Preparing For Pregnancy: A Few Things To Consider BEFORE You Get Pregnant

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Preparing For Pregnancy: A Few Things To Consider BEFORE You Get Pregnant

When people get pregnant, they often put a lot of time towards preparing a physical space for the baby.  Whether it’s a separate room or a corner for the crib, a lot of planning and love go into making a safe, cozy, inviting space for the baby to sleep and play when it arrives.

This is a good way to think about your health as you start to try to get pregnant.  Even before conception, you want to prepare the body to make a safe, cozy, and inviting space for that embryo to arrive and for the fetus to develop.

In Mandarin Chinese, the word for uterus is “Zi Gong”, which literally means “child/seed palace”.  The uterus is not just the bedroom for the fetus, it’s the whole house!  So when you’re going to start trying to get pregnant, whether with IVF or ‘at-home’ methods, it’s helpful to put some planning and love towards preparing that child-palace that will be your baby’s home for 9 months.  That doesn’t let the guys off the hook though!  In this post we’ll take a look at ways both men and women can improve their health before trying to conceive.

Think of it as a Pre-mester:  In their book Making Babies: A Proven 3-month Program For Maximum Fertility, Jill Blakeway LAc and Sami David MD call the few months before you conceive a ‘pre-mester’, because the state of your body during that time can greatly affect your fertility and your pregnancy.   Your body needs to mature the eggs (or sperm, guys) over a period of time before they’re ready for fertilization.  It takes an egg about 120 days (that’s 4 months!) to develop to maturity.  Even though a woman’s eggs have been with her since she was born, TCM believes that her Kidney essence actually affects the egg’s quality as it matures.  The same holds true for men and sperm development, as it takes 70-90 days for mature sperm to develop.  So, while none of these are hard-and-fast rules, there are a few things to consider as you start to think about getting pregnant.

Get To Sleep Before 11  In Chinese medicine’s concept of circadian rhythm, the name of the 11 PM -1AM time period is the same character ‘Zi’ as in ‘Zi Gong’, the word for uterus.  This is the time when you plant the seeds that will come to fruit in the following day.  Being asleep during this time helps your body replenish it’s blood and yin, which are very important to fertility, especially for egg and sperm quality and building the endometrial lining in the uterus.  Modern scientific research backs up this theory as well.  A recent study found that women holding late-night jobs, such as shift-workers, flight attendants, and night-shift nurses, tend to have menstrual and fertility issues, and the pregnancy success rate in this group in the study was only 22%.  Even trying to get to bed one hour earlier can make a difference!

Avoid Alcohol and Coffee –   Alcohol adds dampness and toxins to the body.  It affects the Liver Organ System, which is one of the organs most involved with your fertility, especially with ovulation of the egg and implantation of the embryo.   In addition, when your body processes the alcohol, it uses up important vitamins and minerals that your body needs to properly develop eggs or sperm.

Coffee also taps your vitamin stores, creates an acidic environment that inhibits the sperm, and has been shown in numerous studies to affect fertility rates.  It drains the Yin, which is the aspect of your body that provides substance for the egg or sperm development and nourishes the endometrial lining.   Women who have high FSH levels or a low ovarian reserve will especially want to avoid coffee.  The extent to which you choose to avoid alcohol and coffee is your choice to make, but cutting back is a great idea from our perspective.

Eat Your Vegetables –  Speaking of vitamins…Different body types might need different foods to help boost fertility from a TCM perspective, but everyone needs their vegetables!  Eating warm, cooked nourishing foods with plenty of fruits and vegetables will really help your body to build blood, nourish egg and sperm quality, and regulate women’s cycles.  Vegetables and fruits are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which are all essential to your fertility.  Staying away from the more damp-producing foods is a good idea generally (although we’d never say never!).     Research supports this perspective – two studies we found showed that men’s diets that were low in levels of antioxidants or high in fatty foods  were both associated with poor semen quality.  So grab some veggies and fruit and keep it colorful!

Get Daily Exercise . . . – This is no shocker, of course, but think of getting exercise as a way to clean out the body.  It clears away the dirt and cobwebs and ensures that everything is moving smoothly.  This advice is true for every body, of every size – weight loss is not the goal here!  Smooth movement of Qi and blood is important for many aspects of fertility, including ovulation and implantation.  Also, pregnancy is a physically taxing process and being in shape helps ease your pregnancy.   Go dancing, climb the stairs, get outside – getting some sort of exercise on a mostly-daily basis will help to regulate your cycle and prepare your body to carry that baby.

