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Natural fertility

Can you change the health of your eggs?

Can you change the health of your eggs?

Here Dr Jodie Peacock ND, naturopathic doctor, author and founder of Enhance Fertility helps us understand how our eggs function and what we can do to improve their health.

One of the most common questions I will hear from patients is - Are my eggs too old for me to conceive? We know that our eggs, like all the cells in our body, will age with time so yes age is certainly a factor when it comes to the quality of your eggs. Age however is not the only determining factor when it comes to egg health. Optimizing your own health before trying to conceive, can help improve the quality of your eggs and the overall health of your future baby. The development of your eggs from their primordial state to when they are ready to ovulate takes about three months. The three months before getting pregnant we call the preconception period and is a particularly critical time to focus on your health.

When we are considering the health of our eggs there are two main areas of focus that we need to optimize.

  1. Mitochondrial function. Mitochondria are known as the powerhouse of our cells. They are found within your cells and are responsible for creating energy. Mitochondria are found in high amounts in our eggs, as the development process requires a significant amount of energy. Once the egg meets the sperm all the mitochondria for the developing embryo come from your egg. If your mitochondria aren’t producing enough energy, it can be difficult for DNA to replicate and therefore to have a healthy pregnancy. As we age there is a natural decline in mitochondria energy production that is one of the contributors to diminishing egg quality. 
  2. Antioxidant potential. Our bodies are constantly exposed to a host of different toxins, free radicals and oxidants that can cause damage to the cells in our body – including our eggs. Our liver produces a few different antioxidants, one called glutathione and one called CoQ10, that can help combat these oxidants and protect our cells. As we age, we also see a decrease in our ability to deal with oxidative damage which is another contributor to diminishing egg quality.

By understanding the importance of these systems, we can start to look at ways to help protect and nourish our eggs while they are developing. There is a fluid called follicular fluid that surrounds our eggs as they develop. This is where we have the ability to change the environment that the eggs develop in.

How to support our egg health

Eating a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables will help provide a variety of antioxidants that can help with oxidative damage. Minimizing the amount of processed and refined foods will also help to decrease the amounts of oxidants that are created in the body. There are several other ways to help decrease the exposures that I will cover in other articles. There are also several supplements that have been shown in the research to help support egg quality. All the research that is done specifically looking at egg quality is done in IVF settings. This is the only opportunity we have to actually visually see the egg and assess quality.

CoQ10 is a nutrient that works to support each of these areas. CoQ10 works as an antioxidant to prevent damage to cells. It also enters mitochondria to help with energy production. Research with CoQ10 has demonstrated both improved egg quality and embryo production for women undergoing IVF or ICSI procedures. There is also research showing that women under 35 with reduced ovarian reserve or poor ovarian response, showed significant improvements following CoQ10 dosing over an eight week period. Women in the trial who received CoQ10 had higher fertilization rates, greater high-quality embryos, and less cancelled embryos transfer than women in the control group who didn’t receive CoQ10.

Acetyl-l-carnitine is an amino acid that supports mitochondria by acting as a shuttle to move fatty acids into mitochondria.  This allows mitochondria to make energy more efficiently.  Supplementation with acetyl-l-carnitine can reverse age-related decline in mitochondrial function. Research done using acetyl-l-carnitine in embryo cultures showed reduced DNA damage and improved chromosomal structure. This means that the embryos had a higher chance of being genetically viable to grow into a healthy baby. Acetyl-l-carnitine works in synergy with CoQ10 as it helps CoQ10 get into the mitochondria. If there isn’t enough carnitine in the system, CoQ10 can’t work as effectively. 

N-Acetylcysteine (NAC) is an amino acid that also helps to support egg quality by increasing antioxidant capacity. NAC is a building block for your body to make a powerful antioxidant called glutathione. Glutathione is one of the best antioxidants our livers make which can then help support the health of developing eggs. 

Other antioxidants such as alpha lipoic acid, melatonin vitamin C and vitamin E all have research helping to reduce the negative effects of oxidative damage to cells including developing eggs. 

Working on improving your antioxidant capacity and mitochondrial function can have a significant positive impact on the healthy development of your eggs as well as improve the health of all your cells! There are many lifestyle and diet choices as well as supplementation that can help support your journey to becoming a mother to a healthy baby. For further support please speak with your fertility specialist or Naturopathic doctor.

For more tips on fertility, please follow us on Facebook and Instagram @enhancefertility and read more about Dr Jodie Peacock on her listing here.

