After two miscarriages, Tina knew all the right answers. “There's nothing you could have done.” “The baby just wasn't viable.” “You can try again – 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage.” But those words were hollow and even cruel. Tina wanted to do something. She wanted to make a difference. She started researching and discovered that she could do something. She was still healing emotionally from her last loss, so she decided to take six months to prepare for another pregnancy. To do something different.
I'll tell you how things turned out for Tina shortly – but right now I want to encourage you that you can do something to influence the health of your future pregnancy and your future child. This step-by-step guide covers how to prepare for your pregnancy. These steps boost your fertility and maximize your chance of getting pregnant with a healthy baby 🙂
Step 1: Tilt Your Diet Towards Fertility
Food = fertility.
Food actually equals health, fertility, great pregnancies, safe births, healthy babies, rich & nourishing breast milk, plus healthy toddlers, children… and grandchildren.
There has been a fair amount of research done on how food impacts your fertility. That's surprising since the medical and insurance industries do not want to admit, much less discuss, that food has an impact on pregnancy outcomes (where's the money in food???). What's even more surprising is that fertility nutrition studies that go “contrary to the medical opinion” have been published.
What does that mean?
It means that we know that healthy fats are vitally important to your body, and especially to your fertility.
The modern attitude towards fats (i.e. that fats are evil) doesn't like that, but that's the way that it is.
Actually, the modern, industrial darling – processed vegetable oils – have been shown to be harmful in many ways and do not have fertility benefits. But traditional, saturated fats like dairy fats, coconut oil, avocados, etc. show major fertility benefits. Other traditional fats like olive oil and oily fish (salmon, tuna, etc.) are also very healthy.
A good rule of thumb when you're eating to TTC is to eat healthy the fats your great-great-great grandmother would have been able to use. If it requires extraction via a chemical process, it's probably bad news, no matter what corporate marketing departments say about their polyunsaturated profits.
Another dietary guideline brought to light by fertility studies is the benefit eating low levels of carbohydrate while TTC. This makes sense because lower carbohydrate diets are low in grains that can cause inflammation. Low-carb also helps keep blood sugar (blood glucose) levels under control, which is especially important if you are struggling with PCOS or other fertility problems.
High protein diets have also been shown helpful when trying to conceive. Normally women need moderate levels of protein, but dropping back grains and carbohydrates, eating healthy fats, and upping your protein is a good way to boost your fertility.
The paleo diet is a good model for a fertility diet. I actually recommend you follow a healthy paleo diet well before you conceive – even up to a year or two. This gives your body time to heal and balance.
Make sure you're getting plenty of calories, especially as you get closer to the point of conception: 1800-2000 calories a day is probably adequate for most women. When you fall pregnant you'll gradually increase to 2300-2600 calories a day, but you don't need that many when you're TTC.
Be wary of extreme calorie-cutting diets. These can stop ovulation and even contribute to nutrient deficiencies and birth defects.
Even if you don't need as many calories now as you will during pregnancy, you do need to make sure your food is absolutely packed with nutrition. Now is a good time to research diets and start transitioning to a healthy, low-carb diet rich in healthy fats, probiotic foods, and nourishing, healing foods. By the time you fall pregnant you'll be ready to research and expand upon your diet so you have a healthy pregnancy, excellent birth, and a happy, healthy baby.
If you're planning to conceive in the next few months or next year, I want to share the Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle (2016 edition). It is packed with resources that make a real difference in your health, in your energy levels, and in your future baby's life.
You'll discover diets that optimize your health and fertility (the paleo resources are excellent for weight loss, fertility boosts, and overcoming PCOS). You'll also know how to handle stress in healthy ways – and you'll clean up your home and environment so there's nothing toxic to your body… or your future baby.
(NOTE: Want the Top Easy Steps to Boosting Your Fertility? Use these 5 simple, evidence-based steps to get pregnant and carry your healthy baby to term. Get them here.)
Step 2: Balance Your Hormones to Get Pregnant – and Stay Pregnant
Hormone levels are absolutely crucial to a healthy pregnancy. Your hormone levels begin to rise as soon as you fall pregnant and continue to rise throughout pregnancy. Estrogen and progesterone play key roles during pregnancy, rising to many hundreds of times their normal levels.
