I recently saw three different women in my New York City functional medicine practice in the same week who are hoping to become pregnant. One is 22 and recently suffered a miscarriage. She wanted to understand what she could do to prevent another one.
The second is 31 and she and her husband have stopped using birth control. She is excited about having a baby but wants to optimize her health and get rid of her chronic migraines first.
The third is 44 and concerned that she is running out of time. She and her partner only recently started trying to get pregnant, but a new diagnosis of Lyme Disease and the antibiotics she had to take as a result meant she had to put their plans temporarily on hold.
For each of these women, regardless of age, family history, and current health problems, a functional medicine approach is a great way to improve fertility and to prepare the body for a healthy pregnancy.
Here is a simple five-step recipe I would recommend for any woman who is thinking about having a baby.
- Do an elimination diet for 30 days. Food sensitivities can be subtle, and can change with time. You don’t know whether you are better off without a food until you cut it out for at least 30 days and then reintroduce it to see how you feel. From gluten and dairy to eggs and soy, eliminating foods you are sensitive to can decrease inflammation, improve hormone levels, and remap your digestion.
- Detox from your vices. Alcohol, sugar, and coffee, to name a couple of common ones, can be the triggers for chronic issues like acne, migraines, and insomnia. Taking some time to detox before you want to be pregnant is a great way to rebalance and reset.
- Get your hormone levels tested. Some women who are chronically stressed out end up becoming estrogen dominant and progesterone deficient, because of a phenomenon called “cortisol steal.” The solution is more exercise, a clean diet with lots of veggies, healthy fats and whole grains, and strategies for relaxation, like meditating daily. Supplements like chaste tree berry can also help improve progesterone levels.
- Get your heavy metal levels tested. Because of fish consumption and the pollution of our water and food supplies, many women have higher arsenic, mercury and lead levels in their blood than they could have imagined. Know where you stand so you can take important steps like decreasing fish consumption and supporting your body’s natural detox mechanisms, with fiber, greens and supplements like vitamin C and glutathione.
- Find your enthusiasm. Generate positive energy, excitement, and wonder at the prospect of becoming a mom. For many women, fears around infertility, miscarriage, and childbirth, and sometimes apprehensions related to career and family, can dominate their mindset. If you are seriously considering having a baby, recognize that some of these fearful thoughts might be coming from outside – the media, friends, etc. Do your best to tap into you. Nothing is more healing or freeing that feeling enthusiasm as you embrace a big life change head on!
Even if you don’t know a functional medicine doctor to help you with the testing part, anyone can take these simple steps to rebalancing their hormones and optimizing fertility. It’s all about eating well, moving more, relaxing regularly, and finding happy.