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How yoga can benefit your fertility

How yoga can benefit your fertility

Fertility yoga teacher and wellness coach Emily Cook explains just how beneficial yoga can be when trying to conceive.

Yoga is an ancient practice that understands the body’s energy flow and how the mind can influence the body. It is because of this that it’s ideal form of exercise for women who are trying to conceive. Everyone can improve their general health and every woman can learn more about herself by connecting through yoga. Sometimes women spend years trying to get pregnant and simultaneously not moving on in their lives, without realizing one is impacting the other. What they need is purpose – to give them a renewed drive for life. Learning and teaching yourself to relax, manage and overcome stress through yoga, is an essential tool for life.

The benefits of yoga for fertility:

  • Prepare your body and mind for conceiving a baby 
  • Restorative postures with a gentle flow 
  • Practice being present and being mindful 
  • Improve circulation to the reproductive organs 
  • Tap into our emotions 
  • Create a space for baby to go 
  • Deep rest that we don’t engage in on a daily basis 
  • Relax the body and activate the parasympathetic nervous system 
  • Let’s your emotions surface, rather than surprise them 
  • Take yogic techniques learnt in class to your day to day life 
  • Feel more connected and confident in know what their body can achieve
  • Recognise that your body hasn’t failed you

I know what you’re going through. I aim in my fertility yoga classes for them to be compassionate, supportive and nourishing, which adapt to meet your needs rather than to force the body and work against the goal of conception – feel powerful in your body again! Yoga that works to optimize each phase of the menstrual cycle and harmonise the natural rhythms of the body.  You’ll get to know your mind and body better and let go of whatever is holding you back.  Explore yoga poses you should do through the stages of IVF, fertility journey, your cycle and chakras. Opening emotional blocks, stress/lifestyle changes, quieten our minds to find happiness or letting go.

Emily Cook is a yoga teacher and wellness coach specialising in fertility. Emily offers both 1-2-1 and group classes online which you can do in the comfort of your own home. She also provides online coaching support consultations. Find out more about Emily Cook Coaching here.

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Explaining the Unexplained: BBT charting

Explaining the Unexplained: BBT charting

Here Alex O'Connor, a fertility acupuncture specialist, from Essex Fertility in her Explaining the Unexplained series gives us all the details on BBT charting and how to really get to know your cycle.

Basal Body Temperature Charting

You may have tried charting, and given up in frustration - but I would urge you to reconsider. A set of BBT charts can help you to keep track of improvements in your cycle over time. They are also incredibly useful for your acupuncturist if they have advanced training in fertility acupuncture and will help them to fine tune their treatment and advice. 

The most important thing I am looking for in a chart is that it has a ‘biphasic’ appearance, the first half of the month should have temperatures  in the lower range (ideally around 97.5'F / 36.38'C) and the second half of the month should have temperatures that sit approximately 0.5'F / 0.3'C higher (over 98'F / 36.68'C). This gives a chart a classic biphasic appearance, which means there are two distinct phases of the chart corresponding to the follicular phase and the luteal phase, with the process of ovulation acting as the pivot between the two.

Taking your temperature

It is best to take your temperature at the same time each day, ideally following at least 3hrs sleep. If you have been disturbed in the night and went to the loo in the small hours of the morning, just note that you were up in the night, but take your temperature anyway. It is always worth noting things like a disturbed night, alcohol intake the previous night and medicines as they can alter your temperature. If you have noted these factors on your chart then you know that those temperatures might be slightly incorrect and it may be prudent to ignore them if they don't fit the pattern.

Taking your temperature vaginally is slightly more reliable – but whichever way you decide to take your temperatures, stick to that method for the duration of the chart.

If you are a shift worker with irregular sleep hours, it is best to choose a particular time of day to take your temperature and stick to the same time of day each day – just make a note on the chart about whether you were asleep or on shift prior to taking your temperature.

If you take your temperature at a different time of day, the following link may be useful - it is a webpage which calculates what your BBT would have been at the correct time:

https://whenmybaby.com/basalbodytemperature.php

Other things to note on your chart...

Cervix observations

The position and tone of your cervix within your vagina changes around ovulation. For most of the month, the cervix is lower, tightly closed and feels firm, a bit like the firmness of the tip of your nose. When you are imminently ovulating, your cervix becomes ripe and open; it will feel soft like your lips.

If you are one of the women who have less obvious cervical mucus, you should be able to track your cervical mucus changes more easily if you are also charting your cervix position on a regular basis because this is the area where you should still be able to find some cervical mucus.

