Does Relaxing Help You Fall Pregnant?

It’s one of the worst things to be told by someone when you’re trying to fall pregnant. “Just relax! It will happen when you’re relaxed.”

As annoying as this is to hear, they might actually have a point.

Of course if you’ve been trying to conceive for over 12 months, please see a GP to have any medical concerns eliminated before assuming it’s just stress.

Stress is a physical response to a perceived threat. It’s like a complex natural alarm system.

When your body feels threatened, a surge of hormones are released from the Kidneys to help the body manage this.

Adrenalin and cortisol are the two major hormones released and they both have impacts on your health if they’re surging for too long.

Adrenalin increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and starts moving your stored energy, ready to help you deal with stress.

When you’re trying to fall pregnant, this means there will be less energy stores to support your pregnancy and the high blood pressure and heart rate can put your health at risk before and during pregnancy.

Cortisol is the main ‘stress’ hormone released in response to stress. High levels of cortisol causes an increase in blood sugar (has a major impact on women with PCOS) and works to switch off all the non essential functions of the body.

These non essential functions include the immune system, the digestive system and of course the reproductive system. These are not seen as important body systems in times of high stress.

If stress lasts long enough, these systems can become quite unresponsive. Hormones can become imbalanced, ovulation can be affected and your ability to nourish a growing baby can be affected.

When the stress is removed, these systems can go back to normal. And it can happen surprisingly quickly. Which is why so many women report being able to fall pregnant when they go on holidays.

However, most couples can’t plan a holiday every month around ovulation so what else can you do to reduce stress and improve your chance of pregnancy?

Exercise – moderate, regular exercise helps manage the body’s response to stress. Walking, yoga, pilates, Qi Gong, Tai Qi – all really good to help with breathing which can reduce cortisol levels almost immediately. It’s easy to avoid exercising on days you feel really stressed, but make the effort to do something small, even if it’s just some deep breathing, you will feel much better.

Managing your stress – discuss your workload with your boss, plan more regular holidays, rearrange your social schedule, ask friends and family for help, hire a cleaner or food service to reduce some of the stressors affecting you. Of course, you can always see a psychologist for any specific  stress management techniques.

Eat a warm, balanced diet – a healthy diet will keep you nourished for times of stress. For women, this includes grainfed meat with some fat, loads of fruit and vegetable, nuts, seeds and grains (unless intolerant).

Mindfulness – encourages you to sit for 10-15 min per day and slow your mind down. Research has found it is a great natural support for lowering cortisol. It can take some time to master this but worth it!

Acupuncture – acupuncture reduces adrenalin and cortisol. Because of this, it can help to regulate your hormones, improve ovulation and support your natural pregnancy experience.

Try and include all of these in your general wellbeing routine, not just when trying to fall pregnant and if you haven’t been on a holiday for a while, plan one!

MTHFR Gene Mutation and Natural IVF Support

Concerns about this gene have been popping up a bit over the last few weeks so thought I would share with you what this is all about and how acupuncture can help.

MTHFR stands for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (mouthful I know!). Its name isn’t as important as its function though. It is an enzyme which helps B9 (folate) turn into its most active form for the body to use, named 5-MTHF.

Over the last few years, there’s been considerable interest in the mutation to the MTHFR gene. There are two main variations which can be found with a blood test.

Women who have been found to have either of these gene mutations, may have problems turning folate into 5-MTHF, halting the absorption of folate in the body.

Folate is crucial for brain function, the production of DNA and RNA, the body’s genetic material, and important for when cells grow rapidly like in infancy, adolescence and pregnancy. Folate also helps make red blood cells and helps with iron absorption.

Side note – folate is the natural form of folic acid. Folic acid is the synthetic form used in supplements and fortified foods. Folate exists in many nuts, fresh fruit and vegetables.

The rabbit hole of information available about these gene mutations online is overwhelming.  So in the interest of reducing anxiety around this topic, I want to point out a few things.

  1. Gene mutations are common. They can exist without expression, depending on your lifestyle
  2. Many people have the MTHFR gene variant and suffer no problems in their health, fertility or pregnancy
  3. Some women with the gene mutation have no problem processing folate

But, to put this back into perspective of ‘whole’ health, the chemical pathway of turning folate into 5-MTHF is part of a much bigger and more complex process in the body called methylation.

“Methylation is, essentially, the on/off switches of the body – where countless molecules and processes can be activated, or deactivated, to perform a function, or to allow a reaction to occur.” (https://www.mthfrsupport.com.au/what-is-methylation/)

Many body functions rely on a smooth methylation process and problems to this may result in chronic diseases like migraines, problems with blood clots, PCOS, chronic fatigue, frequent headaches, depression, infertility and frequent miscarriages.

