Thinking about having a baby? It can feel mega – emotionally, psychologically and physically. Add a trend to have babies later in life, feeling the tick-tock of the biological clock, stepping into the unknown, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
Fertility is an arena in which Chinese Medicine gets a lot of notoriety.
In Chinese Medicine, the premise for pre-conception care is to be at your optimal vitality and balance. If you are planning to conceive, both parents should prepare their bodies prior to conception. This will increase your chances of:
- A healthy and energetic pregnancy
- Easy breast-feeding and recovery
- Optimal vitality in your children.
In essence, we are preparing the soil to plant the seed, then nourishing the eco-system to sustain growth.
Now, even though it’s important to think about pre-conception care, you don’t need to micro-manage your conception. Really. Even if it becomes an emotional rollercoaster or takes time.
It’s easy to want to control aspects of a process that is by its nature uncontrollable. Getting stressed, frustrated and anxious about the process isn’t going to get you to your goal.
Relaxation is the technology that will yield the best pre-conception outcomes.
There is nothing to perfect, all you can do it stack the odds in your favour and roll the dice. Parental guilt can start as early as pre-conception – thinking you aren’t doing enough, that somehow not yet conceiving is all your fault.
Why don’t you drop that now?
Birth, death, transformations – they put us in direct contact with the mysteries and the unknowables of life. There are forces at play here that you won’t be able to fully understand or control and that’s OK.
Underneath are ways to stack the odds in your favour and things to consider for your pre-conception care. Not all points will be relevant to all people.
Look at where your health and your life are imbalanced and start with that. Seek help if you need it. A practitioner can help you. Have a good chat about it all and they can create some strategies for you. They can customise that address your particular needs and set of circumstances.
Pre-Conception Care for Males
Check Your Sperm
The male factor is a factor. Men having difficulty with fertility is also on the rise.
Sperm takes about 10 weeks to mature.
Sperm quality is related to:
- The total number of sperm cells produced (sperm count)
- Their physical attributes (morphology)
- Their ability to move properly once ejaculated (motility)
- The integrity of their DNA.
Factors that drop sperm count include elevated scrotal temperature, disease, toxic chemical exposure and increasing age.
At this point it’s unknown whether your diet, exercise, immunity, toxicity, hydration, stress levels (ie overall health) can increase sperm count, morphology and motility. But good health sure can prevent sperm quality from dropping.
That said, the greatest impact on male fertility actually takes place in utero and in the first 6 months of a male child’s life. Increased exposure to toxicity, pollution and chemicals have been seen to reduce the number of Sertoli cells (the sperm-producing cells in the testes).
Average sperm count has been declining since the 1940–50s, dropping from 113 million sperm per millilitre to 66 million sperm per millilitre. As it has been dropping faster than genetic factors would allow, researchers are looking for environmental causes for this effect.
A general rule of thumb is that if you have a lower sperm count (<40 million sperm per millilitre) it can take longer to get your partner pregnant.
Low sperm count is a biomarker for health. If you have a low sperm count, don’t despair – you can still conceive. We recommend to take it as a sub-clinical sign that there are areas of your health that need improving.
Pre-Conception Care for Females
Address Any Gynaecological Issues Sooner Rather Than Later
It takes on average about 5 months to develop an egg before your body ovulates it. Your health during that time affects the egg. So if you’d like to have an impact on the quality of an egg and its environment, it’s best to leave yourself time to come back into balance.
Speak to your Chinese Medicine practitioner about addressing female health issues. Stuff like PMS, lower belly and back pain, irregularities in cycle length, heavy or long bleed times are common but not ‘normal’ and don’t need to be tolerated month in month out. If you have any syndromes such as PCOS, endometriosis or fibroids, get help from a trusted health professional to address the underlying causes, not just their symptomatic expressions.
If you are older, FHS reading, ovarian reserve, cortisol patterns and thyroid health could perhaps be investigated as part of your preparation.