Other important hormones, like oxytocin, also rise greatly during pregnancy.
Hormone balance helps you to get pregnant in the first place, too. You've probably heard of estrogen, progesterone, oxytocin, and testosterone (the male hormone). But there are other hormones that play more of a “master hormone” role – including leptin and cortisol. Your thyroid hormone is also crucial to fertility.
Balancing these hormones out actually starts in the step we've already covered: diet. You can take some additional steps to optimize your hormones. For example, you can help cortisol work appropriately by:
- Consuming protein-rich breakfasts (at least 30g protein) with non-starchy veggies (and healthy fats)
- Avoid carbohydrates in the morning
- Get out in bright sunlight each morning shortly after rising
- Get enough sleep
- Avoid cereal!
See how this builds upon a healthy diet? Eating well – and eating consciously – is going to help you bring your hormones back into balance naturally.
Pay attention the lighting in your environment – it's also very helpful to hormones. The production (or lack of production) is often dependent on cycles of light and darkness. Try to mimic natural light patterns as much as possible.
Get out into the sunlight (or use a light box) shortly after waking, and use blue-light blocking glasses (or settings on your device) if you need screen time after dark.
Don't stay up very late at night – this wreaks havoc on your hormones!
Supplements for Hormone Balancing
There are supplements that can assist with hormone balancing, too. Maca root is a super-food that's known for helping balance hormones in women and in men. It's easy to add into a daily smoothie and because it's a food, you don't need to worry about getting precise dosages. A tablespoonful or so is a good amount.
Vitex (chaste berry) is another supplement that many women find helpful for regulating hormone levels. This is a tonic herb that works over time, so plan to take it for several cycles before measuring results.
Remember that sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone are fat-soluble, meaning they require that you have healthy fats in your diet!
Eat healthy fats and nutrient-dense foods to nourish your hormones. Foods rich in iodine, selenium, and essential fatty acids are especially important for thyroid health.
Heal Your Gut and Boost Your Microbiome
All of the nourishing foods and excellent supplements you're taking are not going to help much if your body isn't able to use those nutrients. Poor digestion is a problem for many women trying to conceive
This is a good time to mention that many of the diet and lifestyle changes I'm recommending are a great idea for women and men. Get your man involved with your pre-conception diet, exercise, and more! His health… and your future child… will benefit.
“Leaky gut,” “irritable bowel syndrome,” “food sensitivities,” and various allergies, inflammation, fatigue, etc. can all be a sign of poor digestion.
When your body cannot absorb what you eat, or worse when inflammation is causing your body to attack itself, health goes downhill – and fertility often plummets, too.
It is possible to heal the gut and restore good digestion, however. Doing so has major benefits to you now, throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding, and brings lifelong health benefits to your baby.
Starting to heal your gut begins with food – as so many of these steps do!
Add lots of probiotic foods into your diet. It's ideal if you can eat yogurt, kefir, traditionally “Lacto-fermented” pickles, sauerkraut, kimchee, etc. Regularly. Most of these foods fall into the “condiment” category – they're tasty additions to your daily diet.
These traditional foods have benefits we did not even begin to understand until recently – but the “good bacteria” they bring to your body helps your digestive system and your immune system. There's also a lot of evidence that good bacteria can help with issues such as morning sickness.
In addition, a healthy gut populated with healthy microbiota means you're far less likely to have issues with urinary tract infections or group b strep (things you really want to avoid if you're planning on a natural birth).
Most importantly, you pass on your healthy microbiota profile to your newborn during birth, giving him or her a great start with great “good guys” to help out for life.
You can also take a probiotic supplement – in fact, I recommend it. I like to add a probiotic powder to a daily smoothie while I'm TTC, pregnant, or breastfeeding. Click here and scroll down for my favorite TTC/pregnancy smoothie recipe.
Maintaining a healthy microbiota also means avoiding antibiotics and harsh cleaners if at all possible. If you must undergo a round of antibiotics, be aggressive with probiotic supplementation after you finish the course.
