Are you trying to conceive? Are you obsessively checking the hashtag #TTC, charting your ovulation, and buying pregnancy tests in bulk?
If you’re reading this article, chances you’ve been having a lot of horizontal time with your partner (eh hem), because you are trying to conceive a baby. I’m a family physician, which means I see patients at every age and stage of their lives. I give advice to 20-year-olds with painful menstrual cramps, help 70-year-olds who are having trouble sleeping, and counsel women who are trying to conceive. I’m also an integrative physician, which means I take a whole-person, natural-minded approach to health issues, which can really help when women are trying to conceive.
Integrative Say What?
If you’re new here, you might never have heard the term “integrative medicine” (also called “functional medicine”) before. Integrative medicine combines the best of conventional western medicine with the best of other health practices, including nutritional counseling, acupuncture, and chiropractic. So instead of prescribing a pharmaceutical drug to a woman who is trying to conceive, an integrative family physician or an integrative obstetrician- gynecologist will first try to uncover the root causes of infertility. Once we know what those root causes of infertility are, we can heal the body without medication that may have harmful side effects. Serophene, also known as Clomid, is an oral medication that stimulates ovulation and is what most conventional medical doctors immediately prescribe. But for integrative doctors our first go-to is to solve the problem of trying to conceive with natural methods.
The conventional approach: costly and increasingly expensive and invasive treatments, starting with pharmaceuticals and moving on to IVF (in vitro fertilization).
The integrative approach: The healthier you and your partner are pre-conception, the more likely you will be able to conceive, carry to term, have a healthy birth, and have a healthy baby. Start with nutritional and lifestyle changes. If those don’t work, then turn to pharmaceutical help.
The Problem With Infertility In America
If the popularity of fairytale princess movies is any indication, a girl waits her whole life to grow up, marry her Prince Charming, and start a royal family of her very own. But unfortunately, for many Cinderellas, conception doesn’t actually happen right away, if at all. No matter how many times we stand on our head, how long we’ve charted our cycle, or how hard we stare at that life-changing stick, our princess powers fail us month after month.
Infertility, defined by the CDC as not being able to conceive a baby after one year of trying, affects about 10% of American women ages 15-44. When you are trying to conceive and not able to, you feel like the world is full of smiling moms holding babies in their arms. But think of this statistic another way: Over six million women in America are having difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant at any given time. You feel like a failure, you’re devastated every time a pregnancy test comes back negative, but you are not alone.
So what can you do to be healthier while you are trying to conceive?
Avoid these 5 toxins when you're trying to conceive
1. GMO-Food free.
Ditch the genetically modified foods. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have not been properly tested for human consumption and studies show they decrease sperm count, and may cause sterility, infertility, miscarriages, and spontaneous abortions. The herbicides and pesticides sprayed on these plants cannot be washed off and may also cause sterility, infertility, sexual dysfunction and hormone disruption. Studies done by the Italians, Austrians, and Russians confirm that GMOs act as birth control, cause DNA incompatibility between mates, and impair DNA function between a mother and fetus.The easiest way to (almost entirely) avoid GMO food is to eat organically grown fruits and vegetables and skip processed and package junk food.
2. No Fat/Low Fat
Say YES to healthy fats.If you’re trying to conceive, now is NOT the time to go on a “No Fat/Low Fat” diet. Eating a low fat diet has been linked to decreased fertility. Fat gets a bad rap but don’t be fooled: the truth is that good fats are essential for making and baking a healthy baby.Pass on the daily helpings of fried foods and the potato chips, for sure, but add coconuts, avocados, walnuts, and organic, pastured butter to your diet.
Skip the stress. Reading this article right now may be stressing you out. Research shows that stress can lower a man’s sperm count and disrupt the hormones needed to make his equipment function properly. It’s worse for women: Women who work more than 32 hours a week are less likely to conceive and 30% of women who visit infertility clinics have some form of anxiety or depression. To increase your chances of conception, avoid stress like a bad hair day.
4. Chemicals like 1,4-Dioxane and Quarternium-15
Kick the chemicals out of your life.This is much harder than it sounds. Chances are your bathroom, kitchen, and laundry room are teaming with chemicals you don’t realize are toxic: conventional cleaning products (which will poison you or your baby if they are accidentally swallowed); cosmetics that contain quarternium-15, a preservative that actually off-gasses formaldehyde; and hair relaxers and baby soaps tainted with1,4-Dioxane, a petroleum-derived carcinogen found in over 90% of hair relaxers and 57% of baby soaps even though it’s not listed on the ingredients.There are over 80,000 chemicals used in everyday products that have never been tested for safety in humans; many of the chemicals that have been tested are known endocrine disruptors, which can directly interfere with the hormone magic needed to get and stay pregnant. Read the labels on everything in your home, including soaps, shampoos, laundry detergents, toothpaste (yes, toothpaste!), personal skin care products, and cleaners. If you can’t pronounce or recognize the ingredients, they are likely to be poisonous. Toss them in the trash, which will make you feel less stressed (See #3). Then enjoy some horizontal time with your partner to celebrate.
Abandon the antibiotics. Antibiotics can alter the friendly flora of the vagina and increase a woman’s chance of getting bacterial vaginosis or a vaginal candida infection. Just like fresh water fish can’t swim in a salt-filled ocean, your man’s sperm can’t swim in a hostile vagina. Most antibiotics have not been shown to be safe for a developing baby. As my colleague Aviva Romm, M.D., explains in this post, don’t take em’ if you don’t need em’ and look for alternatives if you’re trying to conceive.
It’s hard. It can be discouraging. It may seem like every one of your friends (and her sister) is getting pregnant when a guy so much as looks in her direction. But these lifestyle improvements won’t just help you conceive, they’ll help you feel happier, healthier, and more grounded. Your turn will come, mama-to-be. Soon you’ll be holding your own little prince or princess in your arms.