Detoxing for Pre-Conception Care
Most toxins are stored in fat. Breast milk is composed of around 1/3 fat. Toxins that have been quietly stored in your body tucked away in your fat will be mobilised to meet this increased demand and transferred straight into your newborn’s body.
Not only that, detoxing is a fabulous clinical tool to balance hormones, regulate cycles, improve digestion, improve nutrient absorption as well as clear the unprecedented levels of toxicity that we are being exposed to.
Look Out for Your Mucus Changes
Now I know everyone loves talking about vaginal discharge, aka divine freakin’ nectar.
Get to know that egg-white consistency stuff. It’s juicier than the everyday discharge and comes for 1–3 days around ovulation. It’s sperm candy.
If you’re not getting this discharge, chances are you’re not ovulating. It’s hard for some people to know when they’re ovulating, which could be anywhere between day 11 to day 18-ish (day 1 is the first day you bleed), especially if you have irregular or long cycles.
You can’t get pregnant if you don’t have sex around ovulation. This divine nectar is the sign to look for in pre-conception. It’s the cervix dropping nice and slidey guide ropes for the sperm. It is uber nutrient rich and it nourishes and protects the sperm as they make their epic journey to that egg. Only 1 (or 2 or 3) out of 20–80 million actually make it.
Look After Your Microbiome
It has been previously thought that the newborn comes out sterile and the colonisation of bacteria forming its microbiome (the sum of all microbial life living in or on the human body) starts forming as the baby leaves the womb. Recent research suggests that this is not the case and the baby’s gut bacteria begins to form in utero via the placenta, and is affected by the length of gestation time and possible swallowing of embryonic fluid in the third trimester.
Regardless, it is recognised that the most influential factor on the genesis of the microbiome is the transmission from the maternal microbiota.
If bub is born vaginally, the bacterial makeup of the Mama’s foo foo starts it all off. If born via caesarean, then it is the journey to the boob in which babe experiences the bacterial make-up of the skin. Babies will encounter very different bacteria species on these varying journeys. Whether you breast feed or formula feed or both will radically alter the microbiome development.
The essential and miraculous role that the microbiome plays in our life has only recently been uncovered in the West, and there is much we can never know about the extent of the functions and relationships it has in the body. We carry more bacteria DNA than human cells in our body. We have evolved symbiotically. The health of our gut bacteria affects our immunity, gastrointestinal function, neurotransmitter production, nutrient absorption and skin integrity.
If you have eczema, IBS or mental health disorders running in your family, clinical dosing of antimicrobial, antiparasitic, prebiotics and specific strains of probiotics can help prevent the onset of these conditions in the child.
Structural Issues for Women in Pre-Conception
How is your uterus positioned? Do you have structural issues to do with your hips? Over-toned pelvic floor?
The uterus is a suspensory organ, therefore it can move to the left and right, and tip front and back. It’s held in place a bit like a hammock by ligaments, muscle cells and fascia. The opening of the uterus is the cervix. How the cervix thins, softens and opens (dilates/expands) is the major factor in the ‘progression’ of labour. Easier labours are affected more by tone and relative symmetry of a woman’s uterine ligaments and muscles than the shape of the pelvic bowl. Having an alignment between the head of the baby, the cervix and the pelvic outlet is ideal and is dependant on the centering of the womb, optimal position of the baby and responsiveness of the cervix.
Symmetry in the Sacro-Illiac joints will help the sacrum line up with the pelvic brim. This helps align the pubic symphysis and the Sacro-Illiac joints. The baby can get into a nice head-down position.
If you have Sacro-Illiac Joint Disorder now, by golly it’ll probably flare up post-birth. Lack of recovery time, (ie laying down and resting post-birth) is one of the major contributors for chronic SIJ disorder in women. Many cultures bind the belly and hips post-birth to keep them warm and stabilised. This will help correct proprioception and aid ligament and joint recovery post-birth.
