Dr. Sarah Moore
Preparing to conceive: 6 essential steps
Preparing our body to conceive a pregnancy can be an empowering time. Our choices become more conscious, driven by a desire to create a mind-body-spirit that is welcoming, loving, healthy and strong, ready to create and serve life. It can also be a time of reflection, as we acknowledge the impact of past traumas, mistakes and other experiences on our health and lifestyle, realising the need to take positive action in order to heal and grow from these moments in our past.
Taking time out to evaluate your current state of health and wellbeing, acknowledging where you’re doing great and identifying areas where change is needed, is a valuable and worthwhile exercise when preparing to conceive. Doing this with your partner is recommended in order to optimise the chances of conceiving a healthy pregnancy.
Here are my top 6 essential steps to take as part of your pregnancy preparation.
1. Optimise your stress levels
This is a very broad statement, but I will break it down into smaller, actionable steps. Stress is essentially a state where you perceive that the resources you have access to are not sufficient to overcome the challenges you are faced with. This mismatch creates a physical and emotional response called the “fight, flight, freeze” response, where the sympathetic nervous system is activated and adrenaline and cortisol are released from the adrenal glands. This leads to increased physical strength and emotional focus, allowing us to take on the challenge. This response is designed to last for SHORT durations such that we can overcome ACUTE stressors, such as running away from a predator. However, in our modern world, our bodies and minds are increasingly exposed to more chronic stressors that trigger our bodies to remain in this fight, flight, freeze state of overdrive for hours, days, weeks, months or even years.
The important point to note is that when cortisol levels are high, the body senses a lack of safety in the environment. This signals to the body that it is not a good time to conceive a baby, because it is unlikely that there will be the necessary conditions for a fetus to thrive. Consequently, progesterone levels are down-regulated. Progesterone is a key reproductive hormone required for conception and pregnancy maintenance. Low progesterone is a key indicator of chronic stress, and is an important underlying cause of sub-fertility. Women undergoing IVF treatment are supplemented with progesterone to help them conceive, however this is associated with significant side effects.
My number one piece of advice to any couple trying to conceive is to reduce your stress and develop healthy stress management techniques to regulate your response to stressors, both predictable and unpredictable.
Leading causes of stress include financial and mortgage stress, family and relationship conflict, previous unresolved trauma, chronic illness, work stress, lack of physical activity and poor diet. I will cover some of these areas in the following action steps, but please consider the impact that each of these sources of stress may be having on your physical and emotional health, then take action to reduce or remove these stressors prior to conception.
Further to this, developing daily habits that allow you to manage stress more effectively, such as meditation, breathing, qi gong, tai chi, yoga, journaling and listening to or playing music will also assist you to reduce your stress response and improve your health overall.
For a guided, structured approach to reducing stress and optimising your health prior to conception, I can also recommend our online Happy, Healthy Mums and Bubs program.
2. Optimise your Diet
What you eat has a vital impact on your body’s physiology and reproductive health. Choosing a diet that nourishes your body to optimise function must be an integral part of your conception-planning process. Food is the fuel that your body uses to build every cell and drive every metabolic process, including those in your growing baby. Wholefood will ensure healthy and efficient metabolism. Processed, high-sugar foods are toxic to your cells and will cause inflammation and dysfunctional metabolism, inhibiting conception.
Keep your diet simple: lots of vegetables, some meat, some whole grains, good fats, minimal sugar and processed foods. This combination will ensure a healthy gut microbiome, which is essential to good health, allowing the right nutrients to be absorbed and the gut to function optimally. For a guided nutrition journey, I would encourage you to register for our online program, Happy, Healthy Mums and Bubs.
Humans were made to move. Movement is one of our natural and essential purposes in life. Our bodies function optimally when we move frequently throughout the day in different ways. Walking, swimming, cycling, yoga, dance, qi gong, tai chi are all wonderful and healthy ways to move our bodies on a daily basis. Beware of choosing a movement or exercise that creates excess stress within your body. Many gym enthusiasts and endurance runners find themselves in IVF clinics due to chronically high levels of adrenaline and cortisol in their system, which suppresses their progesterone and causes their gut to become dysbiotic, meaning conception cannot occur.
Be gentle with your body when you move. Treat it with loving kindness rather than flogging it to the point of exhaustion. Move joyfully and freely.
4. Engage in activities that bring you joy
This leads on from the first step, optimising your stress levels. Essentially, the aim is to boost your levels of endorphins, oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin in our bodies, creating a state of wellbeing that allows the body to feel safe and ready to conceive. Joyful activities are often creative and take us into a state of flow. Examples include painting, drawing, dancing, gardening, playing music, writing, singing, spending time in nature and connecting with family and friends.
5. Remove toxins from your environment
Toxins are another source of endocrine disruption and inflammation that can impact on your reproductive hormone function and prevent conception. Other than the obvious toxins, such as alcohol, smoking, excess stress and processed foods that are high in sugar, there are a number of environmental toxins in our households that we need to consider. These include cleaning products, cosmetics, impurities in our drinking water, gardening and agricultural products, and electromagnetic fields (EMF). Alexx Stewart has a great website and podcast where she discusses ways to detoxify your home and lifestyle, and I would recommend you do your own research to identify which toxins could be affecting your health and how to reduce your toxic load. You may even consider employing a Building Biologist to assess your home and provide individualised advice on how to do this.
6. Engage the assistance of others
If all this seems a bit too much to tackle on your own, it is ok to ask for help. There are a plethora of health professionals available to support you on your journey to conception and into pregnancy. These include your GP, naturopath, osteopath, psychologist, yoga teacher, chiropractor, health coach… the list goes on! Creating a compassionate team of practitioners to guide you is a wonderful way to invest in your health and will ensure you feel supported and loved as you embark on one of the most transformational experiences of your life. If you live in the South West of WA, you may find the Holistic Health Practitioner Network website a useful resource too.
Preparing for pregnancy is a unique opportunity to appreciate, detoxify and nurture your body, mind and spirit as you begin your journey towards parenthood. Investing in this process is a worthwhile exercise. I wish you well!