Like so many women, I spent my twenties trying to avoid pregnancy. I wanted to travel, I wanted to get my degree, I wanted to stay out late and wake up late—all without the responsibility of raising tiny beautiful humans. For my partner and I, the rhythm method proved to be very effective–we never had an unplanned pregnancy. My plan worked!
But once I turned 35, we were ready to start a family and…surprise, surprise we did not get pregnant right away. A few cycles went by and I quickly realized if we were going to conceive we needed to do more than simply ‘rolling around in the sheets’.
Infertility is defined as not being able to get pregnant after one year of trying (or six months if you’re 35 or older). Today, about 15 percent of couples are unable to get pregnant.
Don’t let the “I” word be a scarlet letter for you. Actually, don’t even identify with it. Look at it this way: your body was designed to have a baby. Everything about your body says baby–from your wind-blown hair to your shapes and curves to your beautifully designed reproductive organs–for lack of a better term, you are a baby making machine.
In many cases, infertility is a sign that your body forgot how to conceive. It’s a temporary state, not a permanent state. How many people do you know had a surprise pregnancy after having to do IVF? The body was awoken! The instincts came back. The hormones balanced.
Not all cases of not-getting-pregnant are actual, diagnosable physical problems. Heck, even women with diagnosable problems have unplanned pregnancies all the time (Have you ever watched I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant?). Many couples have unexplained infertility–on paper everything looks fine. What I found is you can awaken the body’s natural instinct to conceive by gently restoring your body’s nutrients and balancing your hormones–without having to do the invasive (and expensive) methods to assist in conception.
Certainly many people find great success with IVF or assisted reproductive technologies (ART). But there are downsides too. Not only is the cost an impediment to many, and the drugs have side effects, but scientists have found that the risk of serious complications at birth (such as stillbirth, preterm delivery, low birth weight and neonatal death) are twice as likely for babies conceived through assisted reproductive methods (like IVF and ICSI). And children conceived through in vitro fertilization may be twice as likely to have autism as those conceived without assistance.
I’m not a doctor–consider me more of a girlfriend. I will share with you what I did, what worked for me, and obviously use your own common sense. Talk over your concerns with your doctor, discussions are great!
Know Your Cycle
The first step to boosting your fertility is connecting with your body by learning about, and charting your cycle. I’m surprised when a woman who is trying to conceive (TTC) doesn’t know what cycle day she is on. Not that we should obsess on every detail, but a general knowledge of your cycle is important when ttc. There are so many great apps these days that make charting your menstrual cycle just a click away, but even just an old-fashioned calendar works amazing.
The first day of your period is the first day of bleeding, including spotting. That is cycle day 1. For a woman with a 28 day cycle, she may ovulate around cycle day 14, and would be fertile for cycle days 10-15 approximately. It is recommended to have sex on alternate days for optimal sperm count (not every day, which could reduce sperm count).
When listening to your body you can pay attention to your changing cervical mucus, as this is an important indicator of fertility. After menstruation ceases there may be a few days of sticky, dry mucus. After that the mucus begins to thin and stretch, becoming to stretchiest near the days of ovulation. Once ovulation has occurred, your mucus returns to its sticky, dry state.
Some women may even feel ovulation! Once I started paying closer attention to my body, I would feel a small, pinchy sharp pain on one side of my uterus area about half way through my cycle, and it wasn’t PMS. This is called mittelschmerz, German for “middle pain”, which is the sensation felt as the egg is released during ovulation. This would also be a good indication for trying for that baby!
Increase Your Cervical Mucus
Sorry in advance but I have to be blunt, there’s no other way to do this: Ok, so have you noticed the stringy, stretchy stuff that falls out of your vagina when you’re sitting on the toilet about midway through your cycle? This is your fertile cervical mucus, and you are going to want this. This is what carries the sperm directly to your precious ovum.
Ordinarily the vagina is an inhospitable environment for sperm. The cervical mucus our body creates has just the right slippery consistency, and increases the pH so it won’t kill or damage sperm. If you don’t have it, you’re gonna want to get it.
“The acidic pH of the vagina that fights bacteria and excess yeast can weaken and even kill sperm. It is during ovulation that surges in luteinizing hormone (LH) and an increase in cervical mucus cause pH to move into the 7-14 range, or more alkaline.” (link)
Evening Primrose Oil will increase your egg white cervical mucus (EWCM). Evening Primrose Oil is a good source of omega-6 fatty acids gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and linoleic acid (LA). It has so many benefits: balance hormones, reduce PMS symptoms, and is nourishing to your skin and hair. Note that Evening Primrose Oil should only be taken from menstruation to ovulation, as EPO may cause uterine contractions. The dosage taken should be 1500mg to 3000mg per day.
