The WHYs and HOWs of preparing for your fertility journey
Have you ever considered WHY a naturopathic doctor takes such interest and care in your family's fertility journey? Have you ever considered HOW a naturopathic doctor can help with your fertility care when it seems like your doctor has it all under control? Well, ask your doctor and they'll tell you that combined care and support of your fertility takes into consideration the whole YOU as a physical, mental and emotional being, and this balanced approach can only enhance your success.
One of the greatest challenges we have witnessed, is that there is often very little guidance provided prior to a positive pregnancy test. Often, families who are planning to conceive, are told to take prenatal vitamins and try for a few months, then return to their healthcare provider if they haven’t conceived. This frequently leads to a referral to a fertility clinic. There is lots that can be done in this in-between phase, and that is where naturopathic medicine can be a great supportive tool.
The WOMB's team of naturopathic doctors take a thorough approach to your fertility care, based on the following principles:
- Whole Body Health: We look at all aspects of your health to identify how these can be helping, or hindering your overall fertility. Although you may come in with the main goal of conception, we look at everything from nutrition to stress and beyond.
- Preventative Care: By looking ahead and being proactive, we can help families to understand the menstrual cycle, and to prepare for all of the stages to come for a healthy pregnancy, postpartum and baby.
- Individualized Care: We realize that fertility, hormones and incorporating changes are complex challenges. By creating a plan that is customized not only to your needs, but also that fits your lifestyle, can help to set you up for long term health.
- Addressing the Root Cause: We help you dive deep into why you may be experiencing challenges, and use your history and lab testing to understand why you feel the way you do.
The goal in your care is to improve health in the pre-conception window for both partners, to reduce any potential risks and to support an uncomplicated, healthy pregnancy, birth, baby and post-partum. There are supportive options both in the planning stages of conception, and also for any point in the fertility experience. Naturopathic medicine approaches can be applied to all fertility scenarios, including addressing hormonal concerns such as PCOS, endometriosis, etc, and for all stages of fertility treatments including cycle monitoring, timed cycles, IUI & IVF.
When is it time to start making changes? Before you think...
Many of us think that the time to start making changes for a healthy baby begins with a positive pregnancy test, however, it is ideal to start making changes several months before your baby is conceived. Together with a naturopathic doctor evaluate your health before conception to optimize your fertility and prepare for a healthy pregnancy and baby. This is important for both partners, because we know that the sperm and egg take approximately 100 days to fully mature, which means the habits and choices you are making in that pre-conception 3 month time period will influence the quality and health of both the egg and sperm. For male partners, this is the time where you can have the most significant impact on your future baby’s health, and for female partners, this is a time to not only prepare for a healthy baby, but to consider how to prepare physically and emotionally for pregnancy.
Your naturopathic doctor will teach you to understand how to track fertility signs and understand the reproductive cycle to understand the timing of intercourse and to look for potential signs of imbalances to address.
Preparing the egg and the sperm - preconception
As mentioned above, sperm and eggs take 100 days to reach full maturity, so this time prior to conception is important for optimizing egg and sperm quality. Women are born with all of their eggs, so factors throughout your life may influence egg quality, as well as simply the process of aging. We cannot change how many eggs we have, but we can influence the quality of the ones that are maturing. For men, new sperm are made every 3 months, so he can influence not only the quantity but the quality as well.
In order to do this, look at factors that can support quality such as healthy nutrition, good quality nutrients and optimal hormone levels. Your naturopathic doctor can also help you look at factors that can negatively influence quality such as environmental stressors like heat, chemicals, etc. For some, a naturopath will also look at adding in antioxidant supports to help protect your maturing sperm and eggs from damage.
Lastly, take a look at any factors that could be a barrier to your egg and sperm such as smoking, alcohol use, chemical exposures and underlying health concerns. You'll want to make sure to give yourself the time required to make adjustments to your diet and lifestyle.
Preparing for pregnancy
This is a time to also think about how we can optimize health, knowing that pregnancy can be an exciting, but demanding process for the body. This could include a range of factors including nutritional status, exercise, optimizing weight, starting on good quality supplements including a prenatal vitamin and doing a check-in on head to toe health. We review things like your hormones, thyroid, nutrients (iron, B12 & vitamin D), blood pressure, blood sugar, stress, energy and more. Addressing all aspects of health establishes the foundation for a healthy transition into pregnancy, post partum and parenthood.
Addressing your gastro-intestinal health
When specifically addressing nutritional and lifestyle habits, focus on the bigger picture. Include all aspects of nutrition from the quality of your food and water, macronutrients, micronutrients and caloric intake, and optimizing diet for your specific fertility based on your microbiome health, overall health status and any pre-existing conditions. For instance, in cases of complex chronic diseases such as endometriosis, your naturopathic doctor will place greater emphasis on an anti-inflammatory diet, such as the Mediterranean diet. For patients with chronically elevated stress, your naturopath will support your parasympathetic nervous system and overall digestive system to optimize digestion, assimilation and elimination. Altogether, we believe the key to optimizing fertility begins with addressing your gastro-intestinal health as it is the window to addressing deficiencies, inflammation, stress, toxicity, and more.
Daily practices for life
Your naturopathic doctor is also going to encourage the daily practice of therapies that support your lymphatic flow and blood circulation. These therapies often include the use of adequate fluid intake, dry skin brushing to improve lymphatic flow, deep breathing, castor oil packs and most certainly, movement and exercise, among others. You'll also learn about the timing and use of these tools in addition to personalized nutritional strategies.
The Mind-Body Connection
Finally, in order to address the whole person, it is necessary to place great importance on the mind-body connection and the impact that fertility, pregnancy, birth and postpartum have on your mental and emotional health and vice-versa. Your naturopathic doctor will support you and provide resources to you for managing your stress levels and offer tools such as herbal medicine, meditation and acupuncture to do so (you may also be referred to a member of The WOMB's collaborative health team for support in other areas). While discussing stress, you will also identify any issues with sleep that may be negatively impacting overall hormonal health and blood sugar levels. Understanding the impact of the negative effects of sleep deprivation on physical and mental health, you will learn about the benefits of quality and quantity sleep on overall health whether that is in the pre-conception, or perinatal periods.
With pregnancy, there are biological changes occurring in a woman’s brain in preparation for childbirth and postpartum. Fortunately, there are naturopathic sleep supportive remedies that are safe and effective in pregnancy to assist you in improving your overall sleep quality.
There is no doubt that it is an exciting time in your life when trying to conceive and bringing a child into this world. The WOMB's naturopathic doctors are here to offer support and discuss conscious conception as well as emotional preparation for you as an expectant parent. We place equal value on emotionally preparing you and your relationship with your partner for pregnancy and the transition into parenthood as we do on physical preparation. Thus, we offer a safe space to openly discuss any anxieties, fears or concerns. We help you, as parents-to-be manage personal and cultural expectations and are here to offer solutions for any health concerns, whether they be physical, mental or emotional.
For everyone on the fertility journey, we are here to assist you and provide guidance, support and compassionate care at any point on your journey to parenthood.
Written by The WOMB's Naturopathic Doctors, Dr. Amy Dobbie (in Milton) and Dr. Mary Peric (in Burlington).