Executive Director and Co-Founder, Angie Stenback sat down with Naturopathic Doctor, Andrea Picardo to talk about conception and fertility supports that naturopathic medicine provides. Check out their Q & A here about how naturopathic modalities support hormones, stress, and life through the fertility journey!
Q: Some people seek care with a naturopathic doctor when they are planning to conceive. If they aren’t experiencing any fertility challenges, what are the benefits of seeing a naturopathic doctor during this time? When is an ideal time to start care?
A: Starting a preconception care routine at least 3-4 months before trying to conceive can be helpful to improving the environment that the sperm and egg are maturing under. It takes about 90 days for sperm and egg maturation so preparing the body this early can improve the quality of the environment that the baby would grow in.
Meeting with a naturopathic doctor at The WOMB 3-4 months before starting your conception journey also helps us to get a fuller picture of whether there COULD be hindrances to your fertility. It will be important for you to understand your cycles and when an ideal time would be to try to conceive. Your naturopathic doctor will teach you how to interpret signs and symptoms of fertility so that you are more in tune with the menstrual cycle, how to cycle chart, discuss supplementation (if necessary) and timing when you are most likely to conceive. We will also remind you to keep love in the process!
Typically, the medical approach is to try for conception for 12 months if you’re <35 years old before seeking assistance. HOWEVER, that is 12 eggs that will be gone by that time, so why not rule in or rule out other conditions that could be impacting your health to make the process smoother!?
Q: When is a couple or person considered to be having “fertility challenges”?
A: Fertility investigations should involve both partners. Overall, one-third of infertility cases are caused by male reproductive issues, one-third by female reproductive issues, and one-third by both male and female reproductive issues or by unknown factors (1).
The rule of thumb around seeking fertility help is:
- if you’re < 35 years old and trying without success for over 1 year
- if you’re 35 – 39 years old and trying without success for about 6 months
- if you’re 39+ years old and trying to conceive in general, we recommend getting some basic tests done to maximize your time to conception
We would recommend you seek care sooner if you have:
- a family history of early menopause or primary ovarian insufficiency
- a family history of BRCA+ breast cancer or another reproductive cancer
- a genetic condition that can impact fertility
- irregular periods, endometriosis, or PCOS
- two miscarriages in a row
- a history of sexually transmitted infections
- you or your partner have any risk factors or symptoms of infertility.
Sometimes however, your instincts are telling you something, or you just know that seeking care and support sooner rather than later, is the best route for you. Listen to your gut – we would be happy to start you under our care to look after you emotionally, physically and mentally in preparation for your fertility journey and pregnancy.
WHY NATUROPATHIC MEDICINE?
Q: Why would someone with fertility challenges seek out care from a naturopathic doctor?
A: The fertility process can be a very isolating and strenuous one. Naturopathic doctors not only aid in improving whole health and fertility outcomes; they also help you develop strategies to manage the invisible burden of infertility and improve stress management. Stress, grief, and anxiety are very common in families going through infertility and can have a massive impact on outcomes – a piece that is not always addressed when working with a fertility clinic. As well, you are an active participant who not only learns what to do, but HOW to do it based on your individual lifestyle.
We would recommend starting care 3-6 months before trying to conceive, especially if you’re coming off of a birth control pill or have menstrual cycle irregularities.
Q: What is the process of working with a naturopathic doctor for fertility look like?
A: When you meet with your naturopathic doctor at The WOMB, we do a deep dive into yours (and your partner’s ideally) health and reproductive history, and review previous lab work to better understand the assessments that we would need to get to the root cause of any infertility or recurrent miscarriages.
Additional lab testing may be ordered by your naturopathic doctor and is often covered under extended health benefits. Together with the lab results and an assessment of lifestyle factors (such as diet, exercise, stress, sleep, etc.), we would develop together, a personalized treatment plan consisting of nutritional strategies, lifestyle optimization, and supplementation to improve outcomes. Fertility acupuncture, yin yoga/meditation and other modalities may also be included in your plan.
A bonus to many clients of The WOMB is that many of our naturopathic doctors are, like myself, also a birth doula so we would be able to help support you throughout your pregnancy and during labour and birth.
Q: What modalities do you use in fertility care?
A: Naturopathic doctors use evidence-based nutritional strategies, lifestyle changes, supplementation, and acupuncture when it comes to fertility.
To make acupuncture more accessible, we also have a community acupuncture program at our Milton location, which allows you to have acupuncture done in a group setting for a reduced price.
Q: What changes could people expect to see?
A: Other than becoming pregnant, people experience an overall sense of connectedness to self which is one of the greatest improvements in their lives. They have an improved sense of themselves, what is going on in their bodies, strategies for bringing themselves back to wellness, and comfort knowing that they have practitioners who will walk beside them every step of the way. Because we optimize the foundations for better health (nutrition, digestion, sleep, energy, stress) people may also experience:
- better energy and less brain fog
- more restful sleep
- better coping strategies and resiliency
- decreased digestive upset and better bowel habits
- improved body composition
Other than getting pregnant, focusing on fertility with a naturopathic doctor improves whole system health – mentally, physically and emotionally – and a relationship that provides ongoing strategies for self-care and self-knowledge.
A WHOLISTIC APPROACH
Q: Are there other practices, or practitioners that you work alongside to support people to the fullest during this period?
A: The Naturopathic Doctors at The WOMB work alongside other practices within our team, as well as provide supplemental care to fertility clinics.
In our practice it is often imperative that we work collaboratively with other practitioners at The WOMB to look after you as a whole person. Some of these include:
- psychotherapy to compliment the basic stress management tactics and pieces, and help you make sense of how you perceive the world and stressors
- somatic trauma therapy (Milton) – this helps you to process any grief and trauma that you may be holding onto in your body and may not even realize it
- pelvic floor physiotherapy when there are conditions associated with painful intercourse and/or bowel movements, irregular bowel habits and pelvic congestion
- manual therapies such as chiropractic care, osteopathy and massage therapy for reducing nervous system over-activation
- fertility focused yoga as a great coping practice which also helps build community and develops even more awareness around your internal and external environments
Never overlook the importance of caring for yourself even before you conceive. Meeting with a naturopathic doctor at The WOMB 3-4 months before you start your conception journey is a great way to start off mentally, physically and emotionally. And when you need a bit more care with trying to conceive, The WOMB’s expert team of naturopathic doctors and other team members will be there to guide you through the processes, treatments, and supports. You may even get a community, a tea, a hug and a helpful, empathetic ear to share with.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009). Infertility FAQs. Http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/infertility
Dr. Andrea Picardo is a Naturopathic Doctor at The WOMB Milton. Her practice is focused on reproductive and hormonal health, pregnancy support and paediatric care. She was the recipient of the competitive Paediatric Focus Shift award from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, has contributed to building accessible and affordable naturopathic care in Toronto and Milton, and is a certified birth doula.