You’ve been trying to get pregnant and it hasn’t happened yet. But you’re not worried. There are always infertility treatments. Celebrities get pregnant all the time with the help of reproductive technology and you’ve read about women in their 50s who get pregnant. So while you’re hoping to get pregnant the old-fashioned way, it’s no sweat if you don’t. You’ve got medical interventions as a fallback.
But these treatments aren’t a guarantee. Take IVF, for example, The per-cycle success rate is only 20 to 35 percent — and that’s despite the enormous cost of the procedure. The average cost of one cycle of IVF is between $12,000 and $15,000 not including the cost of medication, which can cost another $3,000 to $5,000.
Then there’s the toll that the IVF drugs, like Clomid, take on your health. This drug works like the pill, but in reverse (forcing ovulation instead of suppressing it) and it can bring about a raft of deeply unpleasant short-term symptoms (diarrhea, vomiting, abnormal bleeding, headache, bloating, weight gain, breast tenderness and blurred vision) and long-term consequences (potential for increased risk of certain cancers). In other words, Clomid can be a valuable tool in helping you conceive, but it can send your body into a state of hormonal whiplash that lasts for months or years—whether you get pregnant or not.
But don’t despair. If infertility treatments are in your future, you can dramatically increase your chances of conceiving with the right knowledge. Here’s what you need to know to optimize your chances of getting pregnant with reproductive technology.
The 5 Early Warning Signs of Infertility
Women spend years trying to avoid getting pregnant. Then when we want to get pregnant, we worry that we won’t be able to!
Fertility concerns are a real source of anxiety and stress. If you know you want to get pregnant one day, or if you are trying to get pregnant right now, whether naturally or with reproductive technology, it can help to know some of the early warning signs of infertility issues. If you are experiencing any of these signs, it is not a doomsday scenario! You can take steps to restore your fertility. Here’s are some potential early warning signs of fertility issues and how to address them:
Early warning sign: Brown spotting before your period starts
Your period is a fantastic indicator of your fertility status. Its color, consistency, length and the spacing between your periods can help you to understand many underlying health issues. If you have brown spotting in the days before your period really starts this can indicate low progesterone levels. Low progesterone levels can be a risk factor for infertility and miscarriages. You may be able to get pregnant, but have trouble sustaining a pregnancy.
- FLO-fix: Taking vitamin B6 supplements and eating a lot of B6-rich foods is a great way to increase your progesterone levels. Vitamin B6 helps encourage the development of the corpus luteum, which is responsible for progesterone production.
Early warning sign: Irregular cycles
If you have irregular cycles, you are likely not ovulating regularly — and to get pregnant, you need to ovulate! It’s also important to note that sometimes you can spot or have bleeding and think it’s a period, but it’s not (meaning you didn’t ovulate).
- FLO-fix: Learn how to track your ovulation signs so you know when you ovulate and when you don’t. (Use the MyFlo app to track your whole 28-day hormone cycle, also known as your infradian rhythm. A healthy infradian rhythm is the cornerstone of optimal fertility.) The two most common causes of irregular cycles (without a PCOS diagnosis) are a sugar-rich diet and chronic stress. If you have PCOS or you are looking to optimize your diet to enhance your fertility, use The Cycle Syncing Method™ to sync your diet with your infradian rhythm. I’m a former PCOS sufferer myself and using phase-based eating and lifestyle modifications allowed me to conceive my daughter at 37 years-old, on my third try.
Early warning sign: Chronic yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, undiagnosed chlamydia or other STI
Get a full check up on STDs and STIs to make sure you do not have an undiagnosed condition. The low-level inflammation caused by bacterial vaginosis is linked to blocked egg fertilization, spontaneous miscarriage, and a higher risk of preterm birth. Chronic yeast infections and urinary tract infections may indicate that your vaginal microbiome and gut microbiome are off-balance, and microbial dysbiosis in the body disrupts optimal hormone balance and healthy fertility.
- FLO-fix: In addition to an STD check-up with a licensed healthcare practitioner (and appropriate treatment), I recommend taking a probiotic supplement to balance your microbiome and restore hormonal equilibrium. Practicing The Cycle Syncing Method™ will help keep your microbiome and your reproductive system in optimal shape going forward.
