Maybe you’re reading this on a phone that also holds your dating apps. Or maybe you’re just starting a relationship, or have been in one for years, but nonetheless, pregnancy and fertility feel like an ocean away. Great, this is just the article for you then. Because even in you are two, five, or even 10 years from toying with the idea of having a baby, there are some really helpful, proactive steps to take now to empower you later down the road.
We asked an integrative obstetrician/gynecologist, a birth educator and doula, and a holistic fertility doctor about nurturing your body for the future. Read below for all the tips you, and future you, might need.
Track Your Menstrual Cycle
“Our cycles, when we get to know the nuances, can tell us if we are healthy or not, if we are going to need some extra hours of sleep or if it’s a good night to go out and be playful,” says Samantha Huggins, a birth doula, educator, and trainer at Carriage House Birth. “Having a year or two worth of data around your body’s cycle arms you with solid information should you ultimately need to seek help in getting pregnant when the time comes. Getting to know your cycle also gives you an opportunity to build an intimate relationship with yourself.”
“There are some amazing apps out there today that make it super easy to track your cycle,” says Huggins. “We recommend ones that give you the ability to track other relevant things that are part of your cycle besides how many days you bleed, like sexual activity, a lazy vs. productive day, and quality of sleep. If you aren’t into your phone having all of your secrets, you can certainly keep notes in a little calendar as well.”
Domino editors love Clue and Planned Parenthood’s super easy to use body-tracking app Spot On. With both, You can take note of your period, mood, sexual activity, and body. And it’s designed in a super fun, interactive way that almost makes it feel like a game. And it’s incredibly easy to view exactly what you’re body has been doing in the last weeks and months, and acts as a resource, answering questions on all things women and our bodies.
Testing, Testing (This Thing On?)
“For most of us, just getting timely pap smears, STD tests, and physicals (aka keeping track of our bodies and our health) are some of the greatest pieces of information we can gather for ourselves over time,” says Huggins. “But for those of us who are really curious about their fertility, and want to start planning ahead, there are tests, like AMH test (anti-mullerian hormone) that can give you a sense of how many viable eggs you have.
“But getting those sorts of answers are just pieces to a bigger puzzle. It’s fine to be 25 and fertile but if you aren’t planning to have a baby before 32, then a positive result 10 years earlier shouldn’t be the last say. However, your OB or midwife can direct you to a fertility specialist if you think you might want help making decisions about whether or not you will be freezing eggs for the future.”
“But, if there is no particular reason to suspect a problem, testing may actually cause unnecessary anxiety that can diminish fertility,” says Dr. Eden Fromberg, an integrative obstetrician/gynecologist, holistic women’s health specialist, and osteopathic clinical professor. “There is an entire industry arising to capitalize on women’s fears about this. Testing directed towards biochemical markers that can inspire healthy lifestyle choices in a more general sense will optimize long-term fertility. Of course, if a woman has irregular periods or suspects a problem, testing can be pursued any time.”
Pay Attention to Your Body
“It’s beyond important to have a relationship with your body and learn its language,” says Huggins. “From little girls, many of us are taught that our bodies are mysterious. But our bodies are constantly trying to communicate with us and tell us if they are healthy or not. Paying attention to and having an open line of communication with your body will help you to develop a much needed trust with your body, which is a crucial part of any fertility journey, whether the end game is to get pregnant in seven years or to never have a child.”
Build Relationships With Your Doctors
“It’s incredibly valuable to build good relationships with your care providers,” says Huggins. “It matters if you don’t like your OB or midwife, even if you only see them once every three years. You should never feel spoken down to, or like they don’t have the time or interest to answer your questions. Should you actually need them from something more than just a quick scrape of the cervix, you will be so happy to have someone you really trust in your pocket to help guide you.”
Listen to Your Libido
“Think about your fertility as an extension of your sexuality,” says Dr. Julie Von, a holistic fertility specialist and acupuncturist. “Listen to your body and learn to read the signs of your menstrual cycle. Also, make time to connect and process any trauma that you have experienced by working with an experienced psychoanalyst, psychologist, or energy worker. Listen to your intuition, and try to respond to fear of positive action and healing. Sex drive is at the top of the list. Connecting and listening to your libido can help you get a better sense of how your hormones are functioning.”
