The podcast where you'll get answers to those questions you’ve been secretly Googling and all those things you’re too embarrassed to ask your doctor, because… well – We’re women! Shouldn’t we just know this stuff??
I'm obsessed with all things periods, pregnancy, pelvic floor and helping women just like YOU to navigate all of life's major milestones!
For most of our lives, we have been told that getting pregnant is easy.
It seems ridiculously unfair that we actively avoid getting pregnant for years and years, and then struggle when we are actually ready to conceive.
Contrary to what a lot of people believe, it’s not always easy for pregnancy to happen. Some women encounter a lot of challenges on their fertility journey, as there are lots of factors that all need to line up perfectly to conceive: regular ovulation, building up the endometrial lining ready for implantation of a fertilised egg, then maintaining a pregnancy once conception has occurred, and that’s not even taking into consideration male fertility which is 50% of the puzzle.
More and more couples are turning to reproductive technology to assist with pregnancy. But this isn’t always necessary for many couples who use it, nor it is necessarily a guarantee of success. People tend to see this as a back-up option, but it’s only effective 25% of the time. That’s not to mention the unwanted side-effects. It’s invasive, time consuming, and takes a considerable emotional and financial toll. 50% of couples who are referred for infertility treatment actually have nothing wrong, just their timing. Many women only need to change their diet and lifestyle habits for success without assistance.
So, why aren’t we focusing our attention on those simple lifestyle changes that are free and that you can do for yourself right now to maximise your chances of conceiving? Because, by truly understanding what’s happening with your body and making some really simple lifestyle changes, this will have an enormous impact on ovulation, your fertility and your chances of conceiving quickly and naturally.
I want to introduce you now to my 3 part framework which is what I have based my brand new workshop series on. It’s called Conceive with Confidence, and it takes what I truly believe are the 3 key aspects of getting pregnant without the stress and confusion. And more than that, it’s about being able to pinpoint ovulation day. It’s being able to identify any potential issues with ovulation and your menstrual cycle as a whole, and it’s knowing where to begin with managing these problems as quickly and easily as possible before resorting to next steps, in terms of specialists, fertility treatments and so on.
You know how passionate I am about preconception health because there is so much more than you think that is within your control, which means if there are issues with ovulation and your cycle, then some pretty simple lifestyle changes can make the world of difference.
So I want to break down the 3 parts of this framework in this episode – they are Control, Balance and Nourish.
We start with Control – because when you take control of your fertility, it stops controlling you. We’re going to talk about my 4/4 Framework – the 4 steps to identify your fertile window and pinpoint ovulation day quickly and easily, in under 4 minutes.
Then, we’re going to focus on Balance, and if you’ve been listening lately to the podcast you’ll know that I am focusing a lot at the moment on hormone balance. Next week’s episode is a deep dive into the key sex hormones and why balance between them is so important, so you’ll get a bit of a taster into that today and we’re talking about how to balance your hormones naturally. Then the final piece of the framework is Nourish – because eating well when you are pregnant is just a tiny piece of the puzzle and preconception nutrition is so much more impactful both on conception and early pregnancy.
So, the title of this episode is The “Basic” Preconception Advice You Need to Stop Following and what I did when I was researching and planning this episode was I Googled preconception advice. And here are the top 5, most frequently recurring things that came up in article after article.
This is the best they could do? We’re talking government health fact sheets. And they weren’t all bad, there were a couple that provided better information than I expected. But for the most part I was pretty disappointed. I’m not saying those things aren’t important, but I’m guessing if you’re invested enough in your health and your fertility to listen to a podcast about it, you’re thinking the same as me – is that really the best education we’re getting?
So let’s do a reframe.
Have sex regularly they say. Yep, pretty important for getting pregnant. Not surprising, but still disappointing, no mention anywhere at all about the basics of the menstrual cycle, ovulation, timing this regular sex for your fertile window, nothing.
