So you just had a baby. 3 weeks ago, 3 months ago, or 3 years ago - your body is permanently altered and your hormones have gone through a crazy rollercoaster of changes. Sometimes these issues and imbalances are temporary and transient, but when they last too long we want to take a look at what’s going on.
But what if there actually was an explanation for your unexplained infertility? An imbalance just too subtle to show up on paper, but once discovered and treated could lead to a healthy pregnancy.
Which fertility diet is right for you?
These are definitely the questions I’m asked the most. What is a good fertility diet for getting pregnant? What are the best fertility foods to eat while TTC?
And while there are definitely a lot of basic foods that are great for maintaining your fertility and ability to conceive, the real answer is: It depends.
Here’s the secret: there’s no one-size-fits-all fertility diet. The right foods to increase your personal fertility and ability to conceive are totally dependent on what’s going on with your body.
Let’s break this down by the most common diet related causes of infertility or delays in TTC.
Conception requires a ton of different nutrients, so if you’re lacking in any one your fertility can be compromised. Think of it like this: if you aren’t getting the proper nutrition for yourself, you send signals to your body that now is not the time to start growing a baby because nutrients and food are scarce. Your body doesn’t trust that you’d be able to provide your growing baby with the right nutrients if right now you aren’t getting them for yourself.
This is the first step to focus on, and also a great “fertility primer” before you start TTC.
Your Nutrient Dense Fertility Diet
First, make sure you are getting enough calories. Making a baby requires a ton of energy, so if you are cutting calories or a category like carbohydrates or fat you are not giving your body the energy it needs. Your meals should always include each of a protein, carbohydrate and fat.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can also turn off your fertility. We need so many in order to keep our reproductive selves functioning. While taking a multivitamin or prenatal can help, there are certain star fertility nutrients we want to get even more of from food:
Vitamin D - studies have linked vitamin D deficiencies to infertility and difficulty conceiving, as well as poorer pregnancy outcomes such as preterm delivery. Getting out into the sun several times per week or taking a separate supplement if you live in a colder climate or it is winter. (shout out to my fellow fogged in San Franciscans here!)
Vitamin B12 - a very common deficiency, and related to problems ovulating as well as low sperm production. This particular vitamin only comes from animal products, so vegans will need to supplement. Egg yolks, dairy and shellfish are wonderful sources.
Iron - the most common nutrient deficiency worldwide, especially for women. It’s so important to fertility I wrote a whole blog post about iron & female fertility here.
Super Fertility Foods that check off many of the above nutrients:
Nuts & seeds
Meat & fish
Eat one or more of these with each meal and you’re on your way!
The ability to get pregnant and carry to term is largely dependent on your hormones. Estrogen, progesterone, thyroid, cortisol, insulin etc - all of these hormones need to be working together and when one is out of whack it can throw off the others. When they are out of balance, you may have problems ovulating, irregular cycles, poor egg quality and difficulty conceiving.
Signs you may have a hormone imbalance include:
lots of stress and trouble sleeping
irregular, very short or very long cycles
wicked PMS and painful heavy periods
PCOS, endometriosis, fibroids
under or overweight
If you have one or more of these symptoms, your hormones need a little love.
Your Hormone Balancing Fertility Diet
My favorite foods for hormone balance are healthy fats. Hormones are mostly made of fat, so we need to be getting enough of these to keep us in check. Avocado, coconut, and grass fed butter are super fertility fats that provide the building blocks for hormone production. On the other hand, a high sugar diet will cause your hormones to go into a state of disarray so we want to avoid that as much as possible.
Each fertility hormone imbalance requires a different set of foods to bring back to balance. Want to gain some insight to which of your hormones may need a little nourishing? Take my short quiz to assess your hormones and fertility along with some tips on what to do.
Age and Egg Health
So many women I talk with are terrified that their age is affecting their fertility. And while it’s true that pregnancy rates do tend to go down with increased age, diet plays a really big part of whether or not we have “old eggs” or healthy eggs. I’ve seen enough women in their 20s diagnosed with low ovarian reserve to know that it’s not always about how many birthdays you've had.
Your Egg Health Fertility Diet
In order to prevent premature aging and turn back the clock for your age and thus fertility, you want to make sure you’re getting a hefty dose of antioxidants. As with basically every other part of our body, free radicals will damage and age our eggs. So getting antioxidants from brightly colored fruits and vegetables, with a special focus on Vitamin C foods (citrus, broccoli, berries etc). And just like with hormone balance, healthy fats and low sugar is an absolute necessity.
Your eggs (as well as your hormones) are also sensitive to chemicals in our food and environment, and this can be a big one. Read more about what to avoid and some supplements for women over 35 here.
Gut Health & Food Sensitivities
Your digestion is probably the last thing on your mind when you’re thinking of your fertility, but it matters a lot more than you think! Your gut is the gatekeeper of your nutrition and hence your total health. And if you’re constantly experiencing GI symptoms, you can consider a digestive healing and a fertility diet to be one in the same.
