Many women will take better care of their body and pay more attention to their health during pregnancy than at any other time. They understand that baby’s health is affected by the environment that they create and control in their own body. Obviously, this is a very good thing to do! What many women do not pay as much attention to is their health and the environment that they create during the months prior to conception. These health choices will have just as strong of an impact on baby’s health during pregnancy and on the ability to become pregnant and support life in the first place!
There are so many ways to encourage a life-thriving environment in your body prior to conception. I don’t know about you, but I find it pretty easy to become overwhelmed with the 100’s of little “rules” to follow. Will-power is a limited resource, so it is easy to run out, get burnt out, and then feel like a failure. The cure to this problem is to create lifestyle habits of fertility. Rather than fighting battles and succeeding on pure determination, by creating habits and lifestyles, we can succeed without requiring so much excess energy. Who has much of that?
Here are my top 5 fertility lifestyle factors to help you get in the habit of creating a flourishing health environment for your future baby. You want to have these factors on lock for general health, natural fertility, and to support any assisted fertility work that you may choose to do in the future
Let’s start by tackling a tough one. You need to sleep. When you sleep, your body heals, detoxes, rejuvenates, and restores. Sleep deprivation will affect your mood and mental status, inflammation and pain perception, hormone levels, and overall health status. Start by establishing a wind-down routine and regular “bed time”. Create a cave environment in your bedroom and no screens. That’s right: no screens in the bedroom. No TV. No laptop. You must respect the sanctity to the bedroom for your brain to be able to wind down appropriately.
If you want to learn more on establishing good sleep hygiene, check out this blog
Exercise will help you maintain a healthy body weight and build a strong body that can sustain the athletic event of carrying a baby to term and giving birth. Consistently, the most asymptomatic pregnant moms that I see are the most physically active. Exercise will improve blood flow, relieve stress, ameliorate sleep quality, and all around make you a better person. The form of exercise doesn’t matter as much. Find something that you enjoy and move your body every day. This is an important piece of your new fertility lifestyle and it definitely one that you want to have established before you get pregnant.
There is too much of a good thing. Now is not the time to start training for your first marathon. Focus on movement, consistency, and fun, not intensity and exertion. To learn more about exercise during pregnancy, check out this blog.
3. Beverage Consumption
Let’s talk about our two favourite beverages: coffee and alcohol.
I love coffee. I drink it black and I enjoy it. However, coffee consumption is not productive to a fertility lifestyle. There are 3 main reasons for this. (1) Caffeine can reduce blood flow to the uterus, possibly interfering with implantation. (2) Coffee is acidic. Sperm hate acidic environments. And yes, both decaf and caffeinated coffee will affect acidity. (3) Excess stimulation will affect your body’s stress response system. Your Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis can only handle so much forced output before it call it kaputt. Your HPA, thyroid, and sex hormones are all intricately linked, so if you mess with one, you mess with the others.
Alcohol may seem a little more obvious and most women will avoid excess alcohol consumption while they are trying to get pregnant just because they want to make sure that they are not drinking once they are. This is prudent to avoid any of the known affects of alcohol on a new fetus, but alcohol consumption also directly affects your fertility. Alcohol is toxic to sperm, it acidifies the body, and interfere with nutrient absorption (especially B vitamins and zinc). Men who drink have been shown to have lower sperm counts, lower testosterone, decrease libido, and increased risk of erectile dysfunction. Women who drink alcohol have an increased risk of ovulatory fertility and reduced success rates for assisted reproductive technologies (like IVF). You may not need to become a complete teetotaller, but you will need to moderate your alcohol consumption and way out the risks and benefits for your fertility lifestyle.
On the topic of smoking: STOP. On top of all the other negative impacts of smoking on your health, it slashes your odds of conceiving by more than one third. Nicotine and other toxins in cigarettes decrease blood flow to the uterus and placenta, creating problems with implantation and increase risk of miscarriage. In women, smoking can meddle with your hormone balance. In men, smoking can decrease sperm count and make them more sluggish. Yeah… just don’t smoke. (Oh, and in case anyone was wondering, smoking pot is a no-no too. Marijuana disrupts hormone balance in men and women. These effects are usually reversible once you stop smoking pot, but chronic exposure during adolescence can lead to a more lasting impact on fertility.)
And you thought sleep was going to be the though one! I could write a whole blog on the relationship between stress, the nervous system, your hormone balance, and your internal chemical environment (and I probably will at some point). Suffice it to say (for now) that if you are living in a fight-or-flight stress pattern (sympathetic overdrive), your body is NOT going to want to have a baby. You rushing to work frantically and staying up to all hours of the night pulling your hair out finishing that big project and grabbing a five hour energy drink in the afternoon as if your life depended on it is all sending your body the signal that it is in survival mode. You must transition into “thrive” mode (parasympathetic balance) for your body to believe that it is ok to conceive now. I can’t tell you how to do this, but I have a feeling you know some things that need to change to encourage this part of your fertility lifestyle. You will also notice how this concept is intertwined with all the others. To manage stress properly, you need to sleep, eat, and exercise well. Coffee and alcohol in excess (and smoking at all) will make matters worse.
For the most part, things that encourage health in general will encourage better fertility too. I suggest that you start with one concept at a time. Tackle and master one piece for the next 30 days. If you can do something for 30 days, then it will become a habit and won’t require the same energy to maintain. Then you can move on to the next step, always improving and growing. Take an inventory of your life and decide what you would like to change first to establish your fertility lifestyle. Make sure your significant other is on board too! Making some of these shifts without a team plan can cause additional stress on a relationship, and that is obviously not our intention! Tackle one piece at a time, together. After all, it takes two!