However, there are some natural things you can do to improve your methylation:

  • Eat a healthy and varied diet – include lots of green, leafy vegetables as they have high amounts of natural folate to fuel your methylation
  • Switch your folic acid supplement to a brand that has just 5-MTHF – bypassing the steps where the body has trouble converting (Orthoplex, Thorne and Eagle all have 5-MTHF in their prenatals).
  • Avoid high dosing with folic acid
  • Supplements – taking magnesium and zinc can help support your methylation
  • Gut health – probiotics and healthy gut bacteria are important for more efficient methylation
  • Avoid certain medications (with the advice of your doctor) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs which are shown to lower levels of B9
  • Reduce stress – stress, chemical toxins, smoking and increased alcohol consumption can all negative affect your methylation process
  • Get acupuncture (of course) – some small research trials have shown that acupuncture may benefit the methylation process, improving gene expression. I mean if lowering stress does, than acupuncture has to right?

If you would like to investigate your MTHFR status, I would talk to your GP about getting the gene tested and then find an experienced naturopath or integrative doctor to advise you on the best course of action, if any. And combine their advice with your regular acupuncture treatments and healthy lifestyle.

For women going through IVF or trying to fall pregnant, who have experienced unexplained infertility, recurrent implantation failure or recurrent miscarriages, I would advise getting this tested and talking to your specialist and other health care providers about an individualised action plan.

Yin and Yang of the Menstrual Cycle Part 4 – Ovulation

Part 2 was focused on the Yin phase (or follicular phase), Part 3 was focused on the Yang Phase (or luteal phase) and now we can talk about how they interact…through ovulation.

Lara Briden recently said it perfectly…”ovulation is how women make hormones”. It is such a huge part of women’s health, yet so many women aren’t ovulating due to conditions such as PCOS, the most common anovulatory condition in women of reproductive age.

The pill also prevents women from ovulating as do many other chemicals, foods and medications.

In Chinese medicine, ovulation is the exact moment where Yin turns to Yang. The nourishing, blood moving, lining building, egg nourishing, feminine energetic state becomes the embryo growing, energy expanding, warming and masculine energetic state.

Without ovulation, you don’t get this perfect ebb and flow of hormone balance.

The primary energy that drives the balance between Yin and Yang is your Liver energy.

The easiest way to imagine how this works, is by understanding how night (Yin) turns into day (Yang)…through the movement of the earth.

The earth is in a constant state of energy movement. It is continuously and consistently moving at a pace that causes night to turn to day, over and over and over again. It barely wavers, at least not enough for us to notice.

If you imagine that something stops the earth from spinning in that consistent and constant pace (ie, the Liver energy becomes stuck), what effect we would have on the balance of day and night? We may get longer nights and shorter days or shorter nights and longer days. Or if it’s really bad…one really loooong night.

The same can happen with your menstrual cycle. Difficulty with ovulation can keep you in a very lengthy follicular phase.

Liver energy in Chinese medicine is responsible for keeping all the energy in your body moving freely, kind of like the energy that keeps the earth spinning.

Things that can cause Liver energy to ‘stick’ can be lack of exercise, constant stress, too much heating foods like alcohol and chocolate or not enough sleep.

If you have ‘stuck’ Liver energy, you may experience headaches, period pain, pain at ovulation, tight neck and shoulders, wake at 1 or 3am, irritability, easy to anger, red face, PMS symptoms or even digestive complaints.

When Liver energy is stuck, it cannot encourage the ebb and flow of a women’s menstrual cycle. Ovulation doesn’t occur or occurs very late or very early.

Acupuncture and Chinese medicine work to correct the Liver’s imbalances. We use points that keep the Liver moving smoothly so it can assist with making this transition as smooth as possible.

Things you can do at home
1. Exercise regularly – aerobics and stretching are ideal exercise options
2. Each clean foods
3. Drink plenty of water
4. Reduce stress

Of course, acupuncture and Chinese herbs can help too.

Yin and Yang of the Menstrual Cycle Part 3 – Supporting the Yang Phase

Last week, I discussed the Yin phase of the menstrual cycle. I hope it made sense. This week I’ll spend some time talking about the Yang phase and what you can do to support the second part of the menstrual cycle.

If you remember, Yang is the opposing energy to Yin. It is warming, transforming, energising and expanding, which is similar to progesterone’s function in the body.