Cervical mucus

You should make notes about any observations about cervical mucus on your chart, this information can be cross-referenced with your temperature information to confirm when you are likely to have ovulated.

Textbook cervical mucus changes:

  • After your period – dry
  • A few days later – milky, like a milky lotion
  • A few days later – wet and watery
  • A few days before ovulation – slippery and stretchy like egg white, designed to assist and nourish sperm
  • After ovulation – thick and sticky, designed to ‘plug’ the cervix opening

LH surge, OPK results

If you can, check your LH surge or oestradiol peak with an ovulation prediction kit (OPK) and make a note of the results on your BBT chart. You may wonder what is the point of charting and using an OPK but this additional layer of information can be really useful when it comes to interpreting the data from a chart.

Start checking for an LH surge about 5 days prior to when you think you ovulate. On your chart note both negative and positive OPK results (smiley faces, flashy faces or however your predictor kit displays results!)

Alcohol, stress, illness, medication, travel

If you have had a few drinks the night before, alcohol can cause temperatures to rise and behave erratically so it is worth noting this on your chart.

If you are having a particularly stressful time, have been unwell or taken any medication such as paracetamol or ibuprofen make a note on the chart; all of these things can have an effect on your basal body temperature.

A 'textbook' chart

Before explaining a textbook chart, I need to point out that this is just so you can start to work out what kind of issues you can look for in a chart. Few women have perfect charts, and you do not need a perfect chart in order to get pregnant - but a set of charts can help a fertility specialist to work out why you might not be falling pregnant and how to help you improve your fertility.

  • The temperature should drop as the bleed begins, and hold steady in the low range at about 97.5F /36.4'C, the temperatures should stay around this lower level for the first half of the cycle.
    Choppy temperatures in this phase can be caused by alcohol intake or stress, or can indicate a hormonal issue. It is worth noting on your BBT if you had alcohol the night before any of the temperatures taken.
     
  • At around ovulation there should be a small dip, then a strong surge upwards to the second phase of the cycle, the luteal phase. Temperatures should rise by approximately 0.5’F / 0.3'C and the temperature for the luteal phase should all be over 98’F / 36.68'C. Ideally this upward surge from lower temperature range to the upper temperature range should happen over 24-48hrs, if it takes 3 days to move from one phase to another that is too long. The shape of the curve at this point can provide additional information about how the hormones are behaving.
     
  • For the second half of the cycle, the temperatures should hover around 98'F / 36.68'C for around 12 days. If the temperatures are not sustained at the higher temperature for at least 10-12 days, it suggests that the body is struggling to maintain a sufficient level of progesterone. Youou may find it helpful to work with a Fertility Support Trained Acupuncturist to investigate this as there are several possible reasons for this to happen..
PLEASE DO NOT PANIC IF YOUR CHART IS NOT PERFECT!

As I explained above, few women have a perfect chart and the aim of charting is not to achieve a perfect chart!

Charting is a fantastic tool to help identify areas of concern, in clinic it can help me to know which blood tests to recommend and how best to treat to support the cycle with acupuncture. There is so much in the way of nutrition, lifestyle and acupuncture that can be done to improve a chart, and any improvement in a chart is a movement towards a more fertile state.

I have uploaded a spreadsheet with a simple, basic chart for you to use - click here to access the Google Doc and please make a copy to use for yourself.

To read more about Alex, take a look at her listing here.

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TTC tips: How to boost your fertility naturally

TTC tips: How to boost your fertility naturally

Here Mira share some tips on what you can to support your fertility naturally.

Once a woman decides to get pregnant, the race begins. Learning what you can do outside of the doctors office to speed things up is a top priority. Combining natural fertility boosters with professional medical advice can help you get pregnant faster. Here are a few steps you can take to naturally increase your fertility.

Tracking your fertility

Figuring out the best time to have sex is helpful for those trying to get pregnant as soon as possible. You’re able to conceive during your fertile window. This is about five days before ovulation, plus the day of ovulation. Chances of getting pregnant are highest if you have sex two days before ovulating. Fortunately there are many signs that the body gives you while approaching ovulation.

Basal body temperature (BBT)

Basal body temperature (BBT) is the body's lowest temperature, which is during rest. The BBT is estimated by measuring your temperature upon awakening. As women approach ovulation, their basal body temperature can increase by more than 0.2 °C (0.4 °F). An oral thermometer can do the trick; although, there are thermometers designed specifically for tracking BBTs. Small increases in temperature can be difficult to detect. Also, BBT can be affected by diet and lifestyle changes(e.g. sickness, stress, caffeine).

