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Here's everything you need to know to maximise your fertility naturally


Here's everything you need to know to maximise your fertility naturally

Credit: Julie Johnson

Making the decision to have a child is a wonderful, life-changing moment in life. Having made that decision, the last thing you want is to have difficulty conceiving. Equally, you want the pregnancy to be as smooth, and the baby as healthy, as possible. In the modern world that means reducing your exposure to toxins, getting the appropriate nutrition, and getting your life in order.

An increasingly toxic world 

A 2015 article by the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) blames the rise in environmental chemicals across our planet, for an increase in fertility issues and miscarriage, and congenital defects, low birth weights, intellectual, cognitive and neurobehavioral disorders in children.

There are now 70,000 to 100,000 (mostly untested) chemicals in global commerce, the authors of the report reveal. This includes almost 800 environmental chemicals known or suspected to impact the endocrine (hormone) system. These include dioxin and chemicals within pesticides, plastics, flame retardants, pharmaceuticals and everyday products.

“Exposure to toxic environmental chemicals during pregnancy and breastfeeding is ubiquitous and is a threat to healthy human reproduction,” the FIGO authors wrote, stating that the burden of environmental pollutants is largely being bourne by children and families.

…contributing to poorer reproductive health, is a massive increase in radiation exposures, over-consumption of sugar, junk and refined food, caffeine, and alcohol, indoor, sedentary lifestyles, stress and weight issues.

Horribly, one doesn’t have to be living near a factory to be affected chemical exposures. Such toxins routinely contaminate our water, food supply and air, entering our bodies through breathing, eating, drinking or via our skin. Capable of crossing the placenta, commonly found in breastmilk, and able to adversely affect DNA, they are in our personal care, cleaning and renovation products, toys, homes and workplaces.

One example is mercury (released from the burning of fossil fuels and medical waste, and present in many everyday products). Mercury has accumulated in the environment and food chain, to the extent that the main route of exposure for most humans is through eating upper food chain fish. The most toxic substance on the planet, mercury is highly damaging to the reproductive and endocrine systems, and associated with mental retardation, cerebral palsy and birth defects in children exposed in utero, as well as miscarriage and stillbirth.

Founder of the Jocelyn Centre, Australia’s first integrated naturopathic and medical clinic devoted to natural fertility management, Francesca Naish has authored The Natural Way to Better Babies, and The Natural Way to Better Pregnancy. Naish claims our fertility, and through it, the health we bestow our children, is suffering, because of the growth of toxic chemicals, heavy metals and radiation in our lives. “We’re probably exposed to up to 200 chemicals before we have breakfast in the morning,” she says.

“While we need more nutrition than ever to deal with this onslaught of chemicals, the fresh food we depend upon to build healthy sperm, eggs and children in utero, has less nutritional value than in the past,” Naish says. In a 2017 report to the Prime Minister, National Soil Advocate, Michael Jeffery, drew attention to the issue of growing soil infertility. According to Jeffery’s report, over 30 percent of the world’s land is degraded because of erosion, salinisation, compaction, acidification, chemical pollution and fire. Australian soils are additionally challenged. We have less productive land, less water and lower inputs, Jeffery notes.

According to Naish also contributing to poorer reproductive health, is a massive increase in radiation exposures, overconsumption of sugar, junk and refined food, caffeine, and alcohol, indoor, sedentary lifestyles, stress and weight issues. “Being over and under-weight (either parent), can affect the ability to conceive, have a healthy baby and pregnancy, and successful birth,” Naish says.

A man’s sperm are extremely vulnerable to all the toxins we are experiencing. As a result, the man is an incredibly important part of any preparation for a healthy pregnancy.

Painting a dim picture of our reproductive health, according to a Price Waterhouse Coopers study, every two hours an Australian child is diagnosed with an intellectual disability. Every seven hours an Australian child is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, and every 15 hours, a child is born with cerebral palsy. In Australia, hospital admissions for severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) to food by children aged up to four years, have increased five-fold over the last decade, according to the Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy.

