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NUTRITION & FERTILITY | AS TOLD BY A FUNCTIONAL PERINATAL NUTRITIONIST

My wonderful friend Aubrey was so kind to give us a comprehensive run down of things we should consider when it comes to what we eat when preparing to have a baby! She goes into a good bit of detail below, so if you’re thinking of trying to conceive, or are, this is great information! For a tailored plan with your specific needs, reach out to Aubrey by visiting her website!

The decision to have a baby (or another baby) is one few couples take lightly. We think about the timing, whether we’re ready, are we financially stable, do we have a support team, are we prepared for the sleep deprivation and demands? And for many, the path to their first baby might have been easy, so there’s stress around even trying to conceive. Secondary infertility affects an estimated 30% of couples, as well, meaning that even if you conceived without issue the first time around, things may be more complicated the next time. And now, there’s the added stress of the current state of the world. 

I don’t say any of this to raise your anxiety or frustration, but instead to start from a place of understanding. I understand how scary this time is. I understand how much can go wrong and how much is on your mind. I also understand how out of control and powerless you might feel. As a momma to 3 who experienced secondary infertility and repeat miscarriages, I understand what it feels like to feel like you don’t have a say. My goal? To give you some power. While there are a myriad of influences that we can’t control for, there are also a LOT of things you CAN do to increase your chances of conceiving and having a healthy, wonderful pregnancy. 

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First things first, you can’t get pregnant if you don’t ovulate. No egg = no baby. So my first step working with clients is always to ensure there is a healthy, regular cycle. Irregular cycles or abnormal cycles suggest an underlying hormone issue. We really want to address that and make sure your hormones are balanced, since the same hormones that are wreaking havoc on your cycle are the ones we expect to be nurturing your growing baby for 9 months! I generally encourage my clients to start working on the nutrition piece of the puzzle, as well as some lifestyle modifications, about 3 months out from when they hope to start trying to conceive. Why 3 months? Well, it takes about 90 days for an egg to mature and be ready for ovulation. That means if you want to have a super healthy egg, you need to start 90 days before that egg will be released, not just a couple weeks before ovulation! Healthy cycle + healthy egg = much, much greater chance of not only conceiving, but having a healthy pregnancy. But, don’t forget about your partner! Sperm health is JUST as crucial as egg health! In fact, recent studies suggest the male contribution may be responsible for 50+% of recurrent miscarriages! Sperm take around 70 days to mature, so getting both the male and female partners involved in the process is so important to improve your chances of conceiving and a healthy pregnancy. Not only that, but if you’ve been on birth control, had a baby within the last 18 months, or are still nursing/pumping (or recently stopped) it’s really important to take the time replenish your nutrient stores. Birth control, pregnancy, postpartum, and breastfeeding all use up a tremendous amount of vitamins and minerals, leaving women depleted. We want to ensure you’re not going into a pregnancy undernourished, for you and baby’s sake!

While the actual approach I take with clients will be tailored based on their needs, imbalances, etc., I want to give a few tips in nutrition, lifestyle, and supplements that are going to be good for just about everyone to create a wonderful foundation for fertility and conception. I could really write a novel on all this, so I’ll do my best to just give you some very brief overviews!

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NUTRITION

What you eat affects hormone balance, gut health, fertility, egg and sperm quality, and so so much more. Not only that, but micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) needs increase pretty drastically during pregnancy and breastfeeding, so ensuring that you’re well-stocked is crucial. Focus should be on balancing blood sugar levels and decreasing inflammation. The good news is, the foods you eat for fertility are the same foods you’re going to want to consume for a healthy pregnancy and postpartum! Focus on getting lots of veggies and fruit every day, healthy fats like avocado, nuts, seeds, and fish, and ample protein from eggs, fish, grass-fed meat, and more. Choline, folate, DHA, glycine, magnesium, B vitamins, selenium, zinc, iodine, and vitamin D are all absolutely essential for healthy babies and mommas, and often low in the average American diet. If I had to give a list of THE foods to include basically daily, I’d probably say my top 5 would be:

1) liver (yep, I know, but it’s a nutrition POWERHOUSE)

2) fish

3) cruciferous veggies (kale, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, cabbage)

4) eggs

5) berries

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There are definitely more, but you can’t go wrong with these 5 being major staples in your diet! You also want to reduce alcohol and caffeine, both of which have been shown to negatively impact conception, as well as processed foods and added sugar, which increase inflammation and encourage poor egg/sperm quality.

LIFESTYLE

As a functional practitioner, I look for the root causes of imbalance. Nothing in our body acts in isolation. When one system is stressed or out of balance, that will necessarily affect other systems. So addressing just diet or just exercise is like just addressing the water damaged ceiling without addressing the damaged roof. And just like you need a myriad of different vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients to grow a healthy baby and support fertility, the same can be said about lifestyle. Stress, exercise (too much or too little), sleep, and more all influence your overall health and ability to conceive. High stress and poor sleep both contribute to inflammation and elevated cortisol, a stress hormone that disrupts the reproductive hormone pattern. This means not only are your cycles likely to be off (and you might not even ovulate!), but the inflammation means unhappy eggs and sperm! Environmental toxins, like plastics, skin care products, hormones in food, and more, can all disrupt the delicate hormone balance, as well. Exercise is a great way to help balance blood sugar levels, maintain or achieve a healthy weight, mitigate stress, and even encourage better sleep. BUT, too much or too intense of exercise can have the exact opposite effect and result in more inflammation and imbalance! My top 3 tips for lifestyle and fertility?

1) Get moving! Not too much, and not too little!

2) Breathe! Work to incorporate good stress-relief techniques to prevent cortisol surges

3) Rest, at least 7 hours a night. You want to feel rested in the morning!

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SUPPLEMENTS

And…that brings us to supplements. I know so many clients just want to add supplements and hope that will be the magic bullet that “fixes” everything. Unfortunately, supplements are better used as a “boost” to an otherwise really healthy, balanced diet and lifestyle. Just like you can’t out-train a poor diet, you can’t out supplement an unhealthy lifestyle! Now, in the case of pregnancy and trying to conceive, I often do recommend certain supplements to bridge any gaps, address potential deficiencies, and bolster the system. These supplements are tailored based on your needs. For example, if you have an irregular cycle, I’ll recommend something different than someone who has a healthy cycle. Or if you’ve been on birth control for years, that’s a different approach than someone who’s never been on it. Other factors, like if you’re vegan, vegetarian, or less than 2 years postpartum, among other things, will also influence what supplements are best to support your fertility. But, in general, I can say the following:

1) Quality matters! Don’t just grab that “one a day” off the CVS shelf. 

2) Prenatal is a definite yes! With choline, folate (not folic acid), preformed vitamin A, and LOTS of vitamin D, at a minimum

3) Fish oil for sure, unless you’re eating multiple servings of fish a week!

FINAL NOTES

Fertility and pregnancy are some of the most exciting and often difficult times in your life. Getting the right support from the beginning can make a world of difference. This isn’t just support from your diet and lifestyle, but building a team, a village that will help ensure you’re taking the right steps, getting what you need, and feeling well prepared to take on this journey, with good people by your side. As a mother, I know all too well how difficult and often lonely motherhood can be. It’s my passion, honor, and absolute joy to be a part of a woman’s journey. Good luck, and don’t ever hesitate to reach out for help.