If you suffer from fertility challenges you know that the internet is a wide open space of too much information. It can be scary, overwhelming, and it’s tough to know what to take at face value, and what to disregard. Lucky for you, increasing fertility health is a huge passion of mine ;).
Below, you’re going to find my top FIVE tried and true rituals that I swear by when it comes to increasing your fertility so you can get pregnant easier and experience a healthy, full term pregnancy. They aren’t going to blow your mind, and they certainly aren’t going to require a ton of effort on your behalf. They are small, easy to absorb rituals that can (and should!) be introduced into your daily life.
All of our major reproductive hormones – specifically estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and cortisol – are made from cholesterol. Cholesterol is literally the mother hormone that turns into each of the necessary hormones to make a baby. I tell clients all the time that without enough cholesterol in the diet – and therefore in the body – it’s like trying to build a house without bricks. It just doesn’t work! We need enough cholesterol coming in in order to make our reproductive hormones. This is why it’s so important to consume lots of high quality fatty acids (i.e. cholesterol).
Fats from high quality sources are a critical addition to your diet. Not only do the fats themselves add nutrients to your body, but they also help your body absorb and utilize other vitamins and minerals from the other foods you eat. Foods high in healthy fats are essential as they deliver fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, which are often lacking in low fat diets and are essential to optimal fertility and a healthy pregnancy!
Healthy fats are found in real, whole foods that are minimally processed. When purchasing animal fats, make sure that they are ALWAYS organic and pasture-based. Toxins are commonly stored in fat cells, so the cleaner the animal, the cleaner the fat. My top 5 foods rich in healthy fats are:
Eggs & Extra Egg Yolks
Eggs are a fertility & pregnancy superfood! They are incredibly nutrient dense, loaded with vitamin A, choline, iodine, selenium, highly digestible protein, and, depending on what the chicken ate, good levels of vitamin E, vitamin K2, and DHA. Egg yolks are also a great source of choline – a critical nutrient for baby’s brain development that also helps prevent birth defects. Always choose pasture-raised eggs, this guarantees that the chickens from which they come from are feasting on nutrient-rich grasses, bugs and insects.
Coconut Oil (and other coconut products) contains Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) which are the easiest type of fatty acid that your body can burn for calories, making it beneficial for weight loss and quick energy production. MCTs are a very unique form of saturated fat that have been shown to possess antioxidant and antimicrobial properties to help support the immune system, as well as antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral immune benefits. Coconut products also contain a high amount of lauric acid, one of the main fatty acids found in breastmilk
Wild Caught Fish & Seafood
Wild caught salmon, mackerel, sardines, and herring are rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to improve fertility by helping to regulate hormones in the body, increase cervical mucus, promote ovulation and overall improve the quality of the uterus by increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs. Omega-3’s are also anti-inflammatory, therefore helping to reduce inflammation in the body. In regards to fertility, reducing inflammation is especially important in the pelvic area.
They’re packed with folate, a B vitamin that helps boost fertility in both men and women and prevents neural tube defects. Avocados are also extremely rich in anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fats. Research shows that when a woman eats one avocado a week (I actually suggest one avocado per day!), it balances hormones, sheds unwanted weight, and prevents cervical cancers. A recent study found that monounsaturated fat – found in olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds – was better than any other kind of dietary fat for would-be mothers. Experts believe that monounsaturated fats – which are already known to protect the heart – could improve fertility by lowering inflammation in the body. And get this – it takes exactly nine months to grow an avocado from blossom to ripened fruit! Avocados aren’t just delicious, but they are a lovely symbol of fertility and gestation.
Full Fat Dairy
A recent study found that consumption of low-fat dairy products is associated with anovulatory cycles (read: no ovulation), while consumption of full-fat dairy products is associated with healthy ovulation. If you can tolerate dairy, consider including organic, grass-fed, full fat and preferably raw: butter, ghee, milk, plain yogurt, kefir, and/or cheese into your diet.
Studies show a significant correlation between vitamin D levels and fertility: low levels of vitamin D negatively impact fertility. One study measured vitamin D levels in women undergoing IVF and found the odds of pregnancy were four times higher for women with high vitamin D levels compared to those with a vitamin D deficiency. Another study found that in the group of women with the highest vitamin D levels, 47% became pregnant, while among women with low vitamin D levels, the pregnancy rate was only 20%. Another more recent IVF study revealed a higher fertilization and implantation rate in the group of women with higher vitamin D levels.
