The month of May is the perfect time to discuss fertility and pregnancy. On May 1 parts of the world celebrated the Gaelic holiday, Beltane, known as May Day in the U.S. Traditional Beltane activities include jumping over a broom for increased fertility, braiding hair or putting ribbons in the hair, all in the name of readying the womb for life, literally in women, or metaphorically for the earth. Beltane is the special time halfway between spring and summer in which nature is making good on the promise it made in early spring when roots rejuvenated, and soil was moistened with spring snow. Plants are producing shoots and buds, trees are leafing out, bird eggs are being incubated, and the world is about to come to life. This is the time when fertility is abound in nature all around us and thoughts turn to the cycle of life and growth; relationships and sexuality. Here in Colorado of course, we are advised to wait until after Mother’s Day to plant most our crops and plants outside due to our climate and chance of snow, but we still experience the wonders of nature during this time before summer. This weekend I enjoyed planting some nettles, holy basil, spearmint, and spilanthes.
I first became interested in fertility after taking a class by Dr. Jonathan Van Blerkom, an embryologist at CU Boulder, who specializes in fertility, virility, and mammalian development. It was in this class that I learned that many countries in the world are seeing declining fertility rates. Although there still are some populations that continue to grow quickly and have high fertility rates, it’s surprising how many do not. Even more surprising was to learn the rate of infertility in the U.S. is 10% after 1 year of a woman trying to get pregnant. It seems more people are experiencing infertility issues and/or issues keeping a baby through the first trimester. Is the prevalence of hormonal birth control a factor? Is it altering the hormonal cycles in our bodies?
As an herbalist, I suggest lifestyle changes to combat infertility and increase the fertility rate. In fact, when women consult a Naturopath or herbalist they are often successful in getting pregnant and this is a much less expensive option than traditional medicine. Over the last several years I have been learning about methods and botanicals that are known to increase fertility. This last year I decided to design an herbal kit around fertility for my clients.
Causes of Infertility
Despite what many people think, it’s important to understand that the average time to get pregnant is one year. Especially after a woman has been on hormonal birth control. The body needs to re-acclimate. Once a woman hits the one year mark of trying to get pregnant, has been taking her basal body temperature and tracking cycles, and having regular unprotected sex, it is then that the couple is considered infertile. And it is more common for women to be infertile than men. The fertility rate for women decreases quite a bit after the age 35, but with men it’s later and they can get women pregnant at older ages. Women are born with all of our eggs and those eggs have capillaries that surround them; tiny blood vessels that help to deliver oxygen to the eggs to keep them viable. But after time the capillaries die off and do not regenerate, or the eggs become compromised and are not as well oxygenated which decreases the viability of the egg. The most common possible causes of infertility in women include:
- Irregular menstrual cycle and ovulation
- Decreased egg viability
- Physical problem with the fallopian tubes, uterus, and
- Endometriosis, pelvic adhesions, and or PCOS
- Environmental toxicity and exposure to endocrine disruptors
- Diet, physical shape, smoking and alcohol consumption
For men, infertility is also caused by a variety of factors. Most common is impraired motility of the sperm. Additionally there are special enzymes contained within the head of the sperm that help it to enter the egg. If these are comprised the sperm may not be able to fertilize the egg. Men can have their sperm tested at a sperm lab to check for motility and other factors. Interestingly, only 1 in 25,000 sperm reach the fallopian tubes, and during that time, the sperm go through a variety of events all of which seem to be heavily dependent on extracellular calcium uptake (Rahman et al, 2014). In this blog, I will focus on the women’s side of the story.
Natural Ways to Boost Fertility
You can’t physically change an egg or sperm. As women however there are ways to impact fertility naturally. You can increase fertility with certain lifestyle practices and different plants to influence your hormones, your internal enviornment for optimal sperm maturation, and maintaining embryo implantation.
Adjusting After Birth Control
After ending your birth control your body may need up to one year to let your hormones synchronize or reset. Your body has been used to synthetic hormones, sometimes for 15 to 20 years, which is a long time and your body will need an adjustment period to return to its natural rythms. If you want to speed things up or have been trying for a year, you can look to botanicals to boost your fertility by through the support of bringing your hormones back into harmony.
