Deciding to try to have a baby is an exciting time! You can support your body naturally through nutrition, supplements, and lifestyle changes to improve your chances of conception.
With infertility on the rise, I wanted to share some of the research I have piled together for myself and clients working on fertility.
I love the way Wellness Mama put it: "Infertility, like any disease, is simply a sign that something is not right inside the body and must be fixed. It isn’t a deficiency in fertility drugs or due to a lack of IVF. Fertility is a natural process in the body, but one that the body can turn off if it doesn’t feel it can safely sustain a pregnancy."
It's not always an easy road and no journey is the same, but I hope this blog post will provide you tips and suggestions that you'll be able to use to improve your health and fertility <3
Note: You'll notice I have lots of links in this article! Some (not all) of these products are affiliate links which support my work. It is no additional cost to you if you purchase from my link, I will simply receive a small amount back for referring you to the company. I appreciate your support!
At the forefront of improving your fertility is eating a nutrient-dense diet. In fact, it has been argued that the Standard American Diet (SAD) is a key reason for the rise of infertility statistics.
What does a nutrient-dense diet mean?
Choosing a sweet potato over french fries, sardines over tilapia, chicken thighs over chicken breasts, veggies over processed grains, fruit over candy bars. Eating a nutrient-dense diet involves picking the option that carries the most nutrients. The best bang for your buck, so to speak.
It's very important to eat enough (in general) and get a nice balance of carbohydrates (mostly from veggies, fruits, and starchy sources like sweet potatoes and squashes), proteins (grass-fed meat, eggs, wild-caught seafood), and healthy fats (coconut oil, avocados, grass-fed meat, egg yolks, olive oil).
Beyond that, there are foods that are critical to include (or eat more of) during this time.
Eggs are like nature's multivitamin when raised from a happy, pasture-raised chicken. Eggs contain SO MANY critical nutrients for fertility, but you must include those yolks to reap the benefits.
Some egg yolk micronutrient highlights:
- Fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, K
- Choline: essential for proper liver, brain and nervous function. Can also help prevent neural tube defects
- Folate: first of all folate and folic acid are NOT the same. I'll explain this under the "supplements" section because methylated folate is what we find in real whole foods, and egg yolks provide a nice hit of it!
Folate is a necessary B vitamin for early on in pregnancy to prevent complications (I've actually read that the first 28 days are the most critical!). It also helps with cell division and promotes ovulation which is why you'll hear docs and women working on fertility to take this as a supplement while trying to conceive.
Grass-Fed Meat (+ Dairy, if tolerated)
Grass-fed, properly raised meat will contain fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, K. In addition, they also contain high amounts of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which is know to have anti-carcinogenic effects. Plus, grass-fed meat has a better Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio than grain-fed cows (more about that here)..
Not everyone is able to tolerate dairy, but if you do, I highly recommend grass-fed butter. If dairy is a problem, I would add in a high-quality ghee (or make it yourself!). These products contain everything mentioned above for grass-fed meats, plus it's also high in lauric acid, which boosts mama & baby's immune system. A brand that I can find almost anywhere nowadays is Kerrygold.
Organ Meats (especially Liver)
It may sound disgusting and hippy to suggest organ meats, but they contain insanely concentrated sources of micronutrients.
Liver, especially, is a great source of protein and is the most concentrated source of Vitamin A that we can find. Vitamin A is known to aid in development of kidneys, lungs, and the face. Liver also contains loads of iron, copper, zinc, and folate. PLUS, it contains all of the B vitamins, especially a high percentage of B12.
Not whipping up liver and onions anytime soon? I get it... I still struggle with this as well! I have a few suggestions:
- US Wellness Meats Liverwurst or Beef Head Cheese (it's also a great site to order your quality liver or organ meats!)
- Vital Proteins Desiccated Liver Supplement
- In Practical Paleo 2nd Edition, Diane has recipes for a Bacon & Superfood Meatloaf (which is delicious!) and a Liver Pate (ok, I admit I haven't quite made this one yet :-P)
Cold-Water, Fatty Fish & Seafood
This is an unpopular one because in our culture, many folks are not eating a ton of seafood. The truth is, our ancestors thrived on seafood and it was a huge source of protein and micronutrients in their diet!
Cold-water, fatty fish, particularly salmon and sardines, are high in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). These Omega-3s are talked about a lot because our diets are so LOW in omega-3s (and conversely, so high in omega-6s). They are important because help with the inflammatory process, specifically to reduce inflammation and are critical to brain health. Omega-3s also help to regulate our reproductive hormones.
Don't just worry about fatty fish, however. Other seafood products are also super beneficial, particularly oysters. Oysters are extremely high in zinc, which is beneficial for cell division, especially for sperm production.
