Preconception Health & Fertility: What Your Doctor Didn’t Tell You

2011 marks the start of my 4-month preconception period and I couldn’t be more excited. We are going to start trying for a baby in May!! :)

From a very young age, I knew without a doubt, that I wanted to be a mom. I’ve been dreaming about pregnancy for years and unlike the majority of women I meet, I’m really looking forward to giving birth! It is such an honour for me to be able to support women in labour as a birth doula and I feel so grateful, that I too will be able to experience this empowering event myself one day. Getting here, to a place where I feel confident that I can conceive and carry a healthy baby has been a long road but I’ve finally arrived! I gave you a sneak peak into that journey last week and I promise to share the rest of my story with you soon.

In the meantime I want to educate you about some important information regarding preconception health that your doctor likely won’t tell you. My husband and I recently went to see a new doctor (that didn’t know anything about our health history or that I’m a nutritionist.) Our doctor moved out of the province so we were meeting this doctor for the first time. I was curious what the general public is being told when they visit their doctor and tell them that they are going to start trying to conceive.

My doctor recommended 3 things:

1. Stop smoking and drinking (if we do)

2. Start taking folic acid (she handed me a sample of a prescription prenatal)

3. She told me that I needed to get the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella) even though I was already vaccinated as a child. She was getting ready to walk out the door to go get it when I declined her offer and told her that I’d like to think about it and do my research before making a decision. Baffled by my reaction, she proceeded to try and instill fear in me about the dangers of contracting these illnesses during pregnancy to try and change my mind. I agreed to a blood test which will determine whether I still have immunity to these diseases from prior immunizations.

Needless to say I was very frustrated that the topic of nutrition (real food!) and the importance of reducing your exposure to toxins wasn’t brought up. The focus? Simply preventing birth defects through the intake of synthetic vitamins and minerals, not on optimizing health and your ability to conceive.

Here’s why I think preconception health care is so important:

I believe that the first opportunity you have to optimize your child’s health is in the preconception period. Paying special attention to this time can also help boost natural fertility, which could conceivably save you months or years of heartache when you are ready to have a baby. Unfortunately, medically unexplained infertility is on the rise and I think that our high stress lifestyles, nutritionally deficient diets and overwhelming amount of environmental toxins are to blame. By starting to make changes over the 6-12 month period before conception you can ensure that you are creating the best possible environment for a baby to grow and thrive.

Nourish the soil before you plant the seed

Farmers and gardeners understand the importance of preparing, tilling and fertilizing the soil long before they plant their crop. They understand that the nutrients contained within the soil provide nourishment for the plants whole life cycle, not just germination. This analogy is a great example of why preconception health is so important. It should be considered a component of preventative medicine, beginning up to 12 months prior to women consciously trying to become pregnant. Creating a safe and nourishing home for that little seedling to grow will help ensure its survival from germination to maturation and enable it to thrive.

Did you know that it takes over 3 months to mature the egg to be ready for ovulation and over 3 months for men to produce a new batch of sperm? During this time they are extremely sensitive to nutritional deficiencies and exposure to toxins – so much so that if the quality of the egg and sperm are low enough you may not be able to conceive! The good news is that better quality sperm and eggs lead to increased fertility, reduced risk of miscarriage and healthier babies.

Already pregnant and didn’t prepare in advance? Don’t fret. Applying these preconception tips during pregnancy will also have a positive effect on the health of your baby.

I recommend taking a minimum of 6-12 months to prepare your body for pregnancy. Why so long? Because we don’t live in the same world that our grandparents and parents grew up in… our diets now revolve around packaged and processed convenience foods that are severely devoid of nutrients and our homes and personal care products are filled with toxic chemicals. I feel a strong pull now, more than ever to follow the guidance of our ancestors and go back to traditionally prepared real food to create a healthier generation of children.

Where should you start? The first step is to create a positive mindset and intention for the changes you want to make. Focus on gradually creating a healthier lifestyle through small changes over a period of time and before you know it you’ve set up a great foundation for a healthy pregnancy! The more time you can give yourself to integrate these changes, the better! Remember that it takes approximately 120 days for our cells (eggs, sperm, red blood cells etc.) to change from dietary and lifestyle modifications. It’s definitely worth your time to take at least 4 months to prepare your body for pregnancy.

