When my husband and I decided to get pregnant, it was an exciting time. We were about to embark on a new adventure together and since were we no longer preventing pregnancy, I thought I would be pregnant in just a few months.
But that was not to be, after 2+ years of trying, the heartache of my period returning each month, the shame that my body couldn’t do what it was made for, acupuncture, diet changes, and reproductive medicine; our first child was born. For me, it took 2 years for my body to truly get ready for conception. I needed that time to make some big changes to help my body be ready to conceive.
In our culture, we often don’t hear about the preconception time. There is such a fear of getting pregnant when we often assume if we stop preventing pregnancy, we will get pregnant easily. But, with 1 in 8 couples experiencing infertility in the US, and countless others finding it harder to get pregnant than they thought, taking the time to nourish your body prior to conception is an investment in your health and the long term health of your baby.
I want to share with you my 5 reasons to get your body ready for conception before you start “trying”.
1. Getting off Hormonal Birth Control Many women have been on hormonal birth control (HBC) in one form or another for years before trying to get pregnant. They may have started HBC to prevent pregnancy, but often, young girls are prescribed birth control to “regulate” their periods, decrease heavy flow, relieve PMS, or help with acne.
Hormonal birth control interrupts the communication between your brain and your ovaries so you won’t ovulate, and therefore can’t get pregnant. In young girls who are given HBC, the communication never gets well established in the first place. Then, when those girls are women who want to get pregnant, the brain and ovaries have to re-establish communication or establish communication for the first time.
Many women find when they go off HBC in order to get pregnant, their period is absent or erratic for months. It can take 6-12 months for the menstrual cycle to return to an ovulatory pattern after taking HBC.
In addition, HBC can alter the way that you absorb nutrients that are critical for regular periods, egg production and hormonal health (more on the nutrients later). And, if you have been taking HBC for years your reserves of these nutrients can be less than optimal for getting pregnant.
Giving yourself body time to find it’s natural cycle again can help you to tune into your body’s rhythms and the amazing things your body can do. It can also decrease the frustration of unsuccessfully #ttc for many months without explanation.
If you want to dive deeper into all things birth control, I highly recommend the book Beyond the Pill by Dr. Jolene Brighten
2. Are you ovulating? In order to conceive, you need to ovulate and release an egg. Understanding your own body, if/when you ovulate, when your fertile window is, the length of your luteal phase and the consistency of your menstrual flow are all important factors for understanding your fertility.
Getting to know your fertility cycle can take time. If you have been on hormonal birth control for years, or even decades, it can take time for your body to begin ovulating again, sometimes as long as 12 months. If there were underlying reasons why you were put on the pill in the first place, heavy periods, bad PMS, irregular periods, the root cause of those problems will still be there when you go off the pill, and the synthetic hormones may have created new imbalances you will want to address.
Learning to track your fertility cycle and all the information you body is telling you through that cycle can take time. It can take several cycles to learn if/when you ovulate, and what fertile signs your body gives you when you are able to conceive (which is only 4-5 days each month). If your cycles are “irregular” it can take even longer to learn your cycle. So getting off birth control and charting your cycle before you start trying can help you conceive more easily because you will know when you are most fertile.
If you are concerned with being off birth control but not officially “trying” to get pregnant, tracking can also help you prevent pregnancy. If you are interested in tracking your cycle to prevent pregnancy, find a practitioner who teaches the Fertility Awareness Method. You can also have a conversation with your doctor about non-hormonal ways to prevent pregnancy while you get to know what is going on in your body.
I love the books Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler and Period Repair Manual by Lara Briden to learn about charting your fertility cycle and for troubleshooting any problems you may find. Charting your cycle is more than just noting when you start your period and getting a positive OPK, valuable information about your health can be learned from charting your temperature, your fertility signs, length of your cycle and menstrual symptoms.
3. Nutrition Your body’s stores of critical nutrients may have been depleted because of hormonal birth control, eating lots of processed foods, food sensitivities, or poor gut health. All of these lead to nutrient depletions in our bodies. You want to have full stores of nutrients when you conceive because the first few weeks are critical time periods of development.
Some of the nutrients that are poorly absorbed while taking hormonal birth control are Zinc, Magnesium, Selenium, Vitamins C and E, as well as Vitamin B2, B6 and B12. These nutrients are important in critical pathways to create hormones, mature the egg, decrease inflammation, support our body’s detox systems and for neural development in the baby.
One way to get more nutrients is to eat whole foods, especially focusing on eating colorful veggies and fruit. Try to “eat the rainbow” by getting 2 servings of each color from the rainbow each day.
It is important to be getting these nutrients in your daily meal plan, but you also have to be able to absorb the nutrients. Taking time to make sure your gut is healthy and absorbing nutrients, and that you have decreased inflammation from food sensitivities is an important piece of getting ready for conception.
A great resource for information about nourishing yourself in preconception is Real Food for Pregnancy by Lily Nichols. Even though this book is written for pregnancy, the information is just as important in preconception.
4. Environmental Toxins We live in an increasingly toxic world. There are chemicals all around us like air pollution which we can do little about, but there are smaller, daily doses of chemicals which are impacting our endocrine system and hormone balance which we can change. One way to impact our exposure to chemicals is to investigate what we use on our skin, our household cleaners, our cooking tools and our home environment. Removing current exposure is the first step, you can check out the Environmental Working Group Skin Deep Database to upgrade your personal care products, transition to homemade or less toxic cleaners, and upgrade to glass storage containers in the kitchen.
The second step is to support your body to get rid of those chemicals which have been stored in our bodies over our lifetime. This type of detox process is not accomplished in a 5 day or 21 day cleanse, though they may be a good place to start the process. Your body is constantly detoxing from environmental chemicals and substances made in the body that need to be removed. Eating a lots of colorful, whole foods, organic when possible will help to decrease the toxins you are exposed to and support your body to eliminate toxins from your body. To help you prioritize which fruits and veggies to buy organic, use the Environmental Working Group’s Clean 15 list.
Eating whole foods, lots of leafy green veggies and clean protein all support the liver’s detoxification pathways. In addition to supporting the detox pathways, you also have to eliminate the toxins from your body. You need to make sure you are pooping at least once a day so your body can get rid of the toxins
Taking time to support our body’s detoxification pathways, mobilize and eliminate these toxins helps us to optimize our fertility and get ready for conception.
5. Epigenetics Epigenetics is the study of how the information circulating in our body through hormones and other chemicals (natural and environmental) impact how are genes are turned on and off. Most of us were taught that we either won the genetic lottery and have “great genes” or we are cursed and diseases “run in our family”.
The truth, we are finding, lies somewhere in between. The study of epigenetics has shown that we can alter how are genes are turned on or off by what we eat, our exposure to environmental chemicals, how much we rest, sleep, exercise and our stress level.
What the parents are experiencing before conception impacts what genes are turned on or off in the baby. It takes approximately 3 months for the egg and sperm to mature before release. So, the 12 weeks prior to conception is a great time to make changes in your health that will have a long term impact on the health of your baby.
If you want more information about how our genes and the environment interact, check out Dirty Genes by Dr. Ben Lynch.
The time you take to get your body ready for conception is valuable is many ways:
You have time to build up your nutritional reserves
You have time to get to know your menstrual cycle, when you ovulate and when your fertile time is each month
You have time to detox your body of everyday chemicals which may impact your child’s development and health.
If you want help prioritizing your next step in getting ready for conception, schedule a FREE 30 minute Fertility Chat with me.
P.S. I have no affiliation with any of the books or authors above, but I have read them all and I believe the information they provide is valuable.