By Dr. Laura Pipher
Have you thought about starting or growing your family?
There are so many things to think about when deciding whether or not you are ready to bring children into the world, but not many people consider their ability to conceive as one of those factors.
Whatever your goals for 2018 may be, it is never too early to start optimizing your fertility! As a naturopathic doctor, my goal is to educate patients and ensure they have all of the tools they need to reach the goals they want, and fertility is no exception! Here are my top 10 tips you can start using TODAY to optimize your fertility.
Start Tracking & Start Early:
Some people assume that whenever you are ready for kids, the next easy step is to get pregnant, and although for some that may be true, many struggle with infertility for a variety of reasons. It is important that if you are wanting to conceive in the future, you start monitoring your menstrual cycle, as this is your body’s way of letting you know what is (and may not be) going on! I tell all of my patients that the number one thing they need to do today is download an app! There are plenty of free options when it comes to period trackers; I personally have used “period tracker”, “kindara”, and “glow”, each with their individual benefits in allowing you to track your cycle, temperature, and other symptoms. Tracking your cycle can give you a ton of important information about how your hormones are balanced, when you are ovulating (if you are ovulating at all), and clues as to whether or not something else may be going on. It is important to track your cycle for about 3-6 months in order to establish patterns in your hormones, as one month does not give us a ton of information to work with.
Get Yourself Thoroughly Assessed:
Although tracking your cycle can give you a lot of information with respect to fertility, it is crucial to have lab values to work from in order to be able to determine where the root cause of fertility issues may lie, and where treatment needs to begin. Some important lab values and work ups to ask your naturopathic or medical doctor about include:
Yearly Physical exam- This can give your doctor an idea of specific labs or tests they should be running
CBC (complete blood count)- this will let your doctor know if there are any infections going on, and can begin any necessary further investigations (i.e. Low hemoglobin can warrant further investigations into iron status, B12, folic acid)
TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone)- your thyroid hormones are critical to the development of a fetus, so getting these levels checked and ensuring they are at an appropriate level is critical for conception
All other investigations should be ordered on an individual basis based on your health history and intake.
Make Sure you Are on the right Supplements:
Being on a good quality prenatal is very important when planning to conceive, as these tend to have most if not all of the nutrients required for a healthy pregnancy. A common concern with prenatal supplements is that some of them can cause nausea & constipation, something that is a large barrier for women trying to take the recommended dose. It is important to know that there are many different types of prenatal vitamins which vary in their quality, formulations, dosing, and form of nutrients. Some forms of iron, for example, are less well absorbed, and have a tendency to constipate more. It is important to talk to your naturopathic doctor about prenatal supplements, as they are very well versed in how to best achieve the proper dose (and proper form) of each nutrient.
Ditch The Coffee!
When trying to conceive, it may be smart to put an end to your daily cup of joe, as research shows that caffeine consumption >500mg per day delays conception time by 11% (Bolumar et al., 1997)!
You AND your partner may have to play designated driver this season if you are looking to conceive, as research has shown that females consuming alcohol are 2.26x more likely not to conceive in a cycle and 2.21x more likely to miscarry (Klonoff-cohen 2003). Males consuming alcohol have an increased risk of not being able to achieve a birth by 2.28x, and beer was shown to specifically have a negative impact (Klonoff-cohen, 2003). Further, consuming only ONE drink in a cycle reduced a women’s conception likelihood by 50% (Hakim et al, 1998).
Avoid smoking (including marijuana)
Smoking tobacco is known to have many dangerous health effects, and cigarette smoking has been specifically linked to an increased time to conception compared to people who have never smoked (Joesoef et al, 1993). There is also evidence linking smoking to negative outcomes in infants including: higher rates of congenital heart defects, limb abnormalities, and central nervous system malformations (Merritt et al., 2013).
As marijuana has increased in its popularity and use, it is important to note the research on the impacts of marijuana smoking on fertility and conception. It is important to get your partner on board as well, as studies consistently show that marijuana can negatively impact male fertility through its accumulation in the testicular membrane and its ability to decrease sperm concentration, reduce motility, viability, and morphology (Du Plessis et al., 2015). Since it can take up to 90 days for sperm to become mature, it is important to have this conversation and plan to stop marijuana use within an appropriate time frame. Further, marijuana use in women has been shown to inhibit regular ovulation and lead to menstrual cycle abnormalities (Brents, 2016).
A common misconception is that when you are carrying a child, you are eating for two. This can result in poor dietary habits, leading to unhealthy and unnecessary weight gain throughout pregnancy. An addition of about 200cal/day is usually sufficient for a pregnant mom and her babe as long as the calories are coming from appropriate sources. Leading up to conception, a proper diet is required, as certain foods have been shown to have an impact on fertility.
Here are some guidelines to follow:
Vegetables- these should cover at least half of your plate at each meal
Plant protein sources- reducing animal proteins and substituting with beans, legumes & other sources of plant protein
High iron foods- leafy greens & lean meats
Healthy Oils- olive oil, eating fish 2-3x a week
Replace your refined carbohydrates for complex carbohydrates (whole grain rice, quinoa)
Consume Full fat dairy- low fat dairy has been seen to impair fertility (chavarro, 2006)
Nuts & Seeds – consume these for healthy fats and protein
Avoid problem foods
Stay clear of processed foods! Consumption of trans fats have been shown to DOUBLE the risk of infertility (Chavarro, 2008).
It Takes TWO to Tango!
Infertility is often seen as a “woman’s problem”, however we must acknowledge that men play an equal and very significant role in conception. It is important to ensure that both the man and woman are optimizing their fertility which becomes a lot easier through making these changes a lifestyle, rather than a chore. Eat fertility friendly foods together, remove alcohol, avoid smoking, & ensure you both are being properly assessed if you believe there are significant fertility issues. Timed intercourse is very important, as eggs are viable for fertilization 10-24 hours after they are released and sperm is viable from 1-7 days in the vaginal canal depending on the environment (Robertson, J 2017).
Ditch the late nights if you are looking to conceive! Sleep is SO important and sleep dysregulation actually has the ability to suppress reproductive hormones. Try relaxing in the evening and plan a somewhat regular sleep and wake time to keep your hormones stable.
If you have any questions or are looking to conceive, don’t hesitate to reach out!
Have a happy & safe holiday!
Dr. Laura Pipher is a naturopathic doctor with a passion for educating and empowering patients to take control of their health. She received her bachelor of arts & science with minors in nutritional and nutraceutical sciences & family and child studies from the University of Guelph and her Doctor of Naturopathy degree from the Canadian College of naturopathic medicine. Dr. Laura has a well rounded family practice, however, her clinical focus is mainly in women's health from menses to menopause and everything in between! Dr. Laura treats patients using a variety of modalities including botanical medicine, diet and lifestyle changes, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) (including acupuncture & cupping), and supplements. Dr. Laura prefers an evidence based approach, choosing the therapies most appropriate for each patient's concerns.