The Whole Happy Guide to Reproductive Health

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30 second summary…

  • Your body is smart - listen to the information it’s trying to tell you

  • It is important to support your body prior to conception, during pregnancy, and post-birth so that you and your baby are as healthy as possible.

  • Support digestion and boost your micro-biome

  • Control inflammation with balanced essential fatty acids and gallbladder support

  • Help ease the burden on your blood sugar by being mindful of sugar and carbohydrate consumption

  • Re-evaluate any drugs you’re taking including prescription and over-the-counter

  • Reduce your body’s toxic load from dietary, environment, and emotional stressors

  • Prioritize sleep and relaxation

  • Look to your ancestors for dietary guidance

  • Make sure you’re getting adequate amounts of vitamin D

  • Consider supplementing with herbs

As a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and holistic wellness consultant, I work with many couples and individuals on reproductive health. Whether it’s helping women stay vital during their pregnancy, or returning them to a place of balance following birth, there are a number of ways someone can help or harm their body during this incredibly wonderful, but also physically (and emotionally) demanding time in their life.

What many people don’t’ realize is that the decisions they make leading up to conception are paramount for a healthy pregnancy. More so, the decisions they make directly effects the health and wellbeing of the child they’re about to bring into the world.

So, if you’re wanting to increase your likelihood of conceiving…

If you’d like a smoother pregnancy…

And if you’re wanting to do all you can to assure the strength and wellbeing of the little life you’re hoping to create…

…pay very close attention to the following recommendations!

 

Your Body Knows Best

Our bodies are smart. They are constantly providing us with information and feedback on our health and wellness. This can appear in the form of joint pain, skin irritations, digestive issues, sinus infections, headaches…the list goes on and on. We often look at those signs as pesky symptoms, but this is our body’s way of telling us something’s just not quite right.

But instead of masking these messages, learn how to interpret them!

When working with clients I help them uncover the route cause of their symptoms, and we discuss the best ways for them to heal their bodies for long-term sustainable wellness.

However, sometimes the symptoms aren’t obvious, or more often than not, we’ve done a great job normalizing, and even becoming numb to them. This is often the case when I work with couples who are having challenges conceiving. They wonder “What’s wrong with me?” or have a hard time making connections between a lifetime of digestive irregularities, for example, to their reproductive health. But your body know best. If you’re having a hard time getting pregnant, it’s often because the body doesn’t feel that it’s healthy enough to create a life and bring that life to term. It could be the mother, it could be the father, it could be both. It’s not about placing blame or having the mentality that something is in fact “wrong with you.” It’s more about healing the body foundationally so that it’s in an optimal state and strong enough to perform truly one of the most demanding tasks of our existence – creating, carrying, and then caring for, another life. 

So with that said, I should mention that the following recommendations are intended for women primarily, but they are equally as important for the male side of the equation. Many of these tips can be applied to both the mother and father, and in fact should be embraced by all involved parties to ensure the greatest chances of conception, and then of course the health and wellbeing of the baby.

Rest and Digest

It doesn’t matter how nutrient-dense or vital your diet is, if you’re not digesting it, it’s not doing squat! So many symptoms, conditions and wellness woes I see in my clients stem from dysfunctional digestion. The truth of the matter is our bodies only have two states: sympathetic (a.k.a. “fight or flight”) or parasymathetic (i.e. calm and relaxed). 

Our body must be in a parasympathetic state in order for our digestive system to work properly!

Standing, working, rushing, driving –all these things put our body in a sympathetic state and don’t allow our digestive system to work properly if we’re attempting to eat while doing them. This leads to…

  • Malabsorption: not enough nutrients getting into your system

  • Inflamed intestines: and the associated conditions of “leaky gut” or a permeable gut lining, which is the leading cause of food sensitivities and auto-immune conditions

  • Dysbiosis: the imbalance of gut flora

  • Candida overgrowth: a pesky yeast that wreaks havoc in our gut

…and so many more issues that are uncomfortable and lead to depressed immune function, cognitive issues, and so many other ailments that might keep your body from getting pregnant, or if you do conceive, you might in fact pass along to your child.