Your Digestive Wellness Fertility Diet
The population of your gut bacteria - basically how many good guys v. bad guys live in your intestines - can improve or undermine your ability to get pregnant and is also associated with pregnancy complications like group beta strep and preterm labor. Consider anything with probiotics to be fertility foods. This can be a supplement, fermented food such as yogurt or my personal favorite, sauerkraut.
We also want to feed your bacteria to keep them happy. Nobody likes a hangry bacteria. Fiber is the preferred food for gut bacteria, so getting plenty of vegetables, fruit and legumes will keep your intestines strong. High fiber foods will also help excrete excess estrogen from your body, so that’s a 2-for-1 bonus!
Food sensitivities also fall into this category of digestive wellness, and this list of foods is different for everyone. Any food that gives you a bad reaction - whether that be a digestion related issue, a rash, headache or runny nose - should be avoided on your personal fertility diet. It’s not always easy to identify these foods, so keeping a journal of your meals and your symptoms can help you figure it out. My fertility quiz also assesses gut imbalance and inflammation - take it here.
Now you know where to start with your own personalized Fertility Diet! If you're still unsure on which direction to head in, take my free quiz for a little more guidance directly from me to you.
Whole Grains: Do We Need Them?
Let’s talk grains. Essential for good health? Out to kill us all? Somewhere in between?
I love talking about the controversial stuff. Get me going and I can talk your ear off on my views on butter, quinoa and GMOs. So today I’m giving you an earful on grains and carbs, and how they may impact our reproductive health.
Whole Grains - what’s their deal?
Here in the US the officially dietary guidelines always stress the importance of whole grains in the diet. It wasn’t too long ago that grains in general (whole or refined) formed the base of the Food Guide Pyramid, encouraging us to consume most of our calories from these types of starches. While I’m not going to go into the public health implications of that guidance, let’s just say there are a lot of brilliant minds who consider that particular recommendation to be the main cause of the booming obesity and diabetes epidemic.
But let’s talk about you, and whether these foods are right for YOUR body.
I like to think of foods in terms of their nutrient density when deciding if it’s something to have a lot of, or avoid altogether.
Compared to refined grains, whole grains look great! In addition to the starchy carbs necessary for energy, there is fiber, protein, some B vitamins and minerals like magnesium and potassium in whole grains. But grains really don’t have a very significant amount of any of these, and there are sources of each of these nutrients that are much higher.
In my opinion, the main benefit of whole grains is that they digest a bit slower than refined grains so can keep us full for longer. And generally to most people they don’t taste as good, so it’s a little harder to overeat.
But that’s as compared to “white” grains.
When you start comparing grains to other starches such as sweet potato and other root vegetables, beans, winter squash and even a white potato with skin on - whole grains start to lose their sparkle. These examples are all lower on the glycemic index and generally richer in most vitamins and minerals.
So, does that mean no grains for you?
Not necessarily. It’s not exactly that whole grains are a bad food, they’re just not anything special. Every nutrient they contain is available in other foods, and most of these foods will have more vitamins and minerals to brag about in comparison. And waaaaaaaay more antioxidants and plant based phytochemicals. When I’m designing a diet plan for a new client, grains don’t fall super high on my list of priority foods that will balance hormones, promote fertility, reduce inflammation etc. With that said, there are certain situations where I advise avoiding grains, at least for a little while:
Women with PCOS and gestational diabetes tend to do better with glucose control when their carb sources are coming from non-grain sources.
Since grains can be a source of digestive upset and inflammation, those with any kind of inflammatory condition, GI symptoms and even unexplained infertility can do a trial without grains to see how they feel.
Anyone who feels that they may have problems with overeating on carbohydrates or has a wicked sweet tooth.
But be aware that grain free doesn’t mean carb free.
Even for my patients who need to lose weight or have high blood sugar like in the case of PCOS, I don’t recommend a low carb diet. Restricting carbs too much can actually have a negative impact on hormone production and balance, as well as send your body into a “starvation” mode. This isn’t great for those who are working to balance hormones and cycles, trying to conceive, pregnant or nursing.
What are my favorite carbohydrate sources? I’m so glad you asked!
- Yams & Sweet Potatoes
- Carrots & Beets
- Butternut & other winter squash
- Rutabaga, Parsnips & Turnips
- White Potato (with skin on)
- Beans & Lentils
Getting most of your carbohydrates from these amazing starch sources and adding in some fruit and occasional grains will go a long way in increasing the nutrient density of your meals and balancing your blood sugar, and in turn your hormones.
Here’s a killer recipe for some Roasted Roots & Rosemary
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Going Viral: Superfoods for a Supercharged New Mama Immune System
I used to have an immune system of steel, rarely getting sick.
And then, kids. If you’re like me, you’ve noticed periods of time where your immune system is in the tank after becoming a parent. Let’s talk about how to naturally increase our immunity.
Why your immune system sucks.
