Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Fertile Ground

Spring is a lovely time to think about growth, expansiveness, sprouting seeds, starting new projects, and of course, fertility! The natural world is full of fertile inspiration this season as fresh green things emerge almost magically from the earth, birds sing out their special appeals for mates, and the increasing sunlight, mild temperatures and abundance of fresher foods helps us feel that much healthier overall. 
What is "overall health"? Beyond just the absence of disease, optimal health is a total state of wellness in body, mind and spirit - giving us the freedom to experience our fullest and best lives. The same factors holding you back from experiencing your best health are often the same as those preventing you from conceiving or maintaining a pregnancy.
Last night I spoke to a group at our local public library about getting back-to-basics when dealing with infertility. Rather than trying to force the body to do something that contradicts its wisdom at a given time, we want to try to work with the body-mind to hear its messages and respond to its needs. Dietary habits, environmental toxins, immune system imbalances, anatomical and hormonal issues aside, stress is a significant obstacle to healthy fertility. How many of us have known a friend who's been trying to get pregnant for a year or more, finally "gives up", decides to adopt, and then gets pregnant? As Dr. Verna Hunt, ND, DC puts it, "If you were being chased by a grizzly bear, would you lie down and make love?" (Resounding "of course not"!)  Simply put, being in a stressed state or "fight-or-flight mode" is incompatible with "fertile mode", and it's all due to two different arms of the nervous system - sympathetic ("fight-or-flight") vs. parasympathetic ("rest-and-digest", a.k.a. "let's make a baby") and the hormones that correspond to these states. Only one of these nervous systems gets to be dominant at at time. When we're under chronic stress, we don't get enough of the "rest-and-digest", healing or fertile state that our bodies need to be healthy.
Consider these simple strategies for diminishing stress:
-Chop your to-do list. Planning to get too many things done in one day can lead to the stressful feelings of being overwhelmed, rushed, irritable, then disappointed when we realize we didn't get it all done. Be realistic with your to-do list. See how you feel when you cut your list of tasks for today in half, and go from there.
-Just say "no" to multitasking. Despite having become a strangely revered skill in the employment marketplace, multitasking can lead to feeling scattered, accomplishing less, frustration and even burnout. Recent studies have shown that multitasking can actually be harmful, by decreasing levels of serotonin - our "happy hormone" in the brain. Instead, focus on one thing at a time to decrease stress.
-Get great sleep. Deep, restorative sleep: the ultimate "rest-and-digest" state. While we're asleep, our bodies and minds recover, rebuild and repair. By contrast, insomnia, sleep deprivation and irregular sleep schedules increase levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, which interferes with sex hormones. A simple way to start getting better sleep is to completely darken your room, eliminating all "light pollution" from windows and electronics. Get your sleep environment so dark that you can't see your hand when held up in front of your face.  
For more natural ways to support healthy fertility and pregnancy, visit, the web site of the Association of Perinatal Naturopathic Doctors (APND).


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