I’m really excited to share this blog post because I believe this information is powerful and can make a difference in your pregnancy journey. That being said, this isn’t a guaranteed recipe to get pregnant. There are endless factors that play into fertility and one’s ability to conceive. With infertility majorly on the rise, I believe it’s more important than ever that we take the time to ensure we are as healthy as possible before trying to conceive. I also like to think there is something really powerful in consciously preparing our body to get pregnant.
What I talk about here in this post are ways to increase fertility, lower your risk of miscarriage and help create a healthy baby. We can’t control everything but we can control many things so why not optimize our health using the tools we do know help!
Please note: Each point I talk about can be a book within itself (and many are) so I did my best to keep it concise with still explaining each point.
I am a huge fan of testing. Not everyone thinks its necessary but I say knowledge is power. It’s incredible what we can learn about our health with a little spit, blood or even dried urine (more on that later). Before getting pregnant with our first, I had a number of panels run to check different health markers through a Naturopath. The most important ones I did were a MTHFR gene mutation test, micronutrient panel, and hormone panel. All of these provide information that can impact fertility and overall health.
This time around before trying for our 2nd baby I did a hormone panel and nutrient panel. Especially after having a child, it’s common to have hormonal imbalance and nutritional deficiencies (hello, stress). My hormone levels checked out really well besides being a little low in melatonin which is an easy supplement fix.
What leads to hormonal imbalances? SO many things but a short list is stress, exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals, poor diet, and overconsumption of alcohol and caffeine. Many autoimmune conditions also affect hormones.
In general, when your hormones are low or not balanced it can lead to absent periods, mistimed ovulation or luteal phase defect. If you have any PMS at all, you likely have some sort of hormonal imbalance. After getting testing done, practitioners can give you a plan on how to balance your hormones. This is usually done through dietary and lifestyle changes, lowering stress and tailored supplementation.
Additionally, hormone testing before TTC(Trying to conceive) is especially important because many miscarriages occur due to low progesterone and other hormonal imbalances or issues like Hypothyroidism. Thyroid issues can also affect egg quality and lead to absent ovulation. This is another reason why working with someone to balance your hormones beforehand can help one avoid potential miscarriages.
The hormone test I did this time around is a dried urine test called the Dutch test. It’s very comprehensive but doesn’t test for Thyroid levels. I didn’t suspect any thyroid issues so I wasn’t worried about getting that tested separately. You can ask your OB to run a Thyroid panel just make sure they run a full thyroid panel and include TSH, Free T3, Free T4, Reverse T3 and TPOAb and TgAb.
Undiagnosed MTHFR is incredibly common and can lead to miscarriage. MTHFR is a gene mutation that affects up to 60% of the population. It affects your body’s ability to detoxify from heavy metals and process synthetic nutrients. If you have a MTHFR gene mutation it’s crucial you do not take folic acid which is in many prenatal supplements. Instead you want the naturally occurring form Folate, which really is better for everyone to take. There are two gene mutations that are tested and I am homozygous for one of them which means I especially need to take the methylated forms of vitamins and should avoid Folic Acid at all costs.
A micronutrient panel can test for proper levels for vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids and fatty acids. A few key nutrient levels you want to look at are Vitamin D, Folate (and other B vitamins), Vitamin C, Zinc, Magnesium, Choline, Iron, and your Omega 3s and 6s. I talk about this in the supplement section below but getting these tests done allows you to know if you need to supplement with any important nutrients in addition to your prenatal.
Where can you get these tests done? Naturopaths, acupuncturists and many other functional medical practitioners can order these tests and interpret the results for you. Unfortunately most are not covered by insurance. Most OBGYN’s do not specialize in balancing hormones and don’t have access to in depth hormone and micronutrient tests. Of course, it never hurts to ask your OBGYN first. Like I mentioned they can run thyroid tests and basic nutrient level tests and they may be able to get those covered by insurance. I recently had a heck of time trying to get my GP to run a micronutrient panel (she questioned why it even mattered – eye roll) and so I did it through a Naturopath.