Early warning sign: Gut problems
If you have frequent bloating and discomfort, or you have been diagnosed with IBS or leaky gut, the inflammation caused by leaky gut can create an autoimmune response that can decrease fertility The health of your estrobolome (which is part of your gut microbiome) is key to preventing estrogen dominance and maintaining optimal fertility.
- FLO-fix: I recommend cutting some foods completely out of your diet – including “the white stuff” – aka sugar, dairy, and gluten. I recommend eating some fermented foods daily and taking a high-quality probiotic. Make sure phytonutrient-dense whole foods, like brassica vegetables, avocados, and other whole, plant-based foods are prominently featured in your diet.
Early warning sign: Premature aging
Are you in your 30s and experiencing premature signs of biological aging like vaginal dryness, sagging skin, brittle nails, hair loss, irregular periods, hot flashes or night sweats? These can be indicators that you will struggle to get pregnant.
- FLO-fix: Premature aging is a sign that our body isn’t getting what it needs to produce healthy levels of certain hormones. Start by getting your hormones tested to get a sense of the internal landscape of your reproductive hormones. Take key supplements to support healthy aging and make sure to feed your body the nutrients it needs in a phase-based pattern to help turn back the internal clock.
Infertility Treatments: What Are The Options?
If you’ve been trying to get pregnant without success, you might be starting to explore your options when it comes to reproductive technology. Here are the four main treatment options:
1 – Clomid
Clomid is an oral ovulation induction medication that supports ovulation for women who have identified anovulation as their primary infertility issue. Clomid mimics estrogen by attaching to estrogen receptors in the hypothalamus and tricking the body into producing more FSH. Because Clomid blocks the estrogen receptor sites in the brain, it also affects the production of the cervical fluid that allows successful passage of sperm to egg. This cervical fluid is produced during healthy, natural ovulation, but often is compromised on Clomid. Additional synthetic estrogen often needs to be taken to help with conception.
2 – Intrauterine Insemination (IUI)
IUI is a treatment method that places sperm near the egg in order to bypass cervical fluid and/or to assist with sperm motility issues. Selected sperm are inserted directly into the uterus via the cervix with a catheter. The woman’s ovaries may or may not be stimulated with clomid prior to the procedure. This procedure is particularly effective when male sperm action is compromised.
3 – In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)
IVF is a medical procedure that replaces the natural reproductive process. Hormonal injections are given to the woman to hyperstimulate the ovaries and increase the number of follicles during an ovulation cycle. The eggs are then harvested and combined with selected sperm outside of the body. Multiple embryos are then inserted into the uterus via the cervix with a catheter. One potential side effect of IVF is Ovarian Hyper-Stimulation Syndrome (OHSS), in which the ovaries swell and fluid leaks the abdominal and chest cavity. Having hormonal imbalances prior to IVF increases the risk for this OHSS.
4 – Egg Freezing
Egg freezing is an infertility treatment method in which, similar to IVF, hormonal injections are given to stimulate the growth of multiple eggs, which are then harvested and frozen for later use.
A very important piece of information that often gets left out of this conversation is that multiple rounds of IVF, Clomid, or other hormonal injections can leave you vulnerable to a host of hormonal side effects and put you in a position where you might have to take a significant break from attempting to conceive while your body heals from all of this hormonal disturbance and stress. Not only is this a good reason to seek out other options, but it’s also a reason to make sure that, if you do go this route, you do everything possible with your diet and lifestyle to make your first try a success!
Is Freezing Your Eggs A Good Option?
A handful of years ago, some of the giant tech companies announced plans to cover the costs of egg freezing for female employees. The news brought this infertility treatment into the spotlight and many women wondered: is egg freezing right for me?
Egg freezing is presented as the ultimate insurance policy at a time when we find ourselves ready for babies later in life. Indeed, egg freezing is a fantastic technological advance that can be crucial for women dealing with cancer and other serious illnesses that might delay pregnancy significantly or damage their fertility dramatically. But is it a good option for healthy women who hope to delay pregnancy for other reasons, like their career or the right relationship?
In theory, I think the ability to delay pregnancy until a woman is ready is a great idea.