Here are 5 key tips to get you started:

  • Stop taking hormonal birth control at least 6-12+ months before you want to conceive. They are known to deplete your body of the very same nutrients that you need for fertility and to nourish a growing fetus during the first trimester. It can also take months for your hormones to find their natural balance and for your body to start ovulating again, which is essential for conception.
  • Detoxify your body 6-12+ months in advance. I recommend that you do this with the help of a qualified health care professional to ensure that it is the right approach for you. Look for a naturopathic doctor, acupuncturist or holistic nutritionist who specializes in preconception health care for support. (I do not recommend that you focus on extreme weight loss or intense cleansing in the 6 months leading up to conception or when you are breastfeeding because the toxins being released from your tissues can be damaging to the fetus.)
  • Focus on building your nutrient reserves! This is even more important for subsequent pregnancies. Both pregnancy and breastfeeding require a lot of additional nutrients and if you are not getting them through your diet your baby will take them from your body (ie. if you are not getting enough calcium it will be taken from your bones.) This can leave a mom very deficient and struggling to conceive the next time around. Since many women experience nausea and lack of appetite during their first trimester it’s even more important to ensure you have adequate nutrient stores going into your pregnancy. The key to building your nutrient reserves is QUALITY. Choose nutrient dense foods (not low calorie foods!) such as: organic grass-fed meat and liver, eggs from pasture-raised chickens, nourishing bone broth, organic whole milk yogurt and cheese, wild fish and seafood, unrefined fats and oils such as butter, ghee, virgin coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, organic vegetables that are mostly raw or fermented, leafy greens, sprouted grains and soaked nuts/seeds.
  • Reduce environmental toxins. Eat foods without labels. Buy certified organic meat and produce. Switch to natural skin and hair care products. Use only natural household cleaners. Can’t afford to buy all your fruits and vegetables organic? The Environmental Working Group has found that people can lower their pesticide exposure by almost 80 percent by avoiding the top twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables (or buying them organic) and eating the least contaminated instead. They’ve also put a really great Cosmetic Safety Database where you can find safer alternatives for all your skin care products. Don’t forget to check out the 2010 Sunscreen Safety Guide as well.
  • 3-4 months before conception… act as if you are already pregnant. What would you absolutely do or not do if you found out you were pregnant? Since stress is probably the number one fertility killer, looking at ways to reduce your levels of stress and incorporating relaxation techniques into your daily schedule can go a long way in helping you achieve your goal of conceiving a healthy baby!

Next week I’ll continue to share with you the specific steps I’ve taken to get to where I am today and what I plan to do during my 4-month preconception period. I look forward to sharing my journey with you!

Are you physically, emotionally or spiritually preparing for pregnancy?

I’d love to hear from you! Sometimes I feel like I’m all alone on this journey!

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  1. says

    I am so excited to be on this journey with you and share in your knowledge. Do you have any other sites of books for the stage of pre-conception, conception and pregnancy that you have found that are philosophically aligned.

    • says

      Hi Kate! I am very excited to be sharing this journey with you. I really enjoyed Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and Active Birth. While I’ve watched the film, I haven’t yet read the Orgasmic Birth book but will do so due to your recommendation! I have yet to find a book about preconception health that is philosophically aligned which prompted me to write about my journey (if only I could get into the habit of blogging regularly!) I will let you know if I come across anything new. I do highly recommend ‘Taking Charge of Your Fertility.’ I wish every young woman could read this book!

      • says

        For books I liked Ina May (of course), but also Deep Nutrition by Cate Shannahan. The Weston Price Foundation offers a solid preconception plan; I’m not sure how you feel about them. A blogger called Peggy the Primal Parent is working on a book about pregnancy which should be available in the next few months and would be for those who adhere to a primal or paleo diet. For web-based resources, Chris Kresser’s Healthy Baby Code includes preconception diet and supplement recommendations, as does Food Renegade’s Beautiful Babies course. That last one also recommends hypnobirthing, which I how I got here!
        At 17weeks myself, I’m struggling to stay fed (as in, not hungry, craving sweets and junk) without dairy or grains or going bankrupt, and trying to sort out what appears to be an imbalance in my fat-soluble vitamins and magnesium. I’ll poke around a little and see what you’ve got, but congrats on offering the information I’ve already seen – it’s so rare to find in one place!

  2. says

    Love this post Crystal!

    Remember that Allopaths specialize in Illness and Disease, they have no training in optimal health and what makes peeps BE alive and thrive. Likely your lifestyle strengthens your immune system and any synthetics will only weaken it even if they “propagate” to provide immunity. I personally would not even have my wife take the blood test and would dismiss it from her consciousness. ( B/c what we imprint in our minds takes a resonance at an atomic and molecular level)

    Love this article… FYI we have the exact timeline as you and have both started this process for this beautiful journey. I am doing tons from my end too. Look forward to ALL your posts!

