The fertility journey is one of the most challenging, frustrating, anxiety-inducing and rewarding journeys there are.
There is so much information on fertility that it becomes overwhelming and debilitating. One article contradicts the next, which contradicts the blog you are following, which contradicts the advice from your very fertile friend, and the list goes on.
By the time patients get to my office, they are very well researched and simultaneously very confused. They know things like: what foods, during what cycle days, make you most fertile; what exercises should you do depending on if your body has ovulated yet; what supplement regimens to take and not take; how frequently and at what time do you have intercourse; what position is your cervix currently in; how to make your cervical mucus less hostile to sperm; how to naturally decrease your FSH; what diagnostic tools are there left to ask your OB for that can give you more clues into your fertility; the information is truly endless.
While all of these questions are beneficial to a degree, there are WAY too many different opinions out there and the validity of these opinions vary greatly. Most fertility patients are tired, over supplemented, and frustrated… yet they still have time to keep jumping down the rabbit hole that is the internet.
To make things easier, I am simplifying a list of the top 5 things you can do to improve your fertility. This list comes from my experience working with hundreds of people during their fertility journey, my evidence-based gems I have witnessed in the clinic, and my time working with the top reproductive endocrinologist and fertility clinics in the area.
The list may look straightforward and simple, and it is! However, making these habits a lifestyle is anything but easy. I encourage you to live this list. Take it as an opportunity for a true lifestyle change, not just something you’re doing as a means to an end.
Getting enough sleep is so crucial to fertility. When you’re sleeping your body has a chance to rebalance your hormones. These hormones trigger ovulation, grow your endometrial lining, shed your endometrial lining, and prepare your body for pregnancy. Without proper sleep, your body has no time to reset and constantly remains in fight or flight mode. If your body thinks it is in danger all the time, the very last thing it will do is create and grow a human.
I know you’re busy. Ask for help when you can, from coworkers to your friends to your partner, so you can get a little more sleep. A balanced body is an efficient one, and everyone will reap the benefits.
2. Eat whole foods
Seed cycling. Eating estrogen rich foods. 2 brazil nuts a day. No caffeine. Sprouting your own seeds.The list of fertility diet trends goes on. I am here to tell you to close your computer and stop researching through countless blog posts.
The secret diet? Whole foods. That’s it. Eat foods that don’t have a list of ingredients; eat foods that the food is the ingredient! Fruits, vegetables, meats, whole grains. I encourage a whole 30ish type diet ( https://whole30.com/whole30-program-rules/ ), but with a little less restriction. Food should be an enjoyable experience. Most fertility patients need more joy and less restriction. I think eating whole foods 70% of the time, and letting yourself honor other cravings 30% of the time, is the best approach.
The best diet is a mix of whole 30 and intuitive eating. Letting yourself eat what you’re craving, some of the time, is not problematic. Restricting yourself in every aspect of your life, including what food you put into your body, is problematic and unhealthy.
Try cooking most of your meals at home (the key here is “most” not “every”). If you’re someone who doesn’t have the time, dedicate Sunday to meal prep for the week or find a local meal service company that is healthy and fresh. For meal inspiration there is a ton of whole 30 books and online recipes. I also love the blogger Sprouted Kitchen.
You don't need to become a fancy chef. Find a few healthy things you’re comfortable cooking and stick to them.
3. Move your body
What is important here is that you move your body but not over do it. I ask my fertility patients to move 3-4 times a week MAXIMUM. By “moving” I don't want you to do anything that leaves you dripping in sweat. No hot yoga. Rethink spinning a few times a week. Rethink marathons or long runs.
When your body sweats a lot, you are left dehydrated and your body has to focus on rehydrating you, not creating good quality eggs and ovulating on time. In Chinese medicine, sweat is considered “precious fluids”. You know what else is considered “precious fluids”? Your eggs. We don't want to sacrifice one by depleting the other.
What can you do? Go on long, brisk walks. Go on jogs but stop when you’re getting very sweaty, walk, and then pick it up again. Pilates. A light weight routine is great to incorporate into your weekly routine, but avoid super heavy weights. Again, we don't want your body to expend it’s energy healing muscles and rehydrating you, we want it to use that energy on balancing your hormones, recruiting the best eggs, and growing your endometrial lining.
4. Let go (and be happy in the present)
We all have those friends and family members who say “when we stopped trying we conceived!” It must be infuriating to hear as you have done literally everything to help your odds. Here is my experience with this situation.
At some point in the fertility journey some of you will get to a point where you’re tired. You’re tired of putting your life on hold because you “may be pregnant then.” Every decision you make you make with the quantifier that you may be pregnant at X point in the future. It feels like you’re in a rut and cannot move forward until you have a child.
I encourage you to move forward. To book that trip you have been waiting to go on. To go to your favorite restaurant that you haven’t been to since starting your journey. To stop putting your life on hold. People who say they got pregnant because they “stopped trying” are putting it the wrong way. They made one of the most important and hardest decisions of the fertility journey: to be content with their present. They decided to stop controlling their present based on an unpredictable future. This lesson is so challenging to put into practice, and it won't happen overnight. But, as the days go on, make decisions that honor your present self, not your future. Slowly it will become easier to do.
This is a hard one. Most women think they’re broken and feel ashamed that their body isn’t “working.” I'm here to tell you that your body is working and is communicating with you. When you see that period blood on cycle day 1, it is so discouraging. It means there is at least another 30ish days ahead of where you are and where you want to be.
Every cycle day 1 is a message from your body. It is a message saying that you were not ready just yet to carry a child. Your body is asking for more time and for help. CD 1 is an invitation to look inward and ask your body what it needs. More whole foods? More sleep? Less stress? More time outside and less time at the office? More vitamin D or B 12? A trip to your OB or PCP? A gratitude practice?
Trust in your body and all of it’s innate wisdom. Your body is always working for you, and it wants to work for you in the most efficient and effective way. Life desires life, you just have to release the reins you’re gripping on to so hard, and trust.
An ally on your journey,