By Ian Stones, Hove Fertility + Wellness
There is no doubt that this is an incredibly hard time for many people that are trying to conceive, especially those who were on the brink of starting IVF or other fertility treatment. For some this will be hugely overwhelming and will be creating a great deal of anxiety. However, this does create an opportunity to work on your health and enhance your fertility and it’s important for people to feel like they’re still doing something positive when so much else seems out of their control.
I’ve put together this information sheet to help people keep focussed and healthy during this uniquely challenging time. A lot of this is general good health advice however for those trying to conceive it’s making sure they stay on track and positively focussed so that they are remaining fit, healthy and happy ready for when fertility treatment can start again.
Routine and sleep
For many of us our normal daily routines have been thrown out the window right now. It would be very easy to slip into bad habits of late nights, staying in our pyjamas and binge watching Netflix! Routine, much as some of us dislike it, is vitally important to our health and wellbeing both physically and mentally.
In Chinese medicine it’s incredibly important because of the natural cycles of the body. Our digestive system, the root of our day to day energy, thrives on routine and is at its strongest first thing in the morning. So taking this time for long lie in’s and a late breakfast, or even skipping meals definitely won’t do you any favours.
Routine also helps with sleep. How many of us have fallen into bad sleep routines over Christmas, for example, only to really struggle when normality returns in January. Sticking to a regular pattern of a normal bedtime and getting up at the same time (even at weekends) is another essential part of maintaining a good routine. Good sleep is so important for our mental wellbeing and overall health so make sure it’s a focus and priority.
Routine is also important for our mental wellbeing. Knowing that you have stuff planned and things to keep you occupied stops the mind wondering to dark places and gives you a sense of purpose. If you need to write stuff down then do that and actually make a plan for the week. Within that plan you might look at setting regular meal times, regular exercise times and importantly regular relaxation time. It’s important to plan the nice stuff too!
- Set a routine around sleep with a window of time for going to bed and a realistic and sensible time to get up every morning
- Decide what time is best for you to exercise and how many times you want to exercise per week (be reasonable with yourself here. 7 days a week is not a good long term plan. Set yourself a range say 3 – 5 exercise sessions a week)
- Set a rough routine around your meals (e.g. Breakfast 7-8am, Lunch 12:30pm – 1:30pm, dinner 6pm – 7pm)
- Allow for flexibility in your routines so that they don’t become a stick to beat yourself with if things need to change
Clearly the first few weeks of the corona virus meant food shopping and meal planning became a little more tricky however supermarkets and shoppers are falling back into normal habits now making meals a lot easier to plan.
According to Chinese medicine food is medicine. In fact in Chinese culture food would be one of the first interventions in terms of managing and maintaining good health. Now is definitely a time where we should be eating well and let’s not forget that our immune system is powered by our gut health.
Avoiding temptation in these times is important. For some this won’t be a problem but for those with a sweet tooth or carb cravings it would be very easy to fall off the wagon and binge on crisps or chocolate. Many people trying to conceive have already worked hard to get their diet sorted so stick with it as it’ll pay dividends later. If your diet isn’t what you think it should be then now is a great time to create some new habits whilst we have the time to really look at what we’re eating. It takes around 3 weeks to create new habits so now is your chance to put some positive actions into practice.
Here are a few simple fertility diet reminders:
- Stick to a balanced healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables
- Avoid processed foods, sugars, preservatives and other “junky” types of foods
- Eat good quality meat or fish with a focus on oily fishes in particular
- Keep well hydrated – drink around 2 litres of water a day
- Limit caffeine to 2 – 3 cups a day
- A little alcohol is ok but keep within the recommended guidelines
- Continue with folic acid and other supplements to support your diet
Top dietary tips in terms of Chinese medicine:
- Never skip breakfast
- Limit your dairy intake
- Concentrate on eating – don’t eat your meals whilst working, watching TV or using your phone
- Limit your sugar intake
- Don’t eat large meals late at night
- Don’t drink excessive amounts of fluid whilst eating
- Eat warm foods such as stews, casseroles and soups in the winter
- Save the salads and other cold raw foods for the summer
- Don’t over load your digestive system with large meals
- For women, eat lots of dark leafy green veg and some red meat (especially the week after your period)
Meal planning is a great way to take a whole load of stress out of your life, reduce your shopping expenses and ensure you’re eating the right food for you. I’m a huge advocate of meal planning, check out my short video here explaining how you can bring this into your life.
