If I were trying to becoming pregnant again, these are the steps I would follow in preparing my body. I'd probably begin this process six months to a year before actually becoming pregnant. It can basically be broken down into two categories: purify and nourish. I would focus first on the "purify" because a vessel can only be filled up with goodness (nourishment) after it has been emptied of the toxins.
Do a Personal Care Products Audit
Hair products, soaps, make-up, all your commercially available lotions and potions... line them all up beside your computer. Now, grab a Sharpie, go onto the EWG Skin Deep website and begin looking up every single product. Every product will receive a rating from 0-10 with zero being the least toxic and ten being the most toxic. Write the rating on each bottle of products. Line them up and decide three things:
1. Decide where your cutoff line is for products that you will no longer use at all. For me it was anything that rated above 5, but everybody will have to make this decision for themselves;
2. Decide what you will continue to use for now, but not replace when the product is used up. Once again, a line only you can draw, but for me, anything that ranked a 4 or 5 was worth using up;
3. Decide the rating for the products you will allow into your life going forward. For me, it was anything that ranked 3 or less.
Do a Pantry Audit
We usually know what foods are serving us and which aren't, although I have had some surprise revelations through my naturopath over the years about what my body was reacting negatively to. For instance, green peppers, strawberries, oranges, salmon are all considered super healthy foods, but for my body, they do not work. A big part of regaining health can be addition by subtraction. If you are in the Calgary area and would like to be put in touch with the man who essentially saved my life (story for a different day), you can contact me and perhaps I can arrange a meeting. He no longer accepts patients except by referral from people he knows and trusts.
If you have experienced trauma (and trauma is subjective, so even something that may be minor to one person can be extremely traumatic to another) now is a great time to work out those emotional knots. Shadows will almost certainly resurface through pregnancy, birth and parenting possibly making you wish that you worked on them before you began your parenting journey so that you can parent with more ease and grace as well as avoid passing them on to your children. Often these traumas are multigenerational and have been unwittingly passed down from our parents and from their parents. History doesn't repeat, but it does rhyme. Work on these challenges now and you will be rewarded by them not working themselves out within the family constellation. You will have to find what works for you, but since you are here reading my blog post and essentially asking my opinion, I will give it to you; talk therapy can be retraumatizing to the victim and cement the trauma in further. Just one girl's opinion, but if I were looking for emotional healing, I would skip the talk sessions and seek out a practitioner with experience with EMDR or Somatic Experiencing.
Examine both partners’ stress levels. If you have high stress, this may be hindering conception efforts for multiple reasons. The body is designed to prevent conception from occurring during times of high stress. High stress impacts hormone levels, sperm and egg health, as well as libido. Work to reduce stress levels through meditation, calming herbs and gentle exercise such as walking in nature. Vigorous exercise can be helpful or harmful depending on the status of your adrenal glands, so tread carefully as hopping on a treadmill everyday is sending the message to your body that you're running from something (a tiger? a bear? Your body doesn't know what it is, it just knows you're running) and that it may not be prime time to reproduce!
If you or your partner suffers from gum disease it can affect your chances of becoming pregnant. It can take women seven months or longer to conceive if they have gum disease compared to five months for women who don't. Similarly, men with poor oral health are more likely to face male factor infertility due to the elevated levels of bacteria in their mouth. If you can have a deep cleaning and treatment completed before trying to become pregnant you can raise your chances of conceiving and experience a healthier pregnancy. Pregnancy hormones cause changes and can affect your health by making you more vulnerable to mouth bacteria and decay and raise your chances of developing pregnancy tumors and pregnancy gingivitis. If left untreated, gingivitis can cause preterm birth and low birth weight and best addressed before calling in baby.
Taking a Break from Green Tea
Nobody loves a cozy cup of jasmine green tea more than me, but if you're planning to conceive, studies have shown that the catechins in green tea block intestinal absorption of folate, so the mom will pass less folate on to her baby regardless of the supplements she's taking. Folate deficiency has a correlation with neural tube defects such as spina bifida. It would be better to build a good supply of folate within the body long before baby is conceived by choosing whole foods, especially in the form of dark leafy greens.
