My Journey to Conception
I’m currently 18 weeks pregnant on a journey I began planning months before conception. I began my healing journey with nutrition, in part, because I knew I wanted to be a mom someday. Spending over a decade on the pharmaceutical methotrexate (common for inflammatory arthritis), which is also a drug used for abortion, my options for conception were limited…
I could switch to other arthritis medications, but methotrexate worked well for me and I decided to keep working on my nutrition protocols over the years to try to increase my options and reduced my reliance on methotrexate.
Today, 5 years after beginning to dabble in the world of holistic nutrition, I’m almost 2 years pharmaceutical-free and in remission from inflammatory arthritis.
The journey was long, but this new experience has made it all worth it.
I’m happily in the second trimester now. The first trimester was much more difficult than I had anticipated. I had assumed (wrongly) that supporting my liver, kidneys, digestion, and nutrient status would let me sail through the dreaded morning sickness. What actually happened was over 12 weeks of nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and generally feeling horrible. It did, however, help me to appreciate the anti-nausea life I’m living now!
Research on morning sickness is limited, but it suggests that experiencing this pregnancy symptom is likely to lead to an increased chance of having a healthy baby. Vomiting is also associated with a decreased risk of miscarriage. Ethnographic studies (Flaxmen and Sherman 2000; McKerracher, Collard, & Henrich, 2015; 2016) suggest that this symptom may have had an evolutionary advantage to protect women from foods that could harbour bacteria before refrigeration. Knowing that these symptoms were normal and healthy helped me (somewhat) to power through the nausea and vomiting of pregnancy.
I want to dig into my nutrition tips for surviving and thriving in the first trimester, but I’m going to save those for my next blog post (*stay tuned*).
This post is about all of the preparations I did pre-conception to help our chances of conceiving a healthy baby. We ended up getting pregnant right away after my partner and I did 3 months of fertility nutrition planning. My partner did this with me because the health of sperm and male hormones is just as important as the health of the egg and female hormones for conception. Nutrition can increase chances of fertility for both males and females. We often put a lot of focus on the female, but nutrition plays a key role in male fertility health.
I wanted to focus on nutrition because pregnancy takes a significant physical toll on the body. Making sure your nutrient status is high pre-conception can help offset nutrient depletion along this journey.
This is especially true if you have a history of autoimmunity. My body has already been through so much from years of chronic inflammation and immuno-suppressant therapy. I wanted to make sure I was setting myself up to have the healthiest and most enjoyable pregnancy and post-partum period possible. Of course, the thought of joint pain creeping back is always in the back of my mind. Thankfully, no joint issues have surfaced yet (*fingers crossed).
If you’re currently taking biologic medication for autoimmunity, new research suggests no increased risk of serious infection for mom or baby during pregnancy and 1 year postpartum. Medications can be an important tool for autoimmune disease and I’m glad that the research is beginning to focus on maternal and fetal health.
Regardless of your current treatment protocol, the nutrition and lifestyle tips below can be implemented at your own pace or in consultation with a nutrition practitioner.
Okay, so getting into the details…
We focused A LOT on nutrition, by following these basics:
- Avoiding all processed sugar – we use a small amount of maple syrup and unpasteurized honey for cooking and desserts
- Avoiding the major inflammatory foods – gluten, dairy, and processed animal products (along with sugar above) to support healthy immune and hormone function
- Increasing our fibre and antioxidant intake – we actually ate a full pomegranate almost every evening as our snack, which is known to increase fertility and boosts antioxidant status (we were lucky it was pomegranate season!)
- Avoiding alcohol and caffeine – these suppress the immune system and can lead to inflammation
- Eating whole, unprocessed foods – to reduce inflammation and increase nutrient status
- Increasing healthy fats – to support hormone function and reduce inflammation
- Increasing organic produce and protein – to avoid chemicals, pesticides, and other hormone-disrupting substances that can impact female and male fertility
For us, these changes were manageable because we eat like this most of the time. These steps form the basis of our anti-inflammatory lifestyle and help keep my joint pain and swelling away. If these are new to you, adapt slowly and choose the ones that make sense for your current lifestyle to avoid adding extra stress to your routine, or reach out to discuss how to make these changes manageable.
In addition to these basics I began my pregnancy supplement routine – which I’ll be sharing in my next blog post!
I wanted to start prenatal vitamins early for a few reasons:
- folic acid* is an important supplement for pregnancy, especially during the first month before pregnancy is confirmed
- increasing nutrient status is helpful for conception
- getting into the habit of taking supplements early can help to make sure you continue this routine throughout pregnancy
- morning sickness can make eating and taking supplements difficult – supplementing early can make sure your nutrient status is high if you have to skip a dose or throw it up!
*Folic acid is an important prenatal vitamin (B9) found in most formulas. However, around 50-60% of the population is thought to have the MTHFR mutation. This prevents the body from converting folic acid to its usable (or methylated) form. If you have this mutation (discuss with your healthcare professional for testing), then it’s important to include the active form of folic acid (methylated folate) for optimal absorption.
Holistic Lifestyle Changes
To increase our chances of conceiving, we also included other holistic lifestyle changes into our routine:
- Reducing stress – Stress can impact sex hormones and reduce fertility. I discuss the impact of stress on hormones in my blog here.
- Increasing movement – For me, movement helps to decrease stress and increase mood. Also, pregnancy is physically demanding and I wanted to make sure that my body was ready!
- Fertility acupuncture – I completed 3 sessions, which helped to regulate my cycle. Research indicates that acupuncture can have positive effects on fertility.
- Cycle tracking – Check out my previous blog post all about this here. Tracking my menstrual cycle gave me a lot of knowledge about my body and hormones and was very helpful to pinpoint exactly when ovulation was occurring.
- Herbal medicine – Herbs can have a profound effect on hormone regulation. I used various herbs to support my liver, kidneys, and hormones pre-conception. Knowing which herbs to take depends on your current health status/history and your overall goals.
If you’re able to, implementing a fertility plan before conception can provide benefits for both you and baby. However, if the planning becomes too stressful, then the stress can outweigh the benefits described above. Strive for balance and implement what you can when you are able to.
Look out for my next post on the basics of pre-natal nutrition & supplementation. I’ll also be sharing my guide to surviving common pregnancy symptoms soon, because I’ve had quite a few!
I found these resources to be helpful during my fertility planning:
- Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health – Aviva Romm
- Women, Hormones, & the Menstrual Cycle – Ruth Trickey
- Taking Charge of Your Fertility – Toni Weschler
- Optimum Nutrition Before, During, and After Pregnancy – Patrick Holford & Susannah Lawson
As always, if you have any questions or are interested in how holistic nutrition can support you through pregnancy and autoimmunity, apply to work with me!