Making a baby may seem straightforward, but if you’ve ever tried and struggled to conceive—or witnessed one of your girlfriends endure the experience—then you know getting pregnant isn’t always so simple.
In the United States, 12 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 have impaired fertility, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s over 7 million women who want to get pregnant and can’t. Assisted reproductive technology can help women conceive, but many infertility interventions are prohibitively expensive. A single round of IVF costs around $12,000 (more if you want or need to pre-screen for genetic disorders) and only between 30 and 40 percent of IVF cycles are successful.
A number of factors work against us in our journey to motherhood, including exposure to environmental chemicals, long-term exposure to hormonally-disruptive medications, micronutrient deficiencies, and chronic stress.
The hopeful news is that women can work to optimize their fertility through food, movement, and lifestyle. Women who want to be mothers can take steps now to preserve and enhance their fertility.
Why It’s Harder to Get Pregnant Now Than Ever Before
If you start researching today’s escalating infertility rates, you’ll learn that many doctors consider the causes “unknown.” But there are some real and modifiable lifestyle components to the fertility puzzle—components that are especially important to consider if you suffer from period problems like irregular periods, heavy bleeding, severe PMS, cramps, or hormonal acne. That’s because these symptoms and conditions are signs that your hormones are out of balance and that getting pregnant (whenever you’re ready) might be more difficult for you.
Maybe you’re thinking, ‘Why wouldn’t I believe the doctors? If the causes are unknown and there is nothing I can do….’
I understand how you feel. I was told I would never get pregnant naturally—or even with IVF— when I was 20 years old. My PCOS was that severe. But I got pregnant naturally at age 37, after only three tries at home. I know that if I hadn’t been eating, supplementing, and living in a hormone-supportive for the past 15 years, I wouldn’t have gotten pregnant so easily.
Here are some of the factors that affect fertility today:
Infradian rhythm disruptions. Many healthy promoting practices do, indeed, promote health…for men. For women, practices like intermittent fasting, the ketogenic diet, and high-intensity interval training are more complicated. Because of our innate 28-day hormone cycle, known as the infradian rhythm, women benefit the most from phase-based self-care strategies — that is, from strategies that support our changing needs during each phase of our cycle — and we’re harmed by same-way-everyday strategies (like eating the same way or doing the same HIIT workout everyday). Practices like IF, keto, and HIIT disrupt the infradian rhythm and that can disrupt your cycle as a whole and make your fertility suboptimal.
Exposure to environmental chemicals. Dangerous chemicals are everywhere, every day. From your sunscreen to your furniture polish, products in your everyday life are putting your fertility at risk. Research has shown that many of the chemicals found in everyday household products are bioaccumulative and very toxic, which means that once they’re in your system, they stay there, allowing for increased free radical damage, which makes you more vulnerable to autoimmune diseases and cancers, not to mention compromised fertility.
A history of medication use. Birth control, antibiotics, and other common drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen (NSAIDs) are guilty of destroying microbiome balance, an essential factor in fertility. Recent research suggests that long-term use of the pill is associated with an increased risk for Crohn’s, a disease related to microbiome imbalance.
Pesticides in food. This isn’t a trivial matter; research has long pointed to a connection between pesticide exposure and infertility, and a study published recently in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine reports that, among women undergoing infertility treatment, eating more fruits and vegetables with high amounts of pesticide residue was associated with a reduced chance of pregnancy and an increased risk of pregnancy loss.
High-stress lifestyles. When we’re stressed, our bodies don’t have any energy to spare to conceive and grow a healthy baby. We’re just trying to keep ourselves afloat!
Micronutrient deficiencies. Women need robust levels of key micronutrients to conceive and carry a healthy pregnancy, but modern life works against optimal micronutrient levels. Factors like stress, drinking caffeine, and drinking alcohol deplete micronutrients from the body faster than we can take them in through our food.
Nutritionally bankrupt diets. Diets low in fertility-boosting foods, like avocados and phytonutrient-rich whole plant foods, contribute to sub-optimal fertility.
Food Strategies for Optimal Fertility
Most of us eat three times a day, if not more, and that frequency makes food one of the best ways we can support fertility. Think of food as medicine that we put into our bodies every couple hours, and when you know how to support your body nutritionally by eating specific hormone-supportive foods in a phase-based pattern, you can “medicate” for optimal fertility! Here are the specific food strategies I recommend for women hoping to conceive now or in the future, either naturally or with reproductive technology:
Emphasize healthy, high-quality sources of fat. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat—the kind of fat found in foods like avocados, nuts, seeds, and small, oily fish (like anchovies and sardines)—help reduce inflammation and stabilize blood sugar, two conditions that are important for fertility. And if you haven’t done so already, say no to all trans fats! These sneaky little devils drive up inflammation.
