Optimizing Fertility Naturally
I recently announced that I’m pregnant. I’m looking forward to sharing my pregnancy experiences because I know many of you would like to start a family one day. The first topic I want to discuss is how I optimized my fertility naturally prior to trying to conceive.
I recorded a Vlog, which you can watch HERE, and I have outlined the key points below.
This blog is based solely on my experience. My husband and I were very fortunate to conceive naturally (I’m no spring chicken based on fertility stats & age) however, I am sympathetic to the fact that not all couples are able to do so. Many fertility issues are completely out of one’s control and require seeking guidance from a fertility expert. My attitude was to focus on the things that were in my control before worrying about the things that were out of my control.
Healthy Body Weight
To provide some insight into the months leading up to when we started “trying” you can check out this blog. It describes my diet, training and recreational sports, this past summer. At the end of the summer I decided to leave the company I was working for, which required rebuilding my own business. We also had an illness and death in the family. My stress level skyrocketed which combined with my high energy output (mountain biking & weight training) caused me to suddenly drop more body fat right at the end of bike season. This put me into a super low body fat percentage, which I know from experience, isn’t ideal for me. I had to put on a few pounds which was easy enough because my energy expenditure was drastically reduced once I put my bike away for the season. My priority was to be at a “healthy weight” before trying to conceive.
Being over wight and underweight both have a negative impact on fertility. In one study, researchers evaluated the (BMI) of 2,112 pregnant women. Women in the study who had a pre-pregnancy BMI of 25-39 – considered overweight – had a twofold increase in the time it took to conceive. A BMI less than 19 (18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal) was even worse, time to conceive was increased fourfold. For those of you who know your body fat percentage, studies show that ovulation tends to be impaired when body fat is less than 12 (in some studies 14) percent or more than 30 to 35 percent. While a healthy body weight is key, I’d like to point out that making sure you are eating at least in calorie maintenance range is equally as important, especially if you are on the leaner side of the spectrum.
Thyroid dysfunction has been shown to adversely affect fertility. I suggest eliminating the guesswork and ask your Doctor to order a full thyroid panel – TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), including total T3 & T4, free T3, free T4 and thyroid antibodies.
While most labs normal range for TSH is between 0.5 – 5.0, many endocrinologists believe that women who have TSH levels higher than 2.0 have trouble conceiving/maintaining a pregnancy. If you work with any Functional Medicine Doctor or specialist they will likely agree that TSH values above 2.2 – 2.5 are elevated above optimal and are worth further testing and appropriate treatment if necessary. The key word being “appropriate” – there are consequences to over-treating and under-treating thyroid disorders.
I’d like to address something that I see time and time again with women who contact me about coaching. Many are suffering from hypothyroid symptoms (tired sluggish, weight gain or weight loss resistance, brain fog, cold intolerance, trouble concentrating, constipation, hair loss, dry skin, brittle nails) however, instead of seeking proper blood work and treatment they attempt to overcome things naturally, on their own. While lifestyle changes and mineral/herb supplements may help, I feel that avoiding seeking treatment from medical professional is foolish. Luckily my labs came back in optimal range, but had they not, I would’t have hesitated seeking out a Functional Medicine Practitioner or an Endocrinologist for further testing and treatment options.
Subclinical hypothyroidism is also a very popular term being thrown around theses days. I’m no expert on the subject, but I feel that having some knowledge about it will help when reviewing your labs if your current Doctor isn’t in the know (a lot of them aren’t). This Chris Kresser podcast is a good resource.
I started taking folate 3 months prior to when wanted to start trying. I used Metagenics FolaPro. FolaPro® features the active form of folate called L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate as Metafolin®. Unlike folic acid, this active form of folate requires no additional metabolic steps to be utilized by the body, making it a preferred choice for many individuals. Folate is an essential nutrient for many body processes, including hormone metabolism , DNA synthesis, homocysteine metabolism, and nervous system function.*
I don’t rely on a long list of supplements but I have been taking a multivitamin, Vitamin D, K2 & C, Cal-Mag and fish oil regularly for several years. I was also taking iron at times, which was necessary due to my heavy menstrual cycles. I have stopped taking iron but I will start again if my labs show any deficiency. I have also been taking a thyroid support supplement for the past year which I stopped when we started trying to conceive. I’ll discuss that in my next blog.
Lifestyle, Nutrition & Exercise
Living a balanced lifestyle, managing stress to the best of my ability, getting quality sleep, eating well and exercising has always been a focus of my day-to-day life. I am super thankful that I have ingrained these habits prior to starting a family. These lifestyle habits are known to promote fertility. From what I have experienced in my first trimester thus far, it would have been extremely challenging to try and adopt these habits after the fact. I’m not saying that it can’t be done or that you can’t make improvements once you become pregnant, it just might be overwhelming given the changes your body goes through.
I continued to make some other adjustments and precautions once we started trying. I’ll be blogging about those next. I will also get into more detail about how my training and nutrition has changed since getting pregnant, and trust me, lots has changed. I’ll also be answering the most frequently asked questions, which is, am I still following Carb Nite® and Carb Backloading™. Stay tuned!