Getting your body ready to conceive.
The earlier you start to prepare your body for future pregnancy, the better. Even if babies aren`t on your agenda for the next ten years, if you know that you would like to raise children one day then you need to listen up and get your nutrients store tip top.
If you have recently come off of hormonal contraceptives then it`s even more important to pay attention. Those pesky synthetic hormones have been studied to show that they are responsible for all sorts of minerals and vitamin depletions that are essential for fertility and a healthy pregnancy.
This advice isn`t just for your health or to achieve optimum fertility, but for the health of the baby you are going to bring in to this world. Simply put, your baby is made of… well… YOU!
What you have in your nutrient stores will affect the long- term health outcomes of the baby that you grow. Ensuring that your body is well-nourished will help you to have the healthiest children that you possibly can.
It`s easier to stay nourished than fix deficiencies further along the line. The amount of nutrients stored in your body up to a year in advance of pregnancy will affect the type of pregnancy that you have.
Here I go with my analogies again… think of baking a cake. You need eggs, milk, flour and butter. If you don`t get the mix right, your cake can flop, be a slushy mess or just taste pretty bad.
The cake is the baby (you`ve heard the old saying a ‘bun in the oven’ right?!) and the ingredients are what you are using to grow this baby. It needs to be right.
Long-term nutrition will help to ensure that the child is neurologically as developed as possible, whilst also limiting the risks of autism, ADHD, obesity and heart disease amongst other conditions. Your baby treats your nutrients as a pantry whilst it`s growing inside of you. What you have stored up in your there will affect how much nutrition the baby will be able to extract from you.
The other reason to plan ahead and replenish your nutrients is for your own sake. Mother Nature knows that the most important thing is to focus on the procreation of humanity and will put the baby’s needs before the mother. You are the lowest priority in her book. The baby will get as much as it possibly can at the detriment of the mother, if you aren`t stocked up enough to provide for the both of you!
This can mean that the baby will take vital nutrients and leave you very depleted after pregnancy. Think about it… how many women have you heard say that they had no health problems until they`d had a baby? Sound familiar?
Pregnancy is very taxing on the mother and nutrient deficiency will show up in all sorts of chronic fatigue symptoms and autoimmune disorders post pregnancy.
So if you have come off of birth control, or are just wanting to maximise your fertility, then read on…
First and foremost…
Yes, I can see you cringing at the mere mention of the word fat. Some of you may even have shut the laptop or closed the page but it`s so important.
You know that your body doesn’t just pop out hormones whenever they are needed… it has to MAKE them. Like the aforementioned cake, hormones are made of a list of ingredients. One vital ingredient is Cholesterol and where do we get cholesterol from?
You`ve probably heard of runners and athletes losing their periods. One of the reasons is that the intake of fat that athletes have in their diet is so low that they just can`t make the hormones that are responsible for a healthy reproductive system. Under-eating and over-exercising creates an environment where your body is stressed on a physical level and perceives a threat. Something called hypothalamic amenorrhea can occur - where your body will stop menstruating as it feels it is unsafe to become pregnant.
Now, not all fat is created equal and some of it is in my opinion the single most probable cause for cellular inflammation in the body. I`ll do another post all about good fats and bad fats at another time but for now, the message that goes with this is that saturated fats in the form of butters, coconut oil and fats from grass-fed animal products are the most stable and nutrient dense fats that we consume. For decades, this type of fat has been hailed as unhealthy, but the evidence points in the opposite direction.
For healthy fertility and pregnancy, your body needs fat. Fat not only makes the cholesterol for hormones, but is a fuel for energy and is needed to coat every single cell in both the mother and the babies body. Every single cell in your body is made of a phospholipid membrane. They are 50% fat! Your brain and that of your baby is also dependent on fat. The highest concentration of cholesterol is found in the brain, where it plays an important role in memory and serotonin regulation. Low cholesterol levels are associated with depression and anxiety.
Zinc and Magnesium
Most of the population has far less magnesium and zinc in their diet than they should have. Both of these two minerals are vital for achieving pregnancy, and maintaining it.
Magnesium is mostly found in plant matter and the amount that is consumed is far less than it should be. That coupled with the fact that our soils are massively depleted in magnesium these days due to modern farming methods, puts most of us at risk of deficiency. Magnesium can be found in dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds and whole meal grains.
