By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
With so much awareness of infertility, I see many distraught women who have been trying to conceive for 6 or more months and are feeling worried and frightened that they may encounter problems. My first advice is not to panic and stress about it – it is extremely common to take up to 12 months to conceive a child, and this does not necessarily indicate any significant problem. We all know someone who conceived first time, and also someone else who required extensive fertility treatment – don’t let their experiences influence you. Adding too much stress at this time can in fact create a self-fulfilling prophesy as stress hormones can have a huge effect on your fertility.
At the same time, you don’t need to just sit back and wait. I am a huge believer in being proactive. Here is a list of proactive steps to take if this article speaks to you:
- Continue to have fun with the process – making a baby can and should be an enjoyable endeavor! When it is all work, you lose some of the magic.
- Tracking – Start tracking your cycle: mark the dates your period arrives, PMS symptoms, signs of ovulation if present (change in cervical mucous, increased libido) at least. There are some great apps for cycle tracking: iPeriod and Period Tracker are two of my favorites. And if you are reassured and not stressed by more details, consider basal body temperature tracking too – this provides an enormous amount of helpful information about your cycle. The best book to learn this from is called “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” by Toni Weschler.
- Timing – Check your timing: many couples have been advised to have intercourse between day 12-16 of their cycles, but this timing may not be right for you, especially if your periods come more than 28 days apart, or your have what is called a ‘short luteal phase’. Purchase an ovulation predictor kit (or order inexpensive ovulation test strips online), to test for what is called the “LH surge”. The beauty of this testing is that a positive test tells you the start of your 48-72 hour peak fertile window, so you can count on your timing. In so many cases, this makes all the difference!
- Clean up your lifestyle – This means eating well, minimizing alcohol (no more than 4 drinks per week), reducing or stopping caffeine (no more than one small coffee or black tea per day), getting enough sleep and having downtime to balance your stress. It is amazing the difference the basics make!
- Get healthy – I firmly believe that a healthy body will conceive more easily. If you have any underlying health issues: irritable bowel, significant acne, fatigue, insomnia, bad allergies or other complaints, although they are not likely having a direct impact on your fertility, I have found that in getting healthier overall, fertility always improves.
- Learn to manage your stress – and if you can’t, ask for help. Stress plays a big hormonal role in women’s health, affecting thyroid function, progesterone production, blood sugar and insulin metabolism, inflammation, sleep quality to name a few. If you are struggling with your stress levels, related to fertility or other, please ask for help.
- Try acupuncture – Acupuncture is a fantastic way to both address the hormonal aspects of fertility, and also being a very relaxing treatment modality. Acupuncture is offered here.
- Take the right vitamins – Make sure you are taking a good prenatal vitamin with 1 mg of folate (preferably in the form of methyl-folate or l-5-MTHF). Even if it has been over 6 months, don’t give up on your vitamins. It’s not something you want to second-guess when you do find out that you’re pregnant. Women under 35 need 1 mg of folate daily, and over 35 between 3-5 mg per day (ask which level is appropriate for you).
- Use fertility-friendly lubricants – If you use lubricants, be aware that many of the common ones (ex. KY) are not fertility-friendly and can affect cervical fluid negatively. Two of my top recommendations are: Pre-Seed and Yes-Baby!
- Don’t let other people’s struggles get you down – Yes, I know this is easier said than done, but staying positive is helpful in the process, and and reduces your stress levels.
- Get your partner on board – Start your partner on a male multivitamin, and make sure he is not drinking more than 6 units of alcohol per week. We often neglect the male component of fertility, but this can be a significant factor too. Reducing alcohol intake is essential, to an absolute maximum of 6 units per week (and ideally less) because alcohol intake has a clear impact on male fertility. A good quality men’s multivitamin is also recommended – look for one containing more than 10 mg of zinc, at least 100 mcg of selenium, and B-vitamins.
- If you are over 38 and your biological clock is ticking, ask for testing – in this case, being proactive may also include testing for day 3 FSH and AMH (markers of egg quality and ovarian reserve), testing luteal phase progesterone (because it commonly drops after age 35 and is easy to correct), and thyroid function because this is the most common cause of difficulty conceiving and early miscarriage.
- Treat existing hormonal disorders – If you have known or suspected underlying hormonal disorders: endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, fibroids, ovarian cysts, thyroid imbalance – get Naturopathic help in treating these conditions as it will greatly improve your fertility.
If you would like some proactive support in while you are trying to conceive, please ask at your next appointment. And also, please forward this article to anyone who you think may benefit from this information.