One reason it is so essential to fertility and getting pregnant? Because it is needed to help the body create sex hormones and the correct amount of sex hormones which is vital to your overall well-being and fertility.
Among women, vitamin D appears to impact endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – the most common female endocrine disorder – as well as boost levels of progesterone and estrogen, which regulate menstrual cycles and improve the likelihood of successful conception.
In men, vitamin D is essential for the healthy development of the nucleus of the sperm cell, and helps maintain semen quality and sperm count. Vitamin D also increases levels of testosterone, which may boost libido.
It’s important for your body to manufacture Vitamin D on it’s own through direct sunlight … but there’s a catch: in order for the sun to stimulate your Vitamin D production, the sun needs to be at a minimum of about 50 degrees, or greater, above the horizon. Ideally, the sun should be as close to overhead as possible; the closer to overhead it is, the greater its potential for stimulating Vitamin D production and the less time you have to be in the sun to produce a given amount of Vitamin D.
And while I’m a huge proponent of using CLEAN, NON-CHEMICAL sunscreen, it DOES block the sun’s rays that help you produce that Vitamin D. So here’s what you need to do: spend 20-30 minutes of sunscreen-free time outside during those peak overhead sun hours, and your skin will be a happy little Vitamin D producing machine :).
A little fact for you … by being out in the sun for just a few minutes a day, a woman’s body can create between 10,000 to 25,000 IU of Vitamin D!
Leading an inactive lifestyle with little to no exercise creates a situation of stagnation of blood flow to the uterus and other reproductive organs. The main artery that supplies blood to our legs also supplies blood to our uterus, ovaries and vagina. If we sit around a lot, especially if we have a desk job, the blood flow to our uterus may be compromised. This is also not a good situation if we have fertility issues pertaining to our uterus, especially if there is scar tissue or adhesions present. Not moving this area of our body enough can actually contribute to scar tissue and adhesions forming. A sedentary lifestyle also contributes directly to weak muscles of the uterus.
In women, making exercise a regular habit before trying to conceive improves uterine health, optimizes your sleep and mood, improves pregnancy health, allows you to have more stamina for labor and delivery, and makes shedding baby weight easier postpartum.
In men, making exercise a regular habit before trying to conceive can help boost the mobility, motility, and overall health of your little swimmers.
So how often should you exercise? EVERY. DAMN. DAY. I’m not suggesting that exercise takes up a significant part of your day, but rather, I am suggesting that you continuously move your body throughout the day. Human are meant to move. Not sit all day. So get up from your desk often and walk around the office, get a standing desk, use a stability ball as your chair, go to a yoga class during your lunch break, whatever you need to do to move your body more. This will go a long way in optimizing fertility and increasing the chances of getting pregnant, and maintaining a healthy, full term pregnancy.
Sixty minutes of daily, low impact movement – yoga, power walking, swimming, strength training, hiking, biking, etc – will get your heart rate up, increase circulation to your reproductive organs, and help you improve overall physical and mental health. Focused movement will go a long way in optimizing fertility and increasing the chances of getting pregnant, and maintaining a healthy, full term pregnancy.
And don’t forget: pregnancy is like preparing for the biggest race of your life, with birth being the marathon. You’re going to need A LOT of energy – during birth and after birth. The healthier you are going into your pregnancy, the more likely you will have a healthy birth, bounce back a bit quicker postpartum, and be able to maintain the hectic lifestyle that is new parenthood :).
Be kind to yourself! Your mind and body are constantly working for you – they are under physical and emotional stress pretty regularly, and taking care of yourself – really investing in a self-care routine – is essential in preparing that beautiful body for fertility.
Did you know that high levels of stress can double your risk of infertility? A recent study suggests that stress may actually play a role in up to 30% of all infertility problems. When our bodies are under stress and overproducing cortisol, it tends to shut down all unnecessary functions for survival (like your reproductive system), in order to allow the body to direct all energies toward dealing with the stress at hand. When your reproductive system is shut down, it wreaks havoc on your reproductive hormones!
So what are some ways to practice self-care? Practice managing your daily stressors with ease. Some of my favorite tools for this are: restorative yoga, long slow walks in nature, hot baths, dance it out to your favorite song, spend time with your nearest and dearest, do a facemask, get a massage … whatever brings your unique soul pleasure, go and do THAT!