This one is a little more challenging to give a one-size-fits-all answer because everyone's bodies are different and seem to have different needs. In his book, "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration" Weston A. Price describes how traditional cultures around the world focused on bringing the couple planning to conceive nourishing foods such as fish eggs on seaweed, liver and dairy made from cows that grazed on June/July grass. There are also references to the First Nations of North America using bear fat for infertility. One might deduce that they should increase their animal product intake from these past practices, but I'm convinced that's not always the answer and that each body has individual needs that can be met through a carefully chosen diet and supplements and that those needs can change with the person's phase of life, the seasons and with whatever they have been doing previously. If you can tap into how a food makes you feel after you eat it or even use kinesiology techniques, you will quickly become aware of what foods you're sensitive to. And you may be very shocked to learn some of them! For example, among other things, I am sensitive to oranges, salmon, green peppers and yellow onions - all foods that most would deem healthy or, at the very least, harmless. You will be so much further ahead if you can take the time and space to listen to your body's own innate intuition.
There are a few things I've learnt over the years that can probably be applied across the board:
Good Clean Water
Ensuring that the water you use to hydrate your cells, including not only what you drink, but also what you cook with, comes from a clean source, free of impurities that can cause problems in the body. Many municipalities draw water from sources that have cycled through people further upstream. Yes, you read that right, sewage. The municipality will chlorinate it and pass it through filters to make it drinkable, but they do not take into account the pharmaceuticals that still remain. That means that, although you may not be taking birth control pills, you may still be getting a microdose. In our home, we use both a Berkey and a water distiller. Nothing tastes better and is more pure than distilled water, but I like that the Berkey is gravity fed so it doesn't rely on electricity. If your city adds fluoride to the water (a thyroid inhibitor) you may need to purchase additional fluoride filters. The water distiller gets rid of all fluoride. Under the counter reverse osmosis is good in theory, but was never intended to hold as much water as the current units being sold do. As a result, the units are never emptied and old water stagnates in the system, potentially exposing you and your family to bacteria biofilms. If you'd like to learn more about this, I really recommend this podcast episode of The Life Stylist where it's explained in much more depth. I love idea of sourcing water from natural springs, but personally, I don't do it and don't recommend it because I think it's such a wildcard. There are too many potential contaminants like parasites, toxins, contaminants and even minerals that might be out of balance for what your body needs. It's taking a risk that I'm not comfortable with.
No list would be complete without at least mentioning the body literacy that comes with being aware of your ebbs and flows. I still remember seeing the spike in my basal body temperature telling me that I was ovulating and calling my husband who promptly came home for "lunch" and our first baby was conceived after two years of infertility! Conversely, I remember unexpectedly finding out that I was pregnant with twins and trying to work my way backward to determine their conception date. There are many charting systems available (Justisse, Creighton, Billings, Marquette, the Two Day Method) and they range from being very specific or just capturing the basics. For the current moment, I'm liking the basics, so I'm not even tracking my temperature. I track when my husband and I have sex, when I ovulate (easy to tell if you pay attention to cervical mucus and cramping) and when my menses begin. Rather than having a bunch of loose papers around, I love keeping a bullet journal that holds all these personal details. I'm sorting revealing some personal info here, but whatever; this is what my messy December chart looks like (scroll to the bottom of the page). If you look along the right margin, close to the center crease of my journal, you can see what looks like a fried egg = ovulating, teardrops = menstruating and hearts = lovemaking. Day one begins at menstruation and the cycle resets itself once menstruation rolls around again approximately 28 days later. Sorry if that's TMI, but trust me, this information is invaluable if you're trying to become pregnant, trying not to become pregnant and everything in between including trying to troubleshoot chronic illness such as a low thyroid (evidenced by shorter cycles). There is a reason some refer to the woman's cycle as the fifth vital sign. Along the left-hand side is the date and day of the week for easy reference. I like this system because it works with my busy home life and I can look back years from now and see exactly what was going on at that time within my reproductive system. If you have never read "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" which essentially teaches the Justisse Method, then you're in for a real treat.
In Conclusion, this list is incomplete. There's no getting around it. It just is. Preconception preparation and fertility is a huge topic, highly individualized and cannot be fully addressed within one simple blog post. I may update this particular post as more ideas occur to me and little snippets cross my path - they always do. If you live in or around Calgary, I'm also open to working one on one with you to do the pantry and personal care product audit, help you choose a water system that works for your household needs, guide you through preconception detoxification in the comfort of your home with my portable sauna, detect any EMF's that are causing your body stressors and point you in the direction of a few amazing local(ish) dentists that really get it.
All the same, I hope this has given you some new leads in purifying and nourishing (and tracking) the body in advance of bringing a life earthside. If you're reading this and that is your intended goal, I sincerely wish you all the very best in your upcoming journey.