My issue with the promotion of egg freezing is that women are being sold something — and at a high price, no less! — with no guarantee that they can delay having a child later than their biology will allow. Not only that, but the message sends a subtle but powerful message that our bodies are best handled medically, which lets us off the hook when it comes to proactively caring for our hormonal and reproductive health. We’re given no impetus to take care of our hormones, believing that there will be a medical procedure to help us when we are finally ready to conceive. But there is grave danger for women’s bodies in the message that our health is worth ignoring in the here and now. The more that the medicalization of women’s bodies becomes the cultural norm, the more we ultimately suffer with ill health and infertility.
That said, I support all women and all fertility choices. If you go the egg freezing route, I encourage you not to make it an either/or proposition. Don’t neglect your hormones now because you will have egg freezing later. Instead, protect and boost your fertility now with food and lifestyle choices to ENHANCE your ability to have a successful pregnancy later with egg freezing (or whichever fertility route you choose). When you tend to your hormonal health along the way, not only will you increase your odds of getting pregnant when you choose to, you will enjoy enhanced libido, energy, and mood — and fewer period problems — in your daily life.
Egg Freezing Compared vs. Other Infertility Treatments
Egg freezing has some benefits. As women, we come into this world at birth with all of the eggs we’ll ever have for our lifetime already inside of us – as many as 450,000 – with one being released each month at ovulation. With more and more of us waiting to start a family until we’re more established in our careers – in our 30s or in our 40s – more and more of us are also dealing with increased difficulties in conception. As we age, so do our eggs. In other words, even though we’re still releasing eggs on a monthly basis, the older we get, the more likely it is that we’ll sometimes release eggs that are not viable. This procedure makes it possible for women to harvest their eggs at an earlier age, and then freeze them for use at a later date.
One benefit of this option – besides having better quality eggs available when you are ready to start your family – is that it involves some amount of planning ahead, and thinking about your future. For many of us, the time goes so fast – by the time we’re settled in our career and are ready to start thinking about having a child, we may already be at an age where the quality of our eggs is in decline.
Egg freezing has a higher success rate than IVF, which has one of the highest failure rates of any industry (second only to the diet industry!). With in vitro fertilization, you’re already at the point where you’re working with less viable eggs; with egg freezing, especially if they’re frozen before the age of 32, you’ve got eggs that are of better quality and therefore more viable – leading to a slightly better success rate. However, this procedure may not be right for everyone. Make the decision about egg freezing together with a trusted healthcare practitioner.
How to Improve Your Chances of Getting Pregnant with IVF
For many women wanting to get pregnant, IVF can seem like the fallback option if all else fails – an option that will bring that much wanted baby even when nothing else has worked. But the per cycle success rate for IVF is 20-35%. It’s expensive, too — often prohibitively so.
So if you opt for IVF it’s hugely important to prep your body for conception and pregnancy. You can dramatically improve your chances of getting pregnant with IVF by proactively tending to your hormonal health today.
With food and lifestyle strategies. For example, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health monitored the fat consumption of 147 women undergoing IVF treatment and discovered that those who ate the highest amounts of monounsaturated fat were 3.4 times more likely to have a child after IVF. They concluded that avocados contain the best kind of monounsaturated fat (and the least saturated fat, which was found to decrease the amount of “good eggs”).
Another study, this time with 4,000 Danish women, found that women who drink five or more cups of coffee a day cut their chances of getting pregnant via IVF in half.
Your food and lifestyle choices have a direct affect on your IVF outcome. Knowledge is definitely power here!
Here is my two-part strategy for increasing your chance of getting pregnant with IVF:
IVF Success Strategy, Part 1: Use food as “fertility medicine”
When it comes to increasing the odds of getting pregnant with IVF, food is one of your most powerful allies. In general, make sure to incorporate many of the top fertility-boosting foods. Then take these specific steps to support your infradian rhythm via The Cycle Syncing Method™:
- Reduce inflammation: Incorporate sprouted and fermented foods during your follicular phase to deliver as many bioavailable nutrients to your body and tamp down on system-wide inflammation. Inflammation works against optimal fertility.
- Energize your eggs: Consume the majority of your fruits and vegetables raw during ovulation to increase glutathione levels. Glutathione helps support egg production.
- Boost Progesterone: Eat liver-supporting vegetables, like sweet potatoes, and leafy greens from the brassica family (like kale, chard, arugula), during the luteal phase to make sure you are eliminating estrogen efficiently and maintaining an optimal ratio of estrogen to progesterone. This helps reduce the likelihood of miscarriage.
