Nourishing yourself in a way that helps you blossom in the direction you want to go is attainable, and you are worth the effort. A 3 month guide to self-care and improved fertility.
When working with clients who are trying to conceive, I try to support them in making changes that encourage optimal fertility. One of those changes is reducing foods that are known to cause inflammation. While every body is different, there are three main foods that are known to be inflammatory - these include gluten, dairy, and sugar. Removing these foods can make a significant difference in how your body functions and how you feel. It is often best to ease into removing these foods, so you may want to consider a month or two to develop new habits, find resources, and figure out what works and what doesn’t. During this time, aim for 90%, and then later you may decide to take a few months where you are avoiding these foods 100% of the time.
A few suggestions:
- Do it with a buddy - ideally your spouse, but a friend or another family member will help provide accountability and encouragement.
- Focus on what you can eat! There are so many tasty, nutrient dense vegetables. Fill your plate with them, and add in healthy fats, proteins, and fruits.
- You may want to begin during a time when you don’t have any major changes, travel, or other stressors going on, but don’t feel like you have to wait until the perfect moment.
- Reducing gluten, dairy, and processed sugars does not mean you have to go low carb. Listen to your body. You may want to add in gluten free grains, such as buckwheat, rice, and quinoa, but you should definitely ensure that you are consuming some starchy vegetables - roots vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, and also squashes, such as butternut and other winter and summer squash.
- Take a deep breath or two before you begin to eat. This will signal your body shift into rest and digest mode.
- Buy more vegetables, and plan to take 2 trips to the store/farmers market for fresh produce each week (or arrange delivery via your local CSA, InstaCart, or Amazon Fresh)
- Pre-prepping is your friend! Rinse and chop foods before storing them in the fridge - it will make cooking feel almost effortless
- Batch cook a few items each week
- Use a crockpot or pressure cooker
Where to find recipes:
And if you are feeling uninspired or craving an old favorite? Pinterest is your friend!
Simply type in paleo, AIP, Whole30, or GAPS into the search engine and peruse options. Or if you want to recreate a specific recipe or style of food, type in what you are hoping to find and add one of the key words. For example, “paleo pasta” or “whole30 pad thai” and find something that appeals to you.
And finally, be gentle with yourself and enjoy the process!
...Take all the sleep you need. You may expect to be well. - James Freeman Clarke
We know good sleep is foundational for good health and accept the idea that most people need at least 8 hours of sleep to function optimally. But why is sleep so important for our fertility? How can we ensure that our sleep is truly restorative?
Normal, healthy sleep benefits our bodies in so many ways. Some of the things it aids and regulates include:
- Breakdown of hormones
- Circadian rhythms
- Cortisol levels
When these things are happening they create optimal hormone cycles and feedback. Detox allows our bodies to process and dispose of toxins that can directly or indirectly impair thyroid, sex hormone, and reproductive function. Proper breakdown of hormones ensures that we do not end of with excess estrogen in our systems, which leads to an improper balance of estrogen and progesterone. A healthy circadian rhythm helps support melatonin which has shown to be linked to ovarian function. Optimal cortisol levels supports hormone production and adrenal health.
Additionally, when these functions and processes are regulated we experience improvements in mood, immune function, mental clarity, energy, and will power, which impacts the decisions we make all day long. Watch a show or go for a walk? Pack a snack or grab something out of a vending machine? Take some quiet time or distract ourselves online? We all make some less optimal choices occasionally, but the more disruption there is to our sleep, the more likely we are to opt for the not so optimal activities. And these choices and their consequences in turn impact the quality of our sleep, our health, and reproductive wellness. Even gut health is impacted by sleep. Poor sleep leads to an imbalance in digestion which in turn leads to disrupted sleep.
How do we stop the cycle? One way is to begin with sleep as your starting point. Remember, any shift toward improved sleep causes positive shifts in overall health and function which supports fertility.
So what should we focus on? The 3 sleep factors include quantity, quality, and timing.
Sleep Quantity: How much sleep should you get?
- You want to sleep at least 7 hours, your body may need closer to 8 or 9 to thrive
- If you are suffering from adrenal fatigue, or are otherwise depleted, you may need closer to 10 hours
Sleep Quality: What can you do to ensure restorative sleep?