Your immune system is one of the first things to go when your body is under stress. Physical stress from lack of sleep, healing, malnutrition etc will always take away precious resources from your immune system, causing it to weaken. The typical culprits during the postpartum period aren’t surprising:
Lack of sleep. This is a huge bummer for your immune system, which won’t make enough of the necessary T cells and inflammatory cytokines without enough nighttime rest
Healing. No matter how you gave birth, your body needs to physically heal which also requires the attention of your immune cells. If you get
General stress and anxiety. Elevated levels of cortisol that occur during times of emotional stress decrease your body’s ability to heal via a downregulated immune system. This means slower healing from birth/ delivery as well as slower response to viral and bacterial infections
Hormone changes. After giving birth, your hormones (progesterone and estrogen) which can temporarily cause dysfunction in the immune system. Not only does this mean more sickness, but this is a very common time for autoimmune diseases to pop up
Germy toddlers. If this isn’t your first rodeo into the postpartum period, you likely have a snot faced toddler running around. If he or she is in school or daycare, new viruses are showing up in your house faster than you can say “why? why? whyyyyyy?”
Malnutrition. As you will read below, your immune system requires a ton of different nutrients to function at full steam. If you’re having trouble eating balanced meals, this will compromise your ability to fight infection. And if you’re breastfeeding, your little parasite’s meal is the priority and nutrients that are scarce will go there first.
Nutrients your immune system requires
Speaking of immunity nutrition, there are some basic requirements to keep your immunity fed and in good shape.
Protein. Your immune system cells are made of protein. If you don’t have enough high quality sources, you won’t have the building blocks to physically create the antibodies, T-cells, cytokines etc. A weakened immunity is one of the first signs of malnutrition.
Vitamin A. This is one of the most common micronutrient deficiencies in the developing world, leading to increased infection rates for viruses and other pathogens. We can get vitamin A from orange colored fruits and veggies, as well as animal sources like butter, liver and egg yolk.
Vitamin C. Probably the most “famous” contributor the immune system, we see that folks who are deficient pick up more viruses after exposure. Super dosing on this vitamin doesn’t help though - only those that are deficient before taking a supplement showed any benefit. Food sources of C easily help you reach optimum levels so skip the Emergen-C.
Zinc. Adequate amounts of this mineral stimulate immune cell production and keep your defenses high. More is not better though- excessive amounts will impair its function. Leafy greens, shellfish, squash and meat are all good sources. Steer clear of the supplements.
How to hack your immune system
There’s not much that can be done about the reasons why your immunity is in the toilet (with the exception of malnutrition), so let’s look at how we can best work our way around all of these challenges.
Eat a balanced diet. This goes without saying, but the more of the above nutrients you are able to squeeze into your diet, the better your immune system will function. Protein, healthy fat, starch and a fruit or veg at every meal will set the stage. Cooking is ideal, and utilizing gadgets such as a slow cooker or pressure cooker will help make that task easier in the days of a new baby (or any day, really). Asking visitors to bring meals and outsourcing to a company like Thistle for some new parent meals will help tremendously.
Try to rest. You’re not likely getting your recommended 7-9 hours in the early months (or years…), so try to rest as much as possible. That may mean going to bed earlier, taking turns with your partner for the early or late shifts, taking more naps or simply putting in some more down time into your day. Meditation has also been proven to improve the immune system so take a 10 minute break for meditation or journaling. I love the website calm.com and the app headspace.
Select superfoods. Foods like garlic, mushrooms and honey have been shown to improve the immune system’s response to viral infection. Getting these regularly in your diet, doubling up when you’re starting to feel sick.
Mind your gut. Much of our immunity resides in our guts, and becomes compromised if your digestion is not in good shape. Taking a probiotic supplement daily is associated with fewer viral and bacterial illnesses. If you have chronic GI symptoms or a more formal issue like IBS, working on resolving these will improve your immune response.
Supplement. Vitamin D, Elderberry Syrup and Adaptogen herbs* all have the potential to boost your immunity and keep it running at tip top shape! (*note: adaptogenic herbs are not all pregnancy and nursing safe, so check with a trusted health care provider before using)
That’s a wrap! Give these a try and come on back here to let me know in the comments how you’re feeling. For more info on my favorite supplements and dosing, check out my free guide to New Mama Supps.
Reflections of my pregnancy experience this time around and what I’m doing to prepare for this little guy’s arrival.
Raise your hand if you've ever been told you are iron deficient! We often talk about the need for iron DURING pregnancy - but low levels can also impact fertility and the ability to conceive.
What if I told you that you have more control over “age-related” causes of infertility than you thought?
During the transition from pregnancy to motherhood the focus typically shifts from taking care of you- the expecting mama to all eyes and hands on the new little bundle. While this shift is normal and expected, we don’t want to overlook the nutrition needs of the healing mother. No matter how you gave birth, your body just underwent an amazing transformation and physical event that requires time, space and nourishment to bring back balance.