Infertility (defined as the inability to conceive after a year of attempting, or to carry a pregnancy to a live birth) affects one in six couples in Australia and New Zealand.

The age factor

A further impact on fertility is the fact that more of us are delaying pregnancy, resulting in increasingly older age mothers and fathers. Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that 22 per cent of all Australian women giving birth in 2015 were aged 35 or older. Reflecting a trend since the 1950s towards later parenthood, the median age of first-time Australian mothers in 2016 was 31.2 years, and for fathers, 33.3 years, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures. In 1998, the average age for a first-time mother was 27.

Older age for the parents is associated with reduced fertility, as well as an increased risk of birth defects and health issues in the baby, perinatal death, and complications in pregnancy. Fortunately, good preconception health care can offset many, if not most, of the health risks associated with being older age parents.

The male factor

Fertility issues are far from just a female concern. According to Swisse Wellness Expert, Dr David Cannata, “It is very important that both parents undertake a preconception health program. It is fairly well established that the health of a woman during preconception not only influences the ability to conceive but is also directly linked to a healthy pregnancy and healthy development of the baby. However, men’s preconception health is also important.”

Cannata adds, “Male sperm health is easily influenced by diet and lifestyle and poor health can be a common factor in couples struggling to conceive. Furthermore, male preconception health can also influence early pregnancy development, so it is important for both parents to undertake in a health program during preconception.”

Naish says studies show that over 50 per cent of fertility problems, miscarriages, and health problems in the pregnancy and baby, are largely due to the male side of things. “Sperm are more vulnerable than eggs,” she explains. “They’re smaller, they’re held outside the body and their entire life [including spermatogenesis] is about 3 to 4 months before conception takes place. A man’s sperm are extremely vulnerable to all the toxins we are experiencing. As a result, the man is an incredibly important part of any preparation for a healthy pregnancy. But, unfortunately, they’re not usually very aware of it.” In the 1950’s, male sperm counts were generally around 60 to 80 million per millilitre, she says. “These days you’re lucky if you get 20 million, because of the problems of toxic exposure and nutritional deficiencies.”

Men in particular, don’t realise the fertility issues associated with growing older. A man of forty has the same risk of having a child with schizophrenia as a women of forty has of having a baby with Downs syndrome, Naish says. “Although there are other reasons why children might be autistic, autism is specifically related to paternal age but not at all to maternal age.”

The time factor

According to Naish, preconception care should start at least three to four months before conception attempts with a focus on the weakest link in the chain – our very own eggs and sperm right down to the cellular level. “Fertility’s the most vulnerable thing we have,” she says. “If you’re going to have a toxic exposure at that stage, it’s a lot more damaging than it is for, say, an adult person. Once you’ve damaged the original cell, all of the daughter cells will carry the same damage. The whole make up of that organism is affected.”

Starting a health program in this timeframe is critical. Spermatogenesis (the creation and production of sperm) is occurring, and eggs are maturing. “In that three to four months of maturation, anything that happens to them will either have a beneficial or negative effect which will then get passed on to the pregnancy and the baby,” Naish says. “So it’s extremely important that both partners are aware of lifestyle, dietary and toxic exposures, because the baby will make itself from what it gets from the egg and sperm initially.”

What is natural fertility? 

Natural fertility focuses on understanding and promoting your innate fertility and the natural cycles of the body. However, preconception care is only one element of natural fertility management. Along with prepping your body for a healthy conception, natural fertility management includes natural approaches to support the health of child and mother onward through pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Another key aspect of natural fertility management are natural contraception methods, employed both during the preconception period to best time and target conception attempts, as well as avoid pregnancy when conception is not desired. Natural fertility also applies to the treatment of reproductive health problems ranging from hormonal imbalances to polycystic ovarian syndrome.

Measures used in natural fertility management include herbal medicines, nutritional supplements, diet and lifestyle changes, exercise and stress management, as well as helpful diagnostic tests. Herbal tonics can help balance hormones but as some of them are not advised during pregnancy, in the interests of total safety, it is best to consult a qualified practitioner before using them.