1. What you can do during the day:
- Get early morning light exposure
- Move! Get some exercise in early in the day
- Avoid alcohol and coffee
2. Wind down in the 1-2 hours before bed:
- Finish eating 2-3 hours prior to bed
- Avoid screens, or if you must use screens, wear blue light blocking glasses
- Choosing relaxing activities and put aside work - read fiction, take a bath
3. Bedroom environment:
- Keep it cool, dark, and clutter free
Sleep Timing: When should you go to bed?
- Before 10pm - this will help keep your cortisol levels in check and you can avoid the disregulation that happens with a 2nd wind (when you push past your bedtime, your body has a stress response)
While sleep is a critical component to health and healing, and should be a part of any wellness plan, sometimes more support is needed. Seeking out the support of skilled health care professionals, functional or integrative doctors, nutritionists, and health coaches, who can work with you to provide knowledge and support can make all the difference. If you think you may need more evaluation and guidance, don't hesitate to reach out and find a good fit - you are worth it!
Up next, we will share some tips that shift workers can use to help support their sleep and fertility.
In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week, we wanted to share a round up of NaPro infertility success stories. In addition to bringing awareness and sensitivity to infertility, which impacts one in 8 couples, we want to bring hope and education. All women and couples should know their options when facing infertility.
Below is the story of a client of mine (currently pregnant with her second NaPro baby!), followed by links to other stories of how NaPro has successfully restored normal, healthy reproductive function, and helped couples grow their families. If you have a story to add, please email it to Megan@restorefertilitycare.com, or link to it in the comments and we will add them to the blog post.
Hi my name is Erin. My husband and I had tried to get pregnant soon after getting married in 2009. After a year of no success we went through our Dr and did 5 rounds of IUIs, clomid and other medications. When that was not a success they referred us to IVF. We did one round and still no luck. My mom happened to work at a doctors’ office and was talking to one of the doctors about our journey and she told her to look into Pope Paul Institute VI in Omaha, NE.
So after looking online and doing some research about the clinic we decided we would give it a shot. We were told that I would need to start charting my mucus and to go through a Medical practitioner. We found Megan Faller through another practitioner as she would be able to Skype with us since we are in Iowa and she is in California. Megan was very welcoming and understanding of what we were going through. She was patient with all our questions and concerns.
After months of charting and figuring out that I had more issues than was brought up with my home doctor. We met with the Omaha Dr.’s and had a laparoscopy done to find out that I had endometriosis. I had to return the next month to have it robotically removed. The very next month that we could conceive we got pregnant!!!! I couldn’t believe it, after 4 years of tears and emotionally rollercoasters we were finally pregnant!!! We had a healthy baby boy.
Fast forward to a year and half later we started our journey again of trying to conceive, again no luck. I contacted Pope Paul again and started charting on my own thinking I would remember how to do it on my own. After a few months I knew I was missing some things so I emailed Megan again and she happily took me on again as her client. She helped me with my charting and got me back on track. I unfortunately had to go through the same surgeries but in the end I got pregnant again right away and am now 13 weeks pregnant with our second baby!!
A FertilityCare Practitioner (FCP) is an incredibly rewarding profession. FCPs are able to empower women and couples to fully understand their fertility so that they can make informed choices about their reproductive health and family planning.
The Education Program for FCPs is a 13-month internship, during which you will begin to teach clients from right after the first 8-day full immersion training. You will be supported by an experienced Educator who will guide and teach you throughout your internship.
Restore FertilityCare is thrilled to be hosting an Education Program in the fall of 2017.
Upcoming Education Program
San Diego (Oceanside), California
October 28 - November 4, 2017
Can't be in San Diego in 2017? View the list of Education Programs around the world.
If you have questions and would like to ask more questions about being an FCP, we would love to chat with you! Please send a message.
Are you struggling with a reproductive issue - endometriosis, PCOS, hormone imbalance, miscarriage or infertility? Have you heard about NaPro and wondered how a NaPro doctor can help you and how your experience with them might be different?
Think of a NaPro doctor as your partner in restoring and maintaining optimal reproductive health and fertility.
What makes a NaPro doctor your partner? You work as a team to get to identify and treat root cause reproductive issues. NaPro doctors rely on you to share critical information through:
- Your Creighton Model Chart
- Other signs and symptoms (menstrual pain, PMS, low libido, fatigue, etc.)
What do NaPro doctors restore? A number of things, including, but not limited to:
- Hormone balance
- Health of uterine lining
How do NaPro doctors maintain health & function? They are committed to "first, do no harm." What is unique about their approach?
