- 1. Timeline Matters
My patients often come into my office with a sense of urgency – they’ve come off the pill, or turned 40, and they are ready for a baby now. But in reality, it takes time to prepare the body for fertility and pregnancy.
If you’re thinking about having a child in the future, that’s when to start getting prepared. Give yourself at least 3 months, but ideally a year (especially if you are coming off the pill), for both men and women. In that time, you can optimize the quality of sperm, the quality of eggs, and the quality of the nest that will carry the child – the building blocks for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.
2. Test (Don’t Guess)
It’s so important to get a baseline understanding of your current fertility state, for both partners, and to do it early. Many wait until there’s a problem, or after they’ve struggled with infertility for a certain amount of time. When we test early, we can rule things out and address risks before they become problems. You shouldn’t have to have a miscarriage to find out you have a clotting issue, which can easily be addressed with a blood thinner.
There is no such thing as “unexplained infertility” – your body is intelligent, it never just randomly decides. There is always a reason and a root cause. A Functional Medicine practitioner can help you understand this better, and identify the right panel of tests, so you have the information needed to optimize your eggs, sperm, and health before baby. It will answer critical questions, such as, are you ovulating, do you have enough progesterone, do you have enough iron, vitamin d, vitamin k, CoQ10, and iodine, how much oxidative stress is in your body, and what is the quality of your sperm and eggs? We want these biomarkers in optimal range before you start trying to conceive.
Another critical component to test is gut flora. In fact, this is this #1 thing I want to influence in both mom and dad – their immune system, which is in the gut. When we see babies born with asthma, eczema, allergies, auto-immune disease, and food sensitivity issues, it’s epigenetically related to mom and dad’s microbiome.
One factor that influences gut health is the pill. If there’s a medical reason you were put on the pill, it didn’t get resolved by going on the pill. It just stopped ovulation. That’s why I recommend giving your body 9-12 months to regulate hormones after coming off the pill. It’s usually not realistic to assume that you’ll get pregnant right after coming off the pill. And if you do get pregnant right away, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be as healthy of a pregnancy as if you had taken 9 months to detox and help your gut flora.
These types of issues can be addressed before they impact the baby, when we test early. For men and women.
3. Eat With Your Constitution
There’s an intersection of eating for health and eating for fertility, but they aren’t the same. Growing up, I learned this culturally. My grandmother would feed us different foods for different seasons of our bodies. When we were menstruating, we would eat more blood building foods, like soups, broths and stews full of plants and lamb bones. We had different foods in the middle of our cycle, when we had lots of energy. This was natural to me.
For over 3,000 years, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners have used the warming and cooling nature of foods to balance the body. Some of us run warm and some of us run cool. The foods we intuitively crave are helping us balance that temperature. Smoothies and salads are cooling and hard to digest. If you typically run cold, too much of these foods will leave you feeling depleted or likely to faint. Warming foods are important, as they bring blood to the uterus and ovaries, and warm up the digestive system. Those are easy to digest and easy to get nutrients from. And that’s really the goal.
There is no one diet that’s good for everyone’s fertility. It all depends on your constitution. Eating with your constitution means paying attention to your body and your cycle, and intuitively eating what jives with your body type.
While there isn’t one fertility diet for everyone, there are foods we know bring essential nutrients to our bodies. We want foods that are high in antioxidants – blueberries, blackberries, and acai berries have dark, rich polyphenols that are great for ovaries and eggs. We want orange fruits and vegetables, such as pumpkins and sweet potatoes, full of vitamin A, which are also good for eggs and ovaries. And we want to eat warming, blood building foods – liver and bones broths – especially around your period.
Sugar, which causes inflammation in the body, presents a unique challenge to fertility. Anything that causes inflammation is going to stop nutrients from entering the cells. You can be taking the best prenatal, and doing all the right things, but if there is inflammation, which most often comes from the gut and what we’re eating, all of those nutrients won’t make it to the cells to impact the DNA.
Removing sugar and packaged foods is important. Just like I tell my kids – if it came from the ground, a tree, or an animal, it’s ok. But if you have to read a label or open a box – it’s not good for fertility. Make sure you’re eating foods in their whole form and keep it simple. Try to get excited and creative with cooking and food as you are also creating a life! And try to do it together as a couple.
4. Reduce Toxins
Improve your Air Quality
Toxins in our air, that we breathe everyday, are contributing to chronic disease, and can impact our overall health and fertility. In environments we can control, like our homes, we can take measures, like getting a really good air filter for the whole house. I personally love IQ Air for my family. And if you’re not sure of the quality of the air in your home, get it tested.
I also recommend the ERMI test for mold (Environmental Relative Moldiness Index). I used this test because when I moved into a house, I felt tired, and didn’t know if it was work, stress, or something else. The test costs around $250. Dust samples are collected from different rooms and the report ranks any mold on a scale of 1-5, as some mold is more dangerous than others. Women are actually genetically more predisposed to be impacted by mold than men. So even if your partner isn’t experiencing symptoms, you may still have an issue.
Not everyone needs to worry about or test for mold, but everyone should have a good air filter.
Drink Clean Water
The amount of micro plastics found in the umbilical cords of babies has grown significantly over time. If you are drinking water out of plastic, it’s not good for the environment, your body, or your baby.
Become conscious of water and ensure you’re drinking out of stainless steel or glass, not plastic. I recommend getting a water filter, either one installed under the sink, like Pristine Hydro, or one that sits on the counter, like Berkey. Make sure the water is remineralized and has a bicarbonate property that helps you stay alkaline, like true spring water.
Reduce Endocrine Disruptors
Toxicants are anything that’s not made by you that your body has to process. We call these endocrine disruptors – they disrupt your hormonal system and your fertility. The #1 disruptor, in my opinion, is the pill, which hormonally stops you from ovulating.
In terms of fertility, I see many patients with side effects related to the pill – digestive issues, depression, anxiety, weight, mood, sense of smell, and sense of bonding. And I have patients who come off the pill and have no periods.
If you want to get pregnant one day, understand that there’s a chance the pill will suppress your ovaries. Make sure to give your body time after coming off the pill to figure out how to work again. And if you stay on the pill, take supplements that negate the side effects, as it depletes folate and magnesium.
The good news is that when you give your body time to prepare for conception, in Trimester Zero®, and take actions to optimize your health and address root causes, you can set yourself and your baby up for success. If you’ve been struggling with infertility and you’re not sure where to start, I highly recommend finding a Functional Medicine practitioner to guide you through an individualized plan. To find a local practitioner, you can visit the IFM website.