Far from a new concept, throughout history pregnant women have been advised to look after their health and avoid toxic substances. In the Bible, the pregnant wife of Manoah was advised to abstain from wine. In his monumental 1939 book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Weston Price documented the prevalence of preconception practices in remote traditional cultures around the world. Maturing girls and boys, young women and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers in many cultures, were given animal foods rich in fat soluble vitamin A and D, such as fish eggs, spider crabs and raw milk. In some cultures, marriage was postponed until cows were feeding on new grass.

Evidence-based research

Research shows that those who follow a program of good preconception care have an increased pregnancy success rate, healthier babies, better births and less complications in pregnancy. A successful outcome is most likely when both parents are involved, and adhere closely to recommendations.

In a 1995 UK study of 367 couples by Foresight and Surrey University, 81 per cent of previously infertile couples who followed a preconception program, successfully conceived a child. Of total births occurring over the two-year research period, there were no miscarriages, perinatal deaths, malformations, or babies admitted to intensive care. According to the study authors, a normal expected outcome for a sample of its size, would have been 70 miscarriages and six malformations. In fact, prior to undertaking the health program, 38 per cent of the participating couples had previously been impacted by miscarriage, 11 per cent by therapeutic abortion, three per cent by still birth, two per cent by malformations, and one per cent by SIDS.

An independent study of mostly older couples diagnosed with infertility, was undertaken at the Jocelyn Centre by the University of New England. Within a few months of undertaking the program, over half of the couples had conceived.  Over the past forty years, Naish and her colleagues have treated thousands of couples, including many in older age groups and with major fertility issues. “You’d expect to see thousands of problems and hundreds of defects in a group that size, and really we’ve had less than a handful of anything serious happen during that time,” she says. “We’re not looking at only a healthier conception and a healthier pregnancy, but a healthier child that grows into a healthier adult with less chance of cancer and diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” she adds. Preconception and then, of course, pregnancy, is massively important for the entire life of that baby, and the adult it grows into. Now we know about epigenetics, we also know that the advantages are passed onto every generation from there on because nutritional and lifestyle issues can turn the trigger on and off, on inherited genetic problems.”

Helpful diagnostic tests  

Naish suggests a comprehensive preconception health check to pinpoint and treat any issues early that might impact fertility or pregnancy. This includes tests for liver and thyroid function, hidden infections and STDs, full blood count, and nutritional assessment.

Assessment for heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium, mercury, arsenic, aluminium, uranium and beryllium, (detectable with urine and hair analysis) is highly recommended. Heavy metals can accumulate in the body over a lifetime and are highly detrimental to eggs, sperm and embryo development. A naturopath can recommend specific therapies to help clear metals from the body.

Relevant tests can rule out any physiological reasons for infertility. As well as age, weight and environmental factors, common health problems causing infertility in the woman include polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, thyroid disorders, fallopian tube damage, early menopause, polyps, fibroids, cancer treatments, genital infections, auto-immune disease and pelvic adhesions.

For the man, a thorough semen analysis, including culture for infection and DNA fragmentation, blood and infection tests, are important.

Charting fertility

Timing conception to bring fresh sperm and eggs together so that fertilisation involves the healthiest sperm and eggs, is another aspect of avoiding problems in the foetus. Sperm have a working life of three days and eggs (once they leave the ovary for the fallopian tube) about 12 to 24 hours.

By charting vaginal mucus and body-at-rest temperature for a good three months preconception, a woman can learn about her ovulation patterns and time her conception attempt on the day before she ovulates. On the man’s end of things, there should be regular ejaculation in the first half of the female’s cycle. “Frequent ejaculation can prevent DNA fragmenting in the sperm, especially important as the man gets older,” Naish explains.

Conception should be timed to be as close as possible to the day before the woman expects ovulation to occur. “Then, when the woman knows that she’s nearing her ovulation there’s avoidance of any unprotected intercourse, to avoid sperm ageing in the woman’s reproductive tract, until she’s aware, from what she knows about her mucus patterns, that she’s just about to ovulate.”