As the wonderful pelvic floor pioneer Mamashanti is often heard saying, “An over-toned pelvic floor is an obstacle to birth.” Many women store tension within the pelvic floor and also have active trigger points inside the vaginal canal, especially yogis (mula bunda anyone?) and dancers.
Getting to understand correct pelvic floor dynamics is one of the best gifts you’ll give yourself for pre-conception care and planning.
*Hint: Kegels WILL NOT show you the way – they were designed for men, by a man, to treat urinary incontinence.
Fatigue and Stress Issues in Pre-Conception Care
If you’re tired and/or stressed out of your eyeballs now, where is the energy and tolerance going to come from to manage pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and the toddler years? They ain’t a ‘restorative’ time. You want to have something in the tank for that.
Both fatigue and stress are massive issues affecting us today. They can be a cause or a result of physical and mental ill-health.
If you are down the adrenal fatigue pathway, it can affect the way that your body produces and processes hormones and can affect your ovarian reserve or sperm health.
There is loads of help available to address this and it’s much easier to do so pre-baby, without adding the sleep deprivation that a newborn can bring.
Sex in Pre-Conception Care
Your sex life is not often spoken about. Sexual issues are a major cause of infertility. For real. Many people have sexual issues and to fall pregnant you may need to increase the amount and quality of sex that you are currently having. My homegirl Zita West recommends 3 x per week if you’re aiming to conceive.
How to maintain stamina, desire, humour and playfulness during that time? The pressure to conceive can be a major anti-aphrodisiac.
Classical Chinese texts talk about the benefit of conscious sex. What does that even mean?
Well to start, you’re sober when you have sex, or close to it. Secondly, but most importantly, you’re present. You are mentally and emotionally in the moment, surrendering and opening to the present moment. You haven’t ‘checked out’ because of stuff like:
- Feeling overwhelmed by intimacy (for whatever reason, and there are plenty).
- Your mind is focused on other things.
- You are emotionally unavailable due to past trauma or dynamics that are present in your relationship.
- You can’t accept or don’t want to experience your body.
- Cultural or philosophical views on sexual behaviour, desire and pleasure.
Globally, we are in an era of change within the masculine and feminine dynamics which can affect the way that we relate.
Classical Chinese thought advocates relaxed, loving, harmonious relations with slow full arousal and expanding the perception of ‘orgasmic’ energy to include the whole body. Mind, heart, body and breath are aligned, which can be healing and energising for both the man and woman.
There are heaps of resources for this, and sex post-baby can be different too, so opening up the communication and exploring some relaxing, peachy, restorative ways to connect and build desire can serve your relationship and your self on many levels.
I highly recommend Being The Lover. It is a fabulous self-paced online program for couples that will give you great skills and knowledge to use your intimacy to heal.
Get Your Iodine, Zinc & Vitamin D Levels Checked
Natural Iodine is low in Australian and NZ soil. Iodine is needed by every single cell in the body. But it is especially needed for foetal brain development and there are extra demands during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Iodine gets stored in the body and you’ll need to get your levels accurately tested. If you’re deficient, take a practitioner prescribed adequate dose, which as a rule of thumb is WAY higher than the recommended daily allowance. That’s why you need the test.
Vitamin D demand is high in conception, pregnancy and breastfeeding. In Melbourne during winter A LOT of people suffer from Vitamin D deficiency due to lack of sunlight. Get tested, and if you’re low get appropriate practitioner prescribed supplementation.
Zinc is necessary for the functioning of more than 300 different enzymes, which means it plays a role in a great number of bodily activities. Some of those activities are critical during pregnancy because they involve embryo and fetal development as well as infant growth – the embryo consumes a lot of Zinc in the beginning for its growth and development. This can leave you deficient through the later stages of your pregnancy.
Some research also indicates that mineral and nutrient deficiency can be a cause of severe morning sickness.
If you’d like to chat about pre-conception care, please book an appointment to come and see me in clinic.