I've shared more about building a healthy gut in my podcast on Battling for the Microbiome.
Step 3: Strip The Effects of Stress Away
You're probably tired of well-meaning people giving you the pat advice to “stop stressing about it and you'll just get pregnant!”
That's not helpful because (nobody) finds getting rid of stress as easy as just deciding not to be stressed!
Here's something important to remember: stress isn't bad (even while TTC and during pregnancy) – as long as you handle it in healthy ways.
A heavy stress load is draining on you: mentally, physically, and emotionally. It's something to be proactive about it.
Here are some steps to work with your stress loads:
* Get rid of what stress factors you can
* Delegate some responsibilities
* Develop healthy stress relief strategies
* Take excellent care of yourself
* Ask for help
Getting rid of stress factors is not always easy, but it's often a good idea if things feel so tense you cannot handle them. Sometimes this means cutting back hours at a job or declining a project. Sometimes it means saying “no” to a volunteer request.
Personally, I tend to say “yes” to a lot of things and end up overworked and overwhelmed. It's better to look at what's really crucial and let go of things that aren't.
Delegation is another option. You may or may not feel like you have the ability to delegate your tasks to others, but you might find opportunities you didn't realize were there. Older children can take over some household chores (though you're probably still going to have to check the chores!). If you have the finances, you can delegate household cleaning. You can also likely delegate business / office tasks with some creative planning.
Healthy stress relief strategies are actually the cornerstone to this step.
You will never completely escape stress.
Your future baby will never completely escape stress.
Stress is part of life! Developing healthy ways to handle stress is a gift to yourself – and to your future baby! Feeling you get stressed out, followed by feeling you calm down, relax, and restore a good attitude gifts your baby with patterns that help him or her throughout life.
Start now! Here are some healthy stress responses:
* Walk away for a few minutes
* Play music that brings calm, peace, or happiness
* Pet your cat or dog
* Take a warm bath or shower
* Do some resistance training or similar exercise
* Think about something challenging but non-threatening (solving a puzzle, organizing your closet, etc.)
* Give someone a hug
* Think about something that makes you smile (try ice cream!)
These are just a few suggestions. Of course, taking good care of yourself gives you the energy and reserves to handle a situation more calmly and logically. Don't neglect yourself – even when you're feeling down or stressed. You will feel better if you eat regularly, keep yourself looking tidy, etc.
Finally, remember to ask for help if you need it. There is no shame in reaching out for help, and asking can help you break through mental blocks – or find solutions to stressful situations you thought were impossible!
Step 4: A Word on Exercise
Some kinds of exercise are beneficial to fertility – others are not.
Generally, moderate exercise, especially moderate resistance training or body-weight training is fine for fertility.
High-intensity cardio or aerobic routines have been shown to decrease fertility, so don't overdo it!
This kind of exercise has an impact on your hormonal profile, which may explain why it causes fertility to lower. It may also burn calories that your body needs for ovulation 😉
Resistance training or weight training is an excellent strategy for helping boost male testosterone rates and male fertility.
Step 5: Detox Your Life
Environment plays a role in fertility. We don't always want to believe that it's true – but it is.
Think about it: the skin is your largest organ. It's open to absorbing whatever it comes in contact with in the air, in the shower, around the house…
…there's a lot of potential for unfriendly “stuff” to seep in through your pores. Add in the air you're breathing, the food you're eating, the medicines and the supplements you're taking…
…and you are living in a very loaded environment!
Obviously, you can't control everything – but it's best for you, for your fertility, and your future baby that you cut down on the chemical and toxic load as much as possible.
Switching over to human- and environment-friendly cleaning and personal care products is a great first step to detoxing your life.
It used to be that non-toxic, naturally-based cleaners weren't effective, but happily, those days are long gone! I've been really impressed with the natural cleaning products that I've used lately – they cut grease and get rid of the dirt and stains without toxic byproducts.