In this scenario the sperm’s arrival is timed slightly ahead of the egg, giving time for the strongest, fittest and healthiest sperm to edge out the weedier, less desirable competition.

The average female menstrual cycle is 29 and a half days, based on the monthly lunar cycle. The generally accepted cycle length of 28 days was introduced by the Pill manufacturers, to fit into a neat four weeks. Over that time, a number of physiological changes occur in the female reproductive system in response to hormones. Two of these (mucus changes and basal body temperature) can be easily observed and by charting, used to reliably predict when ovulation happens.

Mucus changes 

Immediately before ovulation, under the influence of oestrogen, the vaginal mucus resembles raw egg-white and is stretchy and slippery between the fingers. It may be translucent, clear or milky white. The arrival of such mucus heralds the best time for conception.

When monitoring mucus it’s best to observe both quantity and quality.  At the beginning and end of the menstrual cycle, the mucus is sticky, and generally opaque. As oestrogen starts to rise and ovulation gets closer, the mucus is thinner, wetter and clearer but also more plentiful. These changes are related to assisting sperm. The least fertile mucus tends to be opaque, dry, thick, crumbly, pasty or flaky – in other words, something sperm would find hard to swim through.

Basal temperature 

At ovulation your body-at-rest temperature starts to rise under the influence of progesterone. During the first half of your cycle there are small changes in temperature, but it mostly stays the same. Just after ovulation, it rises up to 0.5°C and increases until menstruation. The start of the rise is the most likely time of ovulation. However, if progesterone is slow to respond, it’s also possible the egg may have been released up to two days before the rise. To make things more complex, other factors including infections, overheating and so on, can affect body-at-rest temperatures. However, this information can be used over a few cycles to see clearly where, in the mucus pattern, ovulation occurs.

In order to monitor your temperature for fertility, you need a fertility thermometer, or one marked in small gradations that allow you to read a 0.5°C difference. The best time to take your reading is first thing in the morning at roughly the same time each day, after at least four hours sleep.

Dietary factors

Naish recommends the following dietary changes, preferably four months or more before trying to get pregnant. Raw, steamed, stir-fried and dry-baked are the healthiest cooking methods. Adequate daily dietary protein (either plant or animal), fatty acids and the rainbow of antioxidant, vitamin and mineral rich vegetables, are particularly integral to embryo development. Organic foods are recommended. A number of studies show these are higher in nutrients. They are also free of genetically modified (GM) ingredients, and endocrine-disrupting pesticides and herbicides.

Ditch 

– Alcohol (poisonous to foetal health, eggs and sperm). Mineral water can be used as a replacement.

– Coffee and caffeine-containing foods and beverages.

– Junk food.

– Trans fats (found in some margarine, deep fried foods, heated oils, snack foods, crisps, crackers, cookies, frozen foods like fish fingers and spring rolls, commercial pastries and pies, pastry). Trans fats wreak havoc on your hormones and are toxic to human health.

– Processed meats (contain carcinogenic nitrate preservatives).

– Organ meats (if not organic). Organs store toxins such as pesticides and heavy metals. If organic, organ meats are highly nutritious.

– Sausages and mince meat (if made from organs).

– Cow milk and cheese (irritates the mucosa, including the gut and reproductive organs. Goats’ and sheep’s milk and cheese (organic only) are generally better tolerated. Soft cheeses may also contain bacteria.)

– Sugar, honey, sugar substitutes, fruit juice, soft drinks.

– White flour and refined carbohydrate products, cakes, biscuits. (Sugar and refined carbs sap your body of nutrients including zinc and folate).

– Pre-prepared sauces.

– Peanut butter (high in unhealthy fats and sugar).

– Dried fruit (contains sugar and preservatives, and potentially, mould).

Reduce 

– Saturated fats (found in meats, dairy products). Too many can negatively impact the very essential fatty acids, and are pro-inflammatory. Trim off excessive fat on meat. Toxins accumulate in fat if the animal is not organically raised.

– Salt. (Too much salt negatively impacts fluid and mineral balance.) Use sparing amounts of high quality sea, Celtic or rock salt.

