This guest blog post was written by functional nutritionist Kim Perez, NTP.
Disclaimer: the information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not designed to replace individualized recommendations from a practitioner. Always check with your doctor before adding supplements or making changes to your treatment plan.
So you’re preparing for pregnancy— what an exciting time!
But also, understandably, it can be an overwhelming and even scary one.
Maybe you’ve already started trying to conceive or maybe you’re just embarking on this journey. Or perhaps you’re not ready yet, but know that starting a family is coming up somewhere in your 5-year plan.
Either way, weeding through the seemingly endless information out there in order to intentionally get yourself ready— physically, mentally and emotionally— can benefit you in endless ways. Being proactive with your fertility and preconception journey will make a major impact, not only positively affecting your pregnancy, but also your postpartum period and the health of your baby, too!
In my nutritional therapy practice, I’ve helped countless women have healthy pregnancies and babies— many who had struggled in the past. I’ve taken what I’ve learned through my research and clinical experience, as well as personal testimonial (currently in the third trimester of my first pregnancy) and I truly attribute my healthy journey, thus far, with the intentional actions I’ve taken.
I’ve compiled what I believe to be the most powerful pieces of information and action steps to take— outlining it with the view of supporting what the female body naturally does, promoting health in order to boost fertility, and planning for conception and pregnancy in a natural, holistic way.
You can take this information in any way you want— maybe you start implementing these tips one-by-one or just pick a few that resonate with you. Just know that any small step you take is an amazing way to take charge of your health. Perfection isn’t the goal, but instead, doing what’s right for you.
"Eating for optimal fertility may require a mindset shift."
First Things First
If you’re researching what to do on your own, it can be easy to feel like you’re drowning in information. There is lots of conflicting resources and much of it even fear-producing.
But if there’s one important thing that you must understand, it’s this: although our society often suggests otherwise, fertility is a natural sign of health (just as regular, healthy periods are).
You can take a deep breath, because your body innately knows what to do. It has the tools to successfully become pregnant and grow and birth a healthy baby.
The goal is simply building the foundations of optimal health, hormone balance, and fertility, and the rest will fall into place. And if you’ve struggled with conception in any way, know that there is nothing "wrong" with you. Working to support these foundations and implement some of these tips, as well as exploring potential underlying imbalances can immensely help you to powerfully change your story.
When to Start?
Whenever you like! All of these tips are focused on fertility and preparing for pregnancy, but fundamentally, are rooted in optimal health and hormone balance.
So you can begin as much as a few years before planning to get pregnant, but if you’ve already started working towards it or are even already pregnant, that’s great, too! It’s never too late to take action and support such a huge life change.
Supporting a Strong Foundation of Physical Health
There’s no doubt that a woman’s physical health is crucial for fertility and conception.
Many women focus first on diet and exercise— and while those both matter— there are other important areas to address as well. Plus, sometimes the ways women approach diet and exercise are counterproductive to hormone health.
Before even discussing these areas, let’s address one that serves as the foundation for everything else you’ll do in preparing for pregnancy: getting to know your body and, specifically, your menstrual cycle.
I know for me and many of my clients, this habit has been life changing— not just for pregnancy, but for overall body literacy!
When Are We Fertile?
It’s a common misconception that women are fertile every day (think about it... hormonal birth control is taken daily to prevent pregnancy).
But in fact, we’re only fertile 5-7 days per cycle. We ovulate on one day per month and that egg survives 12-24 hours; however, as ovulation approaches, our bodies produce cervical fluid that can keep sperm alive for up to 5 days.
Because the average menstrual cycle is 28-ish days (somewhere between 26-and-34 days for most women), this means you’ll have more success conceiving if you know your cycle well.
There are numerous ways to do this: tracking your period on your calendar or using an app (I recommend MyFLO, Flo, or Clue). However, the best way to get super in tune to your cycle and specifically, pinpoint ovulation, is by tracking fertility signs.
How Do You Track Fertility Signs?
This will involve measuring and tracking your daily basal body temperature or BBT, which is your temperature first thing upon waking.
A rise in BBT occurs after you ovulate and drops when you get your period (or stays high if you get pregnant). You will also track your cervical mucus (and ideally, cervical position, too).