During my NTC studies, we learned that zinc therapy improved sperm count in men with low counts in as little as 6 weeks and that the percentage of couples that conceived from zinc therapy was comparable (and even slightly better) than that of expensive fertility treatments! (You can read a little more about this here).
Dark, Leafy Greens + Veggies
This may be a given as we should all be eating more dark, leafy greens and veggies! Think spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, swiss chard, cabbage, brussels sprouts, etc. These delicious powerhouses are rich in iron, folate, B6, and Vitamin E (to name a few). Plus, they will be easy on your waistline ;)
We have really just begun to scratch the surface of understanding the impact of gut health on fertility, pregnancy and our babies. It's my belief that the integrity of our gut plays a large role in morning sickness (and as someone who has STRUGGLED with being sick for 26+ weeks of my pregnancy, it's something I am going to continue to research!)
Not only does good gut health improve mama's overall digestive system, it may also be passed on to the little one via the birth canal. We want that birth canal to be as healthy as possible mamas!
Though this is probably controversial, I had to also include this statement from Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, a physician who cured her son's autism with diet through her GAPS protocol, "What I see in the families of autistic children is that 100 percent of moms of autistic children have abnormal gut flora and health problems related to that." (Read more about her story and this phenomena here).
Fermented foods include raw, cold sauerkraut (warming will kill the good bugs!), kombucha, kimchi, fermented veggies, kefir, etc. I'll recommend my favorite probiotic supplement in that section below.
I'd be amiss if I did not mention some foods that you should also AVOID while focusing on fertility, though I am not going to go into much detail right now about why (this post is long enough! ;P).
Refined Vegetable Oils (canola oil, rapeseed oil, soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, peanut oil) Just watch this YouTube "How It's Made - Canola Oil" and you'll never want to eat it again!
Refined Sugars (anything with -sugar, -syrup, -sweetener, fructose, dextrose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose... to name a few. If you struggle with sugar, check out The 21-Day Sugar Detox program! I run groups othen).
Processed Grains (white breads, pastas, enriched wheat flours, corn starch, potato starch, modified food starches... think cookies, cakes, crackers & "snack foods", battered/breaded foods, etc)
Supplements & Herbs
Supplements will never replace a nutrient-dense diet.
Let me repeat that.
Supplements will never replace a nutrient-dense diet. Which is why nutrient-dense diet came first ;)
However, there are some supplements that can help in you are focusing on fertility.
**PLEASE NOTE: I am NOT a doctor and I am not providing medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This is simply information and knowledge I have acquired through my nutritional training and own research. Please do not add any supplements or herbs to your body or routine without consulting with a doctor or health care professional about your own specific needs. I also encourage you to do your OWN research as well :)
Taking a prenatal vitamin is a safety net... not necessary but may give you peace of mind. If you know you have digestive issues, it may be a good idea to take a vitamin to hopefully fill in some patches where your nutrient-dense diet may not be absorbed.
I'm a fan of liquid vitamins from research that they are more easily absorbed than tablets/capsules/etc. Here are a few liquid multivitamins:
- Pink Stork Foundation Liquid Prenatal Vitamin (I took this starting in my 2nd trimester and I have had good results)
- Calton Nutrition Nutreince Vitamin (though not specifically a prenatal vitamin, I think the anti-competition technology will help with absorption of micros your body needs)
This is definitely worth spending a little time on if you are not aware of the difference already.
Folate vs. Folic Acid: Folate is the term used for the water-soluble B vitamin, B9. Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate that is made in a lab and is not the form you would find naturally occurring in food.
Ok, so one is natural and one is synthetic, BUT they are also processed in the body differently. Folate is absorbed in your small intestine while folic acid has to be processed in the liver. Unfortunately, the liver does not always have enough of the proper enzymes to process that folic acid (or is managing other more burning fires) and so the folic acid circulates and never is broken into a useable form.
Main idea? Folate is a MUCH MORE RELIABLE form and it a must if you know you have the MTHFR mutation (hence the methylated folate I titled this section). Please note: if you are taking a whole food supplement and it says folic acid on the label, you are still ok since the source was food.
Want to learn more about the folate vs. folic acid topic? Click here.
Folate is recommended to increase at least 1 month before you start conceiving and during pregnancy to prevent major birth defects to the baby's brain and spine.
- Again, I like the Pink Stork Folate supplement (I added this in during my 2nd trimester). There is a pill form or a liquid form.
I think I explained why we need that good gut health up above in enough detail, so this is another good "band-aid" to make sure you are supporting that good gut growth! I call this supplement my "Garden Probiotic." It plants seeds and multiplies giving you a nice, sustainable gut.
However, I do not recommend taking the same probiotic over and over. Here are some other probiotics I would add in a "rotation," never repeating the same bottle back to back.
- Klaire Therbiotic Complete (use code 1010 to receive 20% off!)