Zinc can be found most plentifully in shell fish, an acquired and expensive taste. Not many of us will have a regular amount of oysters, muscles or clams each week. Zinc is available in red meat and poultry and as a plant based option, in pumpkin seeds. The problem is that plant based zinc is hard to absorb and so vegetarians and vegans are more at risk of a zinc deficiency and would benefit from supplementing. If you are happy eating liver, then a piece of liver each week will offer you a great serving of zinc to meet your needs.
It has been well-researched that contraceptive hormones deplete the body’s natural stores of B6. B6 is needed for a regular cycle and for the development and functioning of the nervous system. There has been research that suggests that B6 might play a role in the prevention of pre-eclampsia in pregnancy. It may also play its part in preventing pregnancy nausia. B6 is available in lots of foods, including meat, poultry, starchy vegetables and non citrus fruits. The problem is that unless you are eating a good amount of raw food then you are probably not getting enough as B6 is very sensitive to being heated in the process of cooking and becomes less viable.
Vitamin A and D
Vitamin D is critically important in forming your baby’s bones, teeth, kidneys, heart and nervous system. It helps us absorb the right amount of calcium and phosphate.
The problem with Vitamin D is that it is not readily available in food. It is only in small amounts in certain foods (oily fish and eggs are one of the best sources). We get most of our vitamin D from the sun but if you live in the Northern hemisphere like me, during October until March, it is almost impossible to absorb vitamin D, even on the sunniest of days. This is due to the way that the earth tilts, blocking the amount of UVB rays that can actually reach us.
Vitamin A is essential for conception. It is a fat soluble vitamin that is found in nutrient dense animal fats, especially liver, cod liver oil and egg yolks. It is needed for fertility and for foetal development but be careful… once pregnant, excessive amounts of vitamin A can be damaging to the foetus, so always check with a professional regarding this vitamin. Beta Carotene is the plant based version of vitamin A. It is less absorbable than animal based vitamin A though, so again, vegans and vegetarians are at risk of deficiency and should consider supplementing.
Vitamin A and D work together as a team. One without the other in adequate amounts will affect the absorption of its co-partner. It is important to have both in your diet or supplement at the same time.
Folate is a type of B vitamin that your body needs to make DNA and other genetic material. It also needs folate for your cells to divide and to make red and white blood cells in your bone marrow. During periods of rapid growth, it`s essential to have adequate amounts of folate. This is especially true of pregnancy, both for the mother and the baby.
Folate is the food version of folic acid. It is available in leafy green vegetables, lentils, eggs and certain fruits. If possible, it is better to eat natural folate as certain individuals struggle to process folic acid and you may not know if this is you! By all means supplement with folic acid but at the same time, increase your food sources of folate to cover your odds in case you are someone who can`t metabolise folic acid.
If you aren`t getting regular cycles at the minute then one of the reasons may be that your body doesn`t perceive that you are ready for pregnancy.
If you haven`t got all the ingredients for the cake you are baking, you wouldn’t turn the oven on! It`s the same principle. Your body doesn`t want you to have an unhealthy pregnancy. It wants to ensure the survival of the human race and wants to create a healthy offspring. If its surveillance systems detect a lack of nutrition, then it won`t allow you to be fertile.
If you are in a place where your cycles are irregular or missing then I urge you to have a think about your diet, lifestyle, exercise habits, stresses and sleeping patterns and stock that pantry of yours up with as many nutrients as possible.
It goes without saying that if you intend on taking any supplementation then you should seek the advice of a qualified professional first.
The Pill - The Truth
So many people I know, including myself, were given the hormonal contraception pill at a young age as a “catch all” remedy for problematic menstrual cycles.
It must be very frustrating as a G.P to know that possibly something deeper is going on with the hormones of the young girls sitting in front of them, but being unable to contravene the regulations they are given.
Unfortunately, all over the world, the simple solution is to put the patient on the pill and hope that masking the symptoms will be enough.
This is so true for so many conditions… got reflux? Here – have a proton pump inhibitor pill to lower your stomach acid. Got high blood pressure? – Here – take this to keep it down.
Don`t you think that this is a bit like having an engine warning light flash up on the dashboard of your car and instead of getting the problem fixed, you put a bit of masking tape over the light so you can`t see it!
As a 16 year old, this felt perfectly fine back then. After all, we have been conditioned in so many ways not to question authority and certainly not a G.P. My menstrual discomfort eased and my flow was so much lighter… life was peachy once again!
What I didn`t know and what young women and their mothers don`t realise is the darker side of being on the pill and hormonal contraception.