So the basic advice here seems to be have sex regularly, track when you’re fertile on an app and use an ovulation predictor test to tell you when you’re ovulating. Done and done.
My advice is to actually take the time to understand your menstrual cycle and your natural fertile signs. Because when you know exactly how to identify your fertile window and confirm ovulation day, you will know with 100% certainty that you’ve got your timing right. There are in fact more days in the average menstrual cycle when a woman is not fertile than when she is. Timing really is everything. Having sex regularly is great, but if you’re not having sex in your fertile window around ovulation then your chances of pregnancy are pretty slim. Stop relying on apps and ovulation predictor test and start paying attention to your cervical mucus.
So what are my 4 steps to identifying ovulation day in less than 4 minutes?
Step 1 – You need to understand why we have a period every month. Bleeding is unavoidably noticeable, but this is the extent of so many women’s knowledge about her fertility. You need to understand that menstruation follows ovulation, that it’s the body’s way of recognising that pregnancy hasn’t happened and it’s way of shedding the lining of the uterus so it can try again next month.
Step 2 – You need to get to know your menstrual cycle. Beyond just bleeding, you need to understand why we have a menstrual cycle, how ovulation actually works and knowing what phase of the menstrual cycle you are in on any given day.
Step 3 – Track your menstrual cycle so you know what’s going on for you. When you are fertile, when you’re not. What your unique cycle looks like.
Step 4 – How to confirm ovulation – Understanding how cervical mucus patterns change throughout your cycle to support pregnancy, how BBT changes to help you to confirm when ovulation has happened and when your next period is coming. And most importantly, understanding what deviations away from what is typical or normal for you mean, why they happen, and how they could be impacting your chances of conceiving.
So that all sounds like a lot and it’s basically the entire focus of what I do, and you obviously can’t learn all of that in 4 minutes. But once you do understand the basics, and you understand your unique cycle and fertile window, you can monitor changes in your fertile signs – cervical mucus, body temperature – every single day and it takes less than 4 minutes to do that.
Next in our framework we have Balance. And I want to counteract the basic advice here – stop smoking, stop drinking alcohol. Again, I feel like this is not serving many people. Most people already know these things are not great for us generally, and especially in pregnancy. Even the women who are smoking and drinking in pregnancy, they know it’s not great for them or their baby. If you’re having trouble getting pregnant and you’re smoking and drinking alcohol, then yes I’d suggest stopping doing those things to improve your chances of conceiving.
So I want to give you some more credit than that, and let’s go deeper into balancing your hormones to support a regular menstrual cycle, optimal ovulation and conception. Like I said, stay tuned for next week’s episode where we dive a whole lot deeper into this.
Basically, there are a lot of environmental and lifestyle factors you may never have considered could be impacting your hormone balance and therefore your fertility. These factors are applicable to all women, whether you’re still in that preconception phase, you’ve just started trying or you have been trying for months or years. They are simple, do it yourself strategies that can significantly improve egg quality, ovulation and overall fertility and health. If you do find yourself going down an assisted reproductive technology route in future, they are increasing your chances of success with treatments.
In the simplest of terms, our menstrual cycle is driven by two key sex hormones – oestrogen and progesterone. Oestrogen levels gradually rise during the first half of our cycle, from menstruation until they peak around ovulation. Oestrogen levels trigger thickening of the lining of the uterus, the endometrium, in preparation for implantation of a fertilised egg, which will happen in the second half of the cycle after ovulation. Oestrogen also causes production of cervical mucus that is produced by glands of the cervix to keep sperm alive and help sperm cells to reach the egg in the fallopian tube for fertilisation, so that sperm cells are right there ready and waiting in the 24-48 hour window after the egg is released at ovulation.
Oestrogen levels also rise enough to trigger release of other hormones – luteinising hormone and follicle stimulating hormone – which trigger release of the egg from a follicle in the ovary, of course called ovulation.
