photo from the cherry blossom girl

Lauren Zielinski CNM, MSN, RN is a Certified Nurse-Midwife, and the founder of a grassroots women’s health movement called New Moon Rising Events. New Moon Rising works in cities across the US to hold free, day-long workshops that foster discussion about reproductive health, political advocacy, natural medicine options, and community connections. 

ed note: The views expressed in this article intend to share information and induce conversation, in an effort to empower women to be proactive in their health if and when they try to conceive. As always when it comes to matters of health, we encourage you to do your research, listen to your mind and gut, and talk with your doctor so that you can create a plan that’s optimal for you. And of course – if you’ve been pregnant in the past and didn’t necessarily follow this advice — well, that makes two of us, and you are just fine.

Preconception: the magical time frame that occurs before you conceive. The time when thoughts and dreams of a cute little mini-me and soft little baby snuggles are swirling in your head. The time you and a partner are having exciting conversations about “starting to try.” The time in which you’re deciding whether or not now is a good time to give up on the parties, the sleeping in and the whirlwind weekend vacation lifestyle you’ve spent most of your twenties expertly perfecting. This time before you start trying is actually the ideal time to start preparing your body and mind for pregnancy. Here’s why!

When you conceive a babe, you and your partner are passing down your genes and laying down the blueprint for your future kiddos health and their kids health, and their kids health and so on! Putting in the time and effort to be sure you’re living your healthiest you when you conceive is actually very important so that the DNA you pass down is primo! (kisses hand like an old Italian guy)

The center for disease control reports that rates of infertility amongst women of childbearing age are at an all time high of 12% nationally. The common current belief is that the contributing culprits to these rising rates are a mix of changes in our diet over the past 50-70 years, increased exposure to toxins and chemicals and uncontrolled stress levels.

Does that geek anyone else out? To counter that scary factoid, here’s some good news: Recent research on women of childbearing age in the UK demonstrated that women who had even the most basic preconception care (healthy diet counseling and instructions to take prenatal vitamins while trying to conceive) had lower rates of infertility, decreased rates of miscarriage, still birth, infant death and birth defects. Whoa mama! That’s impressive data.

So, when do you start preconception care?

I recommend calling your midwife or lady doc for an appointment about 4-6 months prior to “starting to try.” It takes sperm and eggs about that long to mature, so once you start implementing and maintaining your new and informed pre-conception lifestyle changes you should have strong-happy-healthy-baby-ready-sperm and eggs in about 4 months.

photo from once wed

1. Lifestyle Changes

Avoid! Avoid! Avoid! Put down the glass of pinot and take a deep breath ladies – the very best thing you can do for the health of your unborn baby to be while you’re trying to conceive is to totally quit drinking alcohol, cut way back on caffeine AND definitely stop all other recreational drug use or smoking. Avoidance of toxins and teratogens (like alcohol and chemicals than can cause birth defects) is one of the easiest ways to prevent major health issues as well as developmental and birth defects in your unborn baby. That’s a big deal. Pay attention!

What’s the deal with drinking?

Drinking more than 2 bottles of wine per week or 14+ beverages a week can decrease your rates of fertility – more importantly though – no amount of alcohol is safe when you’re trying to conceive. Your baby is majorly developing in the first few weeks of pregnancy and is especially susceptible to alcohol during the 3rd – 8th week after conception. Weeks 3 and 4 of pregnancy are when you’re just realizing (or not realizing) you missed your period. The scariest thing about alcohol and fetal development is that often times we don’t see anything wrong with these kiddos when they’re born, however the effects can come out in the form of developmental and learning disabilities later in life. Insert crying emoji. Just say no, chicas.

Caffeine?

Drinking more than 300 mg of caffeine per day while trying to conceive is associated with a 30% chance of miscarriage. Bummer for all the coffee addicts like me! Aim to drink less than 200 mg of caffeine per day. That’s no more than 1 ½ cups of coffee… you can do it!

Smoking?