I made a concerted effort to eat as well as possible a few months leading up to TTC. I focused on building meals around vegetables, fruit and healthy fats. I do about 95% organic for fruit and veggies. For meat, I do only buy the best quality out there. Grass-fed and finished organic beef, pasture-raised and organic chicken, wild-caught freshwater fish. I like to order meat from Butcher Box and its delivered to our door once a month. I made sure to eat a lot of pasture-raised eggs which are an incredible prenatal prep food! Other sources of healthy fats include avocados, coconut oil, grass-fed butter and nuts.
As far as what to limit leading up to TTC: caffeine, alcohol, vegetable oils, sugar, processed foods and genetically modified food. All of these not only cause inflammation in our body, but also can negatively affect our hormones and therefore our menstrual cycles. Lucky for me I don’t really handle caffeine or alcohol so I don’t indulge in either frequently. I did still eat sugar I just tried to keep it minimal and good quality when I do like organic dark chocolate (Shoutout to Hu Chocolate my favorite).
Supplements are not always necessary but before TTC is the perfect time to load up on some really great quality nutrients. While you can go crazy with supplements, here are the basics I think are non-negotiable: prenatal with folate, probiotic and and fish oil (unless you eat fatty fish multiple times a week). I started taking these six months before we wanted to try for both pregnancies. I have a blog post sharing my favorite prenatal supplements.
One of the reasons I did nutrient panels before trying both times was to see if I was deficient in anything so I knew exactly what I needed to supplement. For example I was pretty low last time in Vitamin D so I supplemented extra with that in additional the prenatal I took. Once you are pregnant, baby will take what it needs, so it’s important to supplement and build nutrient stores in your body so you don’t become depleted. And ladies, quality is important! Please do not buy cheap supplements. They are most likely synthetic which means your body can’t absorb it as well so you are wasting your money. Many times they contain additional fillers like sugar, wheat, corn, artificial colors, flavors or preservatives – all of which we want to avoid in supplements. Who sells cheap supplements? In general steer clear of stores like Costco, Target, CVS, large chains etc. I have access to practitioner grade supplements and I’m so passionate about people taking good quality that you can message me and I can get you 20% off these supplements.
Note: If you have been on hormonal birth control, it’s especially important to supplement (and get a nutrient panel run) as you get ready for pregnancy since birth control depletes key nutrients like B vitamins, C, magnesium and zinc.
DETOXING YOUR HOME
Do you know what ingredients and chemicals are in the products you put on your skin everyday? What about in the products you use to clean your home? You may not know that these industries are virtually unregulated by the government and many proven toxic ingredients and potentially harmful ingredients are allowed into the products. Study after study is showing the effects of these chemicals. Lowering our exposure to these chemicals and toxins lessens the strain put on your reproductive systems which boosts your fertility. Many of these chemicals are hormone disruptors which means they cause hormonal imbalance and other more serious issues.
I am lucky to have gone to nutrition school when I did (seven years ago) where I learned why non-toxic living matters. Since then, I’ve been able to transition the products in my home to safer options. I’m still making swaps as I learn more but I’d say our home is pretty low-tox.
In addition to my post on my favorite ways to detox daily, I frequently talk about my favorite safer brands on my website and Instagram. I’ve found great non-toxic brands for everything from candles, cookware, sheets, and makeup to cleaning products.
Some people don’t want to believe that what we put on our skin or use in our home affect us but a study testing found an average of 287 industrial chemicals(like BPA) at the time of birth in a baby’s cord blood. That’s awful!! For as advanced as we are, babies are having more issues than ever. Is this all connected? I believe so.
No idea where to start when it comes to going non-toxic? For all products get rid of anything with artificial fragrance which is listed as Fragrance or Parfum on labels. From skincare, makeup, perfume, hand soap, body lotion, to plug-in’s and candles, fragrance is found in all of them. Side note: I highly recommend watching the documentary Stink on Netflix about fragrance. Besides that, use this list to start. This same site is also very helpful when checking the safety of your products. You can type in a product and it will tell you the safety rating.
I have an article on detoxing your home that you can read here where I talk about limiting your exposure to plastic. If you use plastic water bottles, Tupperware or anything else, switch to glass or stainless steel. BPA is a major culprit in lowering egg and sperm quality. You can get glass Tupperware and stainless steel water bottles anywhere nowadays and I linked my favorites!