What I mean by hormonal contraception is anything that you take that contains synthetic (chemical) hormones to stop pregnancy occurring. This isn`t just about the pill, but the now hugely-popular hormonal coil, contraceptive injection, implants, vaginal ring and hormone patch.
I was told and was lead to believe for many years that taking a hormone contraceptive tricked your body into thinking that it was pregnant. This didn`t feel too bad to me at the time although as time went on over the next ten years of taking it, I did wonder if a ten –year pregnancy seemed ok!
It turns out that this information was completely wrong.
When you`re pregnant, your body continues to make its own beautiful hormones, just in a different way to when you`re not.
When you take hormonal contraception, your reproductive hormones are in a word – shut down.
Your ovaries are closed for business.
Forced to go to sleep…
Usually, for a Very.Long.Time.
In fact, your own hormone levels that you produce are more closely akin to the way they would be in menopause. The difference here would be that in Menopause, the hormones you produce are more beneficial to the rest of your body.
So what`s the big deal? Why does it matter so much that your ovaries are sleeping? Surely it`ll be ok if they just rest for a little bit?
Mmm… Here is where the problem lies.
The Oestrogen and progesterone that you produce naturally are not only vital for your reproductive health but for the health of your organs, your mood, metabolism and your bones. The chemical hormones that you are taking don`t have the same beneficial effect. In fact, they have the opposite effect.
Your metabolism is slowed down and they actually deplete your body of essential nutrients and vitamins. The worsened metabolic issues effect insulin resistance and before you know it, the vital communication system between the pituitary and the ovaries gets ‘stuck`. Insulin resistance is something that a woman with PCOS really needs to avoid, so if you are on the pill because of PCOS, be extra careful with your diet.
Many women suffer with depression and anxiety on hormonal contraception, due to not having their own oestrogen and progesterone which is so important for our mood. It`s also so very common to suffer a loss of libido which kind of defeats the benefits of the contraceptive part of the prescription!
Over time, this communication system between the ovaries and pituitary really suffers and when you choose to come off of the pill, you are left to sort out the whole backlog of problems that have built up over time.
Think of it this way, if you left your car on your drive without starting it up or moving it in any way for over ten years, it`d have a few functioning problems when you finally put your key in the ignition and want to go somewhere!
After coming off of the pill, some women barely notice the shift and go on to regulate their menstrual cycle pretty quickly and successfully become pregnant. Others (myself included in all of this) are not so lucky.
It can take a long time for those sleepy little ovaries to get going again. The pituitary – ovary communication needs to get up and running. The Ovaries need to start producing their own hormones once again and their function is a little rusty! The body is depleted of certain B vitamins and nutrients and often there is a mineral imbalance that needs help, along with an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut.
It can be really difficult getting your cycle regular again when you come off of the pill. It can take around a year to get things normalising once again, and longer if you`ve had the contraception injection or implant.
One hormone may come back quicker than the other and an oestrogen dominant situation can arise. Progesterone is vital for trying to conceive and maintain a pregnancy but is often not in balance with its co-partner - oestrogen.
It is vital to build up your body again after coming off of hormonal contraception, whether your cycles return regularly or not. You might not realise it but your vital nutrients are probably depleted and need to be regained to grow that little human inside of you into a healthy person themselves.
We strongly advise planning ahead and coming off of the pill a year in advance (at least) and thoroughly nourish yourself in that year before even trying to conceive. Think of the car on the drive again… it`s probably going to need new brake pads and discs, a fresh batch of oil and goodness knows what else (mechanical knowledge ends here!)
Your body is the same. A nutrient rich diet, low in sugar and stimulants, with plenty of saturated fats, minerals and vitamins. Yes … I did say saturated fats! That`s a whole different blog post though…
If you keep turning the key on that car that won`t start, you`re going to cause more problems…
Trying to conceive when your body is nutritionally and hormonally weakened will feel very disappointing if you get negative test results month after month. All that stress of going through that disappointment will cause further havoc on your adrenal glands and stress hormones will just complicate the whole tangle further, not to mention the stress that this can put on your relationship.
Wouldn`t it be better to get that car in good working order before you try to drive it? Take the pressure off of yourself and don`t even bother trying to conceive until you are in a better place physically.
So to wrap this up, what is my main message in this blog post?…
It`s a difficult decision to make and a journey that can be very bumpy. I know… I`ve been there.
If you need any help navigating all of this then please reach out…I can help you.
The contents of this blog are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, dietary supplement, exercise, or other health program.