. . . BUT Rest During Your Period – Ok, yes, exercise most days, but when you have your period, don’t push it!   It’s true that, for many women, exercise during the first day or two of the period really helps with cramping, so do what feels best for your body of course, but TCM is offering this perspective:  Especially when you are finishing your period, your body has just finished a herculean task. It has lost a lot of blood, and now it needs to replenish that blood and start maturing another egg.  It needs a lot of Qi to do this, so resting and eating well are the best way to support your body during this time.   If pregnancy is your goal, you want your body to be able to put all its resources towards replenishing the blood for your endometrial lining and maturing the next egg that you hope to fertilize.  The timing may differ for different people, but if there’s a few days around your period where you feel wiped out, TCM says don’t push it! Choose exercise that is not very taxing, such as Tai Chi or a leisurely walk.   If you are actively trying to get pregnant, this advice also goes for the few days around ovulation as well, as intense exercise can actually disrupt the implantation process.

Quit Smoking –  Women might be saying, “Ok, duh”, but quitting smoking is actually important for men as well as women before conceiving.  A recent study found that smoking by fathers at the time around conception can actually lead to genetic changes in their children.  Remember, it takes about 3 months for that sperm to develop.  Quitting smoking is easier said than done, we know, but when you do decide to take that leap, acupuncture can help you land more smoothly on the road to better health.

Check In With Your Core–    One type of exercise you might benefit from before you get pregnant is core-strengthening work that incorporates diaphragmatic breathing.  Your abdominal muscles are going to be working overtime during your pregnancy, and are a main factor in the delivery process.  If you don’t have much abdominal muscular strength to begin with, strengthening your core can help you during pregnancy and delivery and may help you avoid prolapse of various organs, an unfortunate occurrence for some after delivery.   Nicole Dessoye, owner of The Corner Studio in San Francisco, puts it this way, “Core work, plus the ability to engage and more importantly release the pelvic floor, is key to pregnancy and delivery.  I have found that functional training helps keep women strong through their pregnancy, aids in labor and delivery and assists them post-delivery.”

However the key here is balance.  If you are someone who is already a regular at the Pilates studio, overdoing it with core work might contribute to restricted blood flow in the abdominal area and could negatively affect your fertility.  After a reader question (see below), Integrating Health checked in with women’s health and fertility specialist, Jennifer Ashby, DAOM LAc, for her experience with this topic.   She states, ” In my practice I have observed women with no core strength who have benefited from core work.  In those cases I’ve seen that it can increase blood flow to the area and help with prolapse.   However, for women who have done a lot of core work already, I’ve seen that it can actually slow down labor because the pelvic floor is too strong and can’t release.”

Being able to release the pelvic muscles is just as important as strengthening them.  If you are going to try to work with your core muscles, the important thing is to find a teacher who takes a functional approach, has experience working with women before and during pregnancy, and who incorporates diaphragmatic breathing.  (As always, check with your medical professional before undertaking a new exercise regimen.)

Keep It Cool Guys – You may or may not be aware that sperm are very sensitive to heat.  If you’re having trouble conceiving, men should try to avoid situations that expose their testes to too much heat, such as saunas and hot tubs, wearing tight underwear or clothing, or working with a laptop on your lap.  Bicycling can also affect sperm quality between the bumps in the road, the heat generated, and the tight biking shorts that many bicyclists wear.  That isn’t to say never go for a bike ride, but if you’re having trouble conceiving, men might consider trying a different exercise routine for a few months.

Regulate Your Cycle –  If your cycle is irregular in some way (less than 23 days in length, more than 34 days, or irregularly timed) start working with an acupuncturist at least a few months before you want to conceive to help get it back on track.  Regulating the menses is something that Chinese medicine does very well, without the use of pharmaceutical drugs.

If you’ve already been trying to get pregnant for a while with no success, and your cycle is already regular, both women and men should get some basic tests done to get more information about what’s getting in the way.  Men can start with a semen analysis, while women should ask their doctors to order a fertility panel to check hormone levels.  Both women and men should have an STD screening to rule out any infections that might be hiding out.

Again, these are suggestions to try on as you can, but they are all based in the tried-and-true TCM approach to fertility!   Please post your questions or comments below, and check back next week for more from our month-long series of fertility and Chinese medicine.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Emily

    Thank you for posting this article. It was a very cohesive and reader friendly and I would love for some of my patients to read this as well. I had one question regarding the core and pilates. I 100% agree that exercise is important for maximizing fertility, however, I read in Randine Lewis’s book that pilates should actually be avoided because it can restrict blood flow to the uterus and reproductive organs. I’m just wondering if you have read otherwise as I work a great deal with women trying to conceive. Thank you so much and keep the awesome articles coming!


    • Naomi Skoglund L.Ac.

      Hi Emily, and thanks so much for your question! I’ve been looking into it, and I’ll be revising that section a bit. The answers I’m getting are conflicting, but mostly come back to ‘it depends’ and ‘balance’. Nicole, the instructor I quoted, distinguishes between classical Pilates, which does a fair amount of pelvic floor contracting and does not encourage diaphragmatic breathing, and a more functional, holistic approach that incorporates breathing and also focuses on being able to release the pelvic floor. I should have a revision up sometime tomorrow. Thanks again for asking for clarification!

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