So much to do, so little time…
If you’re like most women, you’ve probably spent a lot of time researching things online and maybe talking with friends, relatives, or even near strangers, about the best things you could do to support your fertility. My advice is to avoid magic bullets and think big picture: diet, exercise, rest, and emotional support. If a self-care practice makes you feel better, then do it. If it makes you feel stressed or obsessive, then give it a pass. Do what you can and be kind to yourself. There is no need to be a martyr. Pick changes that you think you’ll actually enjoy.
The best self-care practices give immediate and long-term benefits. Pay attention to how you feel after you eat a healthy meal or take a twenty minute walk or listen to a guided meditation. That immediate feeling of greater relaxation, focus, energy, etc., is what will keep you coming back to a practice day after day, month after month. The long-term benefits to your health and fertility will begin to manifest after a few months and after a year of practice can be truly life-changing. Try your best not to look that far ahead, though. You will likely get impatient and feel like quitting. Keep coming back to how you feel in the moment when you take care of yourself, and have faith in your body’s resiliency.
Diet can make a difference
There are many different healthy diets that you can follow. I’ve included the information below on the Mediterranean diet because it has been well-researched, and clearly demonstrates that a healthy diet can improve your chances of natural conception. Don’t feel overwhelmed, though. Start with a couple small changes, give them time to become habits, and then incorporate a few more small changes.
Women adhering to a Mediterranean diet are thirty percent more likely to conceive either naturally or through fertility treatment. Women who adhere to a fast-food diet (heavy in meat and fried foods) are fifty percent less likely to conceive naturally. Dietary choices can make a huge impact on a woman’s fertility.
The Mediterranean diet has been studied the most. Adherence to the diet lowers the risk of infertility, leads to better sperm quality, as well as greater success for women undergoing fertility treatments. The higher the amount of fast food consumed, the lower the chance of getting pregnant. Eliminating fast food to the greatest extent possible is the best advice.
The intake of meat can negatively impact fertility by affecting ovulation. However, most of the detriment of consuming meat comes from the fact that you are eating less fish. As a whole, seafood is very beneficial. The benefits of omega 3 fatty acids outweigh any risk of mercury. It is helpful for both partners to eat seafood. Most of the seafood we consume in the US is low in mercury—shrimp, salmon, canned tuna—are all great. Light canned tuna has low levels of mercury. Just don’t eat it every day, multiple times a day.
Some women are concerned about caffeine and alcohol. he highest quality studies show no link between caffeine intake and fertility, so 1-2 cups of coffee a day is fine. Similarly, 1-2 daily drinks appears to be fine in terms of potential impact on fertility.
The most helpful supplements
If you don’t like seafood, consider supplementing with fish oil or omega 3 supplements. Consuming more Omega 3s (fish, tofu, flax) was shown to double conception rates in women going through IVF. Omega 3s might also help men improve sperm counts.
Vitamin D is a good choice. There appears to be some low threshold that women need to be above in order to conceive naturally. For women going through fertility treatments, being deficient probably leads to worse outcomes. Once you maintain a sufficient level, you don’t need to go above and beyond. There are no added benefits. 1000 IUs is generally recommended.
There is consistent evidence that folic acid supplementation is helpful for natural conception and IVF success. It is helpful for ovulation and other markers of conception. In IVF studies, folic acid seems to have an impact on fertilization and embryo development. It also helps maintain pregnancy. We absorb this nutrient better in supplement form, but it is in lots of healthy foods like legumes and green leafy vegetables, so eat those too. Research shows benefit above and beyond the recommended 400 IU daily. It’s a water soluble vitamin, so if you consume more than your body needs, it is going to be flushed out in the urine. 600-1000mg is recommended.
Exercise in moderation
If you engage in lengthy cardio workouts, several times a week, you might want to cut back. Consistently working out to point of endorphin release can have an impact on ovulation. I’ve worked with a couple women who were avid runners and simply needed to cut back on their mileage in order to get pregnant.
If you are working to establish or re-establish a workout routine, it doesn’t need to be complicated. The single best exercise for most people is walking. Most chronic disease would be eliminated if we all walked for thirty minutes a day. It doesn’t need to be all at once, either. Ten minute “exercise snacks” throughout the day will get the job done. I love this video from public health expert Dr. Mike Evans whenever I need a little motivation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUaInS6HIGo. If you want to add in strength training, yoga, etc., go right ahead. Just remember, if and when you fall off the wagon, you can easily get back on track by taking a walk.
Don’t forget to rest
Over my years in practice I’ve noticed that people will try all sorts of things to improve their health, but will often skip over the most obvious—sleep. Our bodies and minds heal at night while we sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation can cause or exacerbate a host of health problems, including infertility. That’s because sleep helps regulate hormone balance. One of the best ways to increase your sex drive is to simply get more sleep. Most adults need 7 to 9 hours to function well. Maybe you think you only need 7 hours and can manage with 6.5, but you might actually be a person who needs closer to 9 hours. See if you can slowly tack on an additional 30 minutes to your sleeping schedule. You’re likely to see improved mood, energy, and overall sense of well-being.
Finding Emotional Support
Going through infertility can be a tough path. Many women experience levels of stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety similar to women undergoing treatment for cancer. Infertility is also deeply personal, and often difficult to share with others. Friends and family members may inadvertently say hurtful things, a spouse or partner may be supportive but not on the same page as you, etc. I am here to support you, but this journey will be easier if you have a few other people you can talk to about what’s going on in your life. If you’re not sure where to look for support, start here: resolve.org and fruitfulfertility.org. This blog post on making fertility friends from the founder of Fruitful Fertility is also great.
Physical intimacy, and I mean sex but other things as well, is an important way couples connect and support each other. It’s also something that can become challenging for both partners when there are fertility challenges. If it’s a goal for you to recapture some of your sex drive, please let me know when we talk during your appointment. That’s both a valid and reasonable goal.
I’m here to help. Feel free to give me a call at 920.574.0447 or send me an email at email@example.com