Cervical mucus

The fluid produced by your cervix(cervical mucus), changes throughout your menstrual cycle. Cervical mucus provides nutrients, and protects sperms cells on their journey through the fallopian tubes into your ovaries to fertilize your eggs. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with your cervical mucus to find out the most optimal times to have sex.

Cervical mucus has a clear and stretchy consistency while approaching ovulation. Some people describe this as similar to egg whites, an optimal condition for sperm cells. After ovulation the mucus becomes dryer, thick and clumpy.

Cervical position and texture

The position and texture of the cervix changes throughout your menstrual cycle. Checking the position of the cervix is done by simply inserting your finger into the vagina. As you approach ovulation the cervix moves higher and further back. Many women are not even able to reach the cervix with their fingers during their fertile window. Also, the cervix becomes slightly open, with a softer texture. After ovulation the cervical position lowers again, becoming dryer and firm.

Tracking hormones

The physical changes in your body are actually influenced by hormones. Tracking these hormones are able to give us an accurate prediction when we ovulate. 24 hours before ovulating your body produces a large amount of luteinizing hormone(lh). This hormone can be tracked through your urine using various different types of trackers including the mira fertility tracker. Thus, it can help you track your ovulation period from cycle to cycle.

Fertility boosters

  • Quinoa, whole-grain bread, brown rice and other types of whole grains are a healthy alternative to fast digesting carbohydrates such as white rice and bread. Whole grains foods take longer to digest, keeping your blood sugar levels stable. Stable blood sugar levels are essential for balanced hormone levels, which increases your chances of becoming pregnant.
  • Boost your fertility by adding some fatty fish to the diet. Fatty fish such as salmon and sardines contain omega-3 fatty acids. These fertile fats boost fertility by increasing the blood flow to organs in your reproductive system. Omega-3 fatty acids can also be found in walnuts and pumpkin seeds.
  • Boost fertility berry quickly by adding blueberries and raspberries to your diet. Berries are loaded with natural antioxidants, making them especially helpful for mature women trying to conceive. Antioxidants slow down the rate of cellular damage. This includes the cells in your reproductive system: ovaries, eggs, uterus.
  • You can find folic acid in leafy greens like kale, cabbage and spinach. Leafy greens are a great source of zinc as well. These healthy greens can prevent birth defects in women, and increase sperm count for male partners as well.

Fertility leeches

  • Avoid smoking, when trying to conceive and after you get pregnant. Smoking is known to age ovaries, and accelerate the expiry date of your eggs. If you’re having trouble quitting tobacco use, seek medical advice from a licensed healthcare provider.
  • Lower your alcohol consumption. A Denmark study showed that light drinking can decrease your chances of getting pregnant faster. Also, alcohol can affect your ovulation, which can make it difficult to conceive too. It is recommended to abstain from alcohol completely, because of it’s increased risk of birth defects and miscarriage for when you do get pregnant.
  • Limit caffeine intake to 200 milligrams. Caffeine has not been shown to have a significant effect on fertility under this amount. Try to drink less that one to two cups of coffee per day(8-16 oz).
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TTC Tips: how to give yourself the best chance of success (in spite of low odds)

TTC Tips: how to give yourself the best chance of success (in spite of low odds)

By The Fertility Pharmacy (originally published on The Fertility Pharmacy website)

The Fertility Pharmacy is a speciality pharmacy dedicated to meeting the unique needs of people with fertility challenges. Run by a team of highly experienced nurses and pharmacists, their mission is to remove the stress associated with IVF by providing practical, clinical and emotional assistance wherever and whenever needed.

“How do you nurture a positive attitude when all the statistics say you’re a dead man? You go to work.”
– Patrick Swayze

“What do you think our chances are like?”

From talking to our clients, we know that this is usually one of the first questions they ask their IVF consultant at that all-important initial consultation.

When facing an uncertain and possibly difficult journey, we humans sometimes like to seek cold comfort in hard statistics so that we can prepare ourselves for what lies ahead.

Last year, one of our clients, Sarah, a 38-year-old with a thyroid condition came to The Fertility Pharmacy for her IVF protocol. Given her “advanced maternal age” (the NHS considers women over 35 to be in their later reproductive years) she’d been given just a 17 per cent chance of having a live birth on her first round of IVF.