- They avoid contraceptives, which can cause hormone imbalance or put the integrity of the reproductive organs at risk of puncture
- They do not administer synthetic hormones, but rather bio identical
- They are cautious with medications, starting with extra low dosages and closely monitoring their effectiveness and impact on overall fertility
- They encourage you to be proactive and continue to chart; you are actively involved in monitoring your reproductive health
How does a NaPro doctor's evaluation seek to optimize function? NaPro doctors ask different questions than typical doctors. For example:
- Is the woman ovulating (non-NaPro) vs. Is ovulation normal? Or is there a defect in ovulation? (NaPro)
- Is progesterone high enough on chart day 21? (non-NaPro) vs. Does progesterone remain at an optimal level throughout the post peak (or luteal phase)? Is there adequate time for successful implantation before the progesterone drops off? (NaPro)
- Are there obvious signs of endometriosis? (non-NaPro) vs. Can we fully evaluate the presence or absences of and endometriosis? If found, can we remove it in the most effective manner while reducing the chances of scare tissue? (NaPro)
Out of all of the couples being diagnosed with infertility, a percentage are labeled “unexplained.” Because infertility is actually a symptom of an underlying condition, “unexplained infertility” is not really a diagnosis, but an acknowledgement that something is wrong, but the problem has not been found. Often the evaluation and exploration into the couple’s reproductive health is cut short. The couple may be fast tracked to IUI or IVF.
There are many concerns with this, including:
- Success rates of IUI and IVF vary based on the cause on infertility; if the cause is unknown the couple doesn’t have a good idea of how likely it is to result in a healthy baby
- There is an underlying issue that is likely hindering overall health, in addition to reproductive health
- There are numerous complications that increase with an IVF pregnancy - low birth weight, pre-term birth, pre-eclampsia, among many others.
Wouldn’t it be best to find the problems and fix them? Not only would the chances of natural conception increase, but the odds of having a pregnancy free of complications and a healthy baby also increase. The couples is also more likely to be able to conceive naturally again in the future due to restored reproductive health.
Couples want answers. While there is never a guarantee of conception or of being able to carry a child to term, a study found that with the Creighton Model and NaPro, 99% of couples labeled "unexplained" were provided with an explanation within 2 years
Are you trying to conceive? Have you gone a year or more without getting pregnant, or have you had one or more pregnancies end in a miscarriage? Have you felt supported by your ObGyn or your Reproductive Endocrinologist?
There are doctors out there who are willing to dig in and investigate, but most do a very basic evaluation of infertility. Standard protocols include a chart day 3 and 21 lab draw, a semen analysis, and an HSG to check the fallopian tubes. Some practitioners may include an endometrial biopsy, or a post coital test to check for sperm after intercourse.
This is a good start, but there is more that can be done. What should your doctor be doing to provide an accurate diagnosis, develop a complete, effective treatment plan, and provide the best chances for a healthy conception and pregnancy?
1. Watching you ovulate
The only way to confirm ovulation is to use ultrasound to watch the process. Despite hormones, cycles, and temperatures appearing “normal,” in some cases a women is not releasing an egg. This is called lutenized unruptured follicle syndrome, or LUFS. In addition to LUFS, there are a number of other ovulation disorders that can be identified with ultrasound monitoring through the pre-ovulatory phase of a woman’s cycle. In addition to confirming ovulation, ultrasound monitoring can confirm normal, healthy ovulation and full proper development of the egg. Treatments are available if ovulation issues are found.
2. Evaluating cervical mucus
Conceiving and carrying a healthy baby to full term requires a good egg and good sperm. While many women know to check for fertile cervical mucus to time intercourse, their physician rarely evaluates the quality and quantity of cervical mucus, despite the fact that mucus is critical to sperm survival and movement toward an egg. If mucus issues are found, there are some relatively simple supplements and medications that a doctor can prescribe that can significantly improve cervical mucus.
3. Considering Endometriosis
Endometriosis can range from mild to severe, and while some women with endometriosis experience severe pelvic pain and very heavy menstruation, endometriosis can be present with no obvious symptoms. In some cases, the only symptom is infertility. In addition to causing damage to the fallopian tubes, endometriosis can also be cause adhesions and scarring that may preventing successful implantation.
4. Testing for MTHFR
If you are not familiar with MTHFR, many of us (at least 40%) have a version of this mutation. Having this mutation can impact fertility in many ways (and is correlated with other conditions that can impact fertility). Two things it can do are impair detox and interfere with the processing of folate, which is a critical preconception and prenatal nutrient. If you test positive, you should not be consuming folic acid, but instead folate from food sources, along with methylated folate. You may also be advised to take precautions to avoid blood clotting (linked to MTHFR mutations) which cause miscarriage. You can find more about how MTHFR can affect pregnancies here.