Once ovulation has occurred, we enter the second half of our menstrual cycle, the luteal phase. Oestrogen levels decline and we have a sudden surge in progesterone, which is the key hormone in establishing and maintaining pregnancy. When an egg is released from a follicle inside the ovary at ovulation, the follicle that remains becomes the corpus luteum. The corpus luteum secretes progesterone during the luteal phase of the cycle, after ovulation. Progesterone then takes over oestrogen’s role of maintaining a thickened endometrium to ensure pregnancy can happen. If the fertilised egg implants in the endometrium and pregnancy has occurred, progesterone levels will remain high to maintain the pregnancy. If the egg was not fertilised, progesterone levels will drop, quite suddenly, causing the endometrial lining to shed and your next period occurs.
Progesterone is essential for balancing oestrogen levels and maintaining overall hormone balance. Levels can be depleted when the body is under stress and can influence our moods and the way our body breaks down fat. Progesterone itself is not the cause of PMS symptoms even though it is at peak levels during the luteal phase when symptoms are usually experienced. It is actually the imbalance between progesterone and oestrogen that can lead to PMS symptoms, which is why it is so important that these two hormones are balanced.
Many period irregularities and symptoms are caused by an underlying hormone imbalance between oestrogen and progesterone. There are many reasons why hormones can become imbalanced, because ultimately the menstrual cycle relies on the delicate balance between the major sex hormones and we know that the level of one hormone is influenced by – and will itself influence – the level of another hormone.
Understanding what has caused a hormone imbalance requires investigation by a healthcare professional. Addressing general health and lifestyle factors is the best place to start when managing hormonal imbalance. Alongside general health like yes of course, smoking and drinking, we look at diet, stress and the environment because these can all influence the balance of our sex hormones.
And we want to reduce our exposure potential hormone disruptors in our environment. If there are issues with your cycle and ovulation, you likely have some degree of hormone imbalance there are many different causes, but the environment is an important one to look at. We want to eliminate environmental pollutants and hormone disruptors with a simple detoxification process that avoids that paranoia and overwhelming stress that it’s all too hard. Because once you start to look at this, you’ll realise that these hormone disruptors are everywhere!
Our body’s normal functioning involves tiny fluctuations in hormone levels, and these small changes can have more significant effects on our bodies. Our endocrine, or hormone, system releases hormones that signal to different tissues in the body what to do next, and it’s all one big domino effect, as you’ve learnt with the hormones involved in regulating the menstrual cycle. When these disruptors enter our body and mimic our hormones, levels are disrupted. Hormone sensitive organs like the uterus and breasts are particularly vulnerable to this. And the problem is that we’re being exposed to all these different disruptors throughout our lifetime, they’re slow to break down in the environment and the long-term effects in humans just aren’t known. Xenoestrogens impact ovulation and fertility because they impact oestrogen levels. They don’t break down. They accumulate in a process called biomagnification, so they’re stored in our fat cells and a build up over time can lead to cancers, particularly breast cancer, obesity, infertility, miscarriage, endometriosis, early onset puberty and diabetes.
Basically, the chemical structure of these “artificial” oestrogens are very similar to the hormone oestrogen. This means that these artificial oestrogens bind to the same chemical receptors in our body that oestrogen binds too. If all of our oestrogen receptors are blocked up with artificial forms of oestrogen or chemicals with a very similar structure, then there is excess oestrogen floating around with no receptors to bind to. If oestrogen can’t bind to its receptors, then it can’t do its job, so the body thinks there isn’t enough oestrogen and so produces more.
The problem? You’ll soon discover that these chemical disruptors are everywhere, and the problem is both simultaneous exposure to lots of different chemicals, as well as long, term cumulative exposure. And the most significant exposure comes from your home, and studies show you could be exposed to as many as 160 ingredients in a single day.
