A lot of people think getting pregnant is easy. You just have to stop contraception, get jiggy and take folic acid, right?
Many readers will know that is not the case. If only it was that simple for everyone. A lot of women spend a large part of their lives trying not to get pregnant, then discover that it doesn’t happen in the time or way that they want when they do want a baby. 1 in 6 couples experiences fertility issues these days.
But I’m all about the self-help. Totally into preconception care and doing as much as we can to boost our health to boost chances of natural conception or IVF success.
Why is preconception care important?
Everything we eat, drink, do, take, breathe, stress over in the 3 or 4 months should be part of your preconception care and can affect fertility. It can affect pregnancy and even baby health.
Diet and lifestyle choices influence egg and sperm health. Diet and lifestyle influence health in pregnancy before and during pregnancy. Scientists now believe that children’s health can be “pre-programmed” by their parents’ health at conception and during pregnancy. The risk of chronic disease is greater in kids of less healthy parents, passed through genes.
I’m not saying that to scare anyone. Or wag my finger. I’m a hugger not a fighter. A teacher. An encourager. A helper. I simply want to spread the word, that looking after yourself to start trying to conceive supports natural conception, chances of IVF success, pregnancy health and baby healthy because this stuff is not taught in schools. There are no government campaigns to teach people how to prepare for conception. I want to teach and support as many people to take care of themselves in healthy, fertility-fuelling ways as possible.
Let’s bust those myths and look at the influence of diet and lifestyle…
…starting with stopping contraception.
Many people use some kind of contraception and then make a decision to try for a baby. So, they stop the contraception and trust that fertility is restored.
In theory, it should be, if there are no other factors impacting fertility. BUT we do know that fertility doesn’t always return quickly. It depends on the individual woman and the method.
Take for example the combined oral contraceptive pill.
The pill overrides natural hormones and cycles. It takes over from hormones in your brain to stop ovulation and make cervical mucus sperm UNfriendly. And any bleed on the Pill is not actually a period. It’s only a withdrawal bleed in the break from taking the pills.
Some women’s fertility returns very quickly after stopping it; for other women, their cycle doesn’t start up/balance for months or even years. It’s a risk, that women have to weigh up for themselves. Especially if they are older when they want to have a baby – time may tick away, if cycles take a long time to rebalance. Similarly, some studies show that women coming off Depo- Provera can take longer to conceive.
There are other risks linked with the pill – some cancers, weight gain, fibroids…
So, what do I suggest? Firstly, it’s your body and therefore your choice what you use. I always say check the benefits, risks, side effects and nutrition impacts of something before you decide. The pill – for example – robs women of good gut bacteria, magnesium, zinc, B vitamins (including folic ccid), vitamin E and vitamin C. All of which are pretty important nutrients for fertility, pregnancy and baby health. The Pill can throw blood sugar balance out of whack, which can impact hormones balance and fertility too.
I suggest women come off the pill and take at least 3-4 months to see how their cycles settle down. They can look for natural signs of ovulation and improve their diet and lifestyle choices to get baby-fit and baby-ready. If you’re not ovulating or not regularly, I work with women to encourage ovulation with diet and lifestyle choices. Plus, natural therapies to support them.
Other contraceptive methods are pretty long term, for example, implants containing progesterone. These thicken mucus and stop ovulation and they last for about 5 years, so definitely something to think about if you’re likely to want a baby in that time.
The coil or IUD are usually plastic and copper and put into your womb for 3-5 years, so again long-term. Coils cause the womb to become inflamed making it difficult for a fertilised egg to implant. They can cause heavy periods, risking iron deficiency. And increased risk of pelvic infection. There are other “coils” impregnated with progesterone. They thicken mucus. Again, there are known side effects – moods wings, nausea, headaches, no periods… I suggest removing a coil and taking at least 3-4 months to get baby ready and then start trying.
Barrier methods like condoms and diaphragm prevent sperm from getting into the cervix. Spermicides kill sperm. Fertility can return straight away after stopping using them, assuming no other fertility changes.
Natural Fertility Awareness is monitoring extremely closely over time, a woman’s natural fertility signs of temperature, mucus and cervix can be used for contraception, as well as to try to time conception. There are no side effects with this method and fertility is protected throughout.
The subject of contraception leads me to sex…
Having Unprotected Sex
It’s sex before ovulation and at ovulation that leads to baby-making. You can’t get pregnant at any old time in your cycle. That’s because sperm can live about 5 days (up to 7) in healthy, sperm-friendly mucus inside a woman. But an egg is only viable up to a day. So, it makes sense to have sex before and at ovulation.
Some women choose to track ovulation using natural signs or by peeing on sticks to monitor it and also to time intercourse. Others find that too stressful and prefer not to track too closely and have a less planned sex-life. It’s a personal choice.
There are a lot of myths around ovulation and when it happens. Basically, it varies from woman to woman and can vary cycle to cycle. One thing is for sure. You need to be ovulating to fall pregnant naturally. Most experts say regular, unprotected sex across a cycle is advisable – every other day to allow sperm to build up.
I talk a lot about my passion for preconception care. That’s looking after your health –men and women – for a few months before trying to fall pregnant. To improve health. Improve natural fertility. Reduce risks in pregnancy and to baby health.
Most women take folic acid or a multivitamin with folic acid as part of preconception care. Doctors usually recommend it to patients to reduce risk of neural tube defects, although there is now some different thinking on this, supported by studies.
Folic acid is man-made and the body has to transform it into something it can use, called methylfolate. And many of us are not able to transform folic acid very effectively, due to our natural genetic make-up. Folate is found in nature, mainly in leafy greens. The best form of folate to take preconceptually and in pregnancy is methylfolate, because it is much more bioavailable to us. Look for supplements that contain methylfolate and buy the very best supplements you can afford, as you get what you pay for.
But, even then methylfolate really enough, in my view. There are lots of nutrients to support fertility and pregnancy – not just that that ONE.
And even if you eat a varied, whole foods diet, there are so many other factors risking our fertility in the mad, modern world. The quality of food and soil it grows in. Lifestyle choices. Environmental toxins and chemicals. Illnesses and allergies and infections. And much more, besides.
Of course, following a sound preconception care programme for 3-4 months before trying to conceive does not guarantee a baby; it can improve health and therefore boost fertility for natural conception or for greater chance of IVF success. Plus, increase chances of a healthy pregnancy and a happy, healthy baby.
So, it’s not just about ditching the pill, sex and folic acid. A whole heap of factors influence fertility. And we can control some of them ourselves.
Love, Kathy x
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