Written by Naturopathic Doctor, Dr. Shannon Vander Doelen
If you’re thinking that you and your partner are ready to start trying to get pregnant, congrats! As a Naturopathic Doctor, I’m a big advocate of optimizing your health, and this is a time like no other to consider the importance of that! Taking tabs of your current state of fertility health, making the necessary diet and lifestyle changes, and correcting for deficiencies are important steps to not only ensure you are feeling fantastic leading into your pregnancy, but also to support your fertility and ability to get pregnant! Dr. Google and stories from friends and family make all of this very overwhelming. Where should you start? I’ve outlined 5 simple things you can (and should!) start doing now if you think you’d like to conceive within the next year to help prepare your body for baby!
1. Get To Know Your Flow
Our menstrual cycle can give us some clues about our fertility health. If you haven’t, start tracking when your period starts and finishes each time you get it. You can also track other symptoms you notice about yourself throughout the month, including any vaginal discharge you have (if it’s like the consistency of an egg white at the midpoint of your cycle, this is a good sign you are ovulating). A healthy menstrual cycle is approximately 28 days, with flow lasting 3-7 days. If your cycles are shorter than 24 days or longer than 35 days consistently, you might want to speak with a healthcare practitioner to do some further investigations into issues that may impact your fertility health.
2. Start Taking a Prenatal
A prenatal vitamin is kind of a like an insurance policy. It covers you for the things you might be missing in your diet. The vitamins and minerals found in a prenatal are not just needed for the baby’s development, but also to support mama during her pregnancy. At the end of the day, the baby is relying on you for ALL of its nutrition, and if you don’t have enough, the baby will steal from you - leaving you deficient (and then tired, or with leg cramps, or headaches, or any other number of things that you just don’t need to feel!) If you’ve been out to try and buy a prenatal you’ll know there are MANY on the market, and they are not all made equal. My recommendation is to find a product that contains active forms of the vitamins (meaning your body can use them right away without having to turn them into something else). Specifically, when it comes to folate, look for a product that contains methylfolate (or 5-methyltetrahydrofolate) as opposed to folic acid - it’s estimated that about 50% of us cannot convert folic acid into methylfolate in our body, and thus cannot use it! This vitamin, as you likely have heard, is essential to prevent neural tube defects and support the baby’s brain and nervous system development. It is also critically important for fertility!
3. Be Mindful Of What You Eat
As we’ve eluded to, what you put in your body is going to impact both your health and fertility and your baby’s health and development! This is an important time to consider what it is that you are eating (and not eating!) and make some swaps and changes. I encourage all of my patient’s to choose a clean diet - full of real, whole foods, and low in processed and refined foods. Ensure you are getting a wide variety of fruits and vegetables (organic if you can!), sufficient dietary protein (at least 1g per kg of your body weight, per day), and healthy fats (which won’t make you fat, I promise!) If you drink more than one caffeinated beverage per day, start to wean yourself down to limit your intake to less than 250mg per day. And, if that doesn’t feel restrictive enough, I also recommend avoiding alcohol during the 3 months before you are trying to conceive. Call me Debbie Downer - but alcohol can act as a toxin to your eggs and impact the genetic health of your baby.
4. Make Your Lifestyle A Priority
Sleep more, stress less, get fit - easier said than done right? A healthy lifestyle is the accumulation of the small things you do throughout the day - a collection of healthy habits creates a healthy lifestyle. And, a healthy lifestyle is important for your ability to get pregnant, a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. If you haven’t had a good excuse to make physical activity (and your diet for that matter) a priority in your life, consider this - women who are overweight (BMI > 35) will try twice as long to get pregnant as those who are a healthy weight. But what might be more challenging is being underweight (BMI < 19), where the time to conception is increased 4-fold! Other important habits to break are smoking and recreational drug use - which can both increase your risk of infertility.
5. Get Your Partner On Board
If you have a partner, then getting pregnant and having a healthy baby is a 50/50 deal! While the focus on fertility support is largely on the person supplying the egg - the person supplying the sperm is equally on the hook! Your ability to become pregnant (and stay pregnant) is impacted by many factors, but the health of the sperm cell that fertilizes your egg is critical. The good news is the factors listed above are relevant for your partner as well, so you can embrace your fertility and ability to get pregnant as a team! If you are eating a clean nourishing diet, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, and maintaining a healthy body weight, but your partner is smoking like a chimney, eats poorly and never exercises, you might run into some troubles. Speak with your partner about how important it is that he takes steps to improve his health too, or encourage him to book a visit with his healthcare practitioner!
The average couple is pregnant within 3 months of trying (and 85% of couples are pregnant within 1 year!) - so statistically speaking we have no reason to expect that you won't be able to get pregnant! In the spirit of health optimization, taking time to support your (and your partner’s) health can improve your fertility for a healthy and happy pregnancy!
If you want to discuss your menstrual cycle, find out what prenatal vitamin is right for you, or get support in making dietary and lifestyle changes, reach out to a Naturopathic Doctor who focuses in fertility and pregnancy! I am currently accepting new patients at Toronto Yoga Mamas and invite you in for a complimentary meet and greet consult to chat further! It is my passion in practice to work with couples to help them start their family with the healthiest first steps.