You have to create space for self-care. So add it to your calendar just like you would a meeting with your boss. This is non-negotiable time for YOU.
Unwinding at the end of each and every day by practicing self-care rituals in the evening will help promote a restful, restorative sleep. Studies have shown that upwards of 35% of Americans don’t get enough quality sleep which is a major detriment to optimal hormonal health and fertility. Here are my top 5 tips for getting a good night’s sleep:
Prepare your bedroom
This means removing all electronics, and using blackout curtains or an eye mask to eliminate all outside and artificial light. Additionally, keeping your bedroom on the cool side will help promote sleep.
Create a routine
Adjust your routine so that it mimics natural light – rise with the sun and then wind down as the night falls. After the sun sets, dim the lights in your house, use candles, turn off all devices (no iPads, Kindles, phones, laptops, etc.). This prepares your body naturally for sleep.
Develop a bedtime ritual
Take a warm bath, meditate, drink a herbal tea, or read a book (paperback or hardcover, no iPads or e-readers!) approximately an hour before ‘bedtime’. This will help reduce stress and promote relaxation.
Avoid caffeine and stimulants after 12:00pm
They’ll just keep you up at night! If you need a mid-afternoon boost, grab an apple with almond butter.
Avoid alcohol after dinner
Alcohol interferes with the restorative ‘deep sleep’ period. In the course of a night you usually have six to seven cycles of REM sleep, which leaves you feeling refreshed. However, if you’ve been drinking alcohol close to bedtime you’ll typically have only one to two, meaning you wake up feeling exhausted.
Daily. Get your booty outside and choose a movement that makes you happy. There is dual purpose in this – exercise will help tire your body, but if you’re doing it outside it also gives you access to Vitamin D!
Yes, I’m serious. Folic acid is a chemical not normally found in foods or the human body. It can be converted into usable forms of folate, but that conversion is limited in humans. It’s been estimated that 40% of the population can’t absorb folic acid into their cells – meaning that unabsorbed folic acid will block the receptor sites and prevent natural forms of folate to get access to the cell. This has been linked to poor detoxification ability and miscarriages. Not only that, but folic acid does not cross the placenta like natural folate.
Studies show that consuming too much synthetic folic acid (from supplements) can lead to high levels of unmetabolized folic acid in the blood. Unmetabolized folic acid is associated with several health problems – it can mask vitamin B12 deficiency, enhance the development and progression of certain cancers, and depress immune function. Unfortunately, most prenatal multivitamins use synthetic folic acid instead of natural folate because it’s cheaper. While folic acid does prevent neural tube defects, it doesn’t have the other beneficial effects of natural folate.
The best way to ensure you’re getting enough natural folate? Make sure your prenatal multivitamin is using safe, naturally-occurring folates in their active 5-MTHF form (5-methyltetrahydrofolate). If the label says ‘folic acid’ – you can guarantee they are using cheap, synthetic folic acid. Do not use!
The prenatal that I recommend for all my fertility, pregnant and breastfeeding mamas is the Designs For Health Prenatal Pro Packets which contain folate in a bioidentical, bioactive form: 5-methyltetrahydrofolate.
In addition to supplementation, it’s best to meet our nutrient requirements from food, since that’s how humans are adapted to absorbing them! The highest sources of naturally occurring folate is found in liver, legumes (like lentils), and dark leafy greens (like kale, spinach, and collards).
I’d love to use this space as a forum of sorts, providing inspiration and community among my readers, so … I want to hear from you!
Do you have any go-to rituals that you swear by to increase your fertility?
What is your favorite way to practice self-care and unwind at the end of the day?
Are you getting at least 60 minutes of exercise every day? What’s your favorite way to sweat?
Spread some Rituals for Fertility lovin’! Sharing is caring, and I bet you have some friends who would love to read this too :).
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If you want more personalized guidance and support, or want to have a more in-depth conversation about your specific concerns, feel free to schedule a 1:1 consultation. I offer 1:1 consultations through the convenience of video conferencing for women and couples with various fertility & hormonal health concerns.
Sarah Jane Sandy is a certified nutrition therapist, and a fertility and women’s health expert. She has helped hundreds of women increase their fertility naturally and go on to have healthy full-term pregnancies. She has been working with women and couples trying to get pregnant for over 15 years and over 90% of the women who work with her get pregnant and have healthy babies. Learn more about her own fertility journey here. To send Sarah a message, complete her Contact Form.