Many couples who struggle to fall pregnant assume it's out of their hands and turn to orthodox medical procedures such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF). What they may not know is that sometimes a strategic change in diet, lifestyle and outlook can make all the difference.
In fact, according to the Fertility Society of Australia, one third of people aged 30-39 have lifestyle habits which may be impacting on their fertility, including excessive drinking, smoking and weight problems.
"Our bodies reproduce when we're in a prime state of health," explains Reine Du Bois, a naturopath based in Byron Bay, "so that's why when we're younger we're more likely to get pregnant because our livers are younger, our kidneys are younger, our blood is cleaner. It's not just about the ovaries, it's about our overall health and as we get older we also take on more and become more stressed and nutrient depleted."
That's where natural treatments come in. Among other things, they help boost your mental and physical health which, in turn, improves your chances of conceiving. In Natural Fertility: The Complete guide to avoiding or achieving conception, author Francesca Naish says knowledge is power.
"Natural methods of fertility control return power to the individual… They enable you to deal with fertility in a manner appropriate to each set of circumstances instead of having to rely on the second-hand, poorly explained and partial answers that encourage dependence on devices, chemicals and specialists," Naish says.
It's fantastic that we've got the IVF option but women should try correcting their nutrient status before they go down that path. What's more, your chances of pregnancy with IVF are far greater than if you go in smoking and drinking, with a toxic liver, acidic blood and hostile mucus. It makes good sense to invest that time and money, whether you go IVF or naturally," Naish adds.
The first step, is to find a good doctor who is open to the idea of natural modalities, one who is willing to work with you to get your body ready-for-baby. Ask you GP to give you a blood test to check your nutrient levels for deficiencies look at things like iron status, zinc, B12, folate, magnesium, calcium and then make sure you get a copy of your results to show your naturopath.
Natural remedies, because they are affecting you on a fundamental level, can act more slowly than some of the more drastic drugs of orthodox medicine so the results may take a while to become apparent. Although the time between each period can move ever so slowly when you and your partner decide to have a baby, patience is key says Reine, who suggests doing preconception care naturally for three months before you begin trying to conceive.
Preconception care usually involves a detox to clean up the liver, blood, any heavy metals or toxicity to get the body primed. Then, after a few months if you haven't fallen pregnant, seek professional advice and try a few of the following treatments.
Reine says, she wouldn't suggest one modality over another, it depends on the individual, but we've found that combining the modalities is where the magic is.
Natural fertility management
Natural therapies are particularly useful for women, whose inability to fall pregnant is more functional than structural, for example there is no known physical reason why they can't get pregnant, such as a blocked fallopian tube, but instead results from factors such as hormone imbalances, endocrine gland disorders, and emotional problems.
Some natural treatments can also assist with structural problems and support medical procedures such as IVF. In all cases, seek treatment from a qualified, experienced practitioner (they should be registered through their relevant Association or with the Australian Traditional-Medicine Society) and keep your doctor in the loop.
Naturopathy is a great place to start as it is a holistic approach that incorporates a range of treatments depending on the individual, including aromatherapy, herbs, massage and homeopathy. "A naturopath can tell quite quickly the health of a patient just by looking at them," says Reine. "It's about balancing nutrient status, investigating hormones, checking liver function and alkalining your body when trying to conceive." This may mean diet, exercise and lifestyle changes but it's also about working with you. "So if a patient can't help but work around toxic chemicals, for instance, we try to harm-minimise it with high-dose antioxidants."
Gently inserting fine needles at specific points in the body can realign its natural forces, adjust the endocrine function, balance hormones and help stimulate ovulation in women. In men it can improve sperm production and assist with erectile dysfunction. "Acupuncture supports the flow of energy or chi to the reproductive system, so if there's more blood going there there's more energy there, there's more likely chance that the body will ovulate and conceive," says Reine.
Singer Mariah Carey credits acupuncture for helping her and hubby Nick Cannon get pregnant. She told Hollywood Access that after reading an article on acupuncture by Canadian singer Céline Dion who had praised the modality for helping fertility, Carey committed to daily treatments, which helped her to stay in one place and the couple contribute it to relieving her stress, which she believes is what ultimately led her to being able to get pregnant.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Herbal medicine
TCM also believes that our health is dependent on the body's motivating energy moving through the body in a smooth, balanced way, and uses a combination of acupuncture and herbs to increase blood flow to the uterus, regulate hormones, stimulate ovulation in women and boost sperm count. Herbal medicine, then, is an integral part of TCM and a carefully balanced formula of different herbs are specifically tailored for the individual to assist both functional and structural infertility, including Chastetree berry, Dong Quai and Wild yam. But they need to be well prescribed, especially if undergoing other treatment.
