In the midst of the complex world of medical fertility treatment, natural conception can seem to be something that was tried and can never be attempted again. For many couples, there is a feeling of “been there, done that” when asked about conceiving without medical help, and during an IVF cycle it is not unusual for a couple to abstain altogether from sexual intimacy with one another.
But when a couple is taking a break between rounds of treatment, and sometimes it can be a break of several months, there is often the hope that there might still be a chance of conceiving naturally. This is an opportunity to re-connect with one another when you are free of the stress associated with undergoing a cycle of fertility drugs and procedures.
There are natural ways to improve your health and consequently your mood and your sex life. Nutritional changes, supplementation, and lifestyle changes have a positive impact on the quality of your eggs and sperm. In addition, you may find you are feeling healthier, your mood is elevated, and your love life has improved. However, if you and your partner have been dealing with intense emotional and psychological issues, you may need to seek professional help. A reputable therapist can put your situation into perspective and help you both discover a healthier relationship.
Eat lots of fruits and vegetables as these are the primary sources for anti-oxidants in the diet. While supplements are helpful, you can’t beat fruits and veggies. A general rule of thumb: eat at least three fruits daily and have a minimum of 50% vegetables at lunch and dinner. There will be days when it’s difficult to get in this amount of fruits and vegetables, but if you can follow this recommendation at least five days out of seven you should see a big difference in how you feel and hopefully see improvements in your fertility as well.
It has been found that reducing animal proteins in the diet leads to better fertility.1 Aim to eat vegetarian proteins at least four days per week. I recommend that patients eat a whole foods plant based diet Monday to Friday, and allow 2-3 meals with animal foods on the weekends. Vegetarian protein choices are beans, legumes, chickpeas, tofu, tempeh, or seitan. For added protein and healthy fats, raw nuts and raw seeds are excellent choices. They can be sprinkled on salads, on your morning oatmeal, or eaten as snacks. Keep portions to a maximum of 3 tablespoons.
A healthy lifestyle is an important part of any plan to conceive naturally, and you are encouraged to incorporate the following lifestyle changes:
- Watch your caffeine intake. One small 6 oz. serving of coffee per day is usually okay, but many people are now stopping for 12 to 16 oz. sized cups of java. This could be affecting your fertility adversely.2 For a healthier caffeine boost, try green tea.
- Keep alcohol to a maximum of three drinks per week.3 If you are drinking more than that, and if you find yourself drinking alcohol on a daily basis, it’s time to take a good hard look at this and resolve to reduce your drinking. You may even find it’s best to cut out alcohol altogether.
- Don’t smoke. Even a few cigarettes per day can interfere with your attempts to conceive.4 This goes for both men and women. If you’re having a tough time quitting, see your doctor for advice on how to reduce your addiction to cigarettes.
- Get plenty of sleep. This means at least seven hours nightly. For some people, it could be more. We are learning that for the best health and vitality, eight hours of sleep will give most people the benefits of improved health and cognitive function. If you are burning the midnight oil, take an honest look at your lifestyle and determine what needs to change so that you can get to bed at a reasonable hour.
- Exercise. Move your body at least four times per week for a minimum of 20 minutes, enough to raise your heart rate and create a bit of sweat. This is great for your circulation, your waist line, for managing stress, and the fact that being fit is very good for your fertility.5 Find activities that you really enjoy and make time for them. Even just putting on some great music and dancing around your living room until you are sweaty is great.
- Sexual positions. The best positions are the ones where the couple is enjoying sex. Usually this means adopting sexual practices that do not put a strain on the muscles and the skeletal system. I would also advise that after intercourse, you do not immediately get up. Try to relax and stay in a laying down position for at least 20 minutes.
I am not a sex therapist, but I have counselled couples on love making when they express concern about libido, maintaining erections, and sexual positions. I have learned from my patients that libido and issues with erectile dysfunction (ED) are often improved with a healthy diet and lifestyle. In fact, patients who adopt a mostly plant based diet seem to have the best improvements when it comes to libido. This also appears to be true for males with ED.
I hear of women who after sex are advised to lay for a half hour with their bottoms propped up by a bunch of pillows, or with their legs positioned high up against a wall. Gravity does help to keep the seminal fluid around the cervix, especially for women with retroverted uteruses. But if holding this position is putting undue stress on your body, then don’t do it. Being close to one another after sex, holding each other, cuddling, talking, and laughing together probably offers the best opportunity for sperm to get to the waiting egg, in my opinion. I think being relaxed and happy is the kind of environment natural conception is most likely to take place in. Add to this good nutrition and lifestyle, and my hope is that your chances of baby making success will be as strong as your health and your libido.
Dr. Fiore has been focused on fertility care for over 15 years. She is a graduate of the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, and has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Concordia University (Montreal). Dr. Fiore has lectured on fertility for a number of organizations, including the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society, The Infertility Awareness Association of Canada (IAAC), and the Toronto Infertility Network. She has a featured column, The Naturopathic View, in Creating Families, a magazine published by IAAC. Her opinions on fertility and sexual health have been featured in numerous publications and on radio and TV, most notably for a series on fertility with Global TV. She is planning to publish her first book, The IVF Solution, by July of 2015.