1 in 6 couples have trouble conceiving a child these days, and numbers are on the rise.
Problems with fertility are all too common. So whether you’re planning on having a child in the next few months or not for a few years down the road, it’s very important that you start taking care of your fertility health.
And that means making sure a lot of different hormones are in good balance. Fertility depends on more than just estrogen, progesterone, and testerone. Other hormones including cortisol, thyroid hormones, and insulin, all affect our sex hormones.
A lot of different functions need to be working in harmony to ensure that you have the best chance of having a baby. Here are some things you can do to take care of your future fertility.
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1. Balance Your Hormones
Balancing your hormones can be tricky because imbalances often go undetected and undiagnosed. Make sure you keep your eyes open for these telltale signs and symptons that your hormones may be off:
o irregular cycles
o PMS symptoms (moodiness, cramping, breast tenderness)
o Weight gain
o Fatigue and lethargy (especially after meals)
o Loss of hair or excess hair growth
o Temperature intolerance
o Low sex drive
o Anxiety or depression
These could be a sign that you have insulin resistance, thyroid dysfunction, Polycystic Ovarian Sydrome, Metabolic syndrome, Endomertriosis, or even an autoimmune condition. If left untreated, these can have a major impact on the health of your future pregnancy.
Naturopathically, there are options to help correct hormonal imbalances and to prevent them, but it’s important to first assess your specific situation and determine what treatment options are best suited to you.
2. Get Your Nutrients
Although vitamins and minerals are important for good health in general, there are certain ones that are even more essential before and during a pregnancy.
Folate – is extremely important for neural tube development and to prevent neural tube defects in your baby. The neural tube is what eventually develops into the brain, spinal cord, and central nervous system.
Many women who struggle to get pregnant are found to have a folate deficiency. For a long time folic acid was recommended to help, but it was later discovered that many women have a genetic defect which prevents them from converting it to the active folate form their body needs.
These days methylfolate supplements are recommended, and to eat plenty green leafy vegetables, broccoli, asparagus, beans, lentils, and avocados.
Iron – is another common mineral women lack because they either don’t eat enough or their body doesn’t absorb it well. Plus we lose iron monthly with our cycles. Iron is also important from proper neural development in babies and for any mom.
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Because iron can be hard to bring up to an optimal level, it is a good idea to ensure that your levels are high enough well before you plan to have a baby. Go get checked today even!
Vitamin B12 – having a vitamin B12 deficiency during pregnancy has been linked to cognitive problems, poor motor functioning, and lower growth in babies. Low B12 levels can be the result of a vegan or vegetarian diet because most foods that are high in B12 are animal based. Your body also might just have trouble absorbing it properly.
It’s also important to get enough B12 so that you have enough energy to handle a newborn, and it will help to prevent depression.
3. Take Care of Your Gut
Your gut health plays a key role in fertility because if it’s not working properly you won’t be able to absorb the nutrients that your body needs. Poor gut health can be the result of low stomach acid, poor enzyme functioning and intestinal inflammation from years of taking medication, high stress levels, and eating too much processed food.
Not surprisingly, digestive health has been linked to autoimmune conditions, depression and anxiety, weight gain, and hormone imbalances
The best thing you can do for your gut health is start taking high quality probiotics or eating fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut.
4. Eat Your Fats
Because fat was seen as an enemy for decades, many people turned to a low fat diet. The trouble is that cholesterol from good fats is needed to produce many hormones important for fertility, including estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and cortisol.
The important thing to remember is that fat should come from good sources, such as nuts and seeds, avocados, fatty fish, and olive oil. Trans fat, on the other hand, should be avoided whenever possible. Not only are trans fats bad for your heart, they’ve also been linked to infertility.
The Mediterranean diet is a great example of a diet high in good fats because it is filled with fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and fish.
5. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight can negatively affect your fertility. It’s linked to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Being underweight can disrupt both ovulation and hormone production. Keeping a healthy body weight (roughly a BMI between 19 and 24) is ideal for ovulation and healthy pregnancy.
6. Limit Your Caffeine:
Some studies suggest that too much caffeine can affect estrogen levels and ovulation. It’s a good idea to limit your caffeine intake to no more than 200mg a day to protect your fertility health.
7. Exercise Regularly
Exercise is obviously important for your overall health, but it is particularly good for women who are looking to have children. Women who are active typically have fewer problems during pregnancy including decreased incidence of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. Plus they tend to have an easier time during labour.
Just be careful not to overdo it. Too much vigorous exercise can increase cortisol levels, decrease progesterone, and disrupt ovulation. You should talk to your doctor to see how much exercise is appropriate for you.
Taking Care of Your Fertility
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that fertility health is something that’s important to take care of well before you plan to start having children. Eating too much processed foods, not getting enough nutrients or exercise, and eating a low fat diet can all negatively impact your ability to have a healthy pregnancy in the future. So be sure to get active, get enough iron, and make sure your hormones are in balance. That way when you’re ready to have a baby, your body will be too.
1) Kirkey S. Infertility on the rise in Canada: Study. National Post. http://news.nationalpost.com/health/infertility-on-the-rise-in-canada-study
2) Georgieff MK. The role of Iron in neurodevelopment: Fetal Iron deficiency and the developing Hippocampus. Biochem Soc Trans. 2008 Dec; 36(Pt 6): 1267–1271.
3) Pepper MR, Black MM. B12 in fetal development. Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2011 Aug;22(6):619-23
4) Chavarro JE1, Rich-Edwards JW, Rosner BA, Willett WC. Dietary fatty acid intakes and the risk of ovulatory infertility. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Jan;85(1):231-7
5) Exercise During pregnancy. The American College of Obstertrics and Gynecologists.
7) Getting pregnancy. Mayo Clinic
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