– Soy products (Too much soy may inhibit mineral absorption and disrupt the endocrine system, and is often genetically modified. Fermented tempeh, tamari or miso are okay in small amounts.)

Enjoy 

– Purified water – six to eight glasses daily. (Tap water may contain heavy metals, pesticides and other toxins).

– Dandelion, chicory and herbal teas.

– Organic, naturally low-caffeine, black or green tea (2 cups daily maximum).

– Healthy fats from avocado, tahini, nuts, nut spreads, cold-pressed oils such as virgin olive and flaxseed. The latter should always be kept in the fridge. Avoid heating oils, especially do not use flaxseed for cooking.

– Raw juices and salads, especially based on vegetables, greens and herbs.

– Vegetables in a variety of colours. (These should make up at least 40 per cent of your diet).

– Fruit (No more than 2 to 3 pieces per day, due to fructose content, and eaten whole rather than juiced).

– Fresh herbs (like parsley, watercress, basil, coriander, thyme and mint) for additional minerals.

– Protein foods in each meal. If you’re vegetarian look to nuts, legumes or pulses, grains and seeds for your amino acids. Quinoa and buckwheat are good examples of high-protein grains.

– Eggs (free-range, certified organic).

– Fresh, raw and unsalted nuts (stored in the fridge, or the freezer if longer than two weeks, to avoid the oil going rancid and triggering a free radical cascade). Bitter tasting nuts are rancid and should be discarded. Walnuts, high in antioxidants, and almonds, high in calcium, minerals and fibre, are particularly valuable.

– Legumes and pulses, such as lentils, chickpeas, split peas and beans.

– Certified organic red meat up to three times a week.

– Fish three times a week. Avoid large fish (often high in mercury) and farmed fish. Choose smaller, deep-sea, wild-caught fish, such as sardines, anchovies, herring, flatfish, haddock, and mackerel, and (only if verified wild-caught) salmon and rainbow trout.

– Wholegrain, organic grains.

– Organic, sugar-free yoghurt.

Dr David Cannata sums it up, “When trying to conceive, both men and women may benefit from reducing the intake of processed foods, trans-fats, sugar and caffeine (though one coffee a day is fine). You may also want to avoid or restrict the consumption of alcohol and smoking. Heavy metal (mercury and lead) contamination of food may also impair reproductive health, so you may want to opt for alternatives with less heavy metal contamination risk.”

Non-toxic kitchenware 

Since you are trying to be as toxin-free as possible when conceiving, it makes sense to think about the utensils you use when preparing and eating your food. Use stainless steel, ceramic, glass or cast iron (unless you have raised iron levels) cookware, and beeswax or paper food wrappings. Avoid microwaving food and try not to use plastic containers, plastic utensils, plastic wrap (chemicals in plastic can leach into food and drinks), and aluminium or non-stick cookware that may contain toxic metals and chemicals.

Key nutrients and helpful supplements.

In addition to a healthy, balanced diet, some level of supplementation is recommended, given the high demands of pregnancy, and the prevalence of nutrient deficiency in our population.

When asked to recomment his top two nutrients for conception Dr David Cannata says, “If I had to recommend two key nutrients to support male fertility they would be zinc and Coenzyme Q10. Low zinc levels can be common amongst men so it is important to take Zinc because it supports testosterone levels and sperm production. Coenzyme Q10 is an antioxidant which can protect sperm from free radical damage and also plays a role in cellular energy production, which is important for sperm motility.”

When it comes to women Cannata indicates, “Folic acid and iron would be the obvious recommendations for women trying to conceive to support early development and healthy fertility. After these two, research is showing the importance of selenium in egg maturation and early development.”

Francesca Naish says, “Folic acid and zinc play a key role in closure of the neural tubes (on day 27 or 28 of your pregnancy). Deficiency can result in your baby being born with a neural tube disorder, such as spina bifida. However, folic acid only works effectively in the presence of the other B vitamins, so should be taken as part of a B complex. Zinc plays a primary role in male and female reproductive health generally and is our most common deficiency. Antioxidants, especially should be taken by the male, as they minimise the effects of free radical damage. However, all nutrients, essential fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals, and all antioxidants, are important in preconception and beyond as building blocks to make a baby.”