Things you can do now to help with digestion…

  • Sit, don’t stand or walk around while you eat

  • Don’t eat while driving

  • Don’t eat while working

  • Get away from your computer screen during meals

  • Sniff some calming essential oils before meals

  • Take some deep breaths before you dig in

  • Eat with loved ones in a happy environment

  • Slow it down. Chew thoroughly, don’t inhale your food, and take small breaks between bites.

  • Sip on some lemon water or apple cider vinegar water before meals

  • Following your meal, give yourself time to rest before engaging in overly stimulating or rigorous activities

READ MORE: Digestion 101 – How to get the most out of your food

 

Boost That MicroBiome

More and more, researchers are discovering the importance of the microbiome (or the diverse world of bacteria and other organisms in our body), and how the microbiome shapes our mood, energy, metabolism, cognition, immune health…everything!

If you have a weak or imbalanced microbiome going into your pregnancy and during your pregnancy, you can be assured your child will also have a weak microbiome.

Here is just a short list of some of the many issues associated with a weak microbiome…

  • Mood disorders

  • Food sensitivities

  • Slow cognition

  • Diminished immune function

Even more serious, a poor microbiome in babies is repeatedly connected to conditions like…

  • Autism

  • ADHD

  • Dyslexia

  • Dating disorders

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

 But another point I want to raise here is that once again, your body is smart. It knows that a healthy microbiome is integral to a healthy baby. If it detects you don’t have a proper balance of bacteria, fungi, and all the other lovely creatures that live within us, it might not let you get pregnant. 

So what can you do to boost you, and your child’s microbiome?

  • Eat fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and if you can tolerate dairy, kefir and plain full-fat yoghurt from pasture-raised cows and goats.

  • Take a solid variety of probiotics from soil, plant, and animal-based sources.

  • Compliment your probiotics with pre-biotic rich foods including (but not limited to):

    • Acacia gum (or gum arabic)

    • Raw chicory root

    • Raw Jerusalem artichoke

    • Raw dandelion greens

    • Raw garlic

    • Raw leeks

    • Raw or cooked onions

    • Raw jicama

  • Avoid antibiotics like the plague! Unless of course there is a serious condition, but most ailments can be solved with things like oregano and garlic – two of the most powerful natural antibacterials out there that won’t wipe out your beneficial gut flora much like prescription antibiotics do.

READ MORE: Fermented Foods: What They Are and Why You Should Add Them To Your Dietary Routine

Balance Those Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids or “EFA’s” are paramount to health and wellbeing and include…

  • Omega-3

  • Omega-6,

  • Omega-9

Their primarily function is to control the inflammatory responses in our bodies. Our body needs to inflame in order to heal, but must also know how to anti-inflame once the healing is complete.

A major problem in modern society is the prevalence of “runaway” or “systemic” inflammation, whereby the body is in a constant state of inflammation, which can lead to endless complications, and ultimately a whole list of chronic illnesses.

Systemic inflammation can be caused by number of things, but a major contributor in North America is the over consumption of omega-6 fatty acids – the EFA’s used primarily in pro-inflammatory pathways.

Omega 6’s are found in abundance in… 

  • Grains

  • Legumes

  • And even a number of nuts and seeds.

*NOTE: If you consume animals that have grain-based diet (NOT what they’re supposed to eat, by the way), their flesh and milk will be high in omega 6’s!

Mostly though, omega-6’s are rampant in hydrogenated oils including canola, safflower, and soybean oil, and are found in large quantities in almost every processed food item.

Now, omega 6’s shouldn’t be demonized. In moderate amounts from quality sources, they are necessary for our body’s functioning. Part of the problem is that we should be consuming far more omega 3’s (the anti-inflammatory EFA), but so many of us don’t get enough of this in our diets.  