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Aromatherapy: Essential oils and Flower essences
"These are beautiful modalities when there is actually nothing blocking the pregnancy, it's more about the emotional state," says Reine. Aromatherapy uses essential oils to relax the muscles and reduce anxiety. Try: Geranium, Sweet Almond, Chamomile, Basil, Lavender, Jasmine and Rose (believed to be an aphrodisiac that increases sperm count), and be sure to dilute in the bath or an oil burner beforehand. "They're the more gentle, feminine herbs so they're making you feel more womanly and more like you can conceive." Similarly, flower remedies, such as Noni, White Chestnut, Vervain and Wisteria, can assist a woman's mental health and wellbeing, and can be taken alone or in combination. "Bush flower essences are beautiful and so is She Oak for balancing the hormones." See a classical homeopath, naturopath or aromatherapist to have them well prescribed.
Exercise: Fertility Yoga/Pilates/Tai Chi
These exercises are all about getting stronger explains Reine. "It's about strong organs, good oxygen into the body, getting healthy and cleared, and getting the endorphins firing. They can help you to detox and there's a huge psychological component, if you feel good about yourself, you're more likely to get pregnant." Fertility yoga integrates breath with specific movements to give vitality to the reproductive and hormonal areas of your body. Moderate yoga such as Hatha is also beneficial. Pilates, too, works to reduce stress and boost strength, particularly the core muscles, and flexibility, thus assisting reproduction; while Tai Chi uses slow, graceful movements, deep breathing techniques and concentration to boost energy flow through the body and relax your mind. It's great for stress, insomnia and anxiety, but be sure to do meditative rather than combative classes.
Homeopathy is a holistic healing system that uses homeopathic remedies (diluted natural substances) to boost overall physical and emotional health. They can be particularly useful when infertility problems are related to your mental health, diet or sexual history. "You need to look at the emotional state to get a better picture of the kind of remedy required," says Reine. "And it is best prescribed by a classical homeopath."
Similarly, this ancient Japanese healing method is designed to balance the energy (chi) in the body, this time through the use of gentle hand movements to channel positive energy from the practitioner's hands to the patient. It is particularly useful for relieving stress, restoring harmony, enabling healing and boosting wellbeing. Most sessions last about an hour and should always be performed by a qualified practitioner.
The ancient therapeutic use of water, hydrotherapy relieves stress and depression, increases blood circulation and digestion, and stimulates the nervous, hormonal and reproductive systems, all of which improve your chances of falling pregnant. It's about varying water temperature and pressure. Alternating between hot and cold sitz baths, for instance, can improve pelvic circulation in men and women while a cold sitz bath is said to boost a man's sperm count. Other techniques include hot air baths/saunas or Turkish baths, compresses and wraps.
Used in India for thousands of years, this is a holistic therapy that believes conception occurs when there's a healthy uterus, ovum and sperm, and you can enhance male and female fertility through good diet and lifestyle. It divides the woman's menstrual cycle into three phases, Kapha, Pitta and Vata, and works to balance any disturbances. Typically downward energy in the Vata phase becomes blocked causing pain, bloating irregular periods etc, and this can be treated with daily self-massage and yoga, aloe vera juice and tea made from fennel seeds, licorice, saffron and fresh ginger. For men, the problem is often sperm defects and this is treated with herbs and lifestyle changes.
Hypnosis is a state of deep concentration, accompanied by relaxation of the outer senses and, according to hypnotherapist Dr Janet Hall, can be used to help a woman relax and visualise successful baby conception. "Hypnotherapy can help the woman explore and unblock unconscious issues around getting or not getting pregnant," she says. It can also be used with couples and in conjunction with other therapies. Ask your GP for referral to a credible and experienced hypnotherapist.
For more information on these and other useful therapies, including reflexology and osteopathy:
The Australian Traditional-Medicine Society (ATMS) at: www.atms.com.au) or phone: (02) 9809 6800.
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