Infertility is defined as the lack of conception after 1 year of unprotected sex for women under 35. For women over 35, this number decreases to 6 months of unprotected sex. Approximately 1 in 6 Canadian couples struggle with infertility. Although the causes of infertility are multi factorial, you may be missing the mark in a few big areas that you didn’t realize. So whether you’ve been trying to get pregnant for months, or you simply want to improve your future fertility, here are a few tips:
Learn to track your menstrual cycle
Tracking your menstrual cycle is key to understanding when you are at your most fertile. You are not your mother, you are not your best friend, and you are certainly not every newly pregnant woman in your Facebook feed, so don’t compare yourself to them. Your body, your history, and your menstrual cycle are yours, so now is the time to get to know you and what you need. Check out my earlier blog post: ‘Fertility and understanding ovulation’. This will guide you through the basics of tracking your cycle through basal body temperature and common ovulatory signs.
Detoxify your body
We are living in a world where we are constantly being exposed to different toxins. The air we breathe, the food we eat, the lotions we lather on to our skin are all potential sources of toxins. Limiting the big offenders is useful for improving fertility.
1. Food: Obesity and poor dietary habits are associated with higher infertility rates. Limit your intake of refined and processed foods (The SAD diet: Standard American Diet), and look at implementing a more anti-inflammatory Mediterranean-style or fertility diet. Eating organic is not always easy, and not always financially sustainable. Check Environmental working group’s ‘Dirty dozen and clean fifteen’ for an up to date list of when to go organic.
2. Skin: Your largest organ has the ability to absorb what’s put on it. It’s not easy to navigate the world of cosmetics and skin care, so let environmental working group do it for you. Check out EWG’s ‘Skin Deep’ website to see how all your products match up using their toxicity rating system.
3. Air: Although this is more difficult to control, avoid smoking and exposure to toxic inhalants.
4. BPA: Bisphenol A is widely found in plastic and is a known endocrine disrupter toxic to developing eggs. In 2011 it was banned by the FDA in baby bottles and sippy cups, and you likely saw the emergence of BPA-free products soon after. Reduce your exposure to BPA by:
-Switching from plastic food storage containers to glass
-Avoiding canned foods (or choosing ones labeled BPA-free)
-Avoid microwaving plastic or putting plastic in the dishwasher
-Avoid putting hot food in plastic
-Decrease handling of paper receipts (and wash your hands afterward)
5. Phthalates: Phthalates can be found almost anywhere and are often used in soft plastic, vinyl, cleaning products, fragrances, and nail polish. Most studies have focused on phthalate exposure and their effect on sperm quality, but research has drawn a correlation between phthalate exposure and increased risk of endometriosis, miscarriage, and poor pregnancy outcome
Address your stress
Stress: we can’t live with it. We can’t live without it. Rate your stress levels on a scale of 0-10. Zero is equivalent to no stress at all, ten is mAXIMuM STrESS!! (I feel like that’s got to be how a 10/10 stress level is written… my blood pressure went up just writing it). If you’re regularly somewhere in the 6-10 range, you probably admit to feeling pretty stressed. Stress is important. We need it to meet deadlines, win championships, and to run away from bears (don’t do that though, that’s not supposed to work). When stress is ramped up to do those things, the body puts less emphasis on less pertinent functions like reproduction and digestion. So, if you’re chronically stressed your intelligent body has diverted its attention away from creating babies. Address your stress. What are your sources of stress? How can you improve upon or eliminate your stress? What things do you enjoy that help decrease stress? And because it’s often not as simple as answering those questions, talk to your naturopath or a therapist to come up with some solutions.
Sleep is a time when you restore and detoxify your body. Poor sleep and insomnia are often related to high stress levels and can affect fertility. Check out my earlier blog ‘Sleep optimization: tips to improve your sleep!’
A healthy weight and BMI (body mass index) are essential to fertility, and can be an obstacle whether you are on the high or low end of the continuum. Focus on a fertility style diet, regular exercise, improving stress levels, and any additional support you may need from your naturopath or therapist.
Oh the benefits of regular exercise are so profound and far-reaching. As Nike likes to say, “Just do it”. Choose something you enjoy and make it part of your lifestyle. You don’t need to grind it out at the gym every day to benefit from exercise.
Check your thyroid
Underlying thyroid problems are often missed in women struggling with fertility or miscarriages. If you are suffering from fatigue, sluggishness, insomnia, constipation, high cholesterol, difficulty losing weight, and feeling cold, you may be hypothyroid. Ask your doctor to run a thyroid panel.
Identify obstacles to fertility
If you’ve been tracking your menstrual cycle and have been timing intercourse appropriately, but are still having difficulty conceiving, have further investigations done. Additional lab work and imaging can identify potential obstacles to fertility. These can include, but are not limited to:
-PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome)
-Pelvic inflammatory disease
-Poor sperm parameters (sperm count, concentration, motility, and morphology)
-Vitamin D deficiency
Take high quality pre-natal supplements
If you’re trying to get pregnant, or plan to try in the next couple months, now is the time to start supplementing. A good prenatal vitamin with folic acid is essential to every woman looking to conceive. Take to your doctor about what the best supplements are for you.
Dr. Michelle Hislop