Guide to Fertility & Prenatal Nutrition
Nutrition is always a priority as it contributes to optimal health at any stage of life, but when it comes to conception and pregnancy, proper nutrition is more important than ever. A balanced and nutrient-rich diet during these times will not only help to provide the right building blocks for your unborn child, it will also help to set your body up for better recovery and less stress during this momentous time. When your body has the nutrients that it needs to thrive, you’re more likely to conceive, less likely to develop disorders or have issues during pregnancy, and more likely to have an easier labor.
If you’re thinking of conceiving (even a few years from now), now is the time to start thinking about your diet, lifestyle, and environment - as these will have an effect on your fertility and will also be the first building blocks for your baby.
These tips apply to fathers too, as the man’s health is just as important for fertility.
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Balance those hormones. How balanced or imbalanced our hormones are affects how fertile we are. In both men and women, the most common cause of infertility is excess estrogen in the system. This can result from many things, most notably exposure to synthetic estrogens in our food and environment.
Decrease your toxic load. To help combat estrogen dominance, try using glass containers for all food/drinks instead of plastic, consume phytoestrogens (foods that naturally balance estrogen levels, such as flax seeds, yams, and maca), eat low glycemic foods (those that don’t spike blood sugar levels - see below), exercise daily, get 8-9 hours of sleep a night, and limit animal products that are not organic, grass-fed, or pasture-raised.
Move stagnant Qi Acupuncture has also been shown to benefit those dealing with infertility as it can help to balance hormones as well as dissipate the stagnant energy that may be creating blocks in the reproductive organs. Circulation is a key element of fertility.
Try yoni steaming. Steaming helps to improve stagnation and remove old residue from the vaginal canal and womb space. If blood from the previous menstrual cycle has not been properly removed and cleansed, the body identifies it as a foreign substance. This activates muscles in the abdomen to attempt to push it out of the body. These muscle contractions result in painful cramps. Doing vaginal steams can assist the body with cleansing the uterus, speed up blood flow, and improve circulation, which enhances the body’s own cleansing mechanisms.
Adding herbs to the process can enhance the effects. Beneficial herbs for yoni steaming include: lavender, white sage, nettle, red raspberry, chamomile, dandelion, mugwort, and rose. Choose herbs that resonate with you.
*Do not steam during your period or after ovulation if you’re trying to get pregnant, or if there is excess heat in your body due to fever, hot flashes, or night sweats.
Exercise/circulation is an important component of overall health and should be encouraged both before and during pregnancy. As long as you aren’t doing anything too strenuous (such as training for a marathon or doing Olympic lifting), exercise can be highly beneficial and supportive of a healthy pregnancy. A routine should be put in place before pregnancy occurs. This will help to combat the fatigue related to pregnancy, increase endurance, and prepare the body for labor. Blood volume doubles when pregnancy occurs, which can cause blood stagnation and poor circulation. Promoting healthy circulation before pregnancy occurs will help to support blood flow, eliminating stagnation once these levels increase.
Kegels are quick, easy, and effective exercises that help strengthen the pelvic floor, which are all the muscles connected to the reproductive system. By doing these exercises, we can increase the strength of our vaginal muscles. This increases libido as well as sexual pleasure, which can help with conception. Strengthening the pelvic floor will also facilitate labor, prevent labor-related injuries, and help with post-labor recovery.
De-stress! Stress is disruptive to hormonal balance, decreases fertility, and can provide rather chaotic energy for babies’ first building blocks. Preconception can sometimes be a stressful time for couples.
Practice stress-reducing activities: yoga, meditation, massage, and journaling can help at this time. Make sure to move your body for at least 30 minutes a day to get a good dose of dopamine, serotonin, and other exercise-induced endorphins to help combat stress as well.
Herbal teas such as chamomile, lavender, and lemon balm are also great de-stressors. Drink lemon balm infusions daily to support relaxation.
Practice visualization. Begin "calling in baby." Visualization can be supported through various tools such as journaling, meditation, new moon rituals, and intention setting. Incorporate one of these practices on a weekly basis to envision and call in your baby. Believe that it’s possible and that the baby is on its way - building trust with your body can go a long way! The baby’s spirit will come through when you’re both ready.
Eat a well-balanced diet that is high in fiber, healthy fats, protein, and antioxidants as this will deliver a variety of nutrients to your body. Make sure that the majority of your diet is coming from plant-based foods, which are high in nutrients and are easier for the body to break down and absorb. Regular meals + consistent mealtimes will also help to support healthy blood sugar levels.
Focus on protein. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and also of our bodies. Protein is essential in creating a strong, healthy womb. Great options include organic pastured eggs, organic meats, small wild-caught fish, organic kefir, and organic tempeh.
Healthy fats: Include lots of healthy fats in your diet, such as cold-water fish, nuts, seeds, coconut oil, olive oil, and avocados to help fight inflammation, regulate + build hormones, and balance blood sugar levels.
It’s also helpful to clear excess yeast from your system if you know that you’re currently dealing with candida or are prone to candida. Ask a practitioner for support.
