There is no shortage of advice, suggestions, and recommendations on ways to get healthier when trying to conceive. We are bombarded with headlines like “Trying to Conceive? Five Changes to Make To Your Diet Now,” “14 Health Changes You Should Make Before You Start Trying to Get Pregnant,” and “11 Things To Avoid When Trying to Conceive.” Friends and family may offer well-intended advice based on what’s worked for them.
Focusing on your health when trying to conceive is always a good thing.
For those who are struggling, it is important to remember that infertility is a medical condition that requires treatment to overcome. And, very often, the treatment includes being or becoming the healthiest we can be in both mind and body. After all, if we are trying to become pregnant we will be the vessel that grows and nurtures a baby. It behooves everyone for our bodies and minds to be in the best shape possible to support such a significant effort.
What happens, though, when in our desire to conceive we go too far? We may actually be causing ourselves more harm by adding stress or taking new “healthy” habits to dangerous levels.
Here are some common ways that the effort to get healthy to conceive can turn toward the unhealthy – and what to do to change the tide.
A Rigid Approach to Diet
There is no shortage of suggestions and diets to follow when trying to conceive. And it is critically important to nourish yourself and your future baby with healthy foods. Oftentimes, a focus on eating healthy foods can be a tremendous source of empowerment on a journey that feels totally out of our control.
When we become obsessed about food – critiquing each thing we eat, skipping meals that don’t fit within our diet, missing out on important nutrients because we’ve been told to cut out a food type (gluten or dairy, for example), and feeling guilty if we do eat something that’s not specified by our diet – we can tread into unhealthy territory.
Instead, understand what foods will work well for you. Talking with a nutritionist or dietitian can help if you’re unsure. I personally love the Fertility Foods Cookbook as a great foundation for nutrition and fertility.
And aim for an 80/20 rule…80% of the time, you adhere to the guidelines. Allow yourself the pasta, ice cream cone, coffee or whatever you crave or miss every once in awhile. No single diet choice will be the reason you did or did not get pregnant.
Eliminating All Exercise or Overexercising
When it comes to exercise and fertility, aim for a “just right” balance. Not too much, not too little. Moving our bodies helps us feel good: stronger, healthier, and calmer. The movement helps our systems function at their best, allowing our body to operate efficiently. You want to feel strong, relaxed, and nourished by your movements.
Often – and especially if you’re undergoing IVF – the perception is that all exercise is prohibited. In fact though, most of the time, the guidance is more for low impact and maintaining an easy heart rate rather than being sedentary. Always check with your doctor, of course, but typically some movement is helpful even during an IVF cycle. Exercise such as walking, swimming, yoga (avoid inversions during IVF), or light strength training are good options.
This is not the time, however, to strive for sculpted muscles or train for a marathon. If your doctor has suggested exercise as a way to reduce weight to enhance your fertility, talk with her about which exercises and effort range she recommends for you. Similar to the diet suggestions above, aim for movement that supports your overall health, is gentle for your body, and is something fun that you will be able to commit to.
While how we spend money isn’t necessarily a health factor, the stress that can come from living outside of our means or from arguments with our partner about how much and what we’re spending on can be unhealthy. Fertility and infertility treatments are expensive. And then, there’s an abundance of products, treatments, and resources that can supplement those treatments – and they each come with a price tag.
Understand what you – and your partner – are comfortable spending early on in your process and at key points throughout (e.g. at each major decision point). Be sure to set aside at least a little bit for the unexpected: additional medication, car or home repair, date nights, or an opportunity for a weekend getaway.
There are lots of free or low cost options for support and even many supplemental treatments. Most fertility clinics will work with patients for reduced pricing options or payment plans.
And, please keep in mind, there is no silver bullet. Use your best judgement, do your research, and ask your doctor or another trusted expert for their opinion when you feel stuck in deciding if an additional treatment or resource will be helpful. Anyone who promises they WILL get you pregnant if you purchase whatever they are selling – is lying.
We live in a world of non-stop activity and endless to do lists. It can be a badge of honor to tell someone how busy we are; many workplaces applaud the overworked and “team players” who are involved in seemingly everything.
When it comes to our fertility, busyness can be a terrific distraction. Especially during a “two week wait”, I encourage my clients to prepare to occupy their minds and hands with joyful and engaging things as a way to distract from the overthinking, fear, and worry that can consume us during that time.
So how does busyness become unhealthy? Much like the rest of the list – when it is consuming. When it blocks out more peaceful activities or prevents us from truly feeling and understanding our hearts. Part of a fertility journey is exactly that – a journey to a new place, a transition into a new being. If we are too busy with the minutiae of daily life, too focused on completing a checklist of things, forcing too much activity onto ourselves we lose the opportunity to rest or find calmness.
Our bodies need the rest and calmness to function optimally. The busyness keeps our sympathetic nervous system engaged – preparing for physical and mental activity. Our hearts beat faster, our lungs pull in more air, and our digestion slows. In order to balance this and allow our systems to recuperate, we need to rest and allow our parasympathetic nervous system some time to take over: it stimulates digestion, activates various metabolic processes and helps us to relax.
Withdrawing from People and Activities You Love
It is all too common for women and couples struggling with infertility to withdraw from friends and activities that they once loved, but now cause additional pain. Things like pregnant women, small children, dinners full of “prohibited” food and drink can oftentimes be stressful reminders of what we very much want but are, at least for the moment, not able to have.
This can be a slippery slope, though. Be aware of how isolated you become. It is one thing to draw some boundaries and even temporarily remove yourself from stressful or sad situations. It can become unhealthy, though, when your support system is reduced to the point of ineffectiveness.
Seek out support from a mentor through Fruitful Fertility, a support group, a coach or therapist. Have an honest conversation with your friends about what you need from them right now. Check in with your partner about what he needs and ensure you build in “fertility-free” time together. Take some time to think about what you love to do – what gives you joy and fills you with energy – and ensure you’re doing a bit of that daily. A fertility journey can be a long and winding road, so seek ways to fill your proverbial cup before it runs empty.
In the end, I do think changes I made to my lifestyle made me healthier and made a difference in my fertility outcome – but not because of the way I prayed or meditated or because I did or didn’t eat something.
What helped was the shift in my focus from solely becoming pregnant to a broader one of health, nourishment, and gently enabling my body to support a baby and motherhood.
It is my sincere hope that you, too, are able to find your healthy balance as you try to conceive.