Yang is like the power supply for your body. A reduction in this power results in food taking longer to digest, body responses slowing, metabolism slowing, embryo growth being impaired, energy transformation being impaired, fluid metabolism slowing, cognition and memory slowing.

So while estrogen and Yin help grow your lining and deliver nutrients to your eggs in the first phase, progesterone and Yang help to hold your lining in place and help a fertilised embryo to continue to grow and also help it implant and stay implanted.

Interestingly, your body temperature noticeably (if you have a healthy amount of Yang energy) increases after ovulation. And keep in mind that heat in nature always rises. So this is also a function of Yang, ‘raising’ energy to hold a pregnancy in place and to supply clear energy to your head for clear thinking.

Women who have ‘breakthrough bleeding’ or spotting (an indication that Yang is not holding blood up) just before their period may have a type of Yang deficiency. These women are usually very tired just before their periods and can have a very low sex drive – not ideal when you’re trying to fall pregnant.

They may also have difficulty losing weight and problems with fluid metabolism – bloating and swelling.

A severe Yang deficiency can also contribute to recurrent miscarriages. The body doesn’t have enough warming energy to help an embryo develop, implant and remain implanted.

I actually find many women with ‘unexplained’ fertility fall into this Yang deficiency category. There is no blood test or scan to show that an embryo fertilises but doesn’t have enough ‘warm energy’ to transform, implant and hold.

So Yang energy is very important to your health and the health of your menstrual cycle regardless of whether you are trying to fall pregnant or not.

Things you can do to help Improve Yang

1. The first thing is to improve your Yin. Check back at last week’s newsletter to some ways to do this. Yang is always born out of Yin (and vice versa)
2. Keep your feet, low back and low abdomen warm
3. Eat warm, nourishing foods
4. Avoid icy cold foods and drink – (those Acai bowls are THE worst meal for women to eat regularly)
5. Get acupuncture and moxa (of course!) – to move cold out of your pelvis and start building warmth. I love the heat lamp to help with this too.
6. Take some prescribed Chinese herbs – there are some great herbs that can push out cold and warm the pelvis, Kidney and digestion to improve Yang energy

I hope this helps. I am always happy to hear from you if you have any questions.

Yin and Yang of the Menstrual Cycle Part 2 – Supporting the Yin Phase

An account on instagram I follow – @traditionalchinesemedicine posted a pic in response to a question – ‘what does the world need now?’ and her reply was “Yin”. I really couldn’t agree more.
Yin energy is something we are lacking in individually and it is continually being depleted from from a global perspective too. We are not short of faster technology, anger, stress, heat or exhaustion but we are short on love, understanding and patience and self care. This is Yin.

Yin is also the cooling, feminine, restorative, gentle, peaceful, quiet, reflective, creative, wise and imaginative energy.

Yin energy controls the first half of a female’s menstrual cycle, from the first day of your period until ovulation. It functions very similar to estrogen, the women’s reproductive hormone.

A deficiency in Yin is the most common pattern I see in women who have been diagnosed with poor egg quality.

At this time, your follicles are needing blood and nutrients and the lining of your womb needs warm, nourishing energy to help develop a healthy egg and a healthy endometrium lining – regardless of whether you are looking to fall pregnant or not.

Signs of depleted Yin can be vaginal dryness, reduced amount of cervical mucous before ovulation, night sweats, feeling warm in the afternoon, dry mouth, tired and sore low back or short menstrual cycles. It does present in many other ways, but these are the extreme symptoms.

The quality of your Yin helps determine the quality of your Yang. Remember, the two are a happy co-dependant little pair.

So not nourishing your Yin in the first half of your menstrual cycle can cause problems in the next phase which is associated with embryo implantation and growth.

So what to do to support your Yin.

  • look into the concept of ‘hugge’ – mentioned above and find what it means to you
  • eat warm, nutrient dense foods especially water based
  • avoid spicy, pungent or strong tasting foods
  • participate in restorative exercise like yoga, tai chi, qi gong
  • avoid high stresses
  • get enough sleep
  • avoid too much caffeine and alcohol
  • do more things that bring you joy :)
Foods that nourish Yin
  • Cooling foods – but not cold foods
  • Salty, bitter, sour foods
  • Tofu
  • Barley
  • Seaweed
  • Sweet potato
  • Water chestnut – great in San Choy Bow
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Apple
  • Lemon and lime
  • Pear
  • Pineapple
  • Watermelon
  • Pomegranate
  • Mango
  • Avocado
  • Coconut Milk
  • Sesame seeds
  • Fish – especially oyster but all seafood is great for Yin building
  • Beef, duck, pork and kidney
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Cows milk – very Yin nourishing but in small amounts
  • Honey

Acupuncture in Pregnancy and Childbirth – Course Summary

I was fortunate enough to spend last weekend with a bunch of acupuncturists learning about acupuncture in pregnancy and childbirth. The course was held by the lovely Debra Betts, an experienced nurse and acupuncturist from New Zealand who is making unreal progress with acupuncture and pregnancy in hospitals. She is an absolute wealth of information and I learned so much! Over the next few weeks, I will go further into detail on specific topics, but here are the takeaway points from the course.