    Much love to you!

    • says

      Thanks for reading Dr. Sukhi! If I wasn’t writing this blog and working with women through the preconception period I wouldn’t have stepped foot into an MD’s office for preconception guidance. Curiosity got the best of me. Since most women/couples go see their doctor when trying to conceive I really wanted to know what information they were being given. My primary care physicians are a Naturopathic Doctor and Chiropractor because their philosophy about how to optimize health resonates deeply with my own.

      I did give in and have my blood tested but only because I was already getting blood drawn and I just wanted to get out of the doctors office so I let her add the extra ‘check’ on the form. I haven’t followed up for the results and I’m not the least bit concerned about it. I have no intention of getting any vaccinations, nor will our children :) I just wanted to write the article from a somewhat unbiased viewpoint on MDs and vaccinations to hopefully reach more people.

      I completely agree with you about the imprint in our minds. It’s a huge reason why I’m hesitant to go public with my story about healing my body from Celiac Disease (at this point in my life) because I don’t want to hear, over and over again how it’s not possible because Celiac is incurable. I need to protect my strong subconscious beliefs in this area in preparation for pregnancy!

      My husband is also playing a huge role in this journey. It’s so great to be sharing it with you two and I look forward to meeting you soon!

  3. says

    I look forward to reading and following along with you on this path! After reading your last few posts, I already feel more prepared. :)

    Thank you for sharing your journey!

  4. Sharon K says

    This was really helpful!
    My husband and I are also going to try for a baby in May. I always like to do my research so that I am fully prepared.
    I am going for my Pre-Conception doctor’s visit tonight and now I know what to expect when I go, and what I need to ask about.
    Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge!

  5. says

    Such wise advice – thank you for sharing! I was not planning for pregnancy when I conceived my daughter, and was 8 weeks pregnant before I learned she would be joining us, so I had not prepared in the mindful way that you speak of. I did the best that I could from then on, but I look forward to starting early and preparing more actively and mindfully for our next child. We plan to start trying to conceive again in about a year, so this will be very helpful for me!

  6. Jenn O says

    What a well written article Crytsal. It’s so great to see you focused on the things that are important to you.

    All the best to you and Rich..

  7. says

    This is great info! I’m certain that if more women would follow these guidelines, we’d have a lot less “high risk” pregnancies! This is the root of a lot of the pregnancy problems. Prevention through proper nutrition is key!

  8. says

    I just had my first visit to the doctor in regards to trying to concieve this coming July, I too left the office with a prescription for folic acid…but that’s all. We did have a good conversation about diet because I asked what food sources I could get folic acid from, but it probably wouldn’t have come up had I not asked. She told me folic acid is found in wheat, and although I told her I don’t eat wheat, she failed to tell me that I could get folic acid from a wide variety of vegetables.
    At least she didn’t tell me to get shot up with a disease right before trying to conceive…I’m not sure I could have handled that.
    The problem is doctors, on average, only recieve about 24 hours of nutrition education during medical school. I don’t think they’re withholding information from us, they just don’t have that kind of knowledge to offer in most cases.

    • says

      Hi Lauren, I agree, doctors don’t have nearly enough nutrition education. The issue is that the general public doesn’t know that and most doctors don’t refer out to someone that DOES specialize in nutrition and preconception health so they don’t get the support and information they need! I hope you found this post helpful.

  9. BC says

    Thanks Crystal for your blog and posts. That’s amazing that you’ve been able to heal yourself from Celiac’s Disease. Can I ask why you wanted to reintroduce gluten into your diet, rather than remaining gluten free? I understand it to be a toxin that is best left out of the human diet, so am curious about your understanding.

    • says

      Hello, the main reason that I wanted to heal my body is so that I would stop reacting so severely to even the smallest amounts of cross-contamination. It was becoming terribly hard to live a happy and healthy life when I could NEVER eat outside my own gluten-free kitchen! Traveling, dinner parties etc. were next to impossible for me, so I literally decided one day that I had had enough and wanted to be free of this ‘disease’ but it took me a few years to heal. Now that I’ve re-introduced gluten and let myself indulge in all the gluten I wanted for a few months, I would say that my husband and I are now eating about 95% gluten-free. All of our meals are still gluten-free with the exception of some sprouted grain bread that I eat on occasion and I eat gluten 1-2x a week when we eat out at a restaurant. Healing my body has made a world of a difference for me because ‘choosing’ to not eat gluten (because I don’t think it’s healthy in huge amounts) is very different from not having that choice and being forced to avoid it at all costs. The freedom is truly a blessing! I’ll share my whole healing journey soon!