That’s right – there was an 83 per cent chance of her first round NOT working – with odds like that, why even bother?

Unruffled by a somewhat dismal prognosis, she declared: “I’m just going to chuck the kitchen sink at it”.

“If I can make that 17 per cent into 18 or even 19, by making sure my body is in the best possible shape to undergo this treatment, then that’s what I’m going to do. Each little percent could be the difference between success and failure.”

Just 12 months later she gave birth to a perfectly healthy bouncing baby boy, weighing 7lbs 12oz.

She had been one of the 17 per cent.

We’re well aware that not all cases end this happily but Sarah’s story is a great example of how patients should not get bogged down by statistics, by averages, by data.

Humans are unique and though Sarah was aware of the odds, she also knew that despite a dodgy endocrine system, there were a lot of positives: she was 38, not 45; her ovarian reserve was about average for her age; she wasn’t overweight and her partner’s sperm was healthy. Heck, there were lots of reasons to feel optimistic!

So, what was Sarah’s “kitchen sink” three-month pre-treatment action plan?

  • Cut out ALL alcohol (and nicotine – obviously). Go cold turkey. It’s for a relatively short period of time (unless – hopefully – you get pregnant and then it will be another 40 weeks!) What better incentive is there than having your own baby?
  • Review your diet and try to lose a few excess pounds – there is no need to be militant but the best foods for getting pregnant are the same as those for general well-being: whole grains, healthy fats and proteins. You could also try incorporating some fertility ‘superfoods’ into your diet such as asparagus (for folic acid), eggs (vitamin D), almonds (for antioxidants like vitamin E), oysters (bursting with zinc!), bananas (packed with hormone regulating vitamin B6) and chicken (protein is really important for egg production).
  • Move more and get the blood flowing around your body and to your ovaries. Don’t be sedentary – aim for 10,000 steps if you can. If you can’t, make minor adjustments such as taking the stairs instead of the lift at work.
  • Promote egg quality by taking supplements. As a slightly older woman, this is something Sarah felt extremely passionately about because remember, you don’t need lots of eggs, you just need one good one! Coenzyme Q10 is a great place to start – CQ10 levels in the body decline with age but its function allows ovarian cells to produce energy. This in turn allows eggs to complete maturation without chromosomal errors, so by supplementing naturally present levels you stand a better chance of successful conception and pregnancy.
  • Investigate whether DHEA is right for you – this powerful hormone may help increase follicular stimulation and oestrogen production in women which, if you’ve been diagnosed with decreased ovarian reserve or premature ovarian failure, could help improve the quality of the eggs remaining. It shouldn’t be taken in high doses however and you must get clearance from your consultant before taking any supplements of this nature.
  • Top up on Folic Acid – 400 micrograms should be taken in the run up to IVF and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy to protect against neural tube defects (NTD), such as spina bifida, in babies.
  • Seek out a qualified and regulated fertility acupuncturist – Sarah embarked on weekly sessions in the six weeks leading up to stims, had a session the day before egg collection and on the day of her embryo implantation. It isn’t cheap and the jury is out on whether it really will make a difference but it certainly won’t do any harm and anecdotal evidence over the years points to many a success story. Acupuncture can help to regulate hormone function, increase blood flow to the ovaries and uterus and perhaps the most important of all – help you to relax.
  • Be kind to yourself. Remain realistic, but hopeful. Whatever coping mechanisms work for you, go with them. You might not want to tell anyone what you’re about to embark on and that’s fine. On the flipside, you might feel the need to tell everyone you meet – there are no rules.

So if you take away anything from this story, it is that:

You are not a statistic – statistics take in every single women within your age group and their varying medical backgrounds.

Whilst it might feel like the end result of your IVF treatment is out of your control, in actual fact, there’s a whole heap you can do to help increase its effectiveness. It’s all about the one percents.

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TTC Tips: how to handle the two week wait

TTC Tips: how to handle the two week wait

 

By Bernadette Dabbs, Triskele Life Coaching (originally published on the Triskele Life Coaching website)

Bernadette offers mindfulness-based coaching and specialises in programmes for women at any stage of their fertility journey. You can read more about her here. Below she shares her top mind, body and spirit tips on coping with the two week wait.

The day of embryo transfer is also the beginning of the two week wait, which is the time it takes from embryo transfer to taking a pregnancy test. During this time your emotions may feel like a rollercoaster, going from the joy and excitement of having a successful embryo transfer, to the fear and apprehension of waiting to see the results of your pregnancy test. The two week wait can feel less daunting if you allow yourself time to focus on preparing your mind, body and spirit for the outcome.