5. Reviewing a month long hormone profile
When you have your blood drawn 7 days post ovulation, we can tell what your progesterone looks like on that day. However, progesterone can be at an appropriate level 7 days post ovulation, but be too low prior, or drop off sharply immediately following. If you have a sharp drop off 9 days after ovulation it often is not enough time for proper implantation, and the pregnancy will end early. To see what is really going on throughout your entire cycle with your month long hormone profile will provide a more accurate picture.
6. Having you chart your cycles
A charted cycle can provide so much critical information. Critical clues can be found when reviewing cycle length, luteal phase, quality of bleeding, and quantity of bleeding. Did you know that one or 2 days of brown bleeding can be normal, but 3 or more days likely indicators an infection or hormonal deficiency? There are a number of other clues that may appear in your chart.
7. Recommending an anti-inflammatory diet
Many of us are reacting to gluten, dairy, sugars, and grains. This can lead to inflammation which may be causing or exacerbating some of our health issues, including infertility. Our local infertility specialist often recommends cutting out gluten or dairy. This isn’t something you will necessarily need to do forever, but taking a couple of months to cut back and then cutting it all out for a month or two (Paleo or Whole30) may be helpful for both men and women. You may notice that some minor health issues improve - better digestion, focus, or energy. If you don’t notice any difference, you can add each item back in gradually to make see if you notice any reaction. While eating this way often requires more prep and pre-planning, it can be worth it to eliminate problem foods and increase consumption and absorption of more nutrient dense foods. Additionally, many grains have synthetic folic acid added to them- please check your labels.
Beyond treating the infertility, which is technically a symptom of an underlying condition, we also want to treat the underlying condition for the sake of health. Why? Because infertility is a risk factor for a number of serious conditions, that vary depending on diagnosis, but range from IBS to hormonal dysfunction to cancer, obesity, and hypertension, among others.
Women often tell me they went months or years without a thorough evaluation. Only after pursuing NaPro did they feel like a doctor was truly trying to figure out what was going on and working to create the ideal environment for a healthy conception and pregnancy.
I recently came across a blog post by a fellow practitioner that spoke about the time of abstinence necessitated by natural methods of family planning in a whole new light. I have heard people imply that abstaining from sex hinders the relationship. That more sex is always better, and having constant availability of sex is better. But is it truly better to enjoy these things more often and without a break? Is more chocolate cake and ice cream always better? More spending? More time alone? More time laying on the couch? More commitments on the calendar? These are all good things, but practicing prudence and self-control in these, and other, areas may ultimately lead to greater satisfaction and enjoyment. Read more of the post here.
To learn more about charting with a mucus based method, the Creighton Model, and NaProTechnology you can listen to the podcast at Fertility Friday.
- What is different about the Creighton method of fertility awareness charting?
- What is NaPro Technology?
- How do FertilityCare Practitioners and NaPro Doctors work together to interpret a woman’s charts and address any cycle irregularities?
- How is the Creighton model effective, especially considering that it is a mucus-only method of charting?
- Continuous mucus and limited mucus cycles
- How does mucus production shift around ovulation?
- When might observing temperature not actually be helpful?
- Is all mucus fertile? How do you tell when you are fertile?
- How do models like Creighton and Justisse classify “sticky” and “tacky” mucus?
- Why there aren’t only 3 kinds of mucus (i.e. sticky, creamy, eggwhite)
- What your cervical mucus could be telling you about your cervical health
- What does a healthy menstrual cycle look like?
- The process of coming off the pill and charting your cycles
- Are NaPro Doctors “medical” or are they “holistic”?
- How is the approach that NaPro Doctors take different to mainstream physicians?
Bisephenol A (BPA) is a synthetic chemical used in to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins. BPA is also an endocrine disruptor that mimics estrogen and has been linked to many health concerns, including Infertility. Despite hundreds of studies demonstrating that even limited exposure to BPA can cause drastic adverse effects on our health, the FDA has yet to limit or ban the use of BPA in consumer products. The CDC found BPA in 93% of adults and children tested in 2003-04.
If you are trying to conceive you will want to be especially aware of limiting BPA exposure. In 2012 Harvard School of Public Health conducted a study of women undergoing In Vitro Fertilization that confirmed that women with higher BPA levels had fewer eggs retrieved, a lower number of eggs fertilized and a higher implant failure rate. Additional studies have shown these same results.