Fish has historically been the best source of omega 3, but there is growing concerns over the health and safety of the fish we consume (especially when trying to get pregnant or during pregnancy). But you still need omega-3’s! In fact, having optimal amounts of omega-3’s in your system dramatically increases your likelihood of carrying to full term.

Premature births are time and time again linked to: 

  • Respiratory distress syndrome

  • Bleeding in the brain

  • Poor immune function

  • Mental retardation

  • Cerebral palsy

  • Lung problems

  • Gastrointestinal problems

  • Vision and hearing loss

This is a terrifying list, and keeping on top of your EFA balance is a massive preventative measure you can make to diminish your child’s risk being burdened with the above-mentioned complications.

So what do you do?

Well, eat some fish, just be very careful about sourcing. If you buy fish oils, do your research on the company and ask questions about where they source their fish.

Or, another options is krill oil. Krill are small, shrimp-like crustaceans. The purest oil is made from krill that are harvested in the deep, clean waters of the Antarctic, and many health experts encourage people opt for high quality krill oil instead of fish-based EFA oils.

But all this is meaningless if you’re not digesting fats properly.

Many people actually get a decent ratio of omega-3, 6 and 9’s in their diet, but are still essential fatty acid imbalanced or deficient because they’re simply not digesting the EFA’s they’re ingesting. As I mentioned above, proper digestion is key to health and wellness. But one element not mentioned earlier is liver and gallbladder function – both integral to EFA absorption and balance!

Here’s something you mind find fascinating… 

Often, symptoms of nausea are associated with gallbladder dysfunction, such as slow moving bile. This is especially so for women who experience morning sickness. Many clients of mine have had their morning sickness symptoms controlled through some gallbladder supportive protocols.

Certain nutrients help with gallbladder function such as Vitamin-C, taurine, and supplemental ox-bile, but one of your liver and gallbladder’s best friends is beets! Beet kvass -  a fermented food made from the juice of beets – is particularly helpful and can be consumed daily for safe and effective gallbladder support for leading up to conception and during pregnancy.

 

Give Your Blood Sugar a Break

We just talked a bit about inflammation and its many considerations, especially when it comes to conceiving, carrying to term, and having a healthy happy baby. 

Another major cause of systemic inflammation is over-consumption of carbohydrates. 

An influx of carbohydrates causes your pancreas to secrete a hormone called insulin, which helps shuttle the broken-down glucose molecules into the cells for energy. The problem is, when there is too much glucose from a high carbohydrate diet, the body has to secrete more and more insulin, causing a strain on your pancreas, but also general stress on your body. This in turn causes it to secrete another hormone called cortisol from the adrenal glands. Once again, it’s not about demonizing cortisol – it’s necessary for our survival! But we are constantly bombarding our bodies with cortisol spiking foods, and engaging in cortisol spiking activities and situations - demanding jobs, complicated relationships, financial strains - you know the culprits as well as I do. I’m going to touch on diminishing stress and getting adequate rest in a moment, but in the meantime, one of the biggest things you can do for your body, your reproductive health, and the health of our future children is give the carb-frenzy a much needed break! 

The overproduction of hormones like insulin and cortisol put a lot of strain on our adrenal glands, which are a hormone regulator. You better believe that if your insulin and cortisol levels are out-of-whack from an over-consumption of carbs, your estrogen, progesterone, testosterone etc. will be out of whack too. You DO NOT want this is your trying to conceive, if you’re carrying a baby, or if you’re breastfeeding.

Blood sugar burdens also lead to mood and energetic imbalances like constant fatigue and irritability, which is no good for you, your partner, or the baby.

The following are foods that can cause blood sugar imbalances (and other wellness concerns) and should be avoided or reduced for optimal reproductive wellness:

  • All grains including...