- Write a list of all your favourite meals
- Research new recipes based on what you enjoy
- Work out a meal plan that works for you and your life (this could be a weekly, 2 weekly or 3 weekly rota depending on how many meals you have to vary throughout your week)
- Plan to cook more with some meals so that you have leftovers for another day or so that you can freeze some for another day
- Batch cook meals that can then be frozen and easily defrosted and cooked another day
Exercise, movement and breath
We all know the benefits of regular exercise and usually most people undergoing fertility challenges are already doing something positive. However with no “physical” classes to attend some will be struggling with the motivation or lack of direction around exercise. The internet has been awash with masses of free classes but choosing the right one can be hard! What’s important is that you keep moving and keep some kind of routine around your exercise. To make this work for you, schedule a time when you know you can exercise regularly whether that be first thing in the morning, after work or in the middle of the day. Many personal trainers and yoga instructors are offering online training. It’s also important to get outside for some exercise both for the fresh air as well as for the vitamin D from sunlight. Vitamin D plays an important role in supporting our immune system and is also very important for fertility.
In Chinese medicine it’s also important to make sure you’re doing the right type of exercise for you. If you’re not a runner now may not be the time to take it up as you don’t want to be worrying about injuries. If you enjoy cardio vascular workouts then find something that works for you whereas for some it may be sticking with some kind of regular yoga or pilates classes.
Meditation, mindfulness and breathing exercises are all fantastic at reducing stress levels. Stress, as many of us know, is hugely detrimental to our overall health and especially bad for fertility. For many this is a hugely stressful time worrying about finances, careers and loved ones. Throw in concerns about your own fertility journey and it could easily become overwhelming. Anything that will help you reduce stress levels in your life will be hugely beneficial. I’ve recorded a free 20 minute meditation which you can access here. There are many other resources online too.
- Stick to exercise you’re comfortable with
- Don’t take on anything too strenuous without guidance
- Keep well hydrated when exercising
- Avoid heavy exercise when on your period (Chinese medicine believes it can be too depleting for the body)
It’s hard to think when you’re facing big challenges that there are positives to be found in all of this but there is a lot to be grateful for. Daily gratitude is something I work with personally and with a lot of my clients. It’s really important to keep focussed on the positives in life so that your mind stays positively focussed. Negativity breeds negativity as well as stress which will only have a negative impact on your fertility, immune system and overall health. Spend a couple of minutes each day picking out one or two things that you’re grateful for. It doesn’t have to be anything spectacular, sometimes it can be the simplest of things like food on the table or the clothes you have to wear. This can also be a great exercise if there is tension within any relationships, just spend a little bit of time thinking about the positives of the other person / people in your world.
Check out my short video on daily gratitude here.
- Dig out a little notebook to record your daily gratitude
- Decide what time of day is best for you to make a note (I personally like doing mine at the end of the day just before bed)
- If there are areas of your life you’re struggling with choose those as a focus for your gratitude
It’s important to remember that male infertility plays a role in nearly 50% of fertility cases so right now it’s just as important for men to be doing all they can around their sperm health. In fact I’d argue it’s even more important. It would be very easy for some men to think now is the time to relax and forget about all the fertility stuff. They might think that it’s ok to have a few more beers, go out cycling or indulge in some foods they’ve been avoiding but actually now is the perfect time for men to really up their game in terms of improving their sperm health. It takes around 100 days for sperm to mature so what a man is doing now around his health will come in to play 3 months down the line. Nobody knows how this is all going to play out and what time frames we’re talking about but men always need to be planning a minimum of 3 months in advance if not longer.
Here are some of the top tips for men to be focussing on right now:
- Keep up with a healthy balanced diet high in antioxidant foods
- Continue with any supplements that support your fertility
- Keep alcohol and caffeine consumption down
- Keep well hydrated
- Keep your testicles cool – avoid lycra, long periods sitting with laptops, baths and saunas etc
- Find techniques to reduce your stress
- Exercise regularly
- Ejaculate regularly (every 3 – 5 days) – storing sperm up is detrimental to their quality
It would be all too easy to be spending this time feeling guilty or overloading ourselves with tasks that we think we should / could be doing. There are definitely some great opportunities to get stuff done around the house and garden right now and the internet has been flooded with free movies, theatre, quizzes and so much more. In fact it’s been quite overwhelming in many ways.
However it’s really important that you don’t put yourself under undue pressure right now. There are many things that are out of our control and there is little point in fighting them or worrying about them. What we need to do is focus on what we can control which is our own health, environment and relationships. So actually make sure you’re making time for yourself and the people that are important to you. Plan in time to do the things you love and enjoy whether that be reading, exercise, gardening or cooking. Being present and relaxed in these activities will do so much more for you than many of the other tips. If we spend our time worrying and fretting nothing good will come of it. We’ve got this time so make sure you’re using some of it to nourish yourself, your soul and your relationships.
Further help and advice
Hopefully this guide has given you some hints and tips to help you keep sane and positive in this uniquely challenging time. If however you feel like you need some further support and help with some of the steps above then drop me a line and I’ll be happy to offer a free discovery consultation to help you move forward.
Read more about Ian here. You can email me email@example.com or call 07740 300465.