What are your top 3 overall tips for increasing fertility?
- Know your cycle. Most of us are in the dark about our menstrual cycles. We’ve spent our peak fertility years as women trying not to get pregnant and even trying not to have our periods. Then, when the time comes to try to conceive, we are in the dark. I really encourage my patients to read Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, MPH. It’s a mind-blowing read – it’s the stuff your mom was supposed to tell you, but didn’t. Get to know what your normal menstrual cycle is for at least 3 months before trying to conceive.
- Understand the most harmful measures that need to be eliminated. Whether you’re a smoker, a heavy drinker, coffee-addict, a stress-a-holic, an over- or under-exerciser and/or an over- or under-eater, it’s going to drastically affect your ability to conceive. These measures need to be under control before beginning your journey. Both partners need to be engaged in cleaning up their diet and lifestyle.
- Take out the junk. The toxic junk, that is. Clean out your home of endocrine disruptors like phalates and PCBs, reduce your exposure to heavy metals like lead and mercury, pesticides, radiation, and air pollution. I even recommend patients speak with their prescribing physicians or pharmacists about the risks their medications may have on their ability to conceive.
We know folic acid is important to prevent neural tube defects in babies. Can we increase folic acid levels enough through nutrition alone?
This is definitely a hot topic these days, especially with new research coming out that we can overdo folic acid. Overall, the answer is, yes, you likely could get enough folic acid from diet alone if you are extremely diligent about it. We can get folic acid from whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables, liver, and legumes. However, the reason supplementation is recommended is because of just how important it is to get the right amount. With natural fluctuations in soil levels, food quality, etc. it’s better to rely on a good-quality supplement to ensure adequate levels of folic acid, as opposed to risking not getting enough. Currently, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada and the Motherisk Program recommend 0.4-1mg of folic acid taken in supplement form, along with getting more folic acid in the diet. It is recommended this supplementation begins a few months before conception and is continued throughout pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
What are your favourite Naturopathic Doctor recommended foods for future mamas?
FAT! The right kinds of fats. Stick with organic coconut oil and milk, sesame oil, macadamia oil, olive oil, avocado, and nuts and seeds. Avoid deep-fried foods, trans fats, heavy amount of saturated animal fats, and manufactured fats, like margarine.
Filtered water. Lots of it. Stay extremely well hydrated. Consuming coconut water can help with this, too.
Protein. We’re trying to grow a human here, after all. We’re going to need protein (aka. the building blocks of life) to do that. Animal sources (including eggs and fish) will provide wonderful complete protein, but be impeccable about your choices. I recommend sticking with organic, grass-fed animal products. This may be hard on the wallet. If so, have it some meals as opposed to all and use a combination of plant-based proteins to achieve complete proteins at other meals.
Carbohydrates. Yes, you need to eat carbohydrates. No, I’m not talking about bingeing on white bread. I’m talking about loads and loads of vegetables, fruit in moderation, and grains in moderation. We need carbohydrates as a fuel source for us and baby. Upon conceiving, beta-hCG will completely adjust how we metabolize carbohydrates to benefit the develop fetus. Get comfortable with healthy, whole carbohydrates now.
Do you have any recommended resources or books?
As mentioned above, I love Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, MPH. It isn’t just about conception, it’s also about natural family planning, and general menstrual cycle information.
Once pregnant, I highly recommend Dr. Aviva Romm, MD’s Natural Pregnancy Book. It’s a fantastic resource for nutrition, exercise and natural remedies for common pregnancy complaints.
From a parenting perspective, one of my patient’s recommended And Baby Makes Three by PhDs John & Julie Gottman, which my husband and I have thoroughly enjoyed as a way to understand how to maintain our marriage after baby.
Hypnobirthing by Marie Mongan is totally fabulous. This is actually a really wonderful pre-natal course to take to prepare for birth. I call it Lamaze on steroids. The book is the recommended resource to go along with the course.
For your partner in birth, whomever that may be, I recommend The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin. It’s a very informative book to read prior to delivery to get prepared for labour.
Is there any food women should avoid consuming besides caffeine and alcohol?
Oh my! There is a whole list of foods. You could make yourself crazy over avoiding things like parsley, cured meats, soft cheeses, sushi, etc. It’s not to say that learning about the commonly problematic foods isn’t important, but I really encourage women to focus more on the really terrible foods that they should be avoiding. A lot of women tend to see pregnancy as a time to let go and not worry about weight gain, since it’s going to happen anyway with baby. This is so not true. Gaining too much weight is equally as problematic because risks for their developing fetus, and risks for mom during and after pregnancy. Consider the end-goal. We are growing a human here. This is the ultimate time to eat well. Why would we use this time to eat ice cream, soda and chips until the cows come home? Cravings happen. I totally get that and have been there – there is nothing standing in your way. But constructing a pregnancy diet entirely of crap food is only going to create problems for you and for baby.
Stay away from:
- fruit juices
- deep-fried foods
- processed sugars
- hormone- and antibiotic-filled animal products
- processed grains
What’s the biggest mistake you see women make when trying to get pregnant?
Stressing to the max. Once fully engrained in the world of basal body temperature, cervical mucus, cervical position, ovulation predictor kits, etc. it’s very very easy for women to become completely obsessed, which takes all of the fun out of trying to conceive. I have been this woman. When my husband and I first conceived in the spring of 2015, it was actually unintentional and occurred on my very first cycle after having my copper IUD removed. As such, we had an ectopic pregnancy and miscarried at 5 weeks. This began a stressful of “can I ever get pregnant again” and “if I get pregnant, will it end tragically again”? It’s no fun. It literally took major lifestyle shifts including job changes and relocating out of the city for us to successfully conceive. I highly encourage women to care enough, but not to stress to the max. Look at your lifestyle factors and your mental/emotional factors – are there things standing in your way. Look into fertility meditation programs like those by Belleruth Naparstek to get yourself in the right headspace to conceive.
What is the number one piece of advice you want to give women reading this who are trying to conceive?
Understand that this process can take awhile. 6 months to a year is considered normal. But, if you are planning to conceive let your naturopathic doctor know early on and you can work together to optimize your chances.