Opt for complex carbs (but DON’T go no carb). High or mismanaged blood sugar has been associated in the scientific literature with ovulatory infertility. So fertility-focused eating should emphasize complex carbs that take time to be digested (which keeps blood sugar more stable). Think non-starchy vegetables, whole fruits, and beans. But don’t cut out carbs all together. Very low or no carb diets can make the body think that not enough food is available in the environment and trigger survival mode. When the body is in survival mode, it de-prioritizes non-essential functions, like getting pregnant. After all, how would you care for a child on the ancient savannah if there isn’t even enough food for yourself!
Eat your iron. Getting enough iron in your diet, either through food or supplements, has been shown to enhance fertility. High-iron foods include beans, beets, pumpkin, spinach, and tomatoes.
Skip the skim. If you’ve read the FLO blog before, you probably know that I don’t recommend dairy products when you’re trying to achieve hormonal harmony, but if you’re interested in protecting and enhancing your fertility, you should be especially wary of low-fat options, like skim milk. Studies have linked consumption of low-fat dairy with reduced fertility. If you tolerate dairy and you allow yourself a bit here and there, make sure it is of the full-fat variety.
Skip the soda. Studies show that soda drinkers have reduced fecundity.
Skip the coffee. Whether or not caffeine and/or coffee inhibits your chance of getting pregnant (this is widely debated in the scientific community, with some research suggesting it does and other research suggesting it has no effect), research does show a link between coffee consumption and not being able to carry a child to full term. Don’t risk it!
Buy organic. I get it, going organic isn’t exactly cheap. But the Environmental Working Group has made organic shopping a lot easier and more accessible with their Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists. Avoid eating non-organic foods on the Dirty Dozen list as often as possible, but you can save money by being less strict with the Clean 15.
Foods To Eat Now If You’re Ready To Make a Baby
If you’re already at the point where you want to start trying to conceive, then it’s absolutely critical you integrate nourishing, micronutrient-rich foods. Add these essentials to your daily diet, ASAP:
Avocado. You want to be eating an avocado a day when you’re trying to conceive. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health discovered that avocados contain the best kind of monounsaturated fat and the least saturated fat, making them the ideal food for boosting the health of your eggs. I love avocados for breakfast and as a snack – try some of my recipes.
Royal jelly. A 2007 Japanese study discovered that royal jelly is similar to a phytoestrogen and contains properties that might support healthy uterine muscles and lining. There have been multiple studies with royal jelly on fertility in animals that suggest it has the potential to increase rates of pregnancy and support fertility overall. I love making a royal jelly smoothie that’s rich in folic acid and zinc.
Turmeric. Certain spices, like turmeric, improve circulation to all organs – including the uterus and ovaries. The better the blood is flowing, the more oxygen is present, the better their health – boosting fertility. Because turmeric increases blood flow to the uterus it can also help with regulation of periods and support the development of healthy periods.
Cinnamon. Another spice that’s excellent is cinnamon, which slows down the speed at which your stomach empties after you’ve eaten a meal, helping to stabilize your blood sugar and support regular ovulation. It .You can get more of this spice into your day by sprinkling it on your smoothie or non-caffeinated latte at breakfast or adding fresh cinnamon sticks to hot water for a refreshing drink.
Leafy greens. Magnesium is such a vital nutrient for optimizing fertility and dark, leafy greens like spinach and chard have the highest level of magnesium of any foods, which is why I like to have a side of them with almost every meal (sautéed, with a little coconut oil is my favorite). Just one cup gives you half your daily requirement.
Egg yolks. Eggs are the perfect protein for women, and, despite the myths we’ve all heard, they do not cause high cholesterol – sugar does that. Eat your eggs poached or soft boiled to preserve the vitamin D and B6 content, which helps progesterone production.
Lifestyle Strategies for Optimal Fertility
Making small but powerful lifestyle shifts are just as important when it comes to building optimal fertility. Start by taking these steps:
Get real with your period. Learning about, and getting in tune with, your 28-day hormone cycle, also known as your infradian rhythm, is one of the foundations of optimal fertility. Simply put, getting pregnant isn’t possible unless you understand your period and each unique phase in your cycle. Use the MyFLO app to track your infradian rhythm and deepen your understanding of each phase. And Take the V-Sign Quiz to learn what your period can tell you about your reproductive health. You can learn so much from the color, texture, and volume of your bleed.
Go green. Replace your chemical-laden cleaning supplies and beauty products with hormone-friendly replacements. Need some inspiration? Check out how I clean my home and learn which ingredients to avoid in your beauty products.
