When my husband and I were trying to get pregnant with our first kiddo, we ran into hurdle after hurdle. When all was said and done, we had gone through 8 (maybe 10?) cycles of IUI (intrauterine insemination), two surgeries between us, and a whole host of testing, stress, drama and strain on our relationship over the course of nearly two years.
Then, we took a trip out west, had a wonderful long weekend together planning for an eventual cross-country move, took all the pressure and stress off, and got pregnant naturally, with no interventions. I’m not going to say that getting out of dodge (or stressful NYC) was the magic bullet, but I will say that among the major fertility issues we experienced, stress and living somewhere that was just no longer making us happy was a big factor.
The second time around, 3 years later, we assumed we would run into the same issues. But lo and behold, we got pregnant on the first try. Again, I’m sure there were many factors that contributed to our success. Our lives were very different — we were settled in lovely Santa Monica, California; we had a much higher quality of life than we did in bustling New York, with much more exposure to nature, sunshine, and farm-fresh food; we were healthier, happier, and much more balanced (even with a precocious 3 year old in tow). And of course, we had the benefit of having remedied a lot of the fertility health issues that we had discovered the first time. But I was still astounded.
Needless to say, as a holistic nutritionist specializing in fertility and pregnancy, I’ve always strongly believed in a non-Western approach to boosting fertility. Looking at all contributing factors such as diet, stress, lifestyle, quality of relationships, happiness, is just as important to fertility as identifying and treating underlying medical issues, but these factors are all too often ignored, even by the best reproductive endocrinologists.
So let’s dig into them, and let me share with you the 5 most important things you can do, at any age (within reason), to boost your fertility and get pregnant naturally.
Adopt a fertility boosting diet
As with all aspects of our health, our diet is one of the greatest contributing factors to fertility. Sure, there are plenty of people who eat fast food 3 times a day and drink gallons of soda and coffee who get pregnant without any issue. But for those of us for whom things might be taking a little longer, diet is the first place to start.
A fertility diet is pretty much identical to a general, healthy, disease-prevention diet I would recommend to anyone (male or female). Eating whole foods, predominantly brightly colored vegetables and fruit, whole grains, and clean proteins (like beans, raw nuts and seeds, wild-caught fish, pastured eggs, and moderate to low amounts of other animal protein).
Getting those fertility busting foods out of the diet is important as well — particularly coffee, sugar, alcohol, processed foods, and non-organic meat and dairy. Although having a glass of wine a few times a week, or indulging in the occasional sweet treat or weekend cup of coffee is certainly not keeping you from getting pregnant, consuming these foods on a daily basis very well could be. These foods create hormonal imbalance, can mess with your cycles, and create an overload of toxins in the body that can make it very difficult to conceive naturally.
I do a fertility cleanse with my clients, where we eliminate all those big bads and eat all the good stuff outlined above for 1-3 months, and the fertility results are staggering. Best of all, this is the easiest shift to make.
Stress is such a huge factor in fertility. I know for my husband and I, living and working in New York was a major stressor. Everything was just so much harder than it needed to be, and our fertility was definitely effected. Not that life now is a walk in the park– we definitely have our fair share of stressors, but they are manageable, and the overall impact on my body, hormones, and fertility is thereby minimized.
Stress can cause hormonal imbalance, impaired ovulation, irregular cycles, and decrease sperm health.
So do what you need to do to decrease the overall burden of stress on your life. Do you need to move? Get a different job? Go to couples counseling? Do you need to go out with your friends more? Do more traveling? These are all big picture factors that can deeply impact the amount of stress you are experiencing.
On a simpler, day-to-day level, I recommend a regular meditation practice, spending more time in nature, and yoga as three non-negotiable for decreasing stress in your mind and your body. Acupuncture is another amazing modality that helps reduce stress and boost fertility. Making space for these stress-busting practices helps bring your body (and thereby your hormones) into balance, and signals to your system that you are in a safe and stable place to bring a baby into the world.
Use the right supplements
Natural medicine has a wealth of age-old wisdom to bring to the process of getting pregnant, but most women just don’t know what to take, or even that they should be taking any herbs or supplements at all.
Depending on your unique situation, and the state of your health, you may need different herbs and supplements, and you should consult with a holistic practitioner (like myself!) to figure out what those are.
But very generally speaking, all women trying to conceive should be taking the following supplements:
- A whole foods based prenatal multivitamin to guard against nutrient deficiencies
- Ashwagandha to support hormonal balance and decrease stress and anxiety
- Shatavari to boost fertility, balance hormones and as a nutritive tonic
- Evening primrose oil for hormonal balance and healthy cervical mucous
- Maca to support hormonal balance and nourish the entire endocrine system
- Bee pollen and bee propolis too boost fertility, egg health, and immunity
- FertiliTea is an amazing tea that is loaded with fertility boosting herbs like Chasteberry, Red raspberry leaf, Green tea, Ladies mantle, Nettle leaf, Peppermint leaf. Many women drink this tea for a few months and get pregnant naturally after months or years of trying.