    • Wheat

    • Rye

    • Oats

    • Rice (both brown and white)

    • Teff

    • Spelt

    • Amaranth

    • Tapioca

  • Reduced fat dairy

  • Sweeteners including…

    • Calorie-free sweeteners (both artificial and natural)

    • Sugar (white, brown, and raw cane)

    • Agave

    • Corn syrup

  • Coffee

  • Sweet fruit juices

  • Pop, including the zero or low-calorie options

  • Alcohol

Just Say No to Drugs

I’m not saying all prescription drugs are the devil. Many are extremely important for people’s health and wellbeing, and I am so grateful they exist. Furthermore, I’m certainly not going to ask you to go off any prescription drugs you might be on. That’s a conversation you need to have with our primary care physicians and specialists. But DO have that conversation!

Ask them lots and lots of questions, and talk to them, a naturopath, or another integrative healthcare practitioner about some of the more natural ways you can deal with the symptoms you’re trying to work on. There are often incredibly powerful natural alternatives that help balance your body without the long term ramifications and side effects so prevalent in prescription drugs.

I won’t go into too much detail about it here because every drug is different, but there are, as I’m sure you know, a tonne of side effects with prescription drugs that often lead to long-term imbalances and dysfunction. These imbalances and dysfunctions could be keeping you from getting pregnant, or if you do conceive, could lessen the potential success of your pregnancy and threaten the health and wellbeing of your child.

Really explore other options if you’re looking for reproduce success, and like I said, don’t be afraid to ask the nitty-gritty. This is your body and you need to take charge of it! I encourage you not to just sit back and let someone else make your health decisions for you by hastily writing you a prescription.

In the meantime, also take a look at some over-the-counter drugs you could possibly do without…

  • Instead of NSAIDs like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, try turmeric, which can be found in capsule form

  • Instead of antacids, eat in a calm and relaxed state, sip on some apple cider vinegar water, and follow the other digestive health suggestions above

  • Instead of cold and flu medications, try natural healers like ginger, lemon, Echinacea, and diffusing or inhaling eucalyptus oil for sinus congestion

  • Instead of antibiotics, try garlic and/or oil of oregano – two of the most potent antibacterial, antifungals known

Lessen Your Toxic Load

One reason to avoid the above mentioned drugs is the toxic burden they put on your liver and body in general.

Other things that can cause toxicity include…

  • Synthetic household cleaners and laundry detergents

  • Non-natural bath and beauty products

  • Non-natural cosmetics

  • Synthetic candles

  • Synthetic perfumes

  • Smoke (cigarettes and other)

  • Mould

  • Stress

  • Bad people

I know the last one might seem like a joke, but it’s true. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “toxic person” before, and it’s something that’s extremely important to pay attention to. Negative, judgmental, soul-sucking people are just as bad for your body, your reproductive health, and the health of your future child as anything else! So while you’re purging all the other junk in your life, don’t forget to bid adieu to the bad eggs in your social and work scenes as well.   

I also threw stress in general on the list because the processes your body experiences when dealing with stress actually causes significant toxic buildup in your system. Chronic stress can have almost the exact same effect on your cells as chronic exposure to chemicals!  

Mould is tricky because it’s hard to detect and sometimes even harder to treat, but as you ready your body for baby, also ready your home. Pay that extra cash to have your house checked for mould, and if it’s detected, remove it immediately!

Mould toxicity can cause number of issues including:

  • Respiratory illness

  • Immune depletion

  • Mental and emotional imbalances

  • Cognitive dysfunction

  • Increased risk of developing foods sensitivities and allergies in general

And then the rest of the list is comprised of potential toxic substances that actually have some really good natural and clean alternatives. You can purchase, or even make yourself, non-toxic household cleaners, laundry soaps, bath and beauty products, cosmetics, perfumes, and candles.

An important element of the toxin-conversation is detoxification from years of toxic exposure and build up.  I am definitely not suggesting you partake in an intense “cleanse” or detox when trying to conceive, and especially not while pregnant. That could be extremely dangerous for you and your baby! 

