Chances are that you are making both large and small changes to lifestyle – everything from prenatal supplements to getting regular fertility acupuncture treatments (good idea!). But from a traditional medicine approach, it’s often the simple things that help everything else work better. These are my top 5 recommendations for anyone who is trying to get pregnant – whether TTC naturally, or at any stage of the IVF process.
Sleep and how it effects your fertility
Did you know that getting less than 7 hours of sleep on a regular basis technically qualifies you as “sleep deficient”? Up to 40% of North Americans fall into this category, and to some extent feel that they are still able to function on a daily basis.
But what if you’re trying hard to improve your fertility and the chances of a healthy pregnancy? What is REALLY happening to your body when you’re not getting enough sleep?
While we’re sleeping soundly, our bodies use this time to repair cells and regulate hormones, among other regenerating processes. Leptin is a hormone that affects ovulation, and is a key link between quality of sleep and fertility. Women need to have adequate levels of leptin for ovulation, without which menstrual cycles will be disrupted. Sleep also affects other hormones including progesterone, estrogen, luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).
Additionally, new research shows that women’s stress levels are even more profoundly affected by lack of sleep than men. Studies done by Duke Medical Center found that poor sleep for women is strongly associated with high levels of psychological distress, and greater feelings of hostility, depression and anger (even more so than for men).
If you aren’t getting enough good quality sleep, there isn’t enough time for the body to do it’s nighttime reset. Eventually, it won’t matter if you are eating well or taking the right prenatal supplements – if the body is lacking in basic sleep it will cease functioning normally and instead be in a type of catch-up mode. This often plays out in such a way that the reproductive system is not given top priority by your endocrine system.
I suggest aiming to be in bed by 10pm, so that you are already asleep by 11pm. These hours pre-midnight are the key time for body systems to regenerate, and more valuable than going to bed after midnight and sleeping in late. As you start to sleep better, the levels of stress hormones such as cortisol lower to healthier levels, and your body is deeply nourished by resting.
For how to get a good rest and more on the Healing Power of Sleep.
Warm feet and fertility
We know that many nerve endings exist in the feet, but in Traditional Chinese Medicine the feet are viewed as an especially important link to the reproductive system. Three of the main energy pathways that affect ovaries and uterus originate at the base of the feet and tips of the toes. When our feet are cold, the theory is that this can can affect our pelvic area and the health of the reproductive organs. This type of “deep body” cold can show up for some women as lack of circulation, pain and negatively affect the energy of the womb.
Wearing socks or slippers and protecting the lower back and abdomen from drafts are traditional medicine choices meant to boost reproductive health. They may not be the one thing to get you pregnant, but they are meant to support everything else. Are your feet cold even with socks and slippers? Try a warm foot soak before bed – this can help circulation and is a great way to prepare for sleep.
Exercise to boost fertility
Keep active with regular movement, but don’t overdo it. If your body is already used to high levels of exercise that is usually not an issue for most women – but it may not be the time to start training for a new high endurance activity. Best bets include uterus friendly exercises such as brisk walking, swimming, yoga and belly-dance. Healthy movement helps your body release endorphins and also blow off steam if you are stressed around fertility.
Keep in mind that some high impact exercise can actually impact the optimum position of the uterus and overstretch the hardworking ligaments that are holding it in place. Although a displaced uterus does not usually prevent someone from getting pregnant, for some women it may be less than ideal.
Any overly excessive exertion means your body is forced to dedicate its resources to keeping you in healthy balance – sometimes at the expense of other bodily functions (such as reproduction).
Cutting out caffeine and alcohol
This is one area that can be difficult for some women. Does caffeine interfere with your fertility? Maybe. Much research has been done on this topic, and although study results are mixed – most doctors now suggest limiting caffeine when trying to conceive. For women who are having trouble getting pregnant, omitting caffeine may be the necessary next step in the process. Studies show caffeine intake can affect the time it takes to get pregnant and also impact the ability to stay pregnant.
How TCM sees caffeine and alcohol
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, coffee becomes a “yang” force in the body, and can increase “heat” (and not the good kind of heat that keeps your core warm). In physiological terms this means it temporarily increases metabolism, speeds up heart rate and increases blood pressure. While “yang” is certainly a necessary energy, intake of such substances must be carefully balanced, and not allowed to override the delicate systems that regulate fertility.
If you must have one coffee, make it a small morning coffee that won’t interfere with sleep. Craving a pick-me-up in the afternoon? Try a double-mint tea: doubling the peppermint tea bags will give you a fresh, rejuvenating hot drink that smells great and perks you up without caffeine overload.
Like caffeine, alcohol in TCM is also a source of “yang” and but also “damp heat” in the body. This can have an even more adverse affect on fertile health. Whether you are trying to conceive or to resolve other issues such as endometriosis, it is best to avoid alcohol entirely while working towards your goal.
Castor oil packs for reproductive health
Castor oil packs are a traditional way to help eliminate toxins and increase healthy flow of blood and lymph in the abdomen and pelvic areas. This simple method may help with issues that involve congestion and lack of circulation (such as fibroids, ovarian cysts and scarring).
How do castor oil packs work?
Research has shown castor oil to have a unique chemical profile. It is rich in ricinoleic acid, which is found only in the castor bean from which the oil is extracted. Studies demonstrate an increase in lymphocyte production and increased levels of activity of T-cell lymphocytes with use of castor oil packs. In addition to strengthening the immune system, castor oil appears to have a balancing effect on the autonomic nervous system, increasing liver activity and improving digestion.
A castor oil pack can be used over your uterus or over your liver, and may be helpful in cases of menstrual cramping, fibroids, polyps and endometriosis. Wherever there is congestion, scar tissue and decreased blood flow, this can be a gentle yet effective home remedy.
Curious about Fertility Acupuncture? Get a free 15 minute consult to learn more about how this approach can help you.