Quit the pill immediately. If you want to get pregnant soon, you have to quit the pill ASAP for obvious reasons. If you want to get pregnant in the future, I still encourage you to come off the pill now. The pill has long-term health consequences for reproductive health, damaging the gut microbiome and suppressing symptoms of hormone imbalances that can interfere with fertility if left untreated. Taking the pill can leave you susceptible to synthetic birth control syndrome (SBCS), a collection of symptoms that crops up because the pill has been acting like a Band-Aid, suppressing the original symptoms that probably convinced your doctor to put you on the pill in the first place. The pill also drains your body of the essential micronutrients you need to get pregnant. Don’t risk your chances of conceiving later by taking the pill now.
Ask your doctor about other medications. A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found a correlation between the use of antidepressants and infertility. Women currently using antidepressant medications were shown to have difficulty conceiving naturally when compared to women not using antidepressants. If you currently take antidepressants, do NOT take yourself off them without consulting a doctor. There can be serious withdrawal side effects! But if your interested in the connection between antidepressants and fertility and what that means for you going forward, work with a trusted, licensed healthcare practitioner to make decisions going forward.
Three Missing Pieces of the Fertility Puzzle
You can do everything right when it comes to food and lifestyle, but still be missing some key components of the fertility puzzle. I supercharged my fertility in three intentional ways before I conceived my daughter naturally at the age of 37. Here’s what I did:
1 – Make lifestyle changes, yes, but don’t overstress about them.
You can build optimal fertility with food and lifestyle changes, but if trying to get every detail of every meal and every lifestyle tweak just right starts to add stress to your life, it can work against your fertility goals! Too much stress interferes with ovulation, so work to make changes and do your best, but be okay with imperfection and try not to overthink the process. Take stress reduction seriously, and make sleep and regular, hormone-supportive movement a priority.
2 – Even if you don’t plan to get pregnant for many years, take fertility seriously today.
Getting pregnant is much easier if you prepare your body for conception beforehand, and the more time you have to prepare, the more successful you will be. I took steps for an entire year before conceiving to make sure that my fertile factors were as optimal as possible. This was on top of everything I had been doing for over a decade by using the FLO protocol. Preparing for pregnancy is about more than knowing the right day to have sex (although of course that played its part). I spent a year supercharging my body with food and supplements to make sure my hormones, ovulation, microbiome and more were all where they needed to be. Learn more about preparing to conceive here.
3 – Engage your maternal energy for your self care
I embraced some of the responsibilities of motherhood way ahead of being a mother. I shifted my priorities and goals. I said no to things that were a drain on my energy and vitality. I was dedicated to my self-care practices. Doing this was about being at my healthiest, my most fertile, my most able to get pregnant – but it was also about being really, truly, utterly ready for pregnancy and motherhood. Now that I am a mother, I’m still doing all of the above even more intensely.
This is admittedly, not an easy thing to do. A few months before I knew I wanted to conceive, I cancelled a work trip. It was a big deal to change at the last minute, but I had an intuitive feeling that this trip was going to be a strain on my adrenals and undo my hard work to prep my body. I knew that if I did want to get pregnant I couldn’t afford to get stressed out like that. I had to prioritize that goal ahead of my other obligations. I had to cut down on extra commitments that were not absolutely necessary. I decided I was unwilling to deal with the potential consequences to my cycle and my fertility. I made the call to cancel the trip and do what was optimal for my fertility and my future child.
The 5 Micronutrients You Need For Optimal Fertility
One of the single best ways to safeguard your fertility is to take hormone-supportive supplements. These are the five supplements I consider non-negotiable for any woman trying to get pregnant now or who hopes to get pregnant in the future.
- B6. Vitamin B6 is essential for the development of the corpus luteum, the group of cells that’s produced in the ovary after the egg is released. The corpus luteum is responsible for making progesterone during the luteal phase of your cycle—and during the early stages of pregnancy. A deficiency in vitamin B6—and, hence, a deficiency in progesterone—will have a negative effect on your reproductive health. The list of everyday habits and practices that deplete B6 is long: stress, over-exercising, alcohol, and the pill, plenty of women are depleting their bodies of B6, and subsequently, progesterone. Supplementing a B-vitamin-rich diet (with foods like wild-caught fish, bananas, spinach, and grass-fed beef) will help ensure a healthy balance of progesterone.
- Magnesium. Our bodies purge magnesium in times of stress because its a calm-inducer (this makes sense evolutionarily – if cavewomen were stressed, it was usually due to immediate threats to their lives. The body doesn’t want you to feel chilled out in a moment of life-threatening danger, so it gets rid of the relaxing mineral). Sugar and caffeine intake also deplete magnesium, which is essential for cortisol regulation, blood sugar balance, thyroid support, sleep, and — perhaps most importantly for fertility — hormone creation. Magnesium actually makes progesterone, estrogen and testosterone, so if you’re getting into perimenopause or just coming of the pill, your levels will be especially low and in need of replenishing.