Instead, here are a few gentle methods of ridding your body of toxins on a daily or weekly basis:

  • Sip on warm lemon water in the morning when you wake up

  • Dry brush massage before your showers

  • Oil pull to remove toxins and junk from your teeth and gums

  • Go to an infrared sauna once or twice a week (not while pregnant though, just leading up to conception)

  • Try a castor-oil pack over your liver (once again, not while pregnant, just while you’re readying your body for conception)

  • Practice yoga

  • Sleep

 

Don’t Skip on Sleep

 That last one is probably the most important tip in the bunch. And possibly the most important tip of this entire post!

Sleep is the number one thing we can do for your health and wellness. Adequate sleep balances our hormones, reduces blood sugar spikes, decreases stress, increases libido, improves immune function, increases cognition…the list is endless.

I know it’s often said that everyone needs different amounts of sleep, and I agree with that, but when trying to conceive be diligent to get your 8-9 hours each night, going to bed BEFORE midnight. In all honesty you should do it if only because once baby comes you will wish for the days when that was an option.

Power down at least an hour before your hip the pillow. This means no phones, no computers, even no TV before bed. The light from electronic devices messes with your circadian rhythms and can keep you up, or even if you are able to fall asleep, can lessen the quality of that rest.

More things you can do to help get better shuteye: 

  • Avoid high carb snacks close to bedtime

  • Sleep in clean sheets washed (you guess it) with non-toxic laundry detergent

  • Sleep in a dark quiet room, not too hot, no too cold

  • Diffuse some calming and relaxing essential oils in your bedroom before heading to bed, and even dab on a drop or two behind your ears and on your wrists

  • Before bed, lie with your legs up against a wall for a few minutes to lower cortisol levels in your body

You can also try the 4-7-8 method of breathing: 

  • Breath in for the count of 4 through your nose

  • Hold for the count of 7

  • Exhale for the count of 8 through your mouth with your tongue gently pressing again the top of your teeth where they met your gums.

Avoid over-the-counter or prescription sleep aids, and even strong natural supplements like melatonin, which can effect your hormone balance. Instead try magnesium, phosphatidylserine, or even some chamomile tea. Remember though, that even these more gentle sleep-aids can still have an effect on your body and should be taken in moderation and with mindfulness.

When you wake up in the morning, try not to reach for your phone right away. In fact, I suggest sleeping with you phone on airplane mode to reduce the effects of the electric magnetic frequencies from the WiFi.

Take some deep breaths, stretch, and create a meaningful morning routine that brings you back into consciousness with ease and joy.

 

Eat Like Your Ancestors

There’s a reason us humans have survived for as long as we have. We’re smart! Well more accurately, our bodies are smart (yes I know I’m sounding like a broken record at this point). We’ve experimented with foods and beverages for hundreds of thousands, even millions of years, and certain foods time and time again, across generations and civilizations, across land and sea, have proven to be integral to the expansion of our species…in other words, reproductive success!

The most nourishing ancestral and traditional foods:

  • Animals fats

  • Organ meats

  • Bone marrow

  • Bone broth

  • Eggs (mostly the yolks)

  • Fermented foods like raw sauerkraut and kefir

  • Fresh seafood

  • Leafy green vegetables

 All of these foods are high in a number of nutrients necessary for reproduce health including B-group vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), collagen, minerals, pro and pre-biotics, folate, and iron. 

Eat only whole foods (no processed crap), and as best as you can eat in season, from local sources to ensure maximum nutrient density and vitality. I always recommend to anyone, no matter what their wellness goals, avoid foods that have been sprayed or grown in unfertile soil. So either get to know your local farms, or seek out trusted organic foods.

Of course, if consuming any meat, bones, dairy or eggs, make sure they’re coming from pastured or wild animals – basically as naturally raised as you can possibly find! This is especially important for organ meats, which often take the brunt of the toxins the animal is ingesting and creating when pumped with drugs, hormones, and kept in confined stressful situations.   