Natural personal care items are especially important since you're lathering those all over your body – but it's also helpful to reduce the amount of soap, shampoo, and other products you use overall. Warm water does a great job much of the time. Add a touch of soap, shampoo, etc. Only when really needed. Your skin will thank you!
It takes time to make transitions like this. Don't feel overwhelmed. Try a couple of new options each month, gradually replacing what's in your cleaning closet and bathroom with natural products that work the way you want them to.
Now is also a good time to evaluate supplements and medications you take regularly. Discuss their safety for fertility with your care provider – and discuss the possibility of cutting down or weaning off of them if that seems like the best choice for your health and that of your future baby.
Step 6: Time it Just Right
Last but not least – timing!!! The steps we've talked about above will help enhance your fertility and get you ready to conceive a healthy baby (and carry your baby to term).
This step is much more about knowing the right time to try for a baby – called “baby dancing” in internet lingo 😉 When should you get down to baby dancing? Does it even matter?
Actually, when you conceive has been shown to matter.
Conceiving around the “normal” ovulation days (around days 13, 14, 15, and 16 of your cycle) has been shown to possibly decrease the risk of miscarriage and other pregnancy complications.
Knowing when to baby dance is also helpful if you're concerned about your man's sperm counts – you don't want to baby dance every day if that's an issue because it's helpful to give the sperm reserve some time to build up.
How do you know when you're going to ovulate?
Start charting your cycles.
Charting can be stressful for some women, but I fully believe the benefits outweigh the negatives. Charting lets you know when you're ovulating so you can time your baby dances to right around that time.
Another benefit of charting is it gives you clues to other issues – for instance, you can tell if the second half of your cycle is too short, which might indicate low levels of progesterone. You can use diet, hormone balancing, and possibly supplements to help bring those levels up and normalize your cycles.
You'll be able to see if strategies like adding in extra fat are working by verifying ovulation. Using light and dark to help balance hormone levels usually, also improves cycle regularity and brings ovulation to where it's supposed to be – charting is going to help you track these changes and more!
Finally, charting can be used to help verify a pregnancy when you do conceive – and seeing a pregnancy chart is so rewarding!
A Note for Daddy
As I shared above, most of these steps can and should, be undertaken by the daddy-to-be as well as the mama-to-be.
The health of a man's sperm does have an impact on the future health of his child.
Many people believe that because the baby grows in the woman's womb, the man doesn't have much of an impact – but animal studies have long shown that when fathers are deficient in nutrients, diseased, or otherwise struggling, their offspring have much greater chances of birth defects and lifelong health problems.
Take steps to improve both Mama and Daddy's health and your baby is the one who ultimately benefits.
Tina came to me frustrated and scared of another miscarriage. She wanted advice on steps to take to get herself healthier before she chanced another pregnancy.
After several months of following the steps above, Tina helped herself correct a luteal phase defect. She realized she wasn't really eating well and worked hard on her diet. She also dropped an intense running program because she felt it might be depleting her nutrient stores.
Tina changed over their home care products while she worked on her cycle and her diet. She couldn't afford all organic foods but tried her best to get natural, local produce when she could. She found she enjoyed making kefir at home and added daily smoothies into her day!
Her husband didn't want to do too much (honestly, I think he was really scared of Tina having another miscarriage). But, he was willing to eat whatever Tina cooked. She packed his lunches, so except for snacks and work parties here and there, she was able to cook paleo-style meals that he enjoyed. When she dropped her regular runs she took up a little weight training and he liked lifting with her from time to time.
All of these changes were challenging to past perceptions, but Tina was to point where she was willing to try this as a last attempt before more intensive fertility workups. The good news? Tina conceived easily the second month after they officially started “trying” again. The early weeks of pregnancy were really nerve-wracking for her, and Tina felt that she had a lot of anxiety. She says everything was worth it, though, when at 12 weeks, her midwife found the baby's heartbeat and both Tina and her husband could hear it loud and clear. She had a healthy baby later that year.
Sometimes it pays to prepare!
(NOTE: Want the Top Easy Steps to Boosting Your Fertility? Use these 5 simple, evidence-based steps to get pregnant and carry your healthy baby to term. Get them here.)