Laura Erlich LAc, FABORM is the founder of Mother Nurture Wellness, a women’s holistic health practice that specializes in women’s health, fertility enhancement, prenatal and postpartum care, gynecological disorders, and menopause. She’s also a leading holistic fertility expert, author, speaker, and educator.
If life was like the movies, we would all get positive pregnancy tests 2 or 3 weeks after a fancy night out with our husbands, or maybe a one night stand with some guy from Tinder (or fill in the scenario here_______). And of course this happy accident will have happened during a brief interlude from your high powered executive career, which is a life full of travel, fine dining and stress. Shocked by this news, you would go to the nearest pharmacy and grab some gummy prenatals and a 6-pack of ginger ale, just before heading to the doctor for an ultrasound to make it all real.
In the real world, while the above is entirely possible, a preferred scenario would involve a little prep time to make yourself as healthy as possible in the months leading up to conceiving a baby, whether it happens through sex, IUI or IVF. This period of time is often termed the ‘preconception period’, but is also commonly called ‘Conscious Conception’ and the ‘Zero Trimester.’ And while it’s never too late to optimize your health while you’re pregnant, giving your body a head start in preparing for pregnancy before there’s a baby on board will pay dividends from beginning to end.
The preconception period is usually considered to be 3 months (more specifically, 3 menstrual cycles) long, though living a healthy lifestyle for longer leading up to pregnancy is obviously a good idea! ‘Conscious Conception’ is an invitation to do more than clean up your diet and reduce alcohol consumption. Rather, it’s a period of consciously preparing your body for receptivity on a mental, physical and emotional/spiritual level. While that might sound a little woo-woo to some of you, I can assure you that it’s not. Here’s why: pregnancy involves every single system in your body, including some that don’t even exist yet. It’s well understood that our thoughts and emotions impact our health, and that stress can have a true influence over things like ovulation and sperm health. Let’s look at some of the things you can do to prepare yourself (and your partner, of course), to ‘consciously’ conceive:
“Where the mind goes, the Qi flows” is a famous saying used by practitioners of Chinese medicine, because it accurately describes the influence of thought over our physical health. From the standpoint of trying to conceive, this means using the preconception period to learn to have better control over our negative thoughts, and learning to redirect them towards what we want to accomplish, rather than what we are afraid of. This can be achieved through a bunch of different methods, including meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy, journaling, and really any other means of bringing light to the ways you’ve learned to cope, and then letting them go for a new, more deliberate way of thinking. Many of my patients find this shift in thinking on the acupuncture table, thanks to its incredible effect of calming the nervous system, but you can find your way there with whatever works best for you; the key is to do it consciously and with intention.
“Would you (fill in the_____) if you were pregnant today?” is a question that I regularly ask my patients when they are embarking on the journey of preparing to conceive. This is a great benchmark to hold yourself to during this time, because on a physical level, conscious conception is about bringing your body into your optimal state of physical health. Of course this will be different for each of us, but adhering to the above question provides everyone with a framework to aim for.
For example, when you are pregnant, your body will pretty much demand that you get enough sleep- because you’re building a human in there, and it’s very tiring! Instead of waiting until the fatigue knocks you on your butt when you’re 7 weeks pregnant, try adjusting your sleep schedule in the months prior to conceiving, aiming for at least 8 hours per night. Sleep is one of the key things we can do to balance hormones and give our bodies time to detoxify, so sleeping enough is really important for fertility as well.
Other things you might think about in a physical sense is reducing caffeine to a cup of coffee a day (or even better, switch to tea), stopping alcohol (or dramatically limiting your intake), eating 3 real-food, balanced meals (time to ditch intermittent fasting or other restrictive ways of eating), taking a good quality prenatal vitamin, and finding a moderate exercise routine.
Pushing yourself to do hard core exercises like boot camps and hot yoga are not conducive to the energetics of pregnancy, which is a time of opening, receiving and softening. To that end, exercise like pilates, swimming, yoga in a non-heated room, walking, jogging, hiking and being outdoors all fit the bill. If you’ve been using hormonal birth control, stopping for this 3 month preconception period is highly recommended.
According to Chinese medicine theory, one aspect of the spirit, called the Shen, is where emotions reside, and the Shen itself resides in the heart and the blood. This provides an explanation as to how emotions can impact the body in many ways, which is confirmed by modern science, telling us that our emotions are controlled by chemicals released from our brains and endocrine glands, traveling through our blood and influencing our bodies systems. To that end, learning to manage your emotions will help a great deal during those tender early weeks of pregnancy that leaves most of us on pins and needles. Managing emotions also means filtering out negative media content, too much violence as ‘entertainment’ and almost anything on the news these days, in exchange for more music, reading, time with loved ones, and entertainment that invokes feelings of joy and laughter over death and destruction.
‘Where the Mind Goes, the Qi Flows’ are words to live by during this time of preparing for inviting a new life to come through you and your partner, and will help make the process less stressful, more fun and most importantly healthy for you and your soon-to-be little one.