5 ways working with a nutritionist can boost fertility
How can a nutritionist help with fertility is something that I get asked regularly.
It doesn’t matter whether you are just starting to think about having a baby, are already trying or are having fertility treatment, it's perfectly normal to worry about whether it will happen for you and how long it will take. Or to feel like you are doing something wrong or that you’ve exhausted every avenue. But trust me when I say there are always ways that a nutritionist (like me!) can support you to get as healthy as you can be, so that you give yourself the best shot at getting pregnant. In fact, in this blog post, you're going to learn the 5 key ways that working with a nutritionist can support your fertility journey.
You might think that a nutritionist is going to make you change your whole life - give up all the things you love to eat, activities you enjoy doing and live on broccoli and tofu. But that's not the reality. For most people, small changes can add up to big results and the key is simply about finding the specific changes that will make the biggest difference for you.
There’s a mountain of information out there that will tell you what to eat, what not to eat, what supplements to take etc to get pregnant.
But without knowing what parts of your health need focus, it’s impossible to figure out which bits you should do and which you definitely shouldn’t. And that’s where your friendly, trusted nutritionist comes in – helping you get to the root of your specific needs to come up with a plan that’s just for you.
One of my clients recently shared how confused she had been when she came to me first. She had read all the books and was following all the bloggers – but they were all telling her different things and she didn’t know which were relevant for her and which weren’t. Within a few weeks of us working together, she said she felt like a weight was lifted off her mind. We had narrowed down what she needed to do to a handful of key things and she felt, for the first time, that she knew she was doing the right things for her and felt more in control of her body and her fertility.
For me, a healthy period, healthy eggs and healthy sperm are 3 of the most important elements for making babies and luckily can also be massively influenced by nutrition and lifestyle change in the time before conception.
Nutrition for hormone balance
Oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone – most of us have heard their names at some stage before, right? But we never really think too much about them. When it comes to baby making, it’s all about them – too much of some and not enough of another makes getting pregnant really hard. Unfortunately, hormonal imbalances are very common but don’t always come to light until you’re ready to have a baby.
For women, any issues with your period can cause problems with fertility – things like irregular periods, PCOS and amenorrhoea (lack of a period).
A nutritionist will work with you to figure out the possible triggers of your period problems – this can include stress, lack of nutrients, too much or too little exercise, body weight or thyroid problems (among others). It’s worth getting a plan in place to sort these things as early as you can –
a healthy period is a sign of good health and is a must if you’re thinking of trying to conceive.
Men can also be affected by hormonal imbalances – too little testosterone is the one that immediately springs to mind. But, while we normally think of oestrogen as a female hormone, it is also critical for sperm production in the testes – too much or too little can negatively impact male fertility.
Thankfully, with some simple diet and lifestyle changes, it is possible to get to the bottom of these issues and restore a more natural balance of hormones. Managing stress, keeping blood sugars balanced, eating more nutrient dense food and reducing inflammation are some of the most common things to focus on with clients to get their hormones back on track. I generally recommend giving yourself 3 to 6 months working with someone to restore that balance before trying for baby (although I get that this isn’t always possible).
Nutrition for egg health
A female baby is born with all of the eggs she will ever have already inside her ovaries and they remain immature until she hits puberty. The eggs mature as a response to the hormones that are produced – this process takes around 3-4 months – with 1 mature egg being released at ovulation during your monthly menstrual cycle.
It is during this 3-4 month window that you have the best opportunity to improve egg quality naturally.
Egg quality is generally considered a measure of whether the egg has any genetic abnormalities that might cause issues with getting pregnant, miscarriage or genetic disorders. A woman’s egg quality is at it’s peak in her 20’s, with about 75% of eggs being genetically “normal”. By 35, this reduces to 50% and by 40 it is as low as 10-15%.
This is why focusing on nourishing your eggs and supporting their health is really important especially if you are trying to improve fertility after 35.
Keeping inflammation low, reducing oxidative stress (which damages DNA within the egg), avoiding toxins, addressing nutrient deficits and managing stress are essential parts of the puzzle to support the quality of your eggs. A nutritionist looks at all aspects of your life to understand which need specific focus and support you in implementing them in a way that works for you and your lifestyle.
Nutrition for sperm health
Just as the quality of a woman’s egg can be reduced, so can the quality of sperm. Sperm are a little different in that they are produced every day. Once a man hits puberty, testosterone triggers the production of millions of sperm cells every day. These cells then take around 10 weeks to mature.
It’s this window that can be targeted by some simple nutrition and lifestyle actions to naturally improve sperm quality.
With sperm there are many factors to consider – not just the DNA inside, but the number of them, how well they swim, their shape etc. Similarly to when we look at egg health, inflammation, oxidative stress, lack of nutrients, toxin exposure and stress are common areas of focus. A nutritionist will take a detailed history so they can identify potential areas for improvement and come up with specific dietary changes and lifestyle actions to support the overall health of your (or your partner’s) swimmers.
Lifestyle change to improve fertility chances
I think couples are becoming far more aware of the importance of eating well if you are planning on having a baby or are having fertility treatment. You don’t need to know the ins and outs of why it helps, but it makes sense that making healthy choices is going to offer some benefits. But I think the lifestyle aspect often gets overlooked a bit. When I say lifestyle, I mean everything from sleep to exercise to stress management and self-care.
Sleep really is the most powerful medicine but unfortunately, I regularly see people survive on 5 or 6 hours sleep or to suffer with issues getting to or staying asleep. This is almost always one of the first things that I work on from a lifestyle point of view. A good sleep improves so many markers of health – hormone levels, mood, blood sugar balance, stress resilience are just a few.
You know as well as I do that doing some kind of exercise or movement is good for your health and this is equally true for hormonal health and fertility. But striking the right balance is key – doing too little has obvious negative consequences. But doing too much can be just as bad –
excessive exercise can play havoc with female hormones and can contribute to irregular periods and even a total loss of your period (amenorrhoea).
It’s the stress that it puts your body under that causes this – the same stress response is activated as when you have a busy day or a stressful life event. And when the body is constantly stressed, it turns down production of reproductive hormones because it thinks it’s not a safe environment to bring a baby into. That’s why self-care and stress management are one of the most critical things to work on – coz let’s be honest – who isn’t stressed and busy these days?
Are there supplements to increase fertility?
Generally, most people do well on a good quality multivitamin while they are making dietary changes and these are recommended during pre-conception and early pregnancy. CoQ10 can be really beneficial for both egg and sperm health. It is usually well tolerated and doesn’t interact with many medications, but it’s always worth chatting to your doctor first to be 100% sure.
After that, the honest answer is – it depends. It depends on what areas of your health and/or lifestyle need focus to support your fertility; it depends on what medication you are taking or other health conditions you may already be managing; it depends on what potential triggers are identified as contributing factors to your hormonal or fertility issues. Supplements can be powerful things so it’s always better to have specific ones recommended to you based on your personal circumstances after a detailed consultation.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed at this stage, it’s not a single thing you do that will help to boost your fertility. But that doesn’t mean it has to be complicated. A good nutritionist will take you by the hand and set you on the right path to improve your chances of having the baby you’re longing for by reducing any confusion or worry you might be feeling. They'll cut through the noise with a simple combination of diet and lifestyle changes with supplements that are specifically focused on your individual needs.
If you’d like to chat in more detail about your fertility journey and how I can help you boost your chances of becoming Mum or Dad, click the button below to book a free, no commitment, 20 minute call with me. I’d love to hear from you.