Most women now choose to start their family a little later in life, whether it’s because they get more educated, want to reach certain goals career-wise or simply can’t find the right partner. But it doesn’t mean that you have to wait until then to start working on your fertility.
Here are a few things I’m glad I did and that seemed to have worked to boost my own fertility and allow me to conceive naturally, despite having been on the pill for over 10 years, despite having amenorrhea (no periods) for almost a year and a half and having several anovulatory cycles afterwards, and despite having been diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome).
Working on your fertility means working on your health. Yes, fertility = health. So work on your health the right way and your will naturally boost your fertility at the same time. 🙂
Get off the pill. Not a few months before trying to conceive (TTC), but years ahead. Find alternative contraception methods in the mean time. I strongly believe that the birth control pill, despite being so freeing for many women, can do a lot more bad than good. I wish I knew that before but, nevertheless, I’m so glad I decided to get off of it at the end of 2010 as I decided to transition to a more natural lifestyle (Paleo style). That was about 3 years before my husband and I conceived.
I believe that it’s best to get off the pill at least 1 year, ideally 2-3 years, before you feel ready to TTC. This allows your body enough time to detox and get rid of these extra hormones that can accumulate in your body. It also allows your body enough time to regain a normal menstrual cycle (it’s not uncommon for many women to take 6-12 months to regain their menstruations after being on the pills for a few years) and to normalize it if irregular.
In my case, I was diagnosed with PCOS in the year after I stopped the birth control pill. Unfortunately, hormones from the pill can mask symptoms of PCOS and prevent you from getting diagnosed. Although nobody wants to receive such a diagnosis, knowing what is really happening inside your body is the first step for knowing what to do to correct the problem.
balance your hormones
Fertility is all about balancing your hormones. You can’t do that by following a low-fat diet or a low-calorie diet. Starving your body or being at a weight that is not healthy for you (too low or too high) is not conducive to optimal fertility. Remember, fertility = health. You have to find a way to balance different parts of your life to improve your health and fertility.
One of the first steps to balance your hormones is with diet. The foods you eat need to provide the building blocks for your body to produce all the right hormones in the right amounts. Unfortunately, the conventional mainstream nutritional advice we hear on the TV or read in magazines is almost the complete opposite of what you should do. Adding naturally healthy fats to your diet is the first place to start. And when I say healthy fats, I don’t mean margarine, canola oil or other vegetable oil. These are man-made fats and our bodies have no use for them.
What our bodies truly need is what they have needed for thousands of years. We need the fats that come directly from Mother Nature, not those made in a factory. Examples of naturally healthy fats include:
- animal fats (ideally from pastured/grass-fed animals),
- fatty fish (ideally wild-caught),
- eggs (ideally from pastured chickens and ducks)
- coconut oil,
- extra-virgin olive oil,
- nuts and their butters.
The other important part of the puzzle in making your diet healthier is to learn how to eat in a way to balance your blood sugar levels. Healthy blood sugar levels help your body works a lot better and is also really helpful for your hormones, especially if you have PCOS for example.
Building each of your meals around a good amount of protein + healthy fats + the most nutritious and blood sugar-stabilizing sources of carbohydrates can make all the difference. An example of what a health day of eating this way could look like might be:
- Breakfast: an omelet with onions, spinach and mushrooms cooked in ghee and accompanied with pieces of fruit
- Lunch: a big salad of leafy greens with salmon topped with olives and avocado slices and drizzled with generous amounts of olive oil
- Dinner: a steak along with stir-fried vegetables for dinner and some sweet potato or a fruit salad drizzled with coconut milk for dessert
- Snack examples: fruits spread with nut butter, hard-boiled eggs with avocado slices, a smoothie made with coconut milk, fruits and nut butter.
You can see many examples of meals I eat on instagram.
Following the previous 2 tips in addition to taking care of your digestive health if needed (more tips here) and focusing on nutrient-dense foods should help your boy naturally reach a weigh that is healthy for you. Why does digestive health matter? Well, if your digestion is not working as well as it should, you might not be absorbing all of the nutrients your body needs to optimize its functioning (even if you’re eating the healthiest diet in the world!). Health starts in the gut, so make sure you pay attention to it. And what does nutrient-dense foods mean? It means avoiding processed foods that come in a box or package and it means avoiding most foods with an ingredient list.
Basically, nutrient-dense foods are the foods that have been part of the diet of our ancestors for thousands of years. Nutrient-dense foods are foods that you could grow or raise yourself (not made in a factory!):
- grass-fed pastured animal protein,
- healthy fats as mentioned above,
- colorful vegetables, tubers and fruits,
- nuts, spices., etc.
If you’re up for it, one of the best way to boost the nutritional content of your meals is to go for organ meat, such as liver, heart, and bones. Really? Yes, really! I’m not kidding! If you’re not too sure how to eat organ meat, try my Popeye Meatloaf recipe (with liver) or my gut-healing bone broth. Did you know that our ancestor hunter-gatherers used to give the precious organ meat to women in the reproductive age and to young children? They knew how these foods contain nutrients that are so important for fertility and the growth and development of a healthy little one. It’s unfortunate that that knowledge was lost in the last century but it’s never too late to change things around. 🙂 We can use REAL food as medicine.