MIND

Eliminate all stress from your life during these two weeks.  If possible take the full two weeks off work; I recommend a minimum of 5 days.

During the two weeks spend time each day reading, writing, watching programmes and films you enjoy, meditate, pray. Keep your mind busy in a positive way and in a way that feels comfortable for you.

Acknowledge the emotions that you are feeling, they are all totally natural and just. However, also be aware that if your emotions are having a negative impact on you, choose something positive to do to refocus your mind.

Choose your company wisely during these two weeks. Spend time with family and friends who you know will show you love, care and respect your privacy during this time.

You and your partner may find it helpful to come up with a stress eliminating codeword to use during the two weeks. You can use this codeword if a situation or a conversation becomes too stressful for you to continue:  just say your word and it's a signal to your partner to stop instantly. (A codeword that makes you both laugh is a good idea, as this will instantly relax you, so choose your word carefully!)

When negativity creeps in, acknowledge that thought, but then cancel it out with a positive thought until it disappears.

Dare to imagine what the future may hold for you and imagine living that life.

BODY

Embryo implantation takes place three of four days after transfer, so it's crucial to look after yourself before this time, to ensure that implantation is successful, and afterwards, as the embryo settles into the lining of your uterus.

Try to relax as much as you can during the first few days, sit with your feet up and preferably have all of your meals cooked for you too!

No exercise at all during the two week wait, gentle walks are fine, but avoid rigorous exercise and lifting heavy objects.

You must avoid doing housework, no shopping, and no cleaning. You need to rest and spend time doing activities that relax you.

Avoid hot baths - it might seem like a good way to relax, but you don’t want your uterus to overheat.

Avoid sex immediately after embryo transfer as infections can happen.

Eat a well balanced diet with an even mix of vegetables, fruit, pulses, carbohydrates and proteins.

Avoid spending too long in bed: the latest research says prolonged bed rest post-transfer will not improve your pregnancy chances and might make them worse.

Continue to take your medication. This will help to ensure that your uterus is in optimum condition for carrying the pregnancy.

Spotting and bleeding can happen in the two week wait – and beyond. Try not to worry: it’s statistically more likely to be okay than not. Talk to your clinic if you are concerned at any time.

SPIRIT

If you are religious and you feel comfortable calling on your faith at this time, try to make time every day to practice your beliefs, so that they become a strength in your life.

Make time to experience awe and wonder every day – take a walk in nature or listen to music that moves you.

Practice gratitude every single day.  List the things that you are grateful for and the people you are grateful for in your life - and don’t forget to include your embryo on that list!

Think positively about your little embryo, try to imagine all the growing that it is doing during this time. Physical signs of this, such as twinges and cramps are common during the two week wait. Talk to your clinic if you are concerned at any time.

As tempting as it is, don’t take a pregnancy test early, as it will not be able to give you an accurate reading and could lead to unnecessary disappointment.

My final tip is don't tell anyone what day you are due to take the pregnancy test. No one should ask but if they do, give them a date at least two days later. That way you and your partner won't feel under pressure to let anyone know.  Remember - stress free!

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Fertility charting for beginners - what, why and how

Fertility charting for beginners - what, why and how

Here Rachel Sherriff from Oxted Acupuncture shares her top tips on fertility charting. A great way to understand more about your cycle and support baby-making.

The benefits of fertility tracking for conception

Fertility tracking can be highly beneficial for aiding conception. Tracking your fertility on a chart can help you to understand your body in many ways by gaining an awareness of your fertile period and increased self-awareness of your cycle. By tracking your fertility and working with your expert complementary health professional, you can interpret the findings to improve your chances of conception.

What is fertility tracking?

Fertility tracking is a simple way to record changes in your body throughout the month. This includes recording your basal body temperature each day and changes in breast tenderness and cervical mucus. If you are working with a complementary health professional who has experience in fertility, you can share this information with them. They will be able to interpret the results to advise you of the pattern of your cycle and whether you need to have any blood or hormone profiles taken.

Why is it important?

By tracking your cycle, you should be able to establish when your fertile period is and when your period should arrive. Tracking can also highlight the length of each part of your cycle, both follicular and luteal. Your main fertile window is the five days leading up to ovulation and the day of ovulation. Sperm can survive for up to 5 days inside the uterus, and an ovum is only ‘fertile’ for around 12-24 hours. Therefore, tracking aspects of your cycle can help maximise your chances of conceiving.