Hormonal Birth Control
While we’re on the subject of your cycle, let’s briefly chat hormonal birth control.
Obviously, if you’re on it and want to get pregnant, you’ll need to discontinue (whether that means you stop taking the pill or get your IUD removed).
Make sure you talk with your doctor before and, ideally, work with a practitioner as you transition off. Hormonal birth control provides the body with synthetic hormones and disrupts our natural hormone production, plus it depletes the body of certain nutrients and can negatively affect the gut.
While some women return to regular cycles once they go off birth control, many women struggle with post-pill amenorrhea or irregular cycles that can make it difficult to get pregnant. In this scenario, tracking ovulation signs can be especially helpful.
Let's Talk Nutrition
So many women (myself included) have learned how to eat in a way that’s focused mostly on how we look— dieting, cutting calories, unnecessary food restriction— instead of how we feel or how to help our bodies thrive!
Eating for optimal fertility (and in fact, overall health and hormone balance) requires quite a different focus. It also may require a mindset shift. One away from dieting and following "food rules" to one focused on nourishing and connecting to your body.
Why Does Nutrition Matter?
Nutrition is imperative for fertility and preconception for so many reasons.
For one, our hormones are made from nutrients we get from food. And there are specific nutrients needed for a healthy menstrual cycle and even for ovulation to occur. As well, our blood sugar balance, which is highly affected by the foods we eat, directly impacts our hormones and periods.
Food can also help decrease stress (or increase it) and we now know that stress impacts fertility. I'll circle back to this shortly.
How to Fuel Your Body?
When eating to support the body in the preconception phase, giving the body optimal fuel and nutrients is key. This means ditching restrictive diets, especially those low in carbs or fats and focusing less on calories and more on nutrients and food quality.
Not eating enough food overall (especially carbs) is one of the main hindrances to ovulation. For me personally, upping my carb intake was monumental in balancing my hormones.
To set a strong nutrition foundation to fuel your body, start by prioritizing whole, minimally-processed foods and opt for variety.
- Quality Protein: chicken, eggs, beef, pork, turkey, and fish.
- Fats: coconut oil, olives, olive oil, grass-fed butter, nuts and seeds.
- Colorful Veggies
- Quality Starch: sweet potatoes, plantains, yucca, rice, and oats.
What to Add
There are certainly specific foods that are great to add in during this time, particularly those rich in beneficial nutrients often lacking in our diets.
- Omega 3 Fats: wild and fatty fish, chia and flax seeds, and walnuts.
- Iodine: sea vegetables and grass-fed dairy.
- Glycine: bone broth, organ meats, collagen, and meats with skin and/or bone.
- Cruciferous Veggies: kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, and cauliflower.
What to Avoid
There may be foods that don’t serve your body well, so avoiding or lessening these is helpful for lessening stress and inflammation.
- Highly Processed Foods, especially refined sugars and grains.
- Vegetable and Seed Oils
Other Important Habits for Supporting Physical Health
Nutrition is crucial for physical health, but other lifestyle habits are also important for supporting fertility and your preconception journey.
Exercise (But Don't Overdo It)
Of course, exercise is one of these important lifestyle habits, but, to be clear, this doesn’t need to be intense exercise that leaves you flat on your back panting for air.
In fact, this can actually be problematic for hormones and impact fertility, because it increases stress on the body. Many women also tend to unknowingly under-eat, because they underestimate how much fuel their bodies need to keep up with exercise demands.
Exercise in the pregnancy-preparation phase can be simple: move your body often, choose activities you enjoy, and challenge yourself without exhausting yourself.
In particular, shifting your exercise around your cycle can be super impactful. I know that when I began doing this, I noticed an immense change in my energy, motivation, mood, and even strength and recovery.
Try Cycle Syncing
This practice of cycle syncing includes matching not only your exercise to different phases of your cycle, but also your work, nutrition, and even social schedule.
Pretty simply, there are specific hormonal fluctuations that occur throughout our menstrual cycles that impact our bodies immensely. We have more energy and motivation leading up to ovulation, and less leading up to our periods.
Living more in tune with these allows us to tap into our true feminine cyclical nature, harnessing the power of our cycles and of fertility in particular. Plus, it’s pretty cool and fun to dive into.