Smoking while trying to conceive is associated with a 3 times increased risk of heart defects and may account for 13% of infertility cases in the US. Smoking is really really really bad for you for many reasons, so preparing for a healthy babe is another great reason to quit – if you smoke, try using a patch to quit, wean down with an e-pen, or look into getting hypnotized to quit! The time is now.

photo from the coveteur

2. Eliminate Yucky Environmental Toxins

Women who are exposed to pesticides and toxins have a harder time conceiving. A recent study showed that women who ate organic fruits and vegetables with less toxic pesticides had higher rates of pregnancy success. Eliminating pesticides, chemicals and plastics that can seep into your body is a simple way to increase your chances of conceiving. This is something I recommend sticking with before, during, and after pregnancy because, ew chemicals.

photo from bitte

3. Find Your Happy Place

Stress is toxic ya’ll! Stress hormones actually change the way your sex and reproductive hormones balance themselves, throwing off your natural flow and making it harder to get pregnant or stay pregnant. Additionally mental health imbalances and struggles can be magnified in the pregnancy and postpartum period. If you struggle with depression or anxiety, you are already at an increased risk for postpartum depression and anxiety, so you want to be sure you’re in a good place before you think about conceiving. The research also shows that cognitive behavioral therapy is as effecting as using pharmaceuticals, so you don’t need to run to meds if you’re not already using them. Start by finding a good therapist and see them regularly until you feel like you’re ready for the huge changes a baby brings into your life. Feeling as mentally stable and as grounded as possible before you add the craziness of a new babe is super important.

photo from tending the table

4. Health Yourself

Start prenatal vitamins and folic acid supplementation ASAP! 400 mcg of folic acid/day as well as a vegetarian or vegan prenatal vitamin is preferred.

Add dissolvable b12 vitamins 1-2x/day.

Avoidance of highly processed grains, sugars and starches is a great place to start if you’re trying to kick your health into gear. Carb-loading can cause insulin resistance which can in turn effect your reproductive metabolism, making it harder to get pregnant or stay pregnant.

Load your diet with as many fruits, vegetables and whole foods as possible.

Enjoy a good, hearty amount of whole fats like high quality coconut and olive oils, avocados, whole fat butter, nuts and grass-fed meats.

Add plenty of spices like turmeric, cinnamon, black pepper, cayenne, chili, coriander, cumin, cardamom and garlic to your diet.

Eat upwards of 60 grams of protein every day.

If you have irregular periods or cycles start the supplement Vitex, also known as Chaste Tree Berry. This supplement increases natural progesterone and lengthens the luteal phase of your cycle which can make getting pregnant easier.

Resources

If you’re looking for a good Naturopathic Doctor to help you along your journey towards a baby I highly recommend Dr. Jaclyn Chasse. She is available for video chat appointments and is a wealth of knowledge! Check her website here.

12 comments
  1. 1
    Homes & Weddings | January 9, 2018 at 7:28 am

    Truly sound advice here. Esp the stress mention. Great read.

    Reply
  2. 2
    Gen B | January 9, 2018 at 7:59 am

    Before guilt-tripping everyone about wine, the author should read Expecting More, in which the studies I am assuming she is relying on are debunked. Not saying anyone should go on a bender, but the guilt leveled at women who have wine here and there is insane. Women deserve to know actual facts — not be guilted into believing a glass of wine will cause behavior defects down the road. Btw, in that study presumably relied on by the author, the women whose children drank lightly during pregnancy also happened to use cocaine during pregnancy. Could there be a coincidence there?! Sick of the pseudo science guilt leveled at women. No wonder we suffer from stress…

    Reply
    • Gen B | January 9, 2018 at 8:06 am

      Sorry — Expecting Better (not More) by Emily Oster

      Reply
    • Lauren Zielinski | January 11, 2018 at 11:04 am

      Hi Gen, thanks for your response and please know that my intention in sharing this information is far from guilt tripping or making anyone feel bad for alcohol consumed when pregnant. As a healthcare provider my advice to women must be the safest possible answer for all women reading and in that advice lies ZERO judgement. It’s simply medical advice on what we know so far! Women are so laden with guilt in pregnancy it’s ridiculous, and I totally hear you when you say that and wish that there was an easier answer to this alcohol topic. I think taking the information and recommendations for what they are which is the best science can do – which is not always perfect – and then giving yourself grace and softness in any choices you decide to make or have made is important. Life isn’t cut and dry like scientific research! We all just go with the flow the best we can. I do want to share with you some evidence for my writing since you seemed interested in that aspect!