Avoid inflammatory & toxic foods. Inflammation causes stress in the body, which creates chaos for our hormones and liver, negatively affecting fertility. Inflammatory foods such as processed, high sugar foods should be eliminated or limited to special occasions for at least 6-8 weeks before you’re thinking about trying to conceive.
If you smoke or drink alcohol (future fathers, too), try to eliminate it for at least 6-8 weeks prior to conception, as this will give your body enough time to detoxify and to kick the habit, if needed.
Supportive Vitamins & Minerals
Zinc is essential for female reproductive health as it helps to balance hormonal irregularities. It’s also an antioxidant that helps to reduce damage and stress to the body, which improves health and resilience, and works toward preparing the body for pregnancy. Oysters are one of the highest food sources of zinc.
Get enough vitamin B6. While the B vitamins work synergistically and should be supplemented only as a complex, vitamin B6, in particular, helps to balance out the menstrual phase, specifically the luteal (second) phase. Vitamin B6 also supports mucus production, which is crucial for conception as it plays an active role in the sperm’s travel from the cervix to the uterus.
Women trying to conceive should take a prenatal vitamin to help ensure that the most-needed nutrients are available at the crucial moment of conception. The following add-ons can also be highly beneficial.
Omegas: Adding an omega-3 supplement or omega-3-rich foods daily has also been shown to help both men and women looking to conceive.
Try: Cod liver oil, walnuts, hemp seeds, flax seeds, wild-caught fish, pastured eggs, and natto.
Maca: If you’ve recently been told that you have PCOS, low sperm count, or irregular periods, both men and women can benefit from supplementing with the adaptogenic herb maca. Powder or capsule form is best.
Red raspberry leaf is beneficial for women having trouble conceiving as it is high in iron, manganese, and B vitamins, and has an affinity for balancing the reproductive system.
Try: Making a herbal infusion by steeping 1 ounce of raspberry leaves in a quart of just-boiled filtered water for 4-8 hours. Drink 2+ cups daily.
Once you’ve conceived, proper nutrition will help you to have a healthy pregnancy and can also be helpful in reducing some of the symptoms or disorders associated with pregnancy, such as morning sickness, low iron, gestational diabetes, and autoimmune disease flare-ups. Providing your body with the right building blocks during pregnancy can aid in labor and recovery as well.
It’s also often helpful to have your genetics tested prior to conception to find out how you can better support your individual constitution.
Once you’re pregnant
Focus on whole foods nutrition Providing your body and growing baby with all the needed nutrients doesn’t have to include a long list of supplements. All you need to do is make sure that you’re eating 3-4 meals per day thatare made up of whole foods, preferably mostly plant-based, and that include a wide range of colors. This will help ensure you’re getting enough fiber, minerals, and vitamins, all of which are needed to help support the work your body is doing growing a healthy baby.
Some key nutrients to pay attention to: calcium, magnesium, iron, the B vitamins, omega-3s, folate, and potassium. Excellent foods to add to your diet while pregnant include chia seeds for their iron and omega-3 content, kale for its folate and rich fiber, avocados for their healthy fats and vitamins, fermented foods for their probiotics and gut-healing benefits, and whole grains that are rich in fiber and B vitamins, like brown rice, lentils, and oats.
Include plenty of protein and healthy fats Eating a balanced diet with adequate amounts of protein and healthy fats helps to provide the necessary building blocks for new cell development, hormone production/balancing, and can also help prevent gestational diabetes by keeping blood sugar levels balanced. Coconut (oil, butter, and/or meat), avocados, flax seeds, chia seeds, and other types of nuts and seeds are all great choices for healthy fats. Great protein sources include quinoa, buckwheat, unprocessed soy (such as tempeh or natto), and beans and lentils.
If you choose to consume animal products, opt for free-range eggs, lean white meats, and cold-water fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel. While pregnant, ensure that any fish you’re eating is fully cooked and wild-caught, and opt for smaller, fatty, cold-water fish. This will help to keep mercury and other unwanted heavy metals at a low, manageable level.
Limit the consumption of processed foods, soft drinks, sugar, and food additives (which are often found in processed food items as well as restaurant dishes). At least 80-90% of your daily diet should be savory, consisting of a variety of vegetables, fresh lean meats, fish, eggs, high-quality dairy, and healthy fats. Honey and fruit should be limited to snacks between meals (as opposed to eaten as desserts, which is a bad practice according to the principles of proper food combining).
Probiotics + prebiotics The majority of our immune systems are developed in the gut, and, during pregnancy, having a good immune system is not only important for your body but also for your baby’s. Probiotics are “good” bacteria that inhabit the intestinal lining and vaginal canal, amongst other places. They help to ensure proper digestion and and absorption of nutrients, and provide your baby with B vitamins and vitamin K. Probiotics are vital as they help to begin building the babe’s microbiome & immunity.
Prebiotics are the food that probiotics love to eat and that keep them happy and healthy. Having a good balance of happy, healthy bacteria can help make sure that your baby has healthy immune and digestive systems, too.
