When I was 15 years old, mum took me to a natural fertility specialist to learn about my menstrual cycle. I had already tried several different contraceptive pills, but they just didn’t work well for me. I suffered many uncomfortable side effects, just as my mum had done. She didn’t want me falling pregnant at a young age, so her idea was to educate me about my menstrual cycle. I was taught about my fertile days and when to avoid having sex, which, for a 15-year-old girl, was the most important part! For the past 20 years I have been tracking my cycle. I know my body and my cycle inside out.
Now I have the best job in the world, educating women about their fertility and menstrual cycles. Who would have thought that experience all those years ago would lead me to where I am now.
When I was in my early 20s, the thought of having a baby wasn’t something I had considered. While I had always loved children, I struggled enough to look after myself. As I approached my 30s and now working with women and their fertility, I knew just how important lifestyle and health choices are when it comes to making a baby. Having now been on this journey myself, I sometimes wish I knew in my 20s what I do now. The truth is, what we do to our bodies can affect us later in life. The older we become, the more our lifestyle choices influence our health and wellbeing.
When we talk about preconception care we need to think about what you can do to prepare your body for having a baby. For those who are not thinking about having a baby yet, preconception care can be a mindful and conscious choice of caring for your body and health in a way that will benefit you in the future. In the clinic I like to use the analogy of creating healthy soil that will be ready to grow a seed and for that seed to then blossom.
So, what are some of lifestyle choices you can make to get your body baby ready?
The truth is, the older you get the more your lifestyle choices matter. If you want healthy eggs and active sperm, you also need to be healthy and active. Fitness and exercise can help control your body weight, regulate your hormones, increase your self-esteem and help manage your stress levels – all of which influence your reproductive health.
From a holistic perspective, I recommend therapies that can enhance your overall health and fertility. What I have found to be successful is healthy living integrated with mind-body medicine. I tell my patients on their first consultation, “You want to treat your body like it’s already pregnant”. Most people are willing to make healthy lifestyle choices if it will help with conception and having a healthy baby.
Of course diet, nutrition and exercise play crucial role but there are also other lifestyle changes and tools that can further support your fertility. Here are some proactive steps I recommend to my patients to improve their chances of success.
Some of you may think of yoga as just stretching and postures. However, it is so much more than a physical practice. It is a way of living that brings about peace, calm and awareness. It has a wonderful way of working its magic not only on the mat, but also in your daily life.
Yoga, meditation and acupuncture all release what we call ‘the happy hormones’. I am a self-confessed yogi and yoga teacher. Yoga is a powerful life tool and is another must try for those who are trying to conceive. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’, which means to unite. It is about the connection of mind, body, breath and movement. Yoga is a combination of asana (postures) and breathing techniques that help you get into a state of relaxation and mediation. Yoga asana increases strength, improves flexibility and helps balance our hormones. Modern research has shown that yoga reduces the stress hormone cortisol. In yoga physiology it is believed that specific yoga postures can increase the blood flow and life force, ‘prana’ or ‘qi’, to the reproductive organs. Yoga can be used as an integral part of your preconception program.
Your thoughts and emotions can have a powerful impact on your health and wellbeing and they play an important role in fertility. High levels of stress have been shown to alter the function of the hypothalamus, which controls ovulation; contribute to irregular menstrual periods; produce high levels of cortisol; decrease reproductive hormones like oestrogen and progesterone; and divert blood flow away from the ovaries and uterine lining, thereby affecting egg quality and successful implantation.
Self-observation is key to changing thought patterns, and both meditation and yoga use mind-body techniques that create a relaxation response and a reduction in stress. Yes, sex is also a fantastic stress reducer – as long as it isn’t overshadowed by the pressure to ‘make a baby’!
- Regulate the menses: it works by regulating your hormones and menstrual cycle. Controlling irregular menstruation can help couples to better predict the time of ovulation.
- Increase the uterine lining: it increases the blood flow to the uterus, resulting in a thicker, healthier uterine lining. I have seen dramatic improvements with acupuncture and herbal therapy in treating thin endometrial lining.
- Improve sperm: studies have shown that acupuncture can increase sperm count and sperm motility.
- Reduce the risk of miscarriage: particular herbal formulas and acupuncture treatments are known to help secure a growing embryo and help prevent a miscarriage.
For the most part, the things that keep your body healthy also support your fertility. Everyone who wants to conceive will benefit by getting themselves in good physical and mental shape before trying for a baby. It’s important to live an active lifestyle incorporating good nutrition, exercise, yoga and adequate sleep. To release our mind of stress and negativity, practise meditation, mindfulness and self care. As long as you are making healthy choices for your general health, you will be doing the right thing for your fertility.