Guest blog by Emily Guevara, L.Ac; MAOM, a licensed acupuncturist at The Acupuncture Juncture.
You may be at the beginning of your fertility journey or perhaps it has been years since you began TTC, regardless, the information below will be easy to implement and with consistency you will see positive changes.
Hello, my name is Emily Guevara and I’m a licensed acupuncturist and Chinese medicine practitioner who specializes in fertility and women’s health. I have been working in this field for nearly 18 years and witness, daily, the positive impact living in alignment with natural cycles can have on fertility. Unfortunately, in today’s fast paced, high stress, world we are finding it more and more difficult to connect with the power of nature and often feel drained, overwhelmed, and depressed which can make getting pregnant more challenging.
The fundamentals of Chinese medicine are about balance, they are about understanding how rest is a necessary part of optimal health. Our medicine is intertwined with nature, we learn that living in alignment with these nature’s cycles can help us to tap into our innate healing potential and thus enjoy fruitful health. Therefore, Chinese medicine and the lifestyle recommendations that are derived from its theory, are the key to creating an internal environment for healthy eggs and improved pregnancy outcomes.
When we struggle with infertility, we can become willing to try anything. Often, when I first begin working with patients, they come to me sporting a long list of supplements, medications, and teas that they heard might be good for fertility. Look, I get it, when we are desperate to find help, get healthier, and conceive, we will try almost anything. What I find interesting is while many of these patients are taking “all the right things” the fundamentals of good health have never been addressed and therefore they are still experiencing fatigue, trouble sleeping, digestive concerns, you name it; all which can be a factor of infertility. The solution to feeling better and improving your chances of conception does not have to be complicated, in fact, the answer can be so simple that we often overlook it.
I know, for myself, when starting a new habit, it is very important for me to understand the why and how behind it all. Understanding these two things help keep me motivated to complete my new goal and really solidify that new habit. Below you will read about 5 simple habits to improve fertile health as well as techniques to help you get started.
THE 5 PILLARS OF FERTILE HEALTH
#1 – SLEEP
This is non-negotiable and, in my opinion, more important that diet.
Restful and abundant sleep is literally the fountain of youth! It creates better resilience, supports a healthy circadian rhythm which in turn balances hormones, and improves your health. Consider the amount of energy it takes for the spark of conception to occur, for your placenta to form (you literally grow another organ!), and for baby to grow. We need consistent, abundant energy for all this to happen and good sleep is a huge part of that equation.
What is quality sleep and how can you become a great sleeper?
Quality sleep is:
- 7 – 9 hours a night
- Falling asleep easily
- Sleeping through the night
- Waking refreshed and well rested
If you struggle with poor sleep and are ready to do something about it, here are some suggestions for you to take back control of your sleep instead of your sleep controlling you.
- Create as dark a room as possible. Use heavy curtains, cover electronic lights, put your phone in a drawer, whatever you need to do to block light. Light sends stimulating signals to our brain and will make it harder for you to relax into sleep.
- Turn the temperature down – adults prefer between 62-68 degrees, but you may need something different. Don’t be afraid to experiment with this.
- Set a consistent bedtime, regardless of the day of the week. Do not skip this step, it is an important part of retraining your body how and when to fall asleep.
- Go to sleep when you begin to feel sleepy – ideally around 9:30 – 10pm
- Have your last meal 2-3 hours before bed. Your system should not be digesting foods while it needs to be repairing and detoxifying while you sleep.
- Within 30-60 minutes of waking, step outside to expose your eyes to sunlight for 10 – 15 minutes. If you wake before the sun comes up, turn on artificial lights to stimulate morning cortisol. This action will reset your circadian rhythm and positively impact your melatonin levels in the evening.
Remember: the synchronized timing of your sunlight exposure and darkness will dictate your rhythm!
#2 – DIET
If you are new to dietary change begin by keeping it simple. Trying to follow a strict diet can add a level of stress that many women may find overwhelming and while I do believe there are foods that are supportive of fertility, knowing what your needs are is a very individualized process. Instead, follow the straight forward points below to get started and to take some of the ‘what to eat’ stress off your plate.
- Eating real food will provide real nutrients – this is a given and I would say most of you reading this article are probably already HIGHLY aware of this
- Eat like a king for breakfast, and queen for lunch, and pauper for dinner. Have you ever heard this saying? Eating in the manner provides energy at the times of day you need it most.
