Fertility is one of the main concerns of my female patients in their 20s and 30s. Many of them experience PMS and irregular periods, have been taking the birth control pill for a long time, or have nutrient deficiencies coupled with lifestyle stress. All of these factors can impact their ability to have a baby.
The reality is that we eat too much sugar and processed food. We are exposed to a high number of synthetic chemicals in our personal care products - in fact, the average woman is exposed to 118 chemicals before she leaves home in the morning through products like makeup and lotions alone. And we are chronically stressed, a state of being that disrupts our ability to get pregnant.
The decision to have a baby is an incredibly positive opportunity to look at our bodies, understand them more deeply, and take a proactive approach to preparing ourselves for a healthy pregnancy.
Here are the five essential things I feel every woman should do before deciding to conceive.
Cut refined sugar, refined flour, and processed foods out of your life as much as possible.
This is how you’ll want to eat when you’re pregnant anyway, so getting used to it early is a great habit to form. These foods are metabolically toxic and while we have normalized them in our culture, they are not the foods that women should be eating for healthy hormones and pregnancies.
Do a simple elimination diet, where you eliminate and then reintroduce foods like gluten and dairy that you could be sensitive to.
The trick here is making sure to completely eliminate a food for at least four weeks, or 28 days, because that’s how long it takes for the immune response to clear after exposure to a food you are sensitive to.
“Green” your beauty products.
Now is a great time to get hormone-disrupting chemicals out of your bathroom cabinet. Replace conventional lotions, shampoos, soaps, makeup, and cleaning products with eco-friendly, non-toxic versions free of dyes and synthetics that have potentially harmful side effects, including the disruption of important hormones like estrogen and thyroid.
Get functional testing.
Thyroid function, vitamin D, nutrient levels and inflammatory markers are important but are not always done by regular primary care doctors and OBGYNs so you may need to work with a functional medicine physician to get the tests you need. I also recommend genetic testing for an important variation many women have called the MTHFR gene, which can be illuminating because this gene impacts your folate metabolism. If you have an MTHFR variant, taking the methylated forms of B12 and folate in your prenatal can be very important. (Of course, also be sure to work with your OBGYN to get tested for common hereditary diseases and anything else specific to you and your history).
Go off the pill.
Many women take the birth control pill for years, masking underlying problems like low progesterone and PMS. Then they decide they are ready to get pregnant, and go off the pill only to discover that their underlying hormone imbalance is still there, making it difficult for them to conceive. At Parsley Health we recommend going off of the pill at least a year before you want to get pregnant, as it can take that long to balance your hormones. The IUD, ideally the copper version without hormones, condoms, and timing your cycle are all reliable forms of birth control if used mindfully.
Start a quality prenatal vitamin.
A quality prenatal is one made by a responsible company that works directly with physicians, meaning there is a higher level of quality control. This can be essential to ensuring you get the right nutrients in their most bioavailable, and metabolically active forms.
Dr. Robin Berzin is the founder and CEO of Parsley Health. A Summa Cum Laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Robin went to medical school at Columbia University -where she co-founded the physician communication app Cureatr – and later trained in Internal Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital. She is a certified yoga instructor and a meditation teacher, writes for a number of leading wellness sites, and speaks regularly for organizations including Stanford Medicine X, The Clinton Foundation, Health 2.0, Summit at Sea, and Further Future, on how we can reinvent health care.