How to track your cycle

There are several ways you can track your cycle. You can download a chart online and record your observations manually on the chart. Alternatively, there are many apps available. These include Ovia Fertility, Fertility Friend and Natural Cycles. You will need a basic digital thermometer (the sort that goes in your mouth, not your ears!) It’s essential to take your temperature immediately on waking, before even lifting your head off the pillow and certainly before rising. Make a note of the day of your cycle and the temperature and any signs and symptoms.

Your basal body temperature

During your cycle, your basal body temperature will change, and this correlates to the switch in hormones. The follicular, oestrogenic phase, which is day 1 to ovulation, will usually show a cooler temperature. When you are in the luteal, progesterone phase, from ovulation until your period, your temperature should be higher. It’s important to be aware that your basal body temperature should not be solely used as a predictor for ovulation. It will only tell you when ovulation has occurred by the rise in temperature.

Cervical mucus testing

You can test your cervical mucus as part of fertility tracking. Wipe the opening of your vagina and feel the consistency of the fluid between your thumb and forefinger. Your cervical mucus will change throughout your cycle. It tends to be dry right after your period and then thin and watery before changing to an egg-white consistency at your most fertile time. Cervical mucus testing can predict ovulation rather than confirming it will occur.

Other factors to record

On your fertility tracking chart, you can record how long your period lasted, the flow and colour, and whether you had any pain or passing clots. All of these points may be diagnostic, especially to a Chinese medicine practitioner. Ovulation Predictor Kits (OPK) can be useful; however, unlike the basal base temperature, which confirms ovulation, OPKs will only predict ovulation. An OPK will register a positive rise in Luteinising hormone in your urine, which indicates that ovulation may occur within the next 24-36 hours.

Health professional input

Your health practitioner can also use the tracking information to advise whether you may require further investigations to confirm whether you are ovulating. In some instances, for example, PCOS, you can have a monthly bleed but will not ovulate so additional tests may be required. A complementary health practitioner may also recommend that you have your blood taken on day 3 and 21 of your cycle to check hormones such as FSH, LH, Oestradiol and Progesterone.

Acupuncture to balance your cycle

Studies have shown that acupuncture can have a substantial effect on the Hypothalamic Pituitary Ovarian (HPO) axis, which is the communication system that controls the menstrual cycle and therefore, female fertility. The HPO governs the control of hormones that essentially play the central part in the development of the follicles, selecting a dominant follicle for maturation and priming of the endometrium. Therefore, it plays a huge part in the egg quality and environment for the egg to develop. Follicular development can take several months. Alongside diet and lifestyle, acupuncture should be considered for at least three months before conception to maximise your natural fertility.

Fertility charting is an easy way to track your cycle and record observations about changes within your body. A complementary health professional can interpret the results and should be able to recommend the next steps. Using acupuncture alongside tracking can potentially enhance your chances of conceiving and affect egg quality.

Acupuncturist and Fertility Specialist Rachel Sherriff of Oxted Acupuncture is currently offering Online Fertility Consultations. These include a one hour video consultation to discuss your fertility and medical history, lifestyle and dietary guidance, instructions on how to track your cycle and if necessary recommendations for further hormone, blood tests or investigations. It also includes your first ‘in person’ acupuncture treatment once the clinic is able to re-open. To book or for more information click here.

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Fertility health: the importance of preconception care

Fertility health: the importance of preconception care

Here naturopath, nutritionist, medical herbalist and BodyTalk practitioner Merran Lusher, ND tells us all about the importance of getting ourselves fertility-ready.

If we are to solve the world’s infertility epidemic – then the most obvious place to start – is bringing more awareness to preconception care. A topic that has increased in public awareness over recent years – but still hasn’t received the widespread understanding and recognition it very much needs. Why? My guess – unlike assisted reproductive technology – there’s no BIG money in it. 

It is estimated that one in four women in the UK have pregnancies that end in miscarriages. Many are diagnosed with conditions that prevent fertility. And in at least 25% of all cases, a cause of infertility cannot be identified. While millions of women around the world may feel disheartened and disillusioned – in many cases – a preconception care plan may be all that is needed.

From the earliest record time, the ancient spartans ordered their maidens to increase their level of wellness, exercise and to avoid hazardous substances. This is not a new concept. But an age old one. In it’s very essence, preconception care is about getting both partners physical, mental and emotional health into the very best place possible before trying. It is a process which addresses the underlying medical, behavioural and social factors – with the aim to optimise fertility health.