While reducing BPA exposure can seem overwhelming because it is so widely used, a few simple changes can have a big impact on amount of BPA you are exposed to on a daily basis. Here are 6 easy ways to reduce BPA exposure:
Store and heat food in glass, metal, ceramic, or paper containers. Once polycarbonate plastic is damaged through heat, harsh cleaners or age it can leach BPA into food that it comes into contact with.
Replace your drip coffee maker with a french press. In a traditional drip coffee maker, hot water is constantly coming into contact with the plastic inside the machine and BPA can leach into the water. With a french press, the water only comes into contact with glass and metal.
Choose glass, stainless steel or BPA free water bottles.
Avoid using canned goods. This is a tough one, but when possible choose an item that comes fresh or packaged in a glass jar. Unless the can states BPA free, it most likely has an epoxy resin lining that is made with BPA and can leach into the product.
Reduce skin exposure to receipts. Thermal paper is coated with BPA and when transferred onto your fingers, can absorb into your skin. Those who must handle thermal paper receipts for work are most affected. Handle receipts as little as possible and wash your hands after exposure.
Prepare fresh meals at home. Meals served at restaurants, processed and pre-packaged convenience foods tend to have higher levels of BPA.
Though completely eliminating exposure to BPA is impossible, you can greatly reduce the amount of BPA that makes it into your system by making lifestyle and product changes. Your body will thank you!
By now, we all know that leafy greens are one of the best food groups for overall health. Leafy greens are especially important for women and men during the pre conception time period, as they are high in folate, which is critical in preventing birth defects. In addition to folate, leafy greens also contain other critical nutrients, such as calcium and iron, among others.
Leafy greens include:
- Collard Greens
- Turnip Greens
- Mustard Greens
- Bok Choy
Ideally we would all be eating a few servings of greens a day, but they can be hard to get in. When planning to conceive, set a goal of 2- 3 servings each day. Below are some ways to reach this goal.
Plan for it -
Each grocery list/or trip and weekly meal plan should include 3- 4 varieties of greens
Eat 1 salad each day, at the same time -
This could be a big, meal sized salad at lunch or dinner, or side salad, but get into the habit of having enjoying a salad each day at a regular time. Soon you will be looking forward to your daily dose of greens.
Prep them -
When appropriate, wash the greens, so that they are ready to go at a moment's notice. Heartier greens can even be cut up. Now all you have to do is look for an opportunity to add them in to whatever you are making.
Blend or juice or process them -
A daily juice or smoothie is a great way to pack in nutrients. Depending on the size, it can replace a meal, supplement a meal, or make a portable snack. We also enjoy making our greens into dips, spreads, and sauces. This swiss chard pesto is a favorite.
Add them to the skillet -
If you are sautéing (almost anything) you can usually add a green at the end with success. Shrimp? Add thinly chopped spinach. Veggies for an omelet or frittata? Chopped kale or chard (with the large stalks removed). Stir-fying? Throw in some bok choy!
What is CoQ10 (or CoenzymeQ10)?
A small molecule made by and found in cells of the body (including women's eggs) . It is an antioxidant that is also critical for energy production by our mitochondria; making energy in the form of ATP.
How does CoQ10 impact fertility?
As we age our mitochondria can become damaged and fail to produce energy as they once did. Having surges of energy at the correct times in the development of an egg ensure good egg quality and that the correct number of chromosomes are produced and organized. Energy is also needed to sustain the early growth of new life.
Who should take CoQ10?
Studies suggest that older moms (35+) and moms with low ovarian reserves might gain the most benefit from CoQ10 supplementation, but it may help to increase egg quality for all women.
What kind of CoQ10 to take and how often?
Ubiquinol is recommended over ubiquinone, which is not easily absorbed; it may say "active antioxidant form" or "reduced form" on the bottle. Depending on age and health a dosage of 100- 300 mg a day should be taken with a meal earlier in the day as it can increase energy and interfere with sleep if taken later. If time allows, you may want to begin taking CoQ10 up to 4 to 6 months prior to conception.
You can read more about CoQ10 and other fertility helpers in It Starts with the Egg by Rebecca Fett.
*Please consult a doctor prior to starting an supplementation.
Earlier this year, we held a webinar to share some insight into the NaPro process for evaluating and treating infertility. To view the webinar, you may to use Chrome or Firefox for your browser.