- Eat a high protein/high healthy fat breakfast – some options include eggs, chicken breast, avocados, smoked salmon, and high-quality breakfast meats. I recommend the Applegate brand frozen sausages for a quick, easy, healthy option.
- Consistently avoid excessive carbs – too many carbs cause dysregulation in your insulin and glucose leading to stress, inflammation, and eventually hormonal imbalance. When hyperinsulinemia is an issue, it can negatively impact ovulation, causing irregularities in our cycles and reducing chances of conception not to mention the other harmful effects it has on our bodies. Stabilizing your insulin by eating a hardy, protein rich breakfast can also reduce your chance of morning sickness as well as reduce your chance of developing gestational diabetes.
- Try to avoid snacking in between meals – when properly satiated, cravings are reduced and often all together eliminated.
- Aim to eat dinner around 6-7 pm, this allows time for digestion to occur before bedtime.
- Walking after your meals will utilize that glucose via muscle movement
- Only drink water in between your meals – juices and flavored drinks can spike insulin throughout your day and cause instability
# 3 Hydration
Many of us walk around chronically dehydrated. We rush through our days often forgetting to drink water. Chronic dehydration stresses the body and causes the blood to become thick which in turn negatively impacts our circulation. We want and need good blood circulation to the ovaries and uterus to make healthy eggs and healthy babies! When I start my patients on a hydration plan, I see improvements in energy and even increases in cervical mucus!
- 80 – 100 oz plain old water daily
- Filtered water when possible
- Improves blood circulation
- Supports the body’s natural detoxification pathways
- Reduced stress that can be caused by low level, chronic dehydration
# 4 True self-care
Investing time and energy into effective, daily cumulative stress reduction, relaxation techniques and practices can be so rewarding. Sadly, so many of us do not take the time to sit with ourselves and reflect, whether that be a daily reflection or the need to emotionally work through something. Addressing this part of our health is so important to our mental, emotional, and physical health. Recent research shows what Chinese medicine has always known, chronic disease is often rooted in emotional imbalance.
- Start a meditation practice – apps like Headspace or Calm, I personally like Deep Meditate and for those more advanced, Insight Timer is a good one. Your meditation practice does not have to be hours long, in fact, I can often achieve a deep meditative state with just 5 – 10 min of focused intention.
- Breath work – the 4-7-8 breath is my favorite of the breathing techniques but explore for yourself what you like and what you find has real, lastly benefits. I use both the Breathe and Prana Breath apps
- Quiet time – reading, walking with intention, grounding
- Yoga – restorative, please limit or avoid hot yoga which can be depleting for some individuals when TTC.
- Morning mindset – the 3 Ms (Meditation, Movement, Mindset)
- 25 meditative breaths before you get out of bed
- When waiting for the shower to heat up, do some squats to get your blood pumping
- During your morning shower, set your intention for the day
- Tapping or Emotional Freedom Technique is a simple way to treat anxiety and other emotional blockages using acupressure and meditation. My favorite app for this is Tapping Solutions. You can also find several educational videos on YouTube.
By no means do you have to do all of these but begin somewhere, you will not regret it.
# 5 Good self-talk
Make a concerted effort to stop beating the living crap out of ourselves emotionally. This can be tough one for some women. We can so often be our worst critic but would never speak to another person the way we speak to ourselves. The first step in making a change here is becoming aware of when and how you are doing this. Make note and begin to change your words, even if you find it difficult at first, this will eventually shift for you. Imagine you are talking to a younger version of yourself. How would you change your words to show love and support for yourself?
Regardless of whether you get pregnant naturally or use ART, you WILL feel better and be healthier if you implement these habits every day. Remember, mother nature does not need perfection, she just needs good enough. Do what you can, try to be consistent and always remember to have gratitude for the work you are putting in.
Emily Guevara began her Chinese medicine studies at the prestigious AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine where she earned her Master’s of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. She simultaneously served as an apprentice at the largest fertility acupuncture clinic in Texas where she discovered her passion for serving couples struggling to conceive. Over the years she continued to hone her skills, developing simple yet effective individualized care for her patients. She has worked with hundreds of couples to help them achieve their ultimate goal of having a baby and sees her service to them as a true blessing and a calling.