I got off the pill when I was 26 after I had learned all the side effects of it. What’s the problem with hormonal birth control ? Well to start, it completely overrides your reproductive system which if you think about it logically has to affect other things in our body. It can affect your gut, increase risk for anxiety and depression, lower sex drive and deplete you of nutrients as I mentioned above. Additionally, many women experience Post Birth Control Syndrome which is a real syndrome with serious side effects. Dr. Jolene Brighten is one of my favorite doctors who specializes in birth control research and PBCS.
A lot of people just plan to get off the pill the month before TTC but I say do it as soon as possible, assuming both you and partner agree. If you went on the pill due to painful periods, you may need to address hormonal imbalances once you’re off the pill so give yourself a few months to do that. The pill doesn’t fix these issues after all it just covers up the symptoms. If you don’t want to use condoms (…and I mean who does?) you can also use fertility trackers or opt for a non-hormonal copper IUD if you want long-term birth control. The copper IUD is a great fit for many and not great for some so definitely do research into this and talk to your OB. You can also track your basal body temperature which is very effective or use tools like like Ava bracelet or Daysy to help identify when you are fertile so you can use it to know when not to have sex before you are ready to get pregnant.
I did acupuncture both times before TTC to lower my stress, increase blood flow to my reproductive organs and help balance my endocrine system. High stress increases our infertility risk. Plus, who doesn’t want an excuse to leave work and go nap in a dark room while listening to zen music? I go to an acupuncturist who specializes in fertility and I do recommend finding one who does if possible. I also continue acupuncture throughout my pregnancies to help support a healthy pregnancy.
I do my best to exercise regularly but I am not someone who is a gym rat by any means. Especially now working from home with a 2 year old, I fit it in when I can. My favorite kinds of workouts are barre, yoga, weight lifting and walking. There is a fine balance we want to maintain here while getting ready to make a baby. I think we all know how wonderful exercise is for our physical and mental health. It can help lower stress and lead to better sleep which both support our hormonal health. What we don’t want to do is cause our bodies additional stress by working out too much. Remember, our body’s can’t differentiate between good and bad stress. All it feels is “stress” and this is a time we want to lower stress.
My opinion of working out too much? For everyone it will be different but doing strenuous workouts like hot yoga or running multiple miles more than 4/5 times a week might be too much. Additionally, we want to have fat on our body’s before we get pregnant. Some fat is good and is necessary for hormonal balance. My personal ideal work out schedule is walking 3x a week and barre/non-heated vinyasa yoga 2x a week.
That’s right, your husband doesn’t get left out of this prep! The field of epigenetics shows that DNA expression is affected by your environment and stress, and that both of these factors affect your baby’s health. This means that the 50% of baby’s DNA that comes from the father can be optimized! All of the recommendations above are just as important for the men in your life to follow too. Sperm quality is being greatly affected by stress and lifestyle choices and male infertility is on the rise. It’s explained well in these two articles: Sperm Count Zero and Are Your Sperm In Trouble?.
My husband cut out gluten three months before we started trying as it is well known to cause inflammation and affect sperm health. He lowered alcohol intake and took a high quality supplement to boost sperm health through some great nutrients and antioxidants. Luckily we don’t have much plastic in our kitchen or in our home but reducing BPA exposure is very important for sperm quality too. Reducing heat to your man’s balls is important too! Say goodbye to biking, tighty whities and jacuzzing too much and make sure he is keeping those guys cool and loose.
We had a sperm test set for my husband but we got pregnant quickly and he didn’t end up needing to do it. I do think getting a sperm test done before TTC is a good idea as those articles outline how many fertility issues are stemming from men. In fact about 40% of infertility comes from the man and most people wait a year before getting their partner tested.
One of the takeaways I hope to convey from these recommendations is to show how interconnected everything we do, eat and intake is to our health and fertility. There are many great recommendations for helping to boost fertility not mentioned here but this is where I recommend starting. As always, talk to your doctor first!
Questions? Leave them in the comments!