If you don’t see a lot of EWCM you can also use a lubricant that mimics cervical mucus. Specially formulated sperm-friendly lubricants like Pre-Seed is similar in pH, ion concentration and consistency to our own cervical mucus. Other natural options include olive oil, coconut oil, and even egg whites.
Cod Liver Oil
Cod Liver Oil contains large amounts of vitamin A, D, and omega-3 fatty acids which are essential for optimal fertility for both the mom-to-be and the daddy-to-be.
For women, studies have shown that these essential fatty acids, found in cod liver oil and fish oils, support healthy fertility, proper formation of your baby’s nervous system, brain, eyes and heart. Cod Liver Oil also regulates hormones in the body, increases cervical mucous, promotes ovulation and improves the quality of the uterus by increasing the blood flow to the reproductive organs.
Mothers who took cod liver oil everyday in pregnancy and 3 months postpartum while breastfeeding, had more intelligent children at four years old than mothers who did not. There is some conflicting information about whether cod liver oil supplementation should continue during pregnancy. For an interesting read, check out Holistic Squid.
Intake of Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have benefits in men as well, including increasing sperm count and motility. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) like DHA and AA are the dominant essential fatty acid components of the brain, and it is hypothesized that the high concentrations of PUFAs in sperm have a biological effect on intelligence:
“It is likely that DHA metabolism has been conserved over evolutionary time in both sperm and neurons due to its superior efficiency and flexibility in interacting with membrane proteins, providing superior speed and fluidity in coordinated activities such as vesicular traffic of neurotransmitters, and signal transduction via lipid raft assembly.”
Other sources of Omega-3 fatty acids include halibut, salmon, sardines, tuna, eggs, milk, yogurt, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, kale, spinach, broccoli and cauliflower.
Perhaps the holy grail of all natural fertility boosters in my opinion may have to be Vitex. I told about five girlfriends of mine who were struggling to conceive to take Vitex and Evening Primrose Oil, and they all conceived. Some had undergone previous IVF, IUI (intrauterine insemination) or had been trying to conceive for a year. They all, including me, had success with this regimen. This has helped countless women, and I believe it can help countless more.
Vitex, also known as chasteberry, has been used for centuries as an herbal medicine. It is one of the most popular herbal remedies for PMS and cramps and helps balance the ratio of estrogen to progesterone. The herb helps especially for women who may have a luteal phase defect, by increasing the secretion of luteinizing hormone (LH), which in turn increases progesterone and lengthens the short luteal phase. Vitex may also prevent miscarriage.
Vitex should be taken once in the morning on an empty stomach before breakfast, about 900-1000 mg a day. It can be taken up to three months into your pregnancy, or you can stop taking it sooner as well.
I suspected I had low progesterone because I would start spotting a few days before my menstruation would kick in. Once I started taking vitex, this shortened the days of spotting, which at some points in my life would be as long as 7 days. No gynecologist found anything wrong with me on paper, but within a few cycles of taking vitex, along with all my other suggestions, I got my Big Fat Positive (BFP).
This one I didn’t try, but maca is a root vegetable from the Peruvian Andes Mountains with a long history of promoting fertility, endurance, energy, vitality and sexual virility.
In women, maca helps the body to balance estrogen and progesterone levels. In men, maca has been demonstrated to be effective for male fertility, enhancing sperm motility, enhancing male libido, strength, and endurance.
In one study, maca was given to female and male rats and it was found that the females had multiple egg follicle maturation (important for ovulation), and the males had significantly higher sperm production and motility rates.
Maca is not recommended to take during pregnancy, therefore it is advised to take it up until ovulation. The recommended dose is 500-3000 mg per day.
You should NOT take maca if you have an allergy to iodine, Hashimoto’s, or experience thyroid nodules or growths, as it contains significant amounts of iodine. You should also be cautious with maca if you are androgen sensitive, in the case of some expressions of PCOS.
Just remember to take it easy and enjoy the process, as stress can have a negative impact on fertility. Take a yoga class, go for walks, play a musical instrument, take an art class. Enjoy the fun parts of ttc. Wine and dine and have fun. Be good to yourself, eat nourishing foods, and rebalance all parts of your mind and body.