      As a nurse practitioner, midwife and medical professional, as well as someone who is extremely passionate about the health and well being of women and infants – the sole intention of my writing is to share with readers current evidence and sound medical research – both of which are the basis for all of my writing. I’d also like to note that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American College of Nurse Midwives, The Center for Disease Control, The Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council, The New Zealand Government Ministry of Health as well as The World Health Organization also currently share the same recommendations and views on alcohol in pregnancy, which you can find here:

      https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Alcohol-and-Women

      http://www.midwife.org/Alcohol-and-Pregnancy

      http://www.euro.who.int/en/data-and-evidence/evidence-informed-policy-making/publications/hen-summaries-of-network-members-reports/is-low-dose-alcohol-exposure-during-pregnancy-harmful

      https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/publications/attachments/ds10-alcohol.pdf

      https://www.health.govt.nz/system/files/documents/publications/alcohol-pregnancy-practical-guide-health-professionals.pdf

      http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/alcohol-use.html

      Perhaps I should have mentioned that amidst the large amount of evidence that shows negative correlation between drinking and pregnancy- there is also evidence that not EVERY child who is exposed to alcohol will be affected negatively or develop fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD).The recommendation to not drink any alcohol from my perspective is certainly not reliant on just one study (the cocaine and alcohol study you had mentioned). My recommendation (and the recommendations from the professional organizations above) are based upon collective research from years of data. The data on alcohol is across the board very confusing (which is why the author of the book you mentioned who has a phD in statistics, not in medicine, decided to dig deeper into the research). In some studies we see that large amounts of alcohol cause no deleterious effects on infants, where in other studies only small consumption of alcohol can cause cranio-facial abnormalities and developmental delays etc. The take-away from the research is that we don’t yet know who-why-when-or-what causes FASD. We do know that life is fluid and there are many moving pieces and variants such as, pattern of consumption, maternal and fetal genetics (in regards to metabolism), maternal age, maternal nutrition,and maternal smoking among many more. Therefore, the absolute safest decision in my opinion is to consume zero alcohol because how could any health care provider make a safe recommendation otherwise – we just do not have enough good research to tell a mom yes, or maybe just a little is actually okay? I would never want to tell a mom it’s not a big deal and see her child suffer in the future because of our lack on scientific understanding. Take that and do what you want with it – my hope is that my readers are simply better informed on current recommendations.

      Reply
  3. 3
    Jeanette | January 9, 2018 at 9:02 am

    It’s hard enough for some women to get pregnant without feeling guilty that infertility is their fault because work stresses them out or they have encountered too many “chemicals and plastics.” Your attitude toward people with mental-health problems (they can do without medicine!) is insensitive and unrealistic. Maybe you didn’t mean to, but you’re minimizing this issue by framing it as a self-help problem. You know what helped me get pregnant? Talking to my OB/GYN. I’m pretty sure a better, more effective answer to all of this is good health care, not coconut oil and turmeric.This advice is unnecessarily preachy. It’s unattainable for women who don’t have extra money to spend on grass-fed beef. Can women just stop setting the bar at perfection for everything?

    Reply
    • Lauren Zielinski | January 11, 2018 at 11:05 am

      Hi Jeanette, Thanks for bringing up a few good points. Please know that my recommendations are supplemental lifestyle changes I recommend coupled with pre-conception care and regular visits with a midwife or OB/GYN. I am a believer in treating women holistically- meaning that I believe each piece of the body and mind is by design of nature interconnected and all play on one another, hence treating the whole body rather than just a piece is key to success. With this idea in mind you might be able to see that yes, going to an OB/GYN is important, but so is living the healthiest that you can as your body and mind are healthier when you are taking the best care of them. In my opinion just “seeing a doctor,” actually won’t increase your chances of getting pregnant. I believe in empowering my patients to take their own health into their hands and my recommendations, while certainly not the ANSWERS to getting pregnant, might help women put together the whole piece of health and make it easier to get pregnant!