- Boost your mineral stores: Replenish your minerals during the menstrual phase by consuming sea vegetables, avocados, and/or some free-range animal protein to deeply nourish your endocrine system for the next cycle.
IVF Success Strategy, Part 2: Use your body as a “fertility barometer”
Your body can help tell you about your fertility status. Specifically your skin, bowels, and vaginal microbiome can give you clues to your fertility. Here is what to look for in each case:
- Observe your FLO: Observing the menstrual phase of your cycle is key to understanding how prepared your progesterone levels are to sustain a pregnancy through the critical first weeks. Look at the color, texture and number of days of your period. This is a fantastic way for you to assess each month how optimal your estrogen and progesterone levels are for conceiving and maintaining a pregnancy successfully. You can let your doctor know this information and they will support you in avoiding miscarriage.
- Skin and Poop Check: Examine yourself for potential fertility obstacles beyond your cycle. I’m talking about healing your gut, which will improve your ability to absorb key nutrients like vitamin D3 and omega-3 fatty acids, which are both vital in stabilizing hormones. Inflammation is well-established as an obstacle to successful conception. If you have any symptoms of inflammation – from skin conditions, to IBS, to chronic illness and sleeplessness, you need to improve your internal ecosystem overall so that your ovaries get the green light for pregnancy.
- TLC for your Vaginal microbiome: Chronic bacterial overgrowth and STDs are linked to decreased fertility rates. Address chronic BV (bacterial vaginosis), UTIs, and yeast infections by following my guide to natural remedies. Then get checked for common STDs like HPV and chlamydia that can create a less than optimal environment for an embryo. Both are highly treatable, so don’t fret if you find something.
Key Supplements for IVF Success
Certain micronutrients are essential for getting pregnant. I recommend using targeted, hormone-supportive supplements to boost your chances of conceiving on IVF.
B6. Vitamin B6 is critical 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 makes 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 profound effect on your reproductive health. Supplementing a B-vitamin-rich diet will help ensure a healthy balance of progesterone.
Magnesium. Stress causes the body to jettison magnesium. So does eating sugar and drinking caffeine. Why does that matter? Magnesium helps with cortisol regulation, blood sugar balance, thyroid support, sleep, and—perhaps most importantly for fertility—hormone creation. Magnesium’s ability to support the creation of new hormones is especially helpful for women in perimenopause or women who have just come off the pill and want to conceive.
D3. Ninety-three percent 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 low levels of vitamin D3 have been linked with estrogen dominance, which is a common trigger for hormone symptoms and problems.
Probiotics. A healthy gut is essential for conception because a specific community of gut flora called the estrobolome helps with the metabolization of estrogen. When you take medications, eat dairy, gluten, and foods covered in pesticides, you disrupt the gut’s bacterial balance and compromise your ability to eliminate excess estrogen—which can interfere with fertility. Probiotics help restore the gut ecosystem.
Zinc. Zinc deficiency is a very common issue for many women, and it can have a 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).
Your Fertility Treatment Success Checklist
Ready to get started? Whether you are going about it naturally or getting assistance with infertility treatments, here’s a short checklist of things to do to set yourself up for success:
- Check sperm first. Be sure that the sperm from your man or donor are viable. It can be more lucrative for fertility clinics to jump straight to procedures on the woman before even checking their male counterpart. Don’t be fooled. Before you spend thousands on a procedure to your body, wouldn’t you want to be sure it was your body that needed it?
- Feel empowered to ask questions. Here’s a reality check: your doctor works for you. Therefore, you have every right to ask questions and feel empowered at each visit. Don’t let fancy jargon intimidate you. Get the facts. Seek second opinions. Get clear about all your options before making a decision.
- Get your diet and lifestyle in check. We all know that the success rates of IVF procedures are not great. Studies are now proving the point we have been making for years – that your diet dramatically impacts your fertility. Something as simple as increasing the amount of avocado in your diet has been shown to increase the successful outcome of an IVF procedure by 3 times. To fully optimize your diet for fertility, practice The Cycle Syncing Method™ and eat fertility-supportive foods in a phase-based pattern.
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