This week is National Fertility Awareness week, with a special emphasis on the struggles of infertility. Infertility is defined by WHO as “the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.” In the West, infertility rates are increasing. Currently one in seven UK couples will have trouble conceiving. There is much speculation as to why this is the case, one idea is that couples are generally planning to start a family later on in life.
For both men and women, fertility rates start to drop at the age of 35 and steadily decline from there onwards. This isn’t to say you can’t achieve a healthy pregnancy after the age of 35, it just means it may take a little longer and you may need the help of Assisted Reproductive Technology such as IVF.
It’s never too early to start pre-conception care. In fact, there is now a real push in the media and medical world for pre-conception health to be part of the school curriculum. School children are often lectured on how to prevent pregnancy but not on how to promote it, which is something that needs to change.
Whether you’re trying for a baby now or think you might in the future, here are some tips on how to increase your fertility naturally:
- Eat three balanced meals each day with minimal snacking in between
Your meals should contain lean or vegetarian protein, unsaturated fats and low GI carbohydrates. Each meal should also include a variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables as they provide your body with fibre, vitamins, minerals, and compounds that are anti-inflammatory and high in antioxidants. It is okay to have sugary treats every now and again but ensure they are eaten right after a balanced meal, or at least with something high in protein. This will prevent your blood sugar levels from spiking causing excess insulin to be produced, which then interferes with the balance of your reproductive hormones.
- Eat antioxidant rich foods
Antioxidants protect follicles from damage and enhance embryo quality and growth. To increase your antioxidant consumption, eat foods high in vitamins A, C, E, CoQ10, lipoic acid, bioflavonoids, zinc and selenium such as: Fruits – berries, pomegranate, goji berries, apples, grapes, orange, lime, plum, pineapple, kiwi fruit, grapefruit, peaches, apricots and lemon. Vegetables – kale, red cabbage, capsicum (peppers), artichoke, brussels sprouts, spinach, beetroot, broccoli, sweet potato, tomatoes and corn. Teas – green, white, rooibos, nettle, rosehip and hibiscus. Herbs – rosemary, thyme, parsley, watercress, basil, oregano, turmeric, parsley, ginger, garlic and onion.
- Find out if you are ovulating
By tracking your ovulation through charting your basal body temperature (BBT), you can decipher your ovulation patterns. The process involves taking your temperature first thing when you wake up each morning and recording it. You will need to ensure that you have had at least 3 hours of uninterrupted sleep before waking up and it’s important to use a ‘basal thermometer’, due to its accuracy. If you ovulate, you’ll notice a slight increase in your temperature (around 0.2 degrees C), which will last until your next period.
- Know when you are fertile
Through tracking your BBT you will be able to see a pattern of when you ovulate each month. This is important because you are only fertile approximately two days before ovulation, on the day of ovulation and around 24 hours after. If you are trying to conceive make sure you have intercourse at least every second day during that time frame each month.
- Utilise testing
If you and your partner have been struggling to fall pregnant or have experienced any miscarriages, see your doctor for testing. There are a wide range of tests that can be extremely useful. From hormone levels, to nutritional levels, to checking for any underlying infections – it is important to know where your body needs rebalancing. A Naturopath will be able to help you understand what tests are important and when to get them done in your cycle. Once you have your results, any imbalances can be addressed before trying to conceive.
- Manage your stress levels
Chronic stress, whether it be emotional, physical or chemical, is one of the greatest contributors to infertility. The body produces high levels of cortisol in times of stress, which can stop other hormones from doing their jobs. Stress can also raise prolactin levels, which may hinder ovulation. To manage your stress levels ensure you sleep well by being in bed before 10pm each night and limiting screen time. Yoga and meditation have also been shown to lower stress levels and exercise promotes happiness and health. Make sure you factor into your schedule time each day to do things that you enjoy such as having a relaxing bath, having a creative project on the go, watching your favourite TV program and spending time with friends and family.
- Avoid toxins in your environment
Nowadays it is literally impossible to avoid environmental toxins but there are certainly measures you can put in place to limit your exposure. Drinking 2L of water per day, eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (which are high in antioxidants), exercising and spending time in infrared saunas can help your body’s detoxification pathways work effectively. Try to eat organic foods as much as possible to reduce pesticide exposure and avoid heating food in plastic to limit BPA ingestion. Use natural body care and cleaning products to avoid synthetic fragrances and harmful chemicals that can disrupt hormone regulation. Being exposed to smoking should also be avoided and if you’re a coffee drinker limit your consumption to one cup per day. Drinking alcohol can make it harder to conceive for both men and women when more than 1-2 drinks per week are consumed.
- Share your journey
Part of National Fertility Awareness week is to raise awareness of those struggling with infertility and to encourage people to talk about it. The saying goes ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’. However, sharing such a personal problem can sometimes cause more harm than good. Friends and family are sometimes quick to judge, offer unwanted advice or shy away from you all together. Therefore, if you do decide to share your journey, choose to share it with trustworthy and reliable people who are able to hold space for you – to listen and offer empathy and compassion without the need to advise you or want anything in return.
Perhaps you or someone you know is on a fertility journey. Although there are many medical and natural interventions that can help the process, the main thing is that you follow your intuition and make decisions that help you feel happy and are in line with your values. Everyone’s journey is different even if the destination is the same.