Most of my female patients have spent the majority of their young lives trying not to get pregnant. A lack of proper cycle education in school combined with a pharmaceutical industry that’s trying to sell every woman on the birth control pill have confused many women into thinking that it’s very easy to get pregnant anytime during their cycle. Fortunately, for those of you wanting to postpone pregnancy it’s not such an simple task to get pregnant. Many of my patients are surprised to learn that they’re only fertile for a short window of time each month. Combine that with rising rates of infertility from things like environmental endocrine disruptors, stress and years of oral contraceptive use, and you can start to see why it’s not always easy to get pregnant when you’re actually ready.
So many of my patients come off the birth control pill after years and years of taking these hormones and assume that they will get pregnant right away. They come in with stories of friends that got pregnant within days of stopping the pill and wonder why it’s “taking so long”. Stories like this create false expectations for women and leave so many disappointment and wondering “what’s wrong with me?”. Not surprisingly, people are way more likely to talk about their fertility successes than their struggles. Trust me when I say that if it’s taking you longer than you thought to get pregnant then you’re not alone. The average time to conception for a woman in her late twenties and early thirties is 1 year. This means that your girlfriends are likely going through the same fertility ‘issues’ that you are, they’re just not talking about it!
So what makes these unicorn women that get pregnant in the first few months of trying more fertile than others? While genetics can certainly play a role, it’s also possible that these women live their daily lives in a way that promotes optimal fertility. Lifestyle factors like great sleep, appropriate exercise / body weight, healthy stress management, organic food, hormone safe beauty products and little caffeine & alcohol can all support a woman’s chances of conceiving. Nutritional deficiencies can also play a role as well as hormonal imbalances which is why it’s important to work with a Naturopathic doctor who can run the appropriate diagnostic tests when it’s is taking longer than you’d like to conceive. When women come to see me seeking fertility care there are definitely some lab tests that we run to make sure everything is inline for a healthy pregnant. While these labs are extremely helpful there are also many physical signs that can tell us how fertile a woman may be. There’s no one perfect predictor of fertility, but in my experience when a woman is way more likely to conceive naturally within the first 6 months of trying when they exhibit most the following signs of healthy hormones:
Once they start actually paying attention to their cycle many patients will tell me that their sex drive is stronger at certain times of the month. When tracking their monthly flow women with balanced hormones find that they have an increase in libido before and during ovulation, and likely again before menses. This is a great sign of fertility in women due to the simple fact that we’re all just animals with a biological desire to reproduce. Even if you’re brain hasn’t come around to the idea of children (and for some of us it never will, and thats okay too!), a healthy fertile body will show physical signs of wanting to reproduce. Signs like enhanced arousal and desire are a common side benefit of ovulation, since it’s your body’s way of trying to you pregnant at your most fertile time. Not only should your sexual desire peak during ovulation but you may find that your partner is more attracted to you at this time as well. Research shows us that the female face actually becomes more attractive during ovulation due to enhanced facial symmetry. If you and your partner can’t get enough of each other mid cycle it’s a great sign that you’re likely ovulating and fertile.
A reliable pattern of menstration is a great sign that a woman is ovulating every month. If you’re considering starting a family in the next few years I suggest you start tracking cycles now with an app like Flo or Kindara to see how often you’re having a period and if it changes from month to month. Day 1 of your cycle is the first day of a full bleed; track this date either on a calendar or in one of the apps I’ve suggested to see how things land each cycle. The ‘ideal’ cycle length is anywhere from 26 – 32 days long, but this can vary. When tracking periods it’s important to keep in mind that I’m talking about natural menstrual cycles here – not pill induced bleeds. The birth control pill inhibits ovulation therefore if you’re currently on the pill your ‘periods’ are not true periods, they’re simply chemically-induced withdrawal bleeds from stopping the hormones in the pill each month. You’ll have to wait until you’re ready to go off the pill before you can effectively track hormonal cycles.
If you and your girlfriends are all moon sisters with similar menstrual cycles it can mean that your hormones are balanced in a way that promotes fertility. This phenomenon is called menstrual synchrony, or the ‘McClintock effect’ and it’s due to pheromone production in fertile women. If you’re giving off strong fertility pheromones to the point that they’re affecting the women around you then there’s a good likelihood you’re going to have an easier time conceiving. If you don’t have a close group of red tent sisters / menstrual mavens / period pals then I suggest you start working on developing some female friendships. Studies show that spending time with other fertile females can actually improve your own hormone levels.
Nothing breaks my heart more than when a patient comes into my office thinking she has a bacterial problem or is “unclean” because she experiences vaginal discharge. Society has conditioned us into thinking that anything that comes out of the vagina is unhygienic when this is so incredibly far from the truth. If you’re experiencing a lot of green or foul smelling discharge then yes, you may want to head to your doctors office asap. But if your discharge is odourless and colourless then there’s no need to worry, this is actually just another great sign of optimal fertility.
During ovulation women release a specific type of clear and slightly sticky cervical mucous which is often described as looking like “egg-whites”. Having this healthy monthly mucous improves fertility outcomes since it can extend your fertile window from 2 days to up to 7 days. A typical egg only 12 – 24 hours, which is short conception window making it quite difficult to get pregnant. Ovulatory cervical mucous extends your fertile period because it’s the perfect texture and pH to allow sperm to live longer and swim more efficiently. Women who notice lots of clear discharge mid-cycle likely have great estrogen production and healthy cervical gland function, all good things when it comes to baby making.
Your menstrual cycle can tell you a lot about your overall hormonal status. Hormone experts have even begun to refer to the period as the ‘5th vital sign‘ since it’s just a great indicator of our overall health. I consider my patient’s reproductive cycle to be their monthly “report card”. Too much wine, travel and stress will almost always lead to more pain and increased flow and clotting during menses. While everyone’s period is different, there are a few things to consider when assessing weather or not your flow is ‘ideal’ for conception.
A normal volume of flow can vary anywhere from 2–6 tablespoons of menstrual fluid. A diva cup or other menstrual cup is a great tool to help you track your monthly volume. If you have to change your cup / pad / tampon more than a few times daily, or if you could easily get away with not changing it at all, it could mean that your hormones are off. Healthy estrogen levels are key to building an ideal uterine lining. Too much estrogen can cause heavy painful periods, while too little leads to a scant, almost non existent flow. You need a healthy goldilocks menses (ie: not too much & not too little) to ensure that you’re building a great lining for implantation each cycle.
You should also get your hormones testing if you’ve been experiencing a lot of clotting and spotting each cycle. This could mean that your progesterone levels are too low to maintain a pregnancy. If you suspect low progesterone levels you should visit you ND asap for appropriate urine or saliva testing (note: you’ll need to see your ND for this, blood tests for progesterone as offered by your GP or fertility clinic are not sufficient for diagnosing low progesterone since blood levels are unreliable and vary throughout the day).
If you have more questions about natural hormonal support, or if you live in the GTA and would like to work with me to develop your personalized fertility protocol you can book your first visit online here or visit my website for more information.
*Note: online services provided by Dr. Sarah to those of you living outside of Ontario are delivered as a Certified Functional Medicine practitioner consult and not as an Naturopathic doctor appointment & as such they will not be eligible for reimbursement through private insurance.
This information is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Naturopathic doctor or primary care physician. Do not use the information in this document for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease. Always speak with your Naturopathic doctor before taking any medication or nutritional or herbal or using any treatment for a health problem. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your health care provider promptly. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking professional advice because of something you have read online.
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