      • BC says

        Thanks for your response Crystal. That makes alot of sense – gluten cross contamination is everywhere, I can’t imagine how stressful that must have been. Am looking forward to hearing more about your journey, and in general reading your future posts.

  10. says

    This is exactly the kind of blog I’ve been searching for! My husband and I are considering having a baby within the next year or so. I think it’s important for both of us to reduce our exposure to environmental toxins long before conception, but I don’t really know where to begin! We have switched to glass containers for reheating food, stainless steel cookware, and BPA-free water bottles and have been taking vitamins and fish oil supplements. We’re also trying to reduce and eventually eliminate our consumption of canned food (geez, we eat a lot of canned food!) I’ve read all of your existing posts here and I’m excited to read more :)

    • says

      That’s great! A year in advance is a great time to start improving the quality of your diet and removing toxins from your environment. If you’d like to receive more regular updates about nutrition and pregnancy/birth feel free to join me on facebook as well. Thanks for reading!

  11. says

    Great thoughts! My husband and I were using FAM (read Taking Charge of Your Fertility) for about a year and a half before we “cheated” and conceived by accident- :) It is a great method if you don’t want to be on birth control (provided you follow the rules).
    Since we weren’t planning the pregnancy, we weren’t the most prepared- but I think that you have a lot of great information on here for people who are planning on TTC! I’ll have to read it a lot for next time around (and definitely take tips while breastfeeding).
    By the way, I think it’s great that you’re a doula and have had a lot of positive experience with birth before having made the journey yourself. You will be so much more prepared when it comes time for your own labor one day. I too, felt excited to give birth, and I think that excitement really can make a difference. It’s the most amazing experience of your life!
    I’ll be coming back to read more!

  12. Tessa says

    Love love love this article, thank you for posting! I have read a lot of books on fertility and my favorite by far is
    Making Babies: A Proven 3-Month Program for Maximum Fertility by Sami S. David and Jill Blakeway anyways it has tons of info for someone who likes the natural route, and so many examples of over looked things that cause infertility and how to correct them. Anyways, anyone who is ttc should check it out!

  13. Rachel @ the minimalist mom says

    Excited to have found your blog. We are planning on starting TTC in late spring of 2012. We already have one son (19 months) and he took 8 months to conceive. I have many suspicions that changes to my diet will allow me to conceive faster the next time. I’m about to embark on a nutrition journey and your blog will be great motivation and guidance.

  14. Sara says

    Do you think there is any point in going to a preconception visit at an OB’s office if they don’t have anything useful to say? Just curious. I have a 15-month old and and still breastfeeding, and I am hoping to start trying for another baby in Jan when my daughter is 2. I’m already applying most of these suggestions, but my husband…not so much. It would be funny if it wasn’t our future children’s health at stake!

    • CREW says

      If you have access to one I would recommend seeing a Midwife over an OB (I had both during my first pregnancy) and got so much better holistic advice and care from the Midwife. The OB was just purely concerned with the medical aspect and didn’t seem to have any regard about how the nutrient and emotional wellbeing could affect this. If you are in Vancouver have a look at this website

      Also post-birth I saw my OB once at a 6 week check-up which I had to go to her office for, whilst my Midwife visited me at home daily for the first week to support getting breastfeeding established, and only stopped coming at my request because we felt confident that we were doing well.

  15. says

    What an awesome primer for people planning on getting pregnant. I totally agree with your advance planning tactic. We see so many people who decide to start trying without any advance planning and then end up having problems because their bodies are fully up to speed with what’s necessary for TTC. Good luck on your journey and I will most definitely be sharing your posts on our FB page and Twitter. :)

  16. CREW says

    I am currently 11 weeks pregnant with my 2nd child. For my first pregnancy I had horrendous 24 hr sickness for both of the first and second trimesters and still some right up to the end. This pregnancy seems to be following the same pattern. I am so grateful (although I believe you make your own luck!) that I was healthy, physically fit and had excellent nutrient before both pregnancies to help support me and my babies through.

  17. says

    Do have any detox programs/options that you recommend? My husband and I are wanting to start trying for a baby in November so I would love to get started on all of this! All of the detox programs I have found online are pretty weird, so I’m just wondering if there is anything somewhat normal that you recommend.

    Super helpful article though. Makes me so excited for the months to come! Thank you!

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