I also encourage you to look into your own unique family history. Where you come from can say a lot about the kinds of foods that with help or harm your body. People with Asian or African linages actually have better enzymes to break down carb-rich and starchy foods like rice and tubers. People from a more northern climate and with European lineage will do much better on high fat, moderate protein diets.  

23andme.com can be a good start for figuring these things out. As can a long chat with your grandparents, which will likely provide you with plenty of valuable information on reproductive health as well (our elders often really know what they’re talking about).

 

Get Your Vitamin D

Sunshine on skin. It’s the best way to get it. End of discussion

OK, I now that there are valid concerns about the potential harms of sun exposure, but without getting into a skin-cancer from sunshine or sunscreen debate (which there are many), I will say that slathering yourself with chemical-laden lotions is never the answer. This falls into our “lessening the toxic load” conversation, and should be avoided like all the other unnatural things you might be putting on your skin. Just a friendly reminder that skin is an organ and extremely absorptive, so whatever you put on it directly goes into your bloodstream and throughout your body.

But back to vitamin D…

This article here reports that “Compared to women who took 400 IU of vitamin D daily, those who took 4,000 IU were half as likely to develop gestational diabetes, pregnancy-related high blood pressure, or preeclampsia…They were also less likely to give birth prematurely.” Like so many things, we are bioindividuals, and our vitamin D needs will vary from person to person, but many doctors are now suggesting at least 4,000 IU and up to 10,000 IU a day. That’s a lot.

Once again, you can (and should) get this from actual sunlight on bare skin, but can also supplement with high quality vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) drops, or even certain foods. High quality fermented cod liver oil, liver, egg yolks, and animal fats, as I mentioned earlier, can provide substantial amounts of bioavailable vitamin D.  

However, you must have your blood levels checked before you begin any supplementation program, and it is important that you order the correct test. There are two tests with very similar names, so don't be confused. They are 1,25(OH)D and 25(OH)D. The correct test is 25(OH)D, also called 25-hydroxyvitamin D.

Seek Help From Herbs  

I’ve discussed some foods you should include and avoid, but herbs can be extremely powerful and incredibly beneficial for your fertility and reproductive health in general.

That being said, I strongly encourage you consult with a qualified herbalist, midwife, or doctor before taking any herbs during pregnancy.

If your healthcare practitioner approves, some herbs can be very beneficial for your reproductive wellness…

Red Raspberry Leaf

  • A well-known fertility herb that is also beneficial during pregnancy

  • A uterine tonic, anti-abortive, and helps prevent infection

  • Aids in preventing cramps and anemia

  • Prevents excessive bleeding during and after labour and will facilitate the birth process by stimulating contractions

Peppermint

  • After the first trimester, may be used to help digestion, soothe the stomach and overcome nausea

  • An all-over body strengthener and cleanser.

Nettle Leaf

  • Contains vitamin K and can guard against excessive bleeding

  • Has a very high mineral content. It contains lots of chlorophyll and is nourishing to the adrenals and kidneys

  • Helps reduce stress and is a powerful uterine tonic

Dandelion

  • Contains vitamins A and C as well as trace minerals

  • The root is beneficial to the liver and the leaf is mildly diuretic

  • Can help cleanse the body and remove toxins

Alfalfa

  • Has vitamins A, D, E and K and 8 digestive enzymes

  • Contains trace minerals and vitamin K

Red Clover

  • Has a very high vitamin content and contains almost every trace mineral

  • It has been known to help balance hormones and restore fertility

Maca

  • A hormone balancing herb that is known throughout the world for its fertility and vitality promoting properties

  • Good for both men and women to increase fertility, though women should only take between menstruation and ovulation and discontinue to make sure it is not taken during pregnancy

  • It is a very potent herb that often has very noticeable effects on fertility

Vitex/Chaste Tree Berry

  • Nourishes the pituitary gland and helps lengthen the luteal phase

  • It lowers prolactin and raises progesterone. For some women, this alone will increase fertility