Of course, fertility is a two-person game, and all too often the health of the male is ignored. To that end, all men trying to conceive should be taking the following supplements:
- A whole foods based men’s multivitamin to guard against nutrient deficiencies
- Zinc to improve sperm quality and increase fertility
- CoQ10 to improve motility and overall sperm health
- L-Carnitine for healthy overall sperm function, count and motility, especially important for vegetarians
- Vitamin B12 for improved motility and sperm count, also especially important for vegetarians
- Vitamin C to improve sperm quality and protect sperm from DNA damage, reducing chance of miscarriage
- Ashwagandha to decrease stress, improve sperm count and boost libido
- Maca to increase libido, as well as sperm volume, count, and mobility
As with all supplements, consistency is key. You need to take them every single day (many of them twice a day) for these magical formulas to make a difference in your fertility. But do they ever make a difference! Again, with the right supplements, tailored to your constitution and particular fertility challenges, can make the difference between getting pregnant naturally and experiencing a healthy, vibrant pregnancy, or years of stress and gobs of money spent on fertility treatments. I’d say it’s worth giving them a try, wouldn’t you?
Move your body.. in a way that feels GOOD
It’s no secret that regular exercise is a big part of the fertility puzzle. But the part that is often left out, is that not all forms of exercise are healthy (or enjoyable) for every body type. I’ve had many clients (most of them Vata dosha women) who were doing entirely the wrong forms of exercise for their bodies (HIIT, intense cardio) and doing way too much of it — instead of reaping the benefits of movement, they were stressing out their bodies, completely messing up their menstrual cycles, and unintentionally causing infertility. A few months into an exercise routine that was more appropriate for the body type, combined with the other fertility enhancing measures above, made all the difference in the world.
A good way to gauge if you’re doing the right forms of exercise for your body type is how you feel afterwards. If you feel energized, alert, pain-free, clear-headed and calm — great! You’re probably on the right track. If you are exhausted, achey, anxious, irritable, or if you feel like you’re slogging through the workout because you “should,” you may need to change things up.
Find our your Ayurvedic Body Type and download your free dosha guide to get tips on the best forms of exercise for you.
Once you know your ideal forms of exercise, stick to it for at least 45 minutes at least 3 times a week. And mix it up! Don’t just do cardio or boot camp or weights. Throw in a yoga class or two a couple of times a week, lengthen with some pilates, go for a swim. Adding variety keeps your body engaged and can increase your benefits.
Identify and treat any underlying fertility issues
Although more often than you’d think, trouble conceiving naturally is simply due to high stress, poor nutrition, and the resultant hormonal imbalance, sometimes there is something more serious going on.
If you’ve been trying for more than 6 months (4 months if you’re over 40) with no success, it’s worth getting everything looked at to identify what else might be going on. I highly recommend seeing an integrative fertility specialist, who will know to look for some subtler factors (such as elevated NK cells or MTHFR gene mutation) that could be contributing to infertility. But sometimes the issue is clear — PCOS, endometriosis, uterine fibroids or cysts, hypothyroidism — these are all common causes of fertility issues that many women struggle with.
But again, there are natural routes to treat and heal them that don’t require surgery, prescription drugs, or other intrusive therapies. Finding out what’s going on with your body before you start trying to conceive can give you the time and ability to focus on healing before you start working on getting pregnant. But many women have no idea that something is wrong until they’re already years into their fertility struggles.
If you experience any of the following symptoms on a regular basis, see a holistic practitioner or integrative doctor as soon as possible to start on your path to healing:
- Chronic fatigue, or chronic low energy
- Irregular periods
- Absent periods
- Abnormally heavy periods
- Abnormally light periods
- Very painful periods (many women don’t realize that having debilitating cramps every month is not normal, and is a sign of a larger issue)
- Other PMS symptoms that interfere with your life
When we were trying to conceive our first, I didn’t know I had endometriosis, quite possibly for years. By the time I had it diagnosed by my integrative reproductive endocrinologist, it had reached moderate to severe status. I did a ton of work to decrease symptoms and treat the condition naturally, and through herbs, acupuncture, diet, and other natural treatments, I was able to decrease the severity of my condition to “mild to moderate” status. Because we had already been trying for so long, I opted to have a minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery to remove the remaining scars and growth. Had I not done the work holistically first to bring my body back into balance, I wouldn’t have had such success and immediate results.
Getting pregnant naturally can require diligence and some effort on the part of both parties to bring your bodies into optimal health for conception, but it is 100% doable. If you need some support figuring out your ideal strategy for boosting your fertility and getting pregnant naturally, schedule a consult with me!