The preconception care process:

The latest research suggests the process should take anywhere between four months up to two years. Be it naturally or via assisted reproduction. But don’t let that put you off. While there are many (sometimes complex) factors to consider, a good basic starting point is to clean up your diet and lifestyle:

  • hydrate through drinking glass bottle or filtered water – and plenty of it. As a general guide – aim for six to eight glasses per day BMI dependent.
  • follow the principles of the Mediterranean diet. Coined as the healthiest diet in the world. It offers a rich spectrum of nutrient dense foods to nourish your body and boost your base line nutrition.
  • avoid non-organic produce (where possible) and boost your nutritional status by eating an abundance of organic fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs. Aim for 6-10 servings per day. Sounds like a lot doesn’t it. Aim for 5-6 servings a day and work your way upwards. Homemade juices and smoothies are a great and effective way to pack in lots of goodness.
  • Detox by avoiding alcohol, refined sugar, coffee, black tea, wheat and cow’s milk.
  • Avoid endocrine disruptors – found in plastics and dirty skin care products. Switch to clean, non toxic skin and hair care products. Most good health food retailers these days sell a wide range of great alternatives to commercial beauty products.
  • take a fertility boosting/preconception care multi vitamin mineral supplement containing  600mcg to 800mcg of folic acid.
  • drink herbal teas to balance, tone and nourish your uterous, e.g. red clover, red raspberry leaf tea, ginger and green tea are all great options.
  • try a digital detox once a week. Thousands of studies confirm that radiation emitted from wifi devices, hot spots and cell phone towers etc. are harmful. EMF is everywhere and now 5G is being rolled out. While it’s impossible to avoid, here are some things you can do limit the affects:
    • Turn off all digital equipment in your room at night. EMF is linked with sleep disruption. 
    • If you use your phone as an alarm clock, put it on flight mode. It will still work.
    • Avoid putting your phone in your pocket, due to close proximity to reproductive organs. 
    • Avoid putting your laptop or ipad - on your lap.
    • Text more – talk less. Use a landline at work or at home when you can. 

Actively working to manage and lower your stress levels through yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, jogging, pilates, gym or walking. Aromatherapy, massage, hot baths, walks in nature. Whatever you enjoy that helps you to feel less stressed and more relaxed.

Working with an experienced Naturopath/Nutritionist and BodyTalk practitioner who can prescribe key herbs and nutrients tailored just for you – will help to fast track the process. I myself have successfully facilitated in helping so many struggling women go on to conceive and have strong, healthy babies. Often in a matter of a few weeks to several months, case dependent.

Overall health status has a profound impact on our hormones. The above ‘clean up’ will play a role in helping your hormones to normalise and more effectively signal to each other in a more balanced and communicative way. Ultimately helping to optimise your endocrine system – and the health of it.

Key areas of concern that are often overlooked in fertility health include:

  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Thyroid and adrenal disorders
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, fibroids, early menopause etc.
  • Genitourinary infections, i.e. pelvic inflammatory disease, cystitis etc.
  • Digestive disorders, i.e. parasites, candida etc.
  • Emotional health
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Autoimmune conditions, e.g. hashimotos thyroiditis and Crohn’s disease etc.
  • Insomnia
  • Allergies and intolerances
  • Electromagnetic frequencies and radiation emitted through cell phone towers, mobile phones, electronics, microwaves, x-rays etc

Preconception care can also enhance your baby’s health and wellness outcomes:

So you have little to loose and everything to gain by giving preconception care a try. Preconception care will boost your fertility health and increase your chances of conceiving and sustaining a pregnancy through to full term. Not only that – but science tells us that preconception care can increase the physical, emotional and intellectual  health of your baby – ultimately giving your baby to be – the very best start to life!

The approach of preconception care is one of the best gifts you could give yourself and your newborn child. Taking care of ‘you’ will allow for YOU to take even better care of your baby. 

London naturopath, nutritionist, medical herbalist and BodyTalk practitioner Merran Lusher, ND offers science-based intuitive holistic health consultations and healing for mind, body and soul. Merran consolidates other natural therapies into her treatments including energy work, homeopathy, reiki, dietary and lifestyle advice and much more. She runs a busy weekly remote clinic to clients around the world and also consults across two busy London practices in Chelsea and North London. You can read more about her here.

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