It’s hard to believe that yet another year is coming to a close, isn’t it? For many, this can be a difficult time when we reflect on all that has passed throughout the year and the battles and challenges we have faced on our fertility journeys, especially when we are still without that much wanted baby in our arms. But a brand-new year is just around the corner and that means new beginnings. It is a chance to make some positive changes and take steps to maximise the chances of a natural or assisted conception. Once the festivities are over and you have some quiet time with your partner to reflect and talk properly, come up with your fertility action plan for the new year – what changes can you make or new things can you take up that will have a positive impact on you both, and in turn your fertility? In this article, we will discuss areas for you to think about further and possibly choose some of the ideas for your own action plans. By doing so, we hope you feel empowered and more in control. Fertility is something we don’t have total control over but by getting some of the control back, you will hopefully start to feel better.
Diet and Nutrition
Poor diet and nutritional deficiencies are all too common. In our fast-paced lifestyle, we are more prone to not eating regularly. Some have breakfast at lunch time, others consume only one highly caloric meal a day. We need nutrients and vitamins to make healthy sperm and good eggs. We need a healthy balance of proteins, fats, carbohydrates and foods that do not cause inflammation. Ensure you are eating the right foods cutting out fatty, sugary and over-processed meals. Aim for a diet filled with plenty of ‘fertility boosting’ ingredients such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean meat and fish, beans and pulses and nuts. You may also like to introduce a good quality multi-vitamin supplements to boost your intake. And as always, try to ensure you are drinking plenty of water as this will benefit you on so many levels.
When you are trying to conceive, it doesn’t have to mean hibernating in the house and avoiding all activity and social outings. Being with others and enjoying the things you love are just as important for your mental wellbeing which in turn will benefit your fertility by reducing stress. But if you think you may be burning the candle at both ends a little too much, have a think about where you can make a few small changes this year. It is very important that you significantly reduce your alcohol intake or cut it out altogether if possible and stopping smoking will improve your overall health too so if either of you are still doing so, make this your year to finally quit that habit. Look to reduce the amount of caffeine you both consume and switch to decaf tea and coffee and decaffeinated drinks where you can. In terms of exercise, look at the type and levels of physical activity you are taking; ensure you are keeping active but not over-exercising either. Are you getting enough sleep? This may be one of the lower things on your priority list, but sleep is hugely important for our bodies and minds. Try to switch off any electronic devices a couple of hours before heading to bed to improve the quality of your sleep too.
Tracking and Charting
It is so important to become in tune with our bodies. With very busy, stressful jobs and hectic social lives, it can be very easy to lose sight of our bodies and what they are trying to tell us which is actually a huge amount. We need to start listening to our body. Understanding your own menstrual cycle and recognising your ovulation symptoms will help you become in tune with your body and help you to identify any possible reasons why you are not falling pregnant. The thought of tracking your basal body temperature and cervical mucus on a daily basis can be a little off-putting and invasive as well as time consuming but it is only necessary to chart for around 3 months in order to really understand your natural cycle and pinpoint your fertile window and the best time to conceive.
In order to become more in tune with your cycle, you should start tracking the following:
- Your menstrual cycle length: count the number of days from day one of your period (CD 1) up to, and including, the day before the next period starts. The count does not include the first day of the next menstrual period because that’s Cycle Day 1 of the next cycle. Between the ages of 25 and 35, most women’s cycles are regular generally lasting 21 to 35 days and around ages 40 to 42 cycles tend to be the shorter. By keeping track of the length of your cycles and whether they are regular in length, you will get a clearer picture as to when your fertile window is as well as giving you a better indication as to whether there are any hormonal imbalances at play.
- Basal body temperature is your body temperature upon waking after 5 hours of undisturbed sleep that you take using a special thermometer known as an ovulation thermometer which measures to two decimal places. Ovulation causes a slight increase in your basal body temperature and so by tracking your cycle on a daily basis you will be able to pinpoint your ovulation day and work out your most fertile time to conceive. There are many templates available online to download and chart your temperature daily.
- Cervical mucus changes throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle and it can give us so many clues to our overall fertile health. Just after menstruation, this fluid is thick, impenetrable and acidic and is referred to as ‘infertile cervical mucus’ that is designed to prevent sperm and bacteria from entering the vagina. When a woman is about to ovulate, estrogen levels rise and the cervical mucus increases in volume with the texture changing from wet to a more stretchy, egg-white like mucus. Women who have a hormonal imbalance may have limited cervical mucus or cervical mucus that is too thick for sperm to travel through which can be addressed by the correct nutrition, herbs and supplements, increasing essential fatty acid consumption and drinking plenty of water.
After focusing on charting the above, which are the most accurate ways of determining whether you are fertile, you may also like to try checking the position of your cervix or track the presence of certain hormones such as the Luteinizing Hormone in the urine through the use of ovulation prediction tests.
If you haven’t done so already, consider trying a more holistic approach. This could be before undertaking any medical treatment, or it can complement and enhance this process too. Many fertility clinics are now seeing the benefits of traditional Chinese medicine and offering sessions of acupuncture, reflexology or massage as part of your treatment cycle. If the body is balanced and de-stressed you are more likely to conceive. Holistic therapies encourage the body to work towards homeostasis.
Acupuncture is based on the theory that there is a natural flow of energy through your body called qi. The practice of stimulating special points in your body with fine needles is said to free up this flow of energy, helping your body to function better. Reflexology is a relaxing and calming therapy involving foot and hand massage. It can have a positive effect on your quality of life and reduce stress and anxiety. This could be helpful when you’re trying to get pregnant, as stress and anxiety may make it harder to conceive. Fertility and abdominal massage is used to help support reproductive health, digestive health, the menstrual cycle and your fertility. It aims to enhance hormonal balance, increase fresh blood flow to the uterus and cervix, eliminate faeces from the colon, and helps to reduce the stress hormone cortisol.
It is very easy to get caught up in all of the medical information and processes when trying to conceive and undertaking fertility investigations. If you have been on this journey for a long time, this can have a significant impact on your mental wellbeing and increase stress on your body. Make this the year that you look to put your mental health as a top priority by trying some of the following:
- Practice mindfulness techniques. Mindfulness is about focusing your awareness on the present moment, whatever you’re doing, while at the same time accepting your thoughts and feelings. It allows you to take a step back and consider things without the rush of emotions that can cloud your thoughts when you encounter a problem. If you’re stressed out because each month goes by without a positive pregnancy test, you may benefit from practising mindfulness. It’s known to reduce anxiety, which in turn can improve conception chances.
- Take up yoga to improve your physical strength, hormonal balance, flow of chakras and reduce stress.
- Try to build in time for some meditation; sit quietly and pay attention to your body, your thoughts and feelings and your breathing. Whenever your mind starts to wander, you gently bring your attention back to your breathing. Meditation is known to improve mental well-being. If it is difficult to switch off and find the space to do so, there are a wealth of Apps readily available to help you to focus your mind during various stages of fertility treatment
- Connect with others; infertility can feel very isolating, especially if it seems you are the only one in your social circle or family who is suffering in this way. Finding others who are going through the same struggles can be hugely beneficial, even if you have just one other person to share your thoughts and feelings with who truly understands what it is like. In today’s online world, we are lucky to be able to connect with support groups all over the globe and this can be less daunting than trying to meet people face to face. Search using the hashtag #TTC on sites such as Instagram, Facebook or Twitter and you will see what a large and supportive community there is.
For support in creating a more detailed and personal action plan tailored to your specific needs, please contact us at The Natural Fertility Clinic to make an appointment for a personal consultation. We wish you a very ‘Happy New Year.’
By Suzanne Higgins