Putting Herbs to Work for Your Fertility
Hormone Balancing: Dandelion leaves are also helpful for hormone balancing, while licorice root and peony flower have been shown to increase ovulation and improve your fertility. The most exciting however is Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus), also know as chasteberry, one of my favorite herbs to put to work for increasing fertility. The berries of the tree that are used. It is a major hormone balancer, especially after being on hormonal birth control, this is my favorite to use with clients, and has been used for thousands of years. Recently the scientific community has released multiple publications on it’s effectiveness. As is the case for any herb, just like a daily vitamin or diet change, if you want to see a result you have to be consistent and take it regularly (once or twice a day) for 2-3 months. Many people take Vitex regularly for simple hormone balancing for regulating periods or help with menopause, and it has been used for a variety of reproductive disorders (van Die, 2013).
Blood Sugar Levels: Another way to boost fertility is to balance your blood sugar since it influences the regulation of insulin, another hormone important in the dance of how your body funtions. You can do this includes exercising, avoiding sugar and alcohol, and drinking tea with burdock in it, or sautéeing the root, which you can buy in local health food stores.
Nutrient Levels: Other plants that will increase nutrient levels in your body are nettles or red clover. Some women buy expensive prenatal vitamins, but tea can be just as helpful, is more cost effective, and tastes good. My Fertility Tea and Nourish Me Tea are perfect options to get the nutrients you need. The difference in these two teas is that the Fertility Tea has the hormone balancing herb Vitex in it. In general, you want to eat healthy, get lots of nutrients, avoid processed food, eat whole foods and plants; organic when possible. Think of it this way: you are building a nest and you want that nest to be the most hospitable environment possible for your egg to flourish. Women can sometimes get a fertilized egg, however it may not attatch to the uterine wall, called implantation, due to a lack of nutrient levels in the body or an environmtnet that the egg will not flourish in. Additionally, removing dairy from the diet helps to decrease inflammation because dairy can have hormones and environmental toxins in it, especially if commercially produced. Keep in mind that alcohol impacts estrogen, which you are trying to balance out, and if you are drinking a nutrative tea, alcohol counteracts it. Drinking two cups of tea a day and will serve to match what you would have been taking with prenatal vitamins.
Exercise for Oxygenation
Exercise is great for getting good blood flow to the uterus and your body in general. It will increase blood flow to the genitals and reproductive organs and also help you feel more pleasure. Remember those capillaries that are oxygenating the eggs? Healthy blow flow helps them out! Another way to increase blood flow to the uterus is through Mayan uterine massage, which we will feature in an upcoming blog this summer.
Work Alongside Nature
It is always recommended to do fertility charting as it will show you the window of time when you are most fertile (usually four days). Be aware of your cycle, and have sex on those days to increase your chances of pregnancy. Did you know the day of your cycle when you are most fertile is day 14 if you are on a 28-day cycle? You’ll be producing more cervical fluid, and potentially you’ll get excited more easily. It’s also recommended to take your basal temperature readings which will tell you when you are more fertile. The temperature will rise after ovulation has begun. Your body and mind will work together to make this clear to you. Listen to your body—it will be telling you to have sex! There are some great apps out there to help you with charting your cycle.
I know, what I’m asking may seem impossible to do if you are worried about getting pregnant, but you need to stress less! Constant worry and stress doesn’t help your womb environment. Relax and recognize that it will likely take some time to become pregnant. If you do your planning around your cycle, eat right, supplement with herbs, and aren’t spending money on expensive prenatal vitamins you may be more at ease just knowing you are giving your body natural help. Lastly, get on a good sleep cycle as this also helps to regulate the hormones. Check out this post about natural remedies for sleepless nights.
In summary, there are a TON of alternatives and very effective herbs to use when you are trying to get pregnant. Try lifestyle components first. Work with mother nature’s herbs and become more in sync with your hormone cycle. Of course, sometimes it is necessary to go the route of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), or other methods, which are wonderful medical marvels that we are lucky to have available. But if you can avoid that costly and sometimes risky route, all the better.
So where can you find these botanical products to increase fertility naturally? Check out my Fertility Women’s Health Set.