- Garden of Life Raw Women Probiotic (use code 1010 to receive 20% off!)
This is another very helpful supplement and considering I'm writing this in the middle of winter in the Northeast of America, it's support important for women surrounding me!
Vitamin D is linked to infertility and miscarriage, however "blanket supplementing" is something I frown upon. I think it best to have your levels tested before adding in a Vitamin D supplement. The best form of Vitamin D is the sun on your exposed, natural skin up to 15 minutes a day (and then using a safe sunscreen or seeking shade thereafter).
If you are going to supplement with a Vitamin D, I recommend a D3 which has some fats to help absorption like this Pure Encapsulations product (use code 1010 to receive 20% off!)
Some notable herbs that may be helpful:
Red Raspberry Leaf
This herb is not only great for fertility, it's awesome for pregnancy AND for prepping the body for labor (shorten labor, fewer medical interventions - read more here!).
It's high in vitamins A, B, E and E and also has a lot of minerals such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, and phosphorus. Plus, there are trace amounts of zinc, iron, chromium, and manganese. Bring on the red raspberry leaf!
It is available in a capsule form, or Traditional Medicinals has a great tea version.
Dandelion is best known for helping the liver, but this is great because we want to help support the body's natural detox organ and remove all the toxins we can from our body during fertility prepping. It also contains high amounts of vitamins A and C. You can try a Dandelion Root Tea or I also like Every Day Detox which has dandelion in it (with a squeeze of lemon for taste!)
Vitex/Chaste Tree Berry
This one was huge for me!
Chaste Tree Berry helps to nourish the pituitary gland and specifically to lengthen the luteal phase of a woman's cycle. It does so by raising progesterone.
I had my hormones tested several times throughout my life, and I always struggled with low progesterone. When I started working with my Restorative Wellness Practitioner at the end of 2015, we discovered I had very low progesterone and it was a cause of my sporadic, painful cycles.
Within a couple months of adding this supplement, I had a normal 28 day cycle. Never before in my life was this true. It worked wonders for me!
That being said, I encourage you to get your hormones tested and work with a health care professional before adding any supplement like this one! I also took this on a very specific timeline to help get my results.
These recommendations are critical! You can do a lot of the work above, eating well and adding in some targeted supplements, but without paying attention to these lifestyle changes, your work may be all for nothing!
This is actually my #1 tip for working on fertility. I know, I really get it. This is also the hardest one to work on... especially if you are feeling stressed because of fertility difficulties.
Reducing stress looks different for everyone. For some, yoga and meditation do wonders. Others need to go back to a hobby they love like painting or reading or golfing! You may need to give up something in your life that is taking up a lot of time and energy - it may even be something you love!
Be honest with yourself and look at yourself and your life from a 30,000 foot view. What can you do to reduce your overall stress load?
Another non-negotiable when it comes to help and fertility is sleep! It's particularly important when focusing on fertility because sleep is crucial in hormone regulation.
Without adequate sleep, the body cannot produce hormones like adrenaline, cortisol and insulin, making not only daily life, but conception very difficult. It also contributes to a shorter luteal phase, which is a critical phase for sustaining a fertilized egg.
Listen to The Ladies Dish podcast episode #66 about healthy sleep hygiene and start implementing our tips toda
Sadly, we live in a toxic environment, and whatever we can do to decrease our overall exposure can do wonders for our fertility.
This means swapping for non-toxic and pesticide-free (organic) foods, healthier cleaning products, decreasing the use of plastics, and for the ladies, using safer, non-toxic beauty and skincare products. If you've been following me for any length of time, you know that I switched and love Beautycounter for this area! (You can read about my favorite Beautycounter products here.)
Last but certainly not least, you need to find your "goldilocks" of exercise! This was another difficult one for me to find.
Too much exercise isn't good as it can cause stress on the body and imbalance your hormones causing your body to stop ovulating, but you also don't want to become a couch potato and let it go completely.
I can't give a perfect recommendation here, you need to learn to listen to your body. For me, all my HIIT and intense workouts had to take a bad seat. I learned to love hot yoga, PiYo, and walks. Refer back to decreasing stress ;)
Taking Charge of your Fertility by Toni Weschler, MPH
How to Conceive Naturally and Have a Healthy Pregnancy After 30 by Christa Orecchio & Willow Buckley (Great for all ages!)
The Ladies Dish Episode #17 - All about Fertility and Pregnancy
Several Episodes of the Balanced Bites Podcast (Open Fertility Topic)
Several Episodes of The Paleo Women Podcast
Nutrition for Fertility, Pregnancy and Breastfeeding from Chris Kresser
The Healthy Baby Code by Chris Kresser
Feed Your Fertile Body by Sara Russell, NTP
Baby Making and Beyond by Liz Wolfe & Meg the Midwife (coming soon!)