- D3. A staggering 93% of women dealing with infertility are deficient in vitamin D3, and women with higher vitamin D3 levels are four times more likely to conceive via IVF than women with low levels. That’s because a low concentration of vitamin D3 causes estrogen dominance, the primary cause of so many hormonal issues.
- Probiotics. A healthy gut is essential for conception because a specific community of gut flora called the estrobolome produces an enzyme that supports the metabolization of estrogen. When you take medications, eat dairy, gluten, and foods covered in pesticides, you disrupt this hugely important bacterial balance and compromise your ability to eliminate excess estrogen that can significantly disrupt your reproductive ability.
- Zinc. Zinc deficiency is a very common issue for many women, and it can have a real negative impact on your natural hormonal balance. That’s because zinc helps to boost your testosterone production and it blocks the enzyme responsible for turning testosterone into estrogen (again, staving off the possibility of estrogen dominance, which is so widely responsible for endocrine dysfunction and subsequent fertility issues).
I designed the FLO Living Balance Supplement Kit specifically to meet women’s unique hormone and reproductive needs. If you are hoping to get pregnant now or in the future, I hope you check them out. They are the single best ally you can have in the quest to boost fertility naturally.
Supplements For Specific Hormone Symptoms
If you’re experiencing specific hormone-related symptoms, you’ll want to consider additional supplements. Hormone symptoms act as warning signals that your body might not have all the nutrients it needs to conceive and sustain a healthy pregnancy. Here’s what I recommend:
- Symptom: Low progesterone (irregular cycles, weight gain, hormonal acne, hormonal migraines)
- Supplement: vitamin B6
- Function: Helps the ovary make more progesterone
- Symptom: Elevated estrogen (severe PMS, swollen breasts, fibrocystic breasts, heavy menstrual bleeding)
- Supplement: Calcium D-glucarate
- Function: Helps the liver metabolize estrogen
- Symptom: High Cortisol (unremitting stress, excessive thirst, increased urination, changes in libido, accelerated skin aging, high blood pressure)
- Supplement: B5
- Function: Gets your adrenals making the right ratio of cortisol to DHEA
- Symptom: Irregular Ovulation, PCOS
- Supplement: Inositol
- Function: improves ovulation regularity
- Symptom: Insomnia, Fatigue, Bloating, Constipation
- Supplement: Magnesium
- Function: Miracle micronutrient, essential for over 300 reactions in the body
- Symptom: Poor Egg Quality
- Supplement: CoQ10
- Function: improves egg quality
I founded FLO Living over 15 years ago because I experienced firsthand how conventional medicine leaves women without enough information and support for their chronic hormonal conditions, including the struggle to conceive. FLO Living is a company by women, for women, who believe that we deserve to have natural, effective, empowering, and compassionate hormonal healthcare. If you need us, we are here for you and your ovaries.
I designed my Balance Supplements specifically to help women address these key deficiencies, balance their hormones, and reclaim their energy.
You don’t need to feel listless and exhausted for 1-2 weeks every month. You can reclaim your energy in as little as one 28-day hormone cycle.
BALANCE by FLO Living is the FIRST supplement kit for happier periods that supports balancing your hormones. Balance Supplements include five formulations that provide essential micronutrients to balance your hormones. Think of them as your personal “insurance policy” against environmental factors that are (knowingly or unknowingly) zapping your energy every month.
Balance Supplements can help you have more energy within a few weeks!
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This is super great stuff, I am currently on my weight loss journey. I agree that combined exercise and healthy diet is important.
It does not have to be 1000 steps or anything like that. But start with a small thing such as walk in the park and maintain the momentum and improve on a daily basis. Weight loss should be enjoyable and rewarding at the end. Also, small habit such as keeping fruit in the fridge and healthy snacks such as roast almond can give you huge pay off in the long term.
One other thing can help is that starting a diet journey with a written plan. You want to come up with a system that you can follow and adjust based on your situation. I keep a list of exercises and food that help me with my diet. Personally I follow all in one guide from fatlosshabbit.com, it makes everything easier when they are in one place.
I am wondering about the doses for the supplements that are listed in the blog. Does it matter what type of Magnesium is used. Citrate? Malate?
Courtney Annette Ingham says
Miscarriage and infertility are even more on the rise post-Covid shots. This is an important topic that highly esteemed OBs like Christiane Northrup are covering. This is pretty essential information that women deserve to know.