Francesca Naish’s recommended key daily nutrients for prospective parents 

Note: This is a guide only, not a comprehensive list of all nutrients required. Where a specific health issue or deficiency is being treated, higher dosages may be required. Anyone considering supplementation should consult a qualified naturopath or nutritionist. Overly high doses of some vitamins and minerals (such as iron, iodine, copper, vitamin A and D) can be toxic while certain nutrients are best taken apart or at specific times of day. Vegetarians may need to take supplemental iron and B12. Confirm with a blood test first.

Betacarotene: 6mg of mixed carotenoids

Vitamin B complex with inositol, choline and biotin

– B1, B2, B3: 50mg

– B5: 100mg

– B6 – 50-250mg (More may be required for progesterone deficiency or PMS)

– Folic acid (B9): 800-1000 mcg

Vitamin C: 2-3g plus bioflavonoids

Vitamin D: best acquired by daily, safe exposures of the skin to sunlight. Only supplement if you’ve had a blood test to assess need.

Vitamin E: 500-1,000iu (mixed tocopherols)

Essential fatty acids (Omega 3 EFAs and DHA): 2-6g from mercury free fish oils.

Calcium: 800 mg increased to 1200mg in the second trimester of pregnancy. Avoid caltrate forms.

Magnesium: 400mg, increasing in second trimester. (Magnesium should be at least half the dose of calcium)

Iodine: As potassium iodide: 10mcg. Important for thyroid function and the baby’s cognitive development. A deficiency in pregnancy can cause cretinism, however high doses of iodine are toxic.

Iron: Dependent on ferritin iron stores.

Selenium: 150mcg

Chromium: 100-500mcg

Potassium: 50mg

Zinc: 25-60mg. Greater demand in pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Lifestyle factors

Consider your total environment of home, work, play, and neighbourhood. Also consider your personal care and cleaning products and medical treatments when assessing your exposures to toxic substances. “If you’re exposed to fumes or dust you’re probably exposed to something toxic,” Naish says. Also, become a vigorous reader of labels. This means looking at the ‘back labels’ not just the marketing claims on the front. “Make sure you can relate to the names of the substances that are listed,” she says. “If you can’t, then don’t buy the product.”

Avoid 

– Cigarettes, alcohol and social drugs.

– Renovating.

– Plastics.

– Household cleaning agents, unless 100 per cent natural ingredients.

– Pesticides and pesticide sprays. They’re a much bigger risk to your health than the pests themselves.

– Heavy metals in products such as cosmetics, some medications, non-organic food, non-purified water, dust, etc.

– Traffic fumes.

– Paint, glues, solvents, paint stripper, mould treatments.

– Over the counter and prescription drugs. (If possible, work with your medical practitioner and naturopath for a natural, low-tox option).

– Spermicidal lubricants.

– Heavily polluted environments, transmitter towers, electricity substations, high voltage power lines or similar. If you live in a toxic environment, consider moving. Or seek assistance from specialists on how to protect yourself.

Embrace

– Regular, moderate exercise like walking and yoga – promotes better circulation and hormone balance and reduces stress. More vigorous exercise may be required to build fitness or lose weight.

– Because of the health risks associated with weight issues, if these are an issue for you, go on a weight loss (or gain) program well before trying to conceive.

– Boxer shorts (if you’re male). A 2017 study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found men wearing boxers had about 25 per cent higher sperm concentrations, 17 per cent higher total sperm counts and 33 per cent higher motile sperm counts than those who wore other undergarments. The biggest differences were found between men who wore boxers and those who chose briefs or jockeys. (Scrotal temperature impairs sperm production – even body temperature affects sperm, which is why testes hang outside the body.)

