A Holistic Guide to Fertility & Preparing for Pregnancy

The decision to create a new life opens up one of the most exciting, rewarding, and sometimes challenging paths we will take in our lifetimes. I invite you to consider this the beginning of your own sacred journey, one that requires time, care, gentleness, and support. With an open heart and a curious mind, you can use this time to deepen your relationship to yourself and your partner, while ultimately improving your health and well-being both physically as well as mentally and spiritually. 

Sometimes pregnancy happens quite easily, while for others, the process is more effortful. There are so many reasons why pregnancy may not happen on the timeline we’d like it to, and much of that isn’t within our control. What I’m sharing with you here is what you do have the power to control; this is information to empower you to do what is within your own power to bring yourself into balance. After that, everything must be surrendered to the true miracle and mystery that is conception.

As I was 35 when we began trying to conceive, much of the information I discovered is especially important to women 35+ or even 30+. I don’t want to limit these learnings to any age group, however, because they really are applicable to women of all ages. We just need to be extra aware and mindful as we progress into our thirties and beyond.

I believe diet and stress management are the cornerstones of fertility. I would venture to say that the reason so many women have trouble getting pregnant these days relates to one of these two issues. And it’s not all our fault! Our food is pumped with hormones and laced with pesticides, our products are laced with fertility-blocking chemicals, and we’re more stressed and disconnected to nature than we ever have been before.

Getting back to nature is essential to this entire process, because as I’m sure you’ve heard a million times, our bodies are made to do this. I am aware, of course, that there are many conditions that exist beyond this requiring outside support, and I am so grateful science is able to support the women who need it. The purpose of this article is simply to share what I’ve learned about preparing for your journey and enhancing fertility naturally as a first step. 

Most of my findings were consistent across multiple sources, including books and reputable online sources. However, I always encourage you to do your own research on anything that you’d like to discover more about for yourself. I invite you to use this as a practice in developing your own mother’s intuition as you begin this journey, for you will likely come across all kinds of advice and information and it will be up to you to navigate what is best for you and ultimately, what I hope will be your future child.

“You’re not only preparing for the conception of a child, you’re preparing to give birth to your own higher selves.”

Chad Cornell, master herbalist and holistic therapist

My Background

Before trying to conceive, I lived an active lifestyle and ate a healthy diet filled with lots of fruits and vegetables, grains, high-quality dairy and meats, most things organic when possible. (I’ve always been a person of balance and moderation, so I definitely still enjoyed lots of pizza, burgers, and sweets.)

As far as birth control, I had a copper IUD for a few years and so the first thing I did was had that removed. The reason I chose a copper IUD was so that I would not be flooded with hormones, something I knew I didn’t want after years on the pill. At this point in my life I try to live as naturally as possible, with as little chemical or medicinal intervention as possible.

I was 35 when we started trying, and it took us about 6 months to conceive. We hit a bump in the road about halfway through this process when my mother died, whom I hadn’t seen or spoken to for most of my adult life, which as you can probably imagine, was quite a thing to experience on my own journey to becoming a mother. Ultimately we ended up conceiving in our first month at our new house after moving out of the city, something my body and soul were badly craving.

I share my entire journey to conception in my personal writing column here.

Time to Prepare

One of the first things I learned in my fertility journey was that it takes time to prepare your body for pregnancy. Multiple sources said that three months is a good period of time to be taking prenatal vitamins and following the other lifestyle guidelines shared here before trying to conceive. Six months to a year would be even more ideal if you have the time and desire.

Books

Awakening Fertility: The Essential Art of Preparing for Pregnancy by Heng Ou was a favorite, written by the same author of bestseller The First Forty Days which is a book that I plan to eat from nearly exclusively after giving birth. Ou comes from a family of Chinese medicine healers so much of her wisdom is in this vein, while it also contains a lot of Ayurvedic principles. So many of my favorite tips shared here come from this book, which, naturally, also contains a lot of great recipes.

(You may also want to check out a book called Real Food for Pregnancy which is more geared toward post-conception but shares many of the same concepts. It’s a bit more scientific and a drier read, and obviously only covers food and nutrition.)

How to Conceive Naturally: And Have a Healthy Pregnancy after 30 is another solid resource for, you guessed it, those of us over 30.

Diet

Eating a diet filled with natural and organic foods is a great start, but I learned there are a lot of elements we can play with to increase our fertility and vitality even more.

If possible, eating animal products is ideal. It’s not necessary, of course, but it was recommended by most of the materials I read. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, I would advise seeking out materials specific to your diet needs and fertility.

Healthy fats are extremely important. I think we all know by now that the low-fat fad diets of the 90s do much more harm than good, but when we’re talking about fertility we need to really amp up the healthy fats. Eggs yolks

Organic is good, organic and pasture-raised/grass-fed is better. This is in regard to eggs, meats, and dairy-products. Vital Farms brand pasture-raised eggs are my absolute favorite eggs, and once you taste a pasture-raised chicken, you’ll realize how much more it tastes like chicken. 

Limit coffee and alcohol. I went through a whole science experiment giving up coffee while trying to conceive (I plan to write more about this separately), which I don’t think is necessary but you should definitely limit yourself to 200 mg of caffeine a day, which is about one cup of coffee or two shots of espresso. With alcohol, use your own judgment on what is best for your body. Personally I found myself wanting to drink less of it as my goal was to keep my body as pure and natural as possible. 