Mental (And Emotional) Health Matters
Next, we need to talk about an area that doesn’t get as much press as physical health when it comes to this journey: your mental and emotional health.
If there’s one thing you take from this article, let it be this: stress directly impacts hormone balance and fertility and can be a roadblock to conception.
Your Body When Stressed
When we’re in a state of chronic stress, the body's main focus is survival... definitely not procreation. If the body perceives it is under attack (whether that is a real threat or a perceived one), it’s going to halt ovulation and sex hormone production to hinder fertility.
It’s a basic, biological instinct encoded in us: “it’s not safe to reproduce".
This makes stress management an absolutely crucial part of supporting fertility and preparing for pregnancy. Building these habits now can only benefit you moving forward during your pregnancy and throughout your motherhood journey, where you’ll inevitably be introduced to a variety of new stressors.
When you’re faced with so many unknowns and aspects out of your control (e.g. body changes, fatigue, and food cravings), stress can really take away from so much of the beauty, wonder, and hope in this whole process. Learning how to prioritize, react and respond, and cope with stress is a fundamental life skill every woman— regardless of life stage— can benefit from adopting.
Stress is never going to magically go away. We’re always going to have stress in our lives and that’s okay, it can even be healthy. It challenges us to adapt, grow, and progress. Positive stressors can include getting a new job, buying a home, getting married, having a baby.
But when stress piles up, that's when it becomes problematic and potentially harmful to our health.
Limit Your Stress
Reflect on all the things causing you stress and make a list of your stressors.
Is there anything on that list that you can change? Can you shift your priorities or your schedule to make things work a little more smoothly? Can you ask for help with or delegate to someone else entirely? Or is there anything completely outside of your control that you could let go of stressing about?
Another way to counteract the effects of stress is to implement healthy coping mechanisms. Especially when embarking on this new journey, the best place to start is your mind. How you perceive stress and, therefore, react to it is key.
If you can look to stress as a challenge instead of a setback or can find the positives instead of only focusing on the negatives, you will be able to handle stress more effectively. For myself, I know that recognizing I cannot control everything that happens, but can always control how I think and react was crucial to helping me relax a bit more and enjoy this process.
- Find Activities That Truly Relax and Restore: meditation (I recommend this app), yoga, warm baths, or time in nature.
- Do What Brings Joy and Pleasure: spend time with loved ones, read, enjoy delicious food, or watch a funny movie.
- Tap Into That Creative Flow State: paint, draw, sew, garden, or journal.
Practicing gratitude also strongly counteracts stress. Ideally, find a few things you can add daily to cultivate a stress-management routine.
And here’s another thing to remember: obsession and striving for perfection are forms of stress that can negatively affect your body and impede upon your conception journey.
You Are Not Alone!
It can be easy to get overwhelmed with so many possible things to focus on. It can especially be easy to feel unsure of where to begin and what’s priority for you. So this is where my last tip comes in handy...
Consider getting outside help on your journey.
Whether you’re confused, overwhelmed, want more support, or have a history of fertility struggles, there is nothing wrong with seeking help. In fact, having assistance and using complementary therapies can only boost all the lifestyle changes you’re making on your own!
Add to Your Support Team
This is my personal passion, but I’m not currently taking new clients (one way I’m personally working to lessen stress while I embark on new motherhood). However, you can join my waiting list or I can happily refer you to other amazing practitioners I trust. You can also join the Balanced Babes Community, where we discuss all things women’s health and hormones, including fertility and pregnancy.
Of course, if you’re having trouble coping with stress or are struggling in any way working through your thoughts and emotions, working with a therapist may be a great idea.
There are so many wonderful therapists out there with different backgrounds and trainings, including those who work remotely. This resource can help you locate one that is right for you.
Kim Perez (NTP) is a functional nutritionist who practices an integrative approach to women’s nutrition and wellness. She is passionate about helping women live in tune with their natural ebbs and flows, ditch unnecessary stress and restriction, and nourish themselves body, mind, and soul. She loves connecting with women via Instagram and the Balanced Babes Community, the free group she runs with her friend and Balanced Babes Podcast co-host. Check out her free Feel Good Plan here.
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