The human body is an incredibly complex machine, full of mystery and nuance. The way we are created and come into the world—by way of the reproductive system—is especially intricate and wondrous.
Roughly one in six couples in Canada experience infertility, and many Canadians go through fertility treatments like IVF (in vitro fertilization) to grow their families. These treatments are literally life-giving, and Western medicine has made huge strides in providing hope and opportunity to people who may not otherwise be able to conceive.
Folks trying to become pregnant can also look to holistic fertility approaches alongside conventional medicine to help manage stress and improve their odds at conception. These include, but are not limited to, dietary adjustments, exercise and movement, and naturopathic care.
A caveat before we dive in: if you’re over 35 and/or have struggled for over a year to get pregnant, time is (of course) a key factor, and booking an appointment with your doctor should be the first step—to discuss your treatment options and any complementary lifestyle adjustments you want to make.
According to the Mayo Clinic, while infertility adds stress to one’s life, stress alone has not been shown to cause infertility. However, mind-body programs have been shown to help with pregnancy rates among people experiencing infertility, so minimizing stress in your life while trying to conceive is certainly a positive step.
The NCBI says that psychological interventions among infertility patients can decrease anxiety and depression, potentially leading to better chances at becoming pregnant.
Holistic practices may also help reduce stress in a similar way.
Yoga does not directly boost fertility, but research has shown that lowering levels of cortisol decreases the chances of miscarriage. Excess cortisol can also interfere with fertility, so yoga can be a great option for TTC couples—just make sure to practice yoga with a qualified instructor, and try to avoid high temperature yoga rooms if you do become pregnant.
A study published in PubMed suggests that hypnosis during the egg transfer in IVF may significantly improve the cycle outcome in terms of implantation and pregnancy rates.
In an article for Harper’s Bazaar, clinical hypnotherapist Gail Marra says that “hypnotherapy can help with fertility issues by helping [people] feel calmer, relaxed and more in control, therefore reducing stress and anxiety.”
Another study published in PubMed suggests that mindfulness meditation can help with stress and negative emotions that might come up during one’s infertility treatment:
“Being fully aware of the present moment without the lens of judgment, seems to help [people] relate to their infertility and IVF treatment in new ways,” the study says. “This is beneficial for promoting their self-compassion, adaptive emotion regulation and infertility-related coping strategies,” which can in turn influence pregnancy rates positively.
Essentially, keeping stress levels low helps (and certainly doesn’t hurt) in your path to conception. If the practices are safe and done under the care of qualified individuals, yoga, meditation, and hypnotherapy are tools to consider while trying to become pregnant.
DIET & EXERCISE:
In an article for the Harvard Health Blog, medical doctor Robert H. Shmerling writes that for people trying to become pregnant without the assistance of IVF or other reproductive technologies, vitamins like folic acid, vitamin b12, and omega-3 fatty acids are linked to positive effects on fertility. Trans fats were found to have negative impacts.
It’s important to always consider the mental health effects of one’s dietary choices as well, and to not lean into the inherent anti-fatness that often plagues the Western medical system. Trying to alter one’s set point weight can lead to stress, which we know is not good for fertility.
What can be good, however, is adding in foods that are high in the “positive” vitamins and nutrients. Focusing on adding rather than restricting foods may be useful, particularly if you’ve struggled with disordered eating in the past (which many people have).
This same philosophy can be applied to exercise: while exercise can decrease stress and therefore (possibly) help with conception, keeping movement joyful and non-punishing is key.
In a case study published to Nova IVF’s website, it is said that vigorous exercise may increase ovulatory problems, so moderate exercise that you enjoy is the way to go.
Introducing foods that contain things like monounsaturated fats, high fiber foods and vegetable protein to your diet is also useful, while keeping a healthy perspective and outlook on your body and the amazing ability it has to carry you through the world.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, the functional medicine model of care offers “a patient-centred approach to chronic disease management.” It identifies root causes of illnesses, including lifestyle considerations, genetics, and one’s environment.
In a medically-reviewed article for Medical News Today, Debra Rose Wilson writes that proponents of acupuncture (the traditional Chinese medicine practice of inserting thin, tiny needles into specific points in the body) say it can help by boosting blood flow to reproductive organs, balancing hormones, and relieving stress. While there is no conclusive evidence that acupuncture helps or hurts fertility, it is generally considered safe, with few risks.
Like yoga or meditation, massage can reduce stress, so this may also be worth adding to your conception toolbox, but it’s important to acknowledge that these methods are often expensive, and therefore prohibitive to many people.
In a medically-reviewed article for What to Expect, Maria Masters writes that some research has shown chiropractic adjustment (manipulation of the spine and other parts of the body) may enhance fertility by improving hormone balance.
There is, however, no definitive scientific evidence to fully support chiropractic care for fertility, and there are risks involved in any spinal adjustment. Getting a referral to a reputable chiropractor, should you try this method, is key.
We live in an era where we have more access than ever to integrative approaches to medicine. Scientific knowledge is a brilliant, ever developing thing, and it’s important we use it to empower one another on our various health journeys.
People trying to become pregnant can attract all kinds of advice, unsolicited or otherwise. There’s so much to consider and so many methods to investigate. Some of them are helpful, some of them are potentially harmful. Some of them are useful, some have very little supportive research.
When discussing fertility, let’s work towards encouraging couples to embrace what works for them, while promoting education and full transparency when it comes to both conventional and more alternative practices.