Aside from eating a healthy diet filled with organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and pasture-raised meats, here are a few more favorite foods for boosting fertility:

  • Bone broths (homemade, purchased from your local butcher, or Brodo makes a good one that you can order online; you want to make sure there is gelatin present in the broth)
  • Nutrient-dense organic beef or chicken liver
  • Full-fat organic dairy products, especially yogurt (reduced fat or skim milk products have been shown to negatively affect fertility)

Mind & Spirit

My meditation and spiritual practices were key to helping me stay grounded and at peace throughout my journey. If you don’t already have a daily meditation practice, just sitting quietly and focusing on your breath for a few minutes a day can be extremely beneficial. 

Conception is the ultimate practice of letting go. Once you become pregnant, that process continues as you have no control over your body or how it feels day to day, or even your emotional state thanks to an influx of hormones. And, of course, all of that is practice for the ultimate surrender of becoming a parent, when your life is in many ways surrendered to this little being you’ve brought into the world.

Letting go of control isn’t easy, and I know many women struggle with this in the process of conception. We often want it to happen right away and many of us will learn that that is just not how it works. This is where a spiritual practice will come in very handy. No matter what your spiritual or religious background, I find that this process becomes much easier when you have faith in some greater power, even if that is undefined. Something that will allow you to trust and to know in your heart that 

Perhaps if nothing else, that could be nature for you. I know it is for me. 

Being in nature as much as possible will also help keep your mind and body in the right state. Little things like spending a few moments barefoot in the grass, or sitting quietly in a park and focusing on feeling the breeze and sunshine.

Your Relationship

Just as we look at what may be out of balance within our own self and body in these preparations, we should also look at our relationship. Are there any issues that may be lingering below the surface, things that you haven’t quite verbalized or dealt with that may be holding you back from moving forward in your partnership? 

If you are clear about the nature of your relationship and your desire to have a child with your partner, this is a great time to enjoy connecting more deeply with one another.

Awakening Fertility contained some lovely exercises for this, two of which I’ll share here that come from an Ayurvedic doctor and botanical expert, Dr. Jay Lokhande. The first is a recipe for rice porridge that Dr. Lokhande uses as part of a traditional conception ceremony where the couple consumes the porridge together nightly for seven days. My husband and I would typically have this porridge at the start of my ovulation phase as a way to connect and honor this time. The recipe is very high in healthy fats, containing both coconut milk and ghee, making it very luscious and sensual. We would simply eat it slowly and mindfully together, focusing on how relaxed or content we felt. I would encourage you to purchase the book if this recipe and ritual is of interest as I think you’ll really enjoy it! But do let me know in the comments if you’d like me to share my take on the recipe, which was just slightly different than the one in the book.

Another to try is a simple breathing exercise, where you sit cross-legged in front of one another, knees touching, and simply breathe together for a few moments, synchronizing your breathing. Then you can sit back-to-back and breathe this way again. This exercise helps bring you into harmony together both physically and spiritually.

Natural Products

So many of the products we use on a daily basis are filled with chemicals that interfere with our fertility. Most important are the products that you use on your body – everything from deodorant to lotions to skincare – as well things like laundry detergent, since your clothes are in direct contact with your skin. For household cleaning products it’s better to go natural, or at least to make sure areas are well-ventilated when you must use chemical products.

Vitamins & Supplements

I started with TheraNatal Complete Prenatal Vitamins, which is a great prenatal filled with all of the things you need for both conception and pregnancy (like methylated folate, choline, and iron). But when I ran out of those, I tried TheraNatal’s OvaVite, which is recommended for women 35+ as it contains CoQ10 for healthy egg quality. It’s a bit of an investment for vitamins at $140 for a 3-month supply, but I read a ton of great reviews and success stories, and I did get pregnant somewhere around two months after taking it. 

My favorite prenatal vitamin that I’ve been taking throughout pregnancy is Baby & Me 2, which I switched to because it seems to be more sourced from natural foods than the TheraNatal Complete. Whereas TheraNatal Complete also includes DHA, with Baby & Me 2 it does not, so I take a separate DHA supplement. DHA is an omega-3 supplement for brain development during pregnancy and early childhood. I take Nordic Naturals for this.

Acupuncture & Herbalism

I went to one acupuncture session and received a prescription for a Chinese herb at the Yinova Center the month before we ended up conceiving. Yinova is an acupuncture clinic in New York City specializing in fertility, but any acupuncturist local to you should be able to assist with this. If you’re interested in taking Chinese herbs, you may need to seek out a local herbalist separately (an acupuncturist may be able to recommend someone if they don’t offer these services).

My acupuncturist at Yinova recommended coming in at the start of my ovulation cycle, once a month until conception, though some people choose to go weekly.

Ovulation Kits

I highly recommend doing a basic at-home ovulation test to confirm your window! I was reluctant to do this when we first started trying as I wanted to keep things as natural or “unforced” as possible. I also thought I had a good handle on when I was ovulating because I’d been tracking my cycle on an app for a long time. But I was wrong! I caved and tried the ovulation kit in our last month of trying and it turned out my peak ovulation was days before I thought it would be. It was actually so fun and nice to know exactly when it was happening! It’s as simple as peeing on a stick, just like taking a pregnancy test, and really nothing felt unnatural or forced about it.

Motherhood, Wellness

4/15/2021

A Holistic Guide to Fertility & Preparing for Pregnancy

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