  • Acupuncture has a huge role to play in pregnancy from prior to conception, first trimester, second trimester, third trimester, labour and post partum
  • Research has shown acupuncture to help prevent and manage; bleeding in pregnancy, miscarriage, gestational diabetes, pre eclampsia, caesarian section, premature or small for date babies, post natal depression
  • Medical knowledge around acupuncture is improving with continual research which means communication and collaboration with specialists is improving
  • In the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle (from ovulation to conception), acupuncture can help support the first trimester, support an ‘at risk’ pregnancy, support threatened miscarriage and as a treatment for nausea and vomiting
  • Trophoblast cells are the cells responsible for implantation and are a key focus of research for identifying problems with pregnancy
  • Lack of oxygen from time of cell division to 10 weeks pregnant is important (this seems opposite to what we think about blood flow)
  • Stress has repeatedly shown to affect pregnancy outcomes and acupuncture has been consistently shown to reduce stress markers – perhaps the biggest role acupuncture can play in fertility and pregnancy
  • Sleep – really important for pregnancy outcomes and acupuncture can treat sleep concerns
  • Medical clowning post embryo transfer (laughing) improves IVF outcomes and massage prior to embryo transfer improves pregnancy outcomes
  • The so called ‘forbidden points’ have been hugely misrepresented in modern practice – “there is no evidence of harm following needling at forbidden points”
  • Acupuncture can support natural birth in missed miscarriages and stillborn pregnancies – assisting the natural process of birth
  • Recurrent miscarriage has been historically identified as a ‘slippery foetus’ – there are acupuncture treatments available to support this
  • Pregnancy stress syndrome is a thing – it can over stimulate the HPA axis causing decreased progesterone production, altered immune response and poor environment for maintaining a pregnancy, acupuncture can help
  • Women want support from medical specialists – to be taken seriously, to feel they are listened to and understood, to be asked how they’re doing and to be given relaxation tools to unwind – this is where a natural health practitioner and acupuncture specifically can be of incredible benefit
  • We have a fantastic acupuncture point – KI 9 which is known as the ‘happy baby point’ – it has historically been used to improve poor hereditary traits, improve complexion and help babies ‘sleep at night and smile during the day’. In research, this point has shown to be valuable in relaxing a contracting uterus
  • Some great acupuncture protocols for morning sickness
  • Potato soup – one of the best things for early pregnancy morning sickness, especially when unable to keep water down
  • Acupuncture is successful at treating back pain and pelvic pain in pregnancy
  • Acupressure – being taught to birthing partners is really helpful in reducing pain in labour and facilitating a difficult labour
  • Treatments for heart burn, headaches, rib pain, itchiness, swelling, emotional changes and high blood pressure have been shown helpful in late stage pregnancy
  • Research currently looking into acupuncture for pre-eclampsia and it’s looking promising
  • Treatment protocols for anemia in pregnancy – take home moxa helpful
  • Breech presentation very well treated when seen at 36 weeks pregnancy – take home moxa also helpful
  • Supporting still birth and providing acupuncture and take home acupressure to help with birthing and labour, caring support important and shows improved clinical outcomes and experience
  • Induction support – acupuncture can support a women’s natural hormone response
  • Debunking the cord around the neck myth, too often blamed for many negative birth outcomes – “multiple cord entanglement is not a contributing factor in intrapartum stillbirth, placental abruption or caesarean delivery”
  • Midwives are being educated in many hospitals around New Zealand and Australia to use acupuncture in delivery rooms. This will take time to be fully integrated but is looking really promising.
  • Acupuncture and moxa is great to use post birth for caesar scar healing, breast feeding difficulties and hormone irregularities

So much! There’s so much more detail I want to go into over the next few months so stay tuned for more information. Based on information from courses like this and what I see in clinical practice every day, I would find it really difficult NOT to recommend acupuncture for all pregnant women. Please pass this information on to any of your pregnant friends or family members, I would love to help support them through their pregnancies and prepare them for childbirth…naturally!

Paige x

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