Beware the Impact of Stress
“The general answer to all of these issues is rooted in how a person processes trauma and stress,” says Dr. Von. “People have unique coping mechanisms in their body, minds, and spirits. I tend to focus on finding my patients’ uniqueness and empowering each one of them to connect to their intuition. The point of self-care is proving the space and quietness needed to hear the whispers of your spirit.
“Because stress, especially chronic stress, produces stress hormones in our bodies such as cortisol, it is important to understand how much and for what extent a person has been living with heighten stress hormones. Stress hormones impact all other hormones in the body including the ones that impact fertility.
“Overall, a woman’s body is a powerful, adaptable and dynamic force that can respond to any stress. However, when too many types of stress, coupled with exhaustion, and life events coalesce, it can set up a perfect storm of events that can impact pregnancy. I tend to be an eternal optimist, and I look at all suffering as an opportunity for spiritual development. I have found that infertility and pregnancy is the most magnificent opportunity for radical change and upleveling.”
“I think one of the biggest challenges young modern women face in terms of their fertility is accelerated stress,” agrees Dr. Fromberg. “The stressful demands placed on women under age 35 is so great that there has been an 80 percent increase in ADD/ADHD drug prescribing, more for performance enhancement than an actual diagnosis. Mind at expense of body is unsustainable as the equation of health becomes depleted over time, something better understood by Chinese than Western medicine, in my experience, and something worth considering given the seemingly magical effect that acupuncture can often have on fertility, even in women for whom IVF has failed.”
This interestingly goes hand-in-hand with Dr. Von’s practice, which specializes in acupuncture healing for fertility troubles.
Take Care of Yourself
“Accelerated living with high-tech engagement and only short bursts of high intensity exercise depletes endocrine and nervous systems, and can have overall negative effects on breathing, heart rate, and immune function—impacting overall health, of which fertility may be first and most sensitive area to be affected,” says Dr. Fromberg. “This is in addition to an increasingly unregulated, toxic environment, and a food supply filled with exactly the hormone-disrupting chemicals known to interfere with fertility and fetal development. I don’t see how we can’t see our long term fertility as a political issue.”
Dr. Fromberg recommends:
- Eating organic, natural foods
- Eat regular meals
- Eat healthy fats, Omega 3s
- Avoid endocrine disrupting chemicals in personal care products, plastic water bottles, and consumer products
- Cultivate healthy practices, eg. dancing instead of drinking, positive social experiences offline
- Cultivate work/life balance
- Mind/body and breathing/meditation practices to re-pattern stress and emotional responses for neuroendocrine and immune health (autoimmune disease now being the second most common diagnosis in women and one that clearly interferes with fertility)
To reverse the damage, Dr. Fromberg recommends to “Start all of the above immediately and include a few months of detox and redirect such as saunas, manual and movement therapies, hot springs, pranayama, bowel, and microbiome reset.”
Environmental Working Group recommends the following as well, says Dr. Fromberg:
- Never smoke or stop immediately
- Stop all alcohol one month before trying to conceive
- Stop all caffeine before conception, if possible
- Test and watch out for mercury in fish five or 10 years in advance (“So you aren’t left finding out that you have high mercury levels a year before you want to get pregnant and have to scramble to try to get it out of your system.”)
“Pregnancy and birth are normal,” says Huggins. “Fertility and infertility are normal. Taking the time to unlearn fear of your body is important. You are not a mystery machine. And the information is out there, don’t be afraid to ask for it.”
“In western culture, we tend to see the world in too binary of a way,” says Dr. Von. “On or off, doing or not doing, trying to get pregnant or not trying, but fertility does not follow these rules. Your fertility is on a long continuum that begins with the onset of your period and ends at menopause. There are simple and profoundly effective practices which can help to protect and preserve fertility along the way.”
“For women who are single, cultivating an active and socially engaged lifestyle that you find personally fulfilling, along with making the same generally recommended nutrition and lifestyle choices will optimize fertility,” says Dr. Fromberg. “It can sometimes be difficult when a woman really wants to have a child, and feels that desire in her body, but does not feel that her lifestyle or circumstances can support that in the present moment. These are the situations in which meditation and cultivating inner awareness, via for example experiential anatomy exploration and somatic movement practices, can be supportive on all levels.
“We live in a high tech era that over-promises magical solutions to our innate biology, and exceeding our limitations to preserve our fertility by for example freezing our eggs against an unpredictable future may in fact set us back. The choice, in the end, will largely be intuitive.”
Questions for us, or the incredible doctors and educators in this story? Let us know in the comments!
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