Take a probiotic supplement or add probiotic-rich foods to your diet to help increase the beneficial bacteria in your system. Great sources of probiotic-rich foods include raw sauerkraut or other fermented vegetables such as kimchi, fermented dairy products (such as kefir and yogurt), and fermented soy products (such as miso, tempeh, and natto). If you consume plenty of probiotic-rich foods on a daily basis, you may not need to take supplemental probiotics. Introduce fermented foods gradually if you’re not used to them, starting with just a teaspoon or two per day and increasing to a minimum of a heaping tablespoon daily. Probiotics during pregnancy are incredibly important, so don’t skip this step!
Make sure to also stock up on some prebiotic foods, which are fiber-rich fruits and vegetables like asparagus, pears, and apples.
It’s also important to note that a vaginal birth is your baby's first exposure to good, happy, healthy bacteria, which will aid in supporting their immune system as well as their digestive system.
If a C-section is necessary, make sure to explore other ways to inoculate your newborn with healthy bacteria immediately after birth.
To counteract the effects of a sterile birth, “vaginal swabbing” or microbiome seeding has shown promising benefits in helping to partially restore the flora of C-section babes. If the doctors predict a C-section will be absolutely necessary, the procedure for vaginal swabbing can be requested. A sterile gauze is folded into a fan shape, moistened with sterile water, and inserted into the vagina. It’s then left in there to colonize for one hour. The gauze is then removed and put into a sealed bag until the baby is born. At birth, the gauze is wiped over the baby’s face to mimic the passage through the birth canal.
This process remains controversial among the medical community. While the oral and skin microbiome of the baby will be positively impacted, it has not been confirmed whether this process has long-term effects on the gut microbiome of the baby.
While critics raise valuable points, so long as the mother is tested for harmful microbes before swabbing and is confirmed negative, the process is a potentially valuable stop-gap method for when cesarean is needed.
Get quality sleep Make sure that you’re getting at least 8-9 hours of sleep per night. Your body is doing a lot of work right now growing another human, and it needs the extra rest. When we sleep, our bodies have the chance to rest, recover, and repair. Sleep is the only time that growth hormone is released into our systems, and this hormone is incredibly important for your health as well as your baby’s.
To help maximize sleep, turn off all screens at least 1-2 hours before bedtime and avoid bright lights, sip on a relaxing herbal tea such as chamomile or lemon balm to help you wind down, and develop other bedtime rituals. Some people find using sleep masks and earplugs helpful to aid in a deeper, more restful sleep.
Move your body Make sure to move your body daily to help with hormonal balance and to prepare your body for a healthy delivery. Choose movements that are right for your body and your pregnancy.
Some women are able to keep with their normal workout routines during pregnancy, while others prefer to slow down and to opt for relaxing activities such as prenatal yoga and nature walks.
Listen to your body's cravings and needs So many of us are used to pushing our needs and our bodies’ needs aside, but now is the time to honor them. Take the time to listen and get in tune with your body and what it’s telling you. This will help you to develop a deeper connection with the child you’re growing as well as with yourself.
Your needs - all of your needs - are very important right now. If you need a nap, take a nap. If you need to take a day or more off of work, do it. If you need emotional or physical support, get it. If you’re craving chocolate, eat it. Denying your body or yourself what it’s asking for will create unnecessary stress, which is not only harmful for your body but can easily transfer to your baby.
To help deepen your connection and listen to what your body is asking for, try journaling, meditating, or even just simply setting a reminder on your phone asking you to stop what you’re doing and check in with yourself.
Herbal and supplemental support
If you’re not already, start taking a prenatal vitamin to help guarantee that your body has a healthy dose of the nutrients that are necessary during pregnancy. Taking an omega-3 supplement can also be helpful in managing the natural inflammation that occurs as a result of pregnancy.
There’s a long list of herbs to avoid during pregnancy, but some that are safe and beneficial include: moringa for its high iron, calcium, and potassium levels, spirulina or chlorella for iron and B vitamins, red raspberry leaf to help tone the uterus and prepare for labor (best taken after the first trimester), nettle to remineralize the body, oat/oat straw to relieve anxiety and gently calm the nervous system, peppermint or ginger to ease constipation and morning sickness, and soothing herbs such as lemon balm to relax the nervous system.
Do not try a detox or cleanse during pregnancy These programs demand immense energy and work from your body. During pregnancy, your body is already doing a lot of work, so it’s best to save the detox programs for later. Many of these programs are also calorie-restricted, include herbs that can be harmful during pregnancy, and require you to consume unpasteurized products (which is contraindicated in pregnancy).
Build a community In today’s society, we have created more isolation for ourselves; we’re no longer living in small tribes and sharing housing with close friends and family. Now is a perfect opportunity to take the time to build a community with those around you, both pregnant and not, so that you will have people to lean on and help out when needed. This is also important because, as women, we often only hear about the positive aspects of pregnancy, birth, and postnatal care. Having women you feel comfortable with and can open up to will help to ground you into both the ups and the downs of all that you’re going through.
Try creating more connections with both the males and females in your life, and joining groups such as prenatal yoga with women in the same life stage as you.
Follow these tips for a healthy conception and pregnancy. This is such an important and beautiful time. Give yourself and your babe all the nourishment and support you possibly can to ensure both of your health and wellbeing.