Written by Angelica-Hazel Toutounji | Wednesday, 21 October 2020
So you have made the decision that you want to try to conceive a baby. Perhaps you are feeling a mix of excitement, nerves and overwhelm all at once. Whilst there are many aspects of trying for a baby that are out of your control, not to mention is being a bit of a rollercoaster at times, there are ways that you can optimise your health and increase your fertility.
Intrigued and wanting to learn more? I share my top tips for preconception health below.
Firstly, it goes without saying that conceiving a baby is more than a one-person job. Optimising your chances of conceiving successfully and giving birth to a healthy baby is the responsibility of both the man and woman. Whilst traditionally the woman is often blamed for fertility issues, both the man and woman is just as likely to contribute towards fertility issues¹ . Therefore, I recommend having an open and honest conversation with your partner so that you are both on the same page for optimising fertility.
In our modern lifestyles, we are exposed to a cocktail of chemicals from the moment we wake to when we sleep. Whilst some of these we have no control over, there is still a large range of choices that we can make to reduce our toxic load. This involves looking at your food, skin care, makeup, body products and cleaning products and swapping chemical laden products for natural alternatives.
Did you know that maternal oral health can have significant implications for birth outcomes? Mothers that suffer from periodontal disease have an increased risk of preeclampsia, delivering small for gestation sized babies and also preterm births ². For these reasons I highly recommend all of my clients visit their dentist prior to conception to deal with any dental concerns they might have.
Did you know that stress can lead to menstrual or ovulatory dysfunction? Stress has also been shown to negatively affect sperm in terms of concentration, motility and morphology ³. Research also suggests that ‘both maternal and paternal life experiences with stress can be passed on to offspring directly during pregnancy or through epigenetic marks in the germ cell ⁴. Therefore, having solid stress management techniques in place for both partners is extremely important.
The relationship between sleep and fertility is complex and not well established yet. However, we do know that sleep dysregulation causes stress to the body and that in turn can impair regular menstruation, successful ovulation, implantation and placental growth and development ⁵. Therefore, don’t skimp on a good night’s sleep.
Eating a nutrient dense, wholefoods based diet means you have the greatest chance of meeting your body’s nutritional needs. During pregnancy, certain vitamins and minerals are of key concern and for this reason supplementing with a practitioner grade prenatal supplement prior to conception is recommended. I don’t believe in a one size fits all approach to diet as individuals may have certain taste preferences or dietary requirements for ethical or religious reasons. So, before trying to get pregnant, seek guidance from a degree qualified Nutritionist to ensure that your diet is nutritionally balanced.
Regular movement is an important part of living a health lifestyle. Exercise has numerous benefits, one of which being to help you to maintain a healthy weight. This is important as women with a low BMI have an increased risk of miscarriage as well as birthing premature low birth weight babies. On the other-hand women with a high BMI have an increased risk various pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia and deep vein thrombosis ⁶. As with most things, there is a sweet spot, one study found that women who exercised for 30-60 minutes a day had a reduced risk of anovulatory infertility whilst high intensity exercise greater than 60 minutes a day increased the risk of anovulation ⁷. Therefore, move your body regularly but don’t go overboard as this can be a greater stress to your body.
In the wise words of Lara Briden, Naturopath and the author of the Period Repair Manual (2018), “I invite you to think of your period as your monthly report card. Every month, it can offer a helpful account of what is happening with your health in general” (p.10).
This is a concept that I believe in very strongly and encourage all of my female clients to chart their cycles whether wanting to conceive or not. With charting, I recommend engaging the services of a trained Fertility Awareness Educator so that you can accurately identify the times in your cycle when you are fertile and infertile. I understand a lot of women do this through apps however these are not always as accurate as their marketing leads you to believe. Once you know and understand how to interpret your own cycle it is empowering to not have to rely on an external source to understand your own body!
Lastly, I really encourage women on their fertility journey to engage the services of a good doctor, Physiotherapist and Acupuncturist – if you are open to it. No one person can be an expert in every area of your life so surrounding yourself with a team of professionals that you feel supported by can make all the difference.
Angelica-Hazel is an Endeavour College Alumni and degree qualified nutritionist at Natural Health by Angelica-Hazel. She is also the owner of an organic tea brand called Saha Botanica and a mama of two.
Having completed post graduate training in Natural Fertility Education as well as becoming a MINDD practitioner she has a special interest in all aspects of women's health and paediatric nutrition. She is currently completing her Masters in Reproductive Medicine and specialises in supporting women from preconception to postpartum.
Alongside working in clinical practice, Angelica-Hazel runs workshops, hosts health retreats and writes feature articles on wellbeing and sustainability for a range of online publications and businesses.