The ability to get pregnant and deliver a healthy baby is the dream of many women and couples. Unfortunately, one of every six women and couples may experience infertility and can have difficulty conceiving. Although the use of fertility therapies is very common, many medical providers may overlook what women and couples may do themselves to optimize their fertility.
Patients often inquire about what they can do outside of fertility treatments and will ask, “What can I do to optimize my fertility; I feel so out of control?” And the answer is simple…a lot! Optimal fertility is affected by a variety of factors, including age, prior medical and pregnancy history, and some specific fertility factors. However, many not be aware of best practices to optimize their own wellness. Here are eight wellness tips that can put you back in the driver’s seat and may improve your overall health and fertility potential:
1. Tune down the stress volume: Hearing you need to be less stressed in order to be more fertile might make you scream, but think of it from the perspective of the body. If your body is constantly running on adrenaline, it’s in a constant state of fight or flight. It is ideal to create a more receptive frame of mind when it comes to fertility. The word “stress” has become interchangeable with almost every situation we don’t want or wish we didn’t have to deal with. If you define every inconvenience, time crunch, missed opportunity or delay as stress, then your body will respond by being stressed. Some things in life are just inconveniences (though annoying), so change your perception and save the alarm bells for something truly urgent or alarming. Whether it’s through regular yoga or meditation sessions, or simply turning off your phone for a designated period of time, try to turn down all of the background noise/chatter as much as possible so that you can focus on your wellness needs.
2. Become a sleep guru: Sleeping well is an art form. Our bodies repair themselves during the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. But many of us are still up doing the last load of laundry or finishing up those last emails, which reduces our precious repair time. Do your best to be in bed, if not asleep, by 10 p.m. Unless there is an “emergency,” (refer to #1 above), make a conscious effort to end your day and start fresh in the morning. Based upon prior studies, blue light spectrum emitted from tablets, phones and computer screens, inhibits the production of melatonin and may disturb our ability to close down shop for the day. Rather than scrolling through your phone or computer before bed to read that last email or to check on your Twitter feed, try creating a restful oasis with luxury linens, cool color palettes and soothing lighting to help you drift off to sleep when it’s lights out. Deep restful sleep helps the body reset and ensures energy reserves are replenished. This is a key method to ensuring your energy tank is full and to optimize your well-being.
3. Conscious eating: Being conscious about eating is not just limited to what you put in your mouth. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the season of the year should also be considered when choosing your weekly menu. What you eat and drink should take care of the daily demands of life each day. If your diet is inadequate, your body will draw from energy reserves that are usually reserved in case of a life-threatening situation or to conceive a baby. By choosing seasonal foods, you can help your body deal with the demands of the season and keep your body in an all-systems-go posture when you are trying to conceive. For example, during winter in New England, the body must deal with the elements of cold and dryness. Eating warm meals and drinking hot beverages, greatly reduces the demands placed on the body to maintain its interior warmth and moisture. Choosing recipes for casseroles, soups, congees (think Chinese oatmeal) combine the warmth and moisture needed to combat demands of the cold winter months.
4. Cultivate a support network: For many women, their infertility journey has become a major facet of their lives. . They don’t share their struggles with friends or family because they don’t want to admit something is really wrong or they may feel shame about having difficulties. Going at it alone is not the answer. Creating a “fertility tribe” to lean on during the process of conceiving can provide significant support. Beyond confiding in friends and family, there are many avenues out there for finding support. You might consider a traditional or fertility-focused therapist, a reproductive endocrinologist, acupuncturist, herbalist, fertility support group, mind-body program that focuses on fertility, massage therapist, functional medical doctor, nutritionist, homeopath or a personal trainer. Each of these practitioners can help with any aspect of your fertility journey. Get the support you need!
5. Balance “being” and “doing”: In TCM, it is imperative that “being” (Yin) and “doing” (Yang) energies are balanced each day. Our culture promotes, go, go, go and very little, be, be, be. These days, having time to relax or live in the moment creates distress. Finding the right balance between Yin and Yang can be challenging in a culture that undervalues resting. We see this clearly play out in some modern yoga practices where the spiritual aspects have been overwhelmed by high intensity, over heated calisthenics. More is not always better. Cultivate balance by setting aside a little time each day to reconnect with your spirit. It may be a cup of tea in the morning before the world wakes up, a short meditation practice before bedtime, or taking five minutes to feel grateful for all of the things that went right in your day.
6. Know thy self: Many women may not have a clear understanding of how their monthly menstrual cycle works. The most common area of uncertainty is when the most fertile time of the cycle is. Women often assume that the “fertile window” is around mid-cycle. However, this is usually valid if a woman’s period happens every 28 days. In many cases, an over-the-counter kit can be used to predict the time of ovulation (monthly release of an egg). The “fertile window” is the 3-4 days leading up to ovulation and including the day of ovulation. Understanding your body and knowing when to try to conceive during the “fertile window” can often be the difference between whether you conceive or not. Get to know your body and your cycle. It may be the shortest and easiest route to pregnancy.
7. Exercise for warmth and energy production: The movement of Qi (internal energy, pronounced “chee”) is essential for balanced living and healthy fertility in TCM. Qi is essential for maintaining warmth and the smooth flow of energy through the energy pathways or “meridians” that govern the body. When exercise becomes too explosive or intense, it tends to deplete energy and drains fertile potency through the loss of too much sweat (dehydration) or overconsumption of too many calories. Use exercise as a way of reducing stress, gently maintaining the balance and movement of the body’s energy and promoting core warmth needed for conception. Some signs that may indicate you are exercising too much include: fatigue that lingers after workouts, shorter or more irregular periods, body fat loss that disrupts hormone balance (there is an ideal balance between estrogen and body fat), dry hair/skin/nails, and injuries to joints. As with most things in life, exercise is good when utilized in moderation.
8. Hit the rest button: Each day you have another chance to hit the reset button. Every day has 1,440 minutes of opportunity to either keep on your current path or try something new. Many women focus on what isn’t working and they may lose focus on what has been going well. Each day is a new opportunity to focus on one piece of your fertility puzzle and get the support you need to turn struggles into triumphs. Having a positive perception can make a huge difference during this time in your life. Focusing on “fertility” instead of “infertility” may make all the difference between seeing options or roadblocks.
When navigating the fertility journey, optimizing your wellness may be as important as your fertility treatment plan. Taking care of yourself and seeking the support of family, friends, and a talented team of providers will allow you to focus on achieving future success.
Aaron K. Styer, MD, is a board certified reproductive endocrinologist, and physician co-founder and co-medical director of CCRM Boston in Chestnut Hill, MA
Lyn Swirda, LIC.AC. M.AC. DIPL.AC, is a licensed acupuncturist, fertility coach, and founder of Center for Complementary Medicine Inc. in Brookline, MA