of those things in life we can’t control, no matter how hard we try. And often trying harder will make it more difficult. Through my work as a fertility expert I know there is no set plan or list you can tick off to guarantee conception. However, good health is something we can be proactive about. One factor such as low sperm count (which in many cases can be reversed via diet and lifestyle changes) translates to a 5% chance of getting pregnant each month, which alone would mean that it could take a couple two years to conceive. Other factors may reduce the chance of conception even further. We all have our unique challenges and there are solutions for everyone, which is why it’s worth working together with a specialist in functional or integrative health on your fertility journey. My approach is three-pronged:
“The food you eat, the life you lead, the thoughts you think.”
The food you eat
Nutritional science is showing just how important a diet of unprocessed, real foods is for fertility. Research has shown that the standard Western diet with its high intake of refined grains and over-processed fats is highly inflammatory. Chronic inflammation could affect fertility because it causes cellular damage and DNA fragmentation. Intact DNA molecules are the building blocks for a healthy embryo.
New areas of research in epigenetics and nutritional genomics show that food is information for our genes. It washes over them to switch them either on or off. What does this mean? Let’s take everyone’s favourite: chocolate. Cacao – the pure, no-sugar-added variety – turns on genes that have the ability to reduce inflammation in the body. So by eating a piece of dark chocolate packed with antioxidants you’re supporting the body’s anti-inflammatory response.
I take an integrative approach to health, combining the best of Western and Eastern medicine, as well as incorporating the latest findings from nutrition and wellness. In Chinese medicine the health of the kidneys and liver is seen as key for conception. A recent Western medical study showed that oestrogen receptors in the liver maintain fertility. Amino acids – the building blocks of proteins – control the expression of these receptors in the liver. This means that a high-carb diet that is poor in protein can have a negative effect on fertility. Vegetarians and vegans need to make sure they’re getting enough complete proteins (such as quinoa) on a daily basis. It is important to be mindful about the amount and quality of soya you are consuming. I believe that processed, non-fermented soya is linked to reduced fertility as it can disrupt the hormonal balance. Eating fermented soya products like tofu and tempeh a few times a week probably won’t have negative effects on fertility.
It’s worth consuming mainly organic food when you’re trying for a baby. The toxins found in pesticides and herbicides are endocrine disruptors, impacting sperm and egg health. Male sperm counts have halved since the introduction of industrial farming, with nearly 50% of the male population today demonstrating reduced sperm motility. Organic farmers have been shown to have very potent sperm counts of over five times the average, whereas conventional farmers or those working with pesticides tend to have reduced sperm counts with low motility. If you can’t afford organic, aim for local, seasonal produce and shop at farmers’ markets, where you may find clean foods from growers who for cost and red-tape reasons don’t have the organic label. Check the Environmental Working Group’s ‘Clean Fifteen’ and ‘Dirty Dozen’ lists to see which non-organic fruits and vegetables are least and most likely contain pesticide residues.1
My advice for anyone wanting to get pregnant is to detox at least three months before trying to conceive, so that egg and sperm mature in an environment that is as toxin-free as possible. However, it can be damaging to become pregnant while going through a detox, so it is important to take extra care during this time. Another reason to detox before getting pregnant is that toxins can cross the placenta to the growing baby. After detoxing, focus on nutrient-dense food. You can do this whether you’re raw vegan or on a paleo-style diet. The main thing is real, unprocessed food: mainly plants, ‘good’ fats (including the omega-3 fatty acids), fruit, grass-fed meat and wild fish (if you eat them) and whole grains (opting for gluten-free alternatives such as quinoa and buckwheat where possible). Avoid refined sugar. Drink a big glass of water about half an hour before each meal for cell hydration and to aid digestion. Add some fermented foods like kefir or sauerkraut daily for healthy gut flora. A healthy digestive system translates to good immunity and fertility.
The life you lead
It’s hard to avoid stress these days in our 24-hour society. However, we know that the stress hormone cortisol blocks progesterone, the pregnancy hormone. Stress also inhibits the body’s main sex hormones, suppressing sperm count and ovulation. It’s not easy to eliminate stress from our lives, but we can try finding ways to manage it by hitting the pause button. Stress hates going for a walk in Nature, for example. It also doesn’t like yoga very much, because yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system – the ‘rest and digest’, rather than ‘fight or flight’ (stress) response.
Both walking in Nature and yoga are in fact perfect ways to get oxygenated blood flowing to the reproductive areas. Taking deep breaths will provide the womb with nutrient-rich blood, and a well-nourished endometrium is a friendlier home for a fertilised egg to nestle into and grow in. People who spend long hours sitting at a desk should incorporate functional exercise into daily routines, such as walking, lifting, stooping and climbing. Humans throughout history have been physically active and it’s only recently we’ve become so sedentary – sitting is the new smoking, so to speak.
Vitamin D from adequate sunlight (and through supplementation in the UK’s winter months) is important for fertility, because every cell in the body needs it to function. Try to get at least 20 minutes of natural, full-spectrum light on your retina daily so that the pituitary gland can activate the ovaries. The blue light component in electronic devices upsets our circadian rhythms and the production of the master control hormone melatonin, which helps regulate menstruation and sleep. To avoid this you can install free software called f.lux to warm up digital displays.
Spending some time grounding or cleansing from electro-magnetic pollution is also worthwhile. Walk barefoot on the ground, leave your phone at home, ban electronics from the bedroom and turn off your Wi-Fi at night. Remember we are living a gigantic electromagnetic experiment.
The thoughts you think
The mind has a huge impact on how every cell in the body functions. Belief is basically the body’s strongest medicine. Positive thoughts, affirmations and visualisations create neural connections that lead the body to believe something is true. So genuinely believe you will get pregnant when the time is right, and trust this belief. Accept yourself and where you are today. Stop blaming yourself or feeling guilty for not being pregnant yet. Have life-affirming chemistry flowing through your veins, enjoy the moment, nurture yourself and loved ones.
Believing or worrying you’re too old to get pregnant can block pregnancy because it’s sending the wrong message to your ovaries. I personally don’t buy the ageing eggs theory. An exciting discovery has recently shown that women have egg precursor cells in the outer cortex of their ovaries. These have the potential to mature into fresh, young eggs at any age. This basically overturns the paradigm that we’re born with all the eggs we’ll ever have.
And one last but important point: don’t forget the spiritual aspect of bringing a soul into the world. Create a sacred fertility ritual. Get in touch with your Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine. Connect with your intrinsic wisdom and awaken the ancient record of fertility in your DNA.
I wish you all the best in fulfilling your desire for a baby.
Claudia Spahr is a journalist and is the author of Right Time Baby: The Complete Guide to Later Motherhood. She is an integrative nutrition health counsellor, fertility coach and the founder of HolyMama yoga retreats for mums and Lotus Yoga Retreat. She has three children, born when she was 40, 43 and 45. holymama.info
Illustrations by Marija Smits – marijasmits.wordpress.com
First published in Issue 39. Accurate at the time the issue went to print.
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