As a hormonal health coach and functional hormone specialist, I see a lot of people in my practice who want to get pregnant and desire to know what to do to help them conceive successfully. As I am writing this article, I consider myself in my preconception phase as well. So it feels really close to my heart to be writing about fortifying and nourishing fertility.
Contrary to popular belief, there is more to fertility than just quitting hormonal contraceptives and going on trying. As with many things in our Western society, we have moved so far away from the cyclical nature of our bodies, and thus also the understanding that we live in a cyclical continuum in our bodies. What does this mean? It means that everything we do with our bodies in the years that we do not want to get pregnant, has an impact on how our bodies will respond in the years that we do desire to get pregnant.
Nourishing our fertility happens on various levels, and one of the most important things I tell my clients, is to allow themselves time. Very often, many of us remain on hormonal contraceptives until the moment we want to get pregnant. I hate to break the news to you but these products are the ultimate endocrine disruptor; meaning that they disrupt our natural ebbs and flows of our own hormones more than anything. They also deplete our bodies from vital nutrients. This is not the most fertile space we can create in our bodies. Therefore, I always recommend: Take. Your. Time. I recommend a minimum of 3 months - but ideally 6 months to a year!- to prepare your body to conceive. I also want to add that this counts for female as well as male fertility! Often there is a focus on the women, and we seem to forget men in this process - but they still bring 50% percent contribution. So all tips below are also for them (:
My 5 golden tips for radiant fertility:
+ Know your menstrual cycle
+ Heal mentally, emotionally, spiritually
+ Address physical issues and imbalances
+ Deeply nourish your body
+ Ditch endocrine disruptors
Know your menstrual cycle
In my work as a birth worker (before I became a hormonal health coach) I saw many people who felt unsafe and unsettled in their pregnant body because they simply could not relate to all the hormonal changes that their body was going through. A lot of this unsettledness can easily be taken away if we allow ourselves to get to know our bodies before we conceive. One of the ways in which I support people to do this is through menstrual cycle awareness. This is a practice where we learn about the ebbs and flows that come with living in a cyclical body – we learn about the four phases of the menstrual cycle and the emotional/physical/mental characteristics that come with each phase. If we know what the healthy baseline is for each menstrual cycle phase, it is easier to detect a symptom or an issue that maybe isn’t so “normal” for that particular cycle phase.
And besides that, I teach people how to chart their fertility: this means that you track your basal body temperature, your cervical fluid and your cervix position. These three are called primary fertility markers and we can write them down in a paper chart or an app - after one whole cycle a graph of your entire cycle can be seen and through this chart we can gain a lot of information about which areas we may want to seek healing.
Heal mentally, emotionally, spiritually
When there are any blocks in the body in any of these areas, this may disrupt or block your body’s creative force. I deeply recommend addressing old trauma or hurt, and receive support to release them for your system. One of the greatest practices here is forgiveness. When we hold on to hurt and rigidity, this prevents our body from getting to a state of softness and allows it to receive more easily. When we are hurt or hold on to things, it may also cost our body a lot of energy. Ideally, we want to be able to come to a state of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’ when we want to conceive. I also recommend people to access a dreamspace where they can lovingly start imagining what pregnancy and life with a child may be like. A moment where we may naturally have access to this dreamspace is when we are on our period, when we naturally are more withdrawn.
Address physical issues and imbalances
Our menstrual cycle is a vital sign of health and a perfect barometer that shows us valuable information about our overall health status. If something is up in our menstrual cycles or hormones, this is often the last resort when it comes to our symptoms. Before a hormonal symptom shows, there are issues that have been going on down the line; this could be liver issues, gut issues, blood sugar issues or other issues.
It’s vital that before we even start thinking about getting pregnant, we address all issues going on in our menstrual cycle, because the quality and experience of our menstrual cycle (and most importantly: our ovulation! Which is the most important event of our cycle) determine our experience of conception, pregnancy, birth and postpartum.
Issues I recommend to address before conceiving are things like: period pain or discomfort, anovulatory cycles, PCOS, thyroid issues, metabolic issues like blood sugar imbalances, low libido, etc.
Deeply nourish your body
In our Western society, many people become pregnant while they are actually already depleted. A lot of us also have distorted views of what “healthy” really means; because health comes with trends rather than simply looking at what a body needs physiologically to be vitally fertile. In many cases, micronutrient status (vitamin and mineral levels) are barely checked or addressed before pregnancy; however, there is a lot of evidence that many pregnancy related issues (also miscarriage) can be traced back to something as simple as nutrient deficiencies. This is why fortifying (building up adequate amounts of nutrients) in the body is so vitally important before we conceive, so we have the leverage to conceive and sustain a pregnancy.
I am a big fan of functional nutrition and ancestral ways of eating – this means that I support nutrient-dense ways of eating that also involve animal based products. My guiding principle here is to ask ourselves “Do I think I have a healthy body? Or do I have a fertile body?”. What healthy means has gone through so many transformations over the last 20-30 years. And I believe it is important to go back to basics: what ensured that our ancestors could procreate and what wisdom is there in the needs of our physiology when it comes to fortifying our body for fertility? This may be very contrary to popular belief, but in my practice, I see the greatest results for conception when people return to ancestral simple ways of nourishing themselves.
Ditch endocrine disruptors
The last thing I’d like to address is that a lot of things in our environment as well as the products we use are full of endocrine disrupting chemicals. This simply means that these chemicals have a negative effect on how our physiology related to our hormones expresses itself. I would like everyone who is trying or wanting to conceive to critically examine their cupboards, shampoo, soaps, detergent, makeup, skin care products, menstrual care products and use of plastics. A lot of hormone-friendly products can be found here at Nourished.
Some of my favorites at Nourished:
Iris is a certified Holistic Cycle Guide, Hormonal Health Coach and Birth Worker with an academic background in medical anthropology & women's studies. She also qualified in holistic women's health, traditional midwifery practices, and trauma informed coaching. Her work revolves around our menstrual and life cycles from periods to postpartum. In all her work, the main focus lies on getting to know our bodies (gaining body literacy), sharing tools to make informed body choices and cultivating a sense of body belonging throughout all changes and cycles our bodies move through.
She holds space for people to come home to themselves through embracing their bodies and cycles, healing cycle imbalances through proven nutrition & lifestyle changes, practicing cyclical living and being in flow with their cycles instead of going against them. Iris supports cyclical beings through online coaching, courses & classes, circles and retreats.
You can find more about Iris and her work on www.cycleseeds.com // @cycleseeds
+ Awakening Fertility: The Essential Art of Preparing for Pregnancy by Heng Ou, Amely Greeven and Marisa Belger