Reducing radiation

The average person today is exposed to as much radiation in just one month as our parents were in their whole lifetime, Naish says. Ionising radiation (from X-rays, and the cosmic radiation you are exposed to while flying) is the most damaging to DNA. “Every four hours you’re up in a commercial, high-altitude aeroplane is the equivalent to a chest X-ray,” she says. Other forms of radiation are non-ionising (such as microwaves) and electro-magnetic radiation (EMR). Obtaining an electromagnetic home survey can help highlight areas of concern. Reduce your exposure to all froms of radiation where you can while trying to conceive and during pregnancy.

The stress factor

According to Marta Browne, a qualified psychotherapist, doula, integrative naturopath, therapist and mother of three, based in Queensland, a number of studies show that stress can have a huge impact on conception and pregnancy outcomes.  “Short term stress is not the problem,” Browne says. “Its’ long-term, chronic stress, what we’ve assimilated into our lives as our new normal. The levels of stress we live with now are phenomenal.”

A study done in 2007, found that from the seventeenth week of pregnancy onwards, the level of cortisol in the mother’s blood is analogous to that in amniotic fluid. “Where there’s sustained cortisol in the mother’s bloodstream, there is sustained cortisol in the mothers amniotic. And, where the cortisol levels rise in the mother they rise proportionally in the amniotic fluid as well,” Browne says.

One of the most common consequences of stress upon pregnancy is a greater risk of pre-term delivery, Browne says. Ongoing stress also has a negative impact on your immune system. “Where the maternal immune system is compromised, there’s an increased chance of infection, not just for the mother but also for the foetus – again the greatest risk there is foetal complications and premature birth.”

“Stress is also linked to unhealthy coping mechanisms, like alcohol use, drug taking and cigarettes, with their negative effects upon fertility and the growing foetus. Stress can even hinder conception taking place,” Browne says.

Since many of us are so used to living with chronic stress, as part of a prenatal care plan, completing a stress scale test can be helpful. Browne suggests natural, practical measures to support your mental health, such as exercise, counselling, learning stress management techniques like mindfulness, positive psychology and cognitive therapies, sufficient sleep, and eating well but also mindfully.

Additionally, eating regular balanced, healthy meals is more stabilising to your blood sugar and thereby your moods.

While it’s not always possible to remove the stressors in your domestic life, getting away from them can help. “Getting people out of the house creates distance from whatever is causing stress, and it helps with sleep and metabolism, ” says Browne.

Exercise is important but need not involve going to the gym. Browne adds, “Even exercising on the couch for 10 minutes is valuable. The exercise itself doesn’t matter so much as forming the habit.”

To deal with stress Dr David Cannata also recommends some key nutrients. According to Cannata, “Stress can directly impact the production of sperm and eggs, so it is most paramount while trying to conceive to identify what is the cause of stress and ways to alleviate that stress. In addition to the direct affect stress has on fertility, it also depletes nutrients which contribute to healthy conception such as B vitamins, vitamin C and magnesium. The body may have a higher demand for these nutrients while under stress.”

The rewarding journey of motherhood and fatherhood is a long one and throughout it you should make sure that self-nurture is part of your daily regime.

IMPORTANT NOTE

Although this is an in-depth look at natural fertility management, it is still a simplified version of a massive topic. Anyone considering natural contraceptive methods can go further into the topic by reading Francesca Naish’s book Natural Fertility (Sally Milner Publishing) or consult their healthcare professional.



 

Linda Moon

Linda Moon is a freelance feature writer reporting on health, travel, food and local producers, work, parenting, relationships and other lifestyle topics. Her work has appeared in International Traveller, Voyeur (Virgin Airlines magazine), Jetstar Asia, Slow Living, Traveller, Domain, My Career, Life & Style and Sunday Life (Sydney Morning Herald), Sprout, NZ Journal of Natural Medicine, Nature & Health, Australian Natural Health, Fernwood Fitness, The New Daily, SBS, Essential Kids, Australian Family, Weekend Notes, The Big Bus Tour & Travel Guide and more.

Based in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, Linda is a qualified and experienced naturopath, spa and massage therapist and a partly trained social worker.

Her writing interests focus on health, responsible consumerism, exploring beautiful places and the quest for a fairer, healthier and happier world for all.