In some cases, working closely with a knowledgeable health care provider to test your different hormones at different times of the month can help better understand what is going on to fine-tune your diet and possibly incorporate additional strategies (nutritional supplements, herbs or acupuncture for example) to balance your hormones more efficiently.
recharge your adrenals
Adrenal fatigue is very common due to the stressful life we all have today and this is another important part of the puzzle to consider if you want to maximize your health and fertility. You have two adrenal glands , each about the size of a walnut, sitting on top of each of your kidneys. These little glands have a big role to play.
According to Dr. Wilson, your adrenal glands are responsible for:
- the utilization of carbohydrates and fats
- the conversion of fats and proteins into energy
- the distribution of stored fat – especially around your waist (the spare tire) and at the sides of your face
- normal blood sugar regulation
- proper cardiovascular function
- gastrointestinal function
And here are the most common symptoms of adrenal fatigue (from Dr. Wilson):
- You feel tired for no reason.
- You have trouble getting up in the morning, even when you go to bed at a reasonable hour.
- You are feeling rundown or overwhelmed.
- You have difficulty bouncing back from stress or illness.
- You crave salty and sweet snacks.
- You feel more awake, alert and energetic after 6PM than you do all day.
Many of these symptoms are very common and it’s important that you don’t ignore them, or else they might only get worse and could even compromise your overall health and fertility. The same dietary recommendations mentioned above can definitely help with the health of your adrenal glands but some people also benefit from taking specific supplements. But what goes into your mouth is actually only a small part of the equation.
What is harder to realize for many people suffering from adrenal fatigue is that they also need to address their lifestyle. Prioritizing your sleep by creating a healthy bedtime routine, avoiding bright lights and blue lights from computers and cellphones after the sun goes down and going to bed before 10 pm (or before you usually get your 2nd wind) is crucial.
Then, managing your stress by watching your thoughts (avoiding negative thoughts and/or changing them into positive ones) and allowing down time in your day (meditation, gentle yoga, rest, relaxation, hobby…) is just as crucial for getting your adrenals back to health. It goes without saying that avoiding overtraining or overworking yourself should be avoided as much as possible.
If you suspect adrenal fatigue, you can get tested with a salivary cortisol test (taken at 4 times throughout the day). Or simply start by filling out this questionnaire to see if that might be a problem for you. And here’s a very good book (Adrenal Fatigue: the 21st century syndrome by Dr Wilson) to learn more about it and what can be done to recharge your adrenals. Working with qualified health professional might also help you get results faster.
detox your body
Everybody needs to detox, but especially moms-to-be. All the toxins and pollutants we’re exposed to day after day accumulate in our body fat stores. And a lot of these toxins can therefore be dumped into a growing baby, especially during the breastfeeding stage. That’s why it’s good to plan ahead if you can and detox your body on a regular basis to keep toxin levels as low as possible in your body.
Optimizing your diet as described above is the first step in detoxing, especially if you focus on eating the best quality REAL foods you can find (grass-fed, pastured, organic, etc).
Eating a lot of cruciferous vegetables can also help better support your liver with its phase 2 detoxification pathway. This family of vegetables include: broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, Brussels sprouts and all kinds of cabbage.
Drinking a lot of pure water, working on better ways to cope with the stress in your life and reducing your exposure to toxins in your life should also be key parts of your daily detox program. There are many simple things you can do such as avoiding plastic containers and food that comes in can, using glass or pyrex containers (to minimize your exposure to BPAs), avoiding exposure to pollutants, paints and chemicals as much as you can, avoiding produce on the dirty dozen list (or buying the organic version), switching to natural cleaning products for your home and to natural personal care products for your body (shampoo, soap, creams, makeup, etc).
Other ways to help with you detox include hydrotherapy. For example, doing contrast showers (3 cycles at the end of your shower with 1 minute of water as hot as you can tolerate followed by 30 seconds of very cold water) and trying dry skin brushing every morning to activate your lymphatic (detoxifying) circulation.
Some people may also need some supplements (i.e. milk thistle) or extra tools (i.e infrared saunas, peat baths or acupuncture) to assist the body with the detoxification process. Work with a naturopathic doctor or functional doctor you trust to find the best options for you.
get to know your cycle
The more you know about your cycle, the easier it is going to be to conceive (or know what needs to be fixed to make it easier). The best way to accomplish this is by tracking your basal body temperature. Don’t worry, it sounds more complicated than it actually is!
To track your basal body temperature (BBT), all you need is a thermometer and a chart. You can find dozens of different ones on the Internet. Or here’s the one I use BBT – cycles. Every morning, before getting out of bed, before moving, before talking and before drinking or eating anything, take your oral temperature by placing the thermometer (ideally a good one) under your tongue and record your temperature on your chart. That’s it. It only takes 2 minutes. After a few cycles, you’ll be able to see how your BBT changes throughout the month in relation to the different times of your cycles (follicular vs luteal phase). You’ll also have a better idea of what day of your cycle you tend to ovulate. The book Taking Charge of your Fertility can explain you everything you need to know to make sense of your BBT charts.
Once you have that information, you can use it either as a contraception method (by knowing which days you should abstain or use an alternative contraception methods) or as a tool to make your efforts to TTC more effective by better timing your intercourse.
Don’t feel overwhelmed by all of these tips. This is what worked for me but not necessarily what will work for you. Stressing yourself out about it is just counter-proactive. Don’t be too hard on yourself and tackle these things one at a time, as it feels right for you.
Anything you can do to improve your health will result in better fertility. 🙂
What are you doing (or what did you do) to boost your fertility naturally?