      I’d also like to assure you that in no way am I attempting to guilt-trip or make women feel at fault for being stressed, only empower them with the knowledge that stress is a very real player in infertility! Stress is certainly a huge part of life that is hard to avoid and I think societally we have done a terrible job of normalizing stress.I encourage you to read about high cortisol levels and the impact that stress has on chronic disease and life expectancy. Maybe a woman’s job is stressful and that can not or will not change in pregnancy, but perhaps with the information that eliminating stress is one simple way to increase fertility rates she can find ways to decrease stress post work through methods that feel sound to her. I hope you can understand where I’m coming from.Telling a modern woman to “try to stress less” these days is hard to do and I see the irony in it, but it is important in my opinion to share with women the real risk in hopes that recognition is the beginning of change.

      In regards to your comment surrounding mental health: I apologize for any of my writing that could have been interpreted as insensitive. I take mental health very seriously and would like to be as sensitive as possible! I toyed with the idea of adding more information about mental health to this post because my views on mental health and pregnancy are MUCH broader than what I was able to share with you and I didn’t want to come across as anti-medication. I do come from a stance (like many women’s health care providers) that eliminating as many outside non-natural substances and medications consumed in pregnancy as possible is the absolute safest route. With that being said I think the reality for many women is weighing the risks vs benefits of mental health medications. Often times the benefits of using an anti-depressant may need clearly outweigh the risks associated with not taking it in pregnancy, and I routinely prescribe these meds and discuss these same ideas with my patients. In my article I wanted to make it clear that research does actually show that talk therapy is as effective as medication usage and so if a woman isn’t already using medications and wants to work on mental health, talk therapy is a great place to start. I could write an entire blog post on mental health meds and pregnancy and am surely an advocate for my patients who choose to use or stay on them, because I know healthy stable mamas make for happy healthy babies.

      Reply
  4. 4
    latelylena | January 9, 2018 at 9:50 am

    Mostly great article, but the comment, ‘Ew, chemicals’, is ridiculous. Most chemicals are naturally occurring, and labelling them all as ‘bad’ is not only ignorant but dangerous.

    Reply
    • Lauren Zielinski | January 11, 2018 at 11:07 am

      Hi Lena! I’m glad you enjoyed my article and found it helpful. In regards to your comment on my stance on chemicals being ignorant, I’m so sorry you feel that way! There is actually a lot of solid research that links pesticides, chemicals used in processed foods and naturally occurs metals to increased rates of infertility and I urge you to explore this information! It’s quite shocking…..Many naturally occurring chemicals like lead and mercury are actually neuro-toxic when ingested by humans at even low levels (think Flint, Michigan). Here is a link to a very helpful document released by the American College Of Obstetrics and Gynecology regarding the dangers of environmental chemical exposure and how they negatively effect reproductive health. The USA has some of the laxest regulations surrounding chemicals and toxins that are on the market and I think it’s important for consumers to not rely on governmental regulations as a fall back for safety. I hope you find this information helpful! I know it certainly surprised and shocked me when I learned about it in my graduate program class on fertility 🙂

      https://www.acog.org/About-ACOG/News-Room/News-Releases/2013/Environmental-Chemicals-Harm-Reproductive-Health

      Reply
  5. 5
    michelaampolo | January 9, 2018 at 10:06 am

    very useful post! 🙂
    Miki x

    http://littletasteofbeauty.blogspot.it/

    Reply
  6. 6
    truelifeofthiswife | January 16, 2018 at 12:53 pm

    Most importantly, above anything else, start researching vaccines, long before you get pregnant. Read every packaging insert (not the handout at the doctors office). Find out every single ingredient and research each of those ingredients. You will find aborted fetal cell lines. You will find formaldehyde. You will find copious amounts of aluminium, a known neurotoxin. You will find polysorbate 80, you will find cow bovine serum, you will find green monkey viruses….. then research the immune system. Then research each disease or illness they vaccinate against. What are the chances of dying of chicken pox? Zero. What are the chances of dying of diptheria? Slim to none with clean water. What are the chances of dying of rotavirus? Slim to none. Watch Vaxxed movie. Watch the DVD series ‘The Truth About Vaccines’ and ‘Vaccines Revealed’. Stop researching buggies and start researching vaccines…..

    Reply
  7. 7
    Dr Patrick Quinn | September 18, 2018 at 1:15 am

    Yes, lifestyle is making a strong effect on body and resulting in infertility. Smoking inhales lots of toxins ,having caffein is also one of the result for infertility. This list of such a great information is nice. Thanks for sharing this information. This is really informative blog.

    Reply
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *