Welcome to our new series, The Motherhood Diaries – a safe space for you to share your experiences, advice, hopes and heartbreaks. We’ll be hearing from industry experts giving practical advice alongside Capsule readers (You!) sharing your firsthand experiences. We’re looking at everything from fertility, trying to conceive, pregnancy, the fourth trimester, newborns, toddlers, raising children and teenagers and everything in between!
If you have a topic you’d like to discuss, share your thoughts, experience or advice about, drop a line to [email protected].
This week we’re talking to Dr Libby Weaver about fertility and boosting your chances of being able to conceive.
When it comes to the journey to motherhood, many women have the exact same story to tell about the first step in getting there. After years, or decades of being vigilant about contraception – taking a pill every morning, or always being prepared – and fretting if a period was ever late, they reach a point in their lives when they’re ready to have a baby, only to discover that falling pregnant often isn’t quite as simple as stepping off and surrendering to it.
For many, it’s far from what that high school health teacher had led them to believe and requires a fair bit of time and patience. In fact, most couples actually take between six months to a year to conceive and yes, the older you are, the longer that wait can tend to be.
So, if you’ve found yourself in that waiting game, or are considering having a baby – or you’d like some information to store away until you’re ready, we spoke to women’s health expert, Dr Libby who shares her top tips to increase your likelihood of getting pregnant (and having a healthy pregnancy!).
“The way you want to approach it,” says Libby, “is to make your body a wonderful home to grow a new life and you want to approach that from every level. So, on a physical level, we need plenty of nutrients going in – and the right nutrients. Then, we want to look at things from a stress perspective.”
Getting Your Body Ready
Libby suggests fueling your body with the right nutrients to ensure you’re in top shape for conceiving. “Iron, zinc, iodine and selenium are the big minerals that you need to make sure you’re getting enough of from a dietary perspective.”
“We only need very small amounts of iodine each day, so an adult female needs only about 150 micrograms a day (remember that’s micrograms, not milligrams, so it really is a tiny amount). But we must get it going in every day, and it’s hardly found in food so a lot of people don’t get enough of it!”
She says it’s a similar situation when it comes to selenium. “It’s really only found in Brazil nuts, as far as a food source goes. It’s key for conception, but one a lot of women are lacking in.”
Libby suggests eating nutritiously and talking to your doctor or healthcare provider about what supplements you might benefit from taking, with a close focus on iron, zinc, iodine, and selenium intake.
The Effect of Stress on Ovulation
Yes, Dr Libby says, it’s far easier said than done, but examining your stress levels and what’s behind them is an important step on your road to conception. We can get caught up in a cycle of thinking, ‘gah, life is so stressful! It’s so busy!’ and not really take a hard look at what those stressors really are in our lives and how we could lessen them.
“It’s not about trying to get you to produce zero stress hormones,” says Libby,” because I don’t actually think that’s possible! But the things that you can actively choose to do differently to lower your stress hormone production are only going to help potential conception.”
And that, is really all based in science. “It’s because in your brain you have control centres for your hormonal systems. There’s the hypothalamus, which is the ultimate control centre, and it talks to the pituitary gland, which is also in your brain. I call her the mother gland because she’s the one who nurtures and nourishes and communicates with all the other glands that make hormones, like the adrenal glands, the ovaries and the thyroid.”
“The pituitary gland, she is then communicating to the ovaries – whether it is safe or not safe to ovulate. So we want to make sure that the hypothalamus is letting the pituitary know that you’re safe – because that’s the question it’s asking 24/7. If the hypothalamus looks to the blood and sees that you have high circulating levels of adrenaline – which might be there because you’ve had two coffees this morning and there’s 400 unopened emails in your inbox, but it communicates what adrenaline has always meant for the 200,000 years that humans have been on the planet: that your life is in danger.”
“If it’s constantly perceiving that your life is in danger, it’s not going to say to the pituitary that she’s safe to say to the ovary that it can ovulate this month, because your body does not want you to bring a baby into a world where its getting the message that you’re not safe!”
Letting Go of Stress
Breathwork, meditation and slowing down are all really important – but there’s another exercise which Dr Libby has seen having a positive effect on conception.
“In my workshops I do an exercise where I say, ‘How do you need other people to see you? I call them forehead words – they’re the word we have stuck on our foreheads that say ‘please see this quality in me! Please see that I’m kind or thoughtful or intelligent or resourceful or creative or funny, or whatever it is! There’s no right or wrong, you just want to know what your forehead words are because you want to know how you’d like other people to see you.”
“Then, next time you’re stressed you can pause and think, ‘Oh, am I perceiving that someone is seeing me in the opposite way to one of my forehead words’. Because often that’s what’s driving stress. Then instead of just living with stress and thinking life is stressful you can laugh it off or you can have a conversation with that person and say, ‘I’ve been making up a story in my head that you think I’m unkind, or lazy (or whatever the opposite of your forehead word is), so, do you actually see me like that?”
Dr Libby says that sometimes we make up these stories in our heads that in order to be liked, we can only ever be seen as kind, for example, to ensure we’re seen as so – or whatever it is that is one of our forehead words. Challenging such beliefs can lead to having some very honest conversations – including with yourself, in working out why you’ve been telling yourself these stories over the years.
“It’s fascinating to go digging into that and when I hear women are making conception their priority, it’s an area I encourage women to explore.”
For more from Dr Libby, visit her website here