The areas where I want you to take a look at your exposure are plastics and BPA, so this is your food storage, plastic water bottles, tinned food. Basically BPA will leech into whatever is being stored in these containers and bottles and tins, and this is particularly magnified when heated, such as microwaving a plastic container. Many storage products will now advertise that they are BPA free, which is handy, but keep in mind that BPA might very well just be the trendy toxin of the moment, and if it’s made from plastic, there are likely other products in that plastic that are also leeching into food, we just haven’t recognised that particular substance as a toxin yet. Your best bet is to opt for glass or stainless steel for food storage.
Next we have parabens and phthalates, found in skincare, make up, shampoo and conditioner. Again, if a product doesn’t contain these nasties they will likely advertise that on the bottle. So choose brands that are focused on eliminating these nasties from your products, and decide how many of them are really required for your daily routine.
We’ve already talked about smoking and alcohol, we know this is best avoided once you’re in that preconception window. I do want to touch on smoking though, because even if you’re not smoking, if your partner smokes or if you are regularly spending time with smokers, consider that passive smoking does put your health and fertility at risk too. Believe it or not, third hand smoke is also a concern – this is when you for example walk into the house of a smoker and you immediately smell it in the air, it gets in your clothes and your hair just as second hand smoke does. I understand that sometimes this can’t be completely avoided, I used to hate going into people’s houses as a physio and coming out smelling like an ashtray when I was pregnant. I’m very precious about smoking at the best of times, but I really struggled with that when I was pregnant and honestly it’s still something that I have to deal with and I still hate it because I don’t want to come home and give my daughter a cuddle until I’ve washed my clothes, had a shower and washed my hair. You might think I’m being over the top, but this is something I take really seriously.
Another issue with this is vaping. We don’t get that horrible cigarette smell with vapes, but believe me they contain most of the same chemicals and so vaping along with second hand smoke is just as serious as with cigarettes. The effect on your fertility and male fertility is huge and just like cigarettes before them, we are going to see a lot of research coming out about the long term effects of vaping.
So like I said earlier, pollutants and hormone disruptors are pretty much everywhere. I don’t want you to freak out, feel overwhelmed and become obsessive and paranoid about eliminating every toxin from your life, but I also don’t want you to go the other extreme and become ambivalent to the risk either, because they’re everywhere and it’s all too hard.
My aim here is for you to be informed and to be motivated to make the lifestyle changes that work for you, because we know that healthy habits and gentle detoxification can have positive outcomes both for your hormone balance and therefore ovulation, your cycle and your chances of conceiving, but also for your long term health. Because when it comes to these disruptors and the effect they have on your hormone balance and your fertility, it’s the cumulative effect over time. So stay tuned for next episode where I talk about hormone balance in more detail, but that’s a taster and a place to start if you’re concerned about hormone balance and wanting to optimise ovulation.
The third step in the Conceive with Confidence framework is Nourish – which as I’m sure you can tell is all about healthy nutrition. And the basic preconception advice when it comes to nutrition is to take a prenatal and all your nutrient needs will be met.
However, if you have listened to Episode 51 – What Most People Get Wrong About Prenatal Supplements, you will know that a prenatal alone is not enough. You don’t have to get fancy, but you want to start thinking about having a preconception nutrition plan, and I’m not talking about a meal plan here, just a literal plan about what to eat for each meal and how to make sure you’re getting the right nutrients from the foods you eat. Diet is everything, and when it comes to hormone balance – even if you’re not trying to get pregnant – if you are seeing problems with your cycles, with ovulation, with PMS symptoms, diet is where to begin.
There are 2 key reasons why nutrition in the preconception stage is so important:
The research shows that a diet rich in whole foods, so foods that aren’t processed and are as close as possible to their natural form – so wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and unprocessed animal products (especially oily fish) have really beneficial outcomes for male and female fertility. Our bodies better absorb nutrients from whole foods compared to more processed foods.
In the early weeks of pregnancy, before the placenta is established at around 8-10 weeks, the developing embryo gets its nourishment from a tiny yolk sac, which is essentially your nutrient stores. The first 8-10 weeks of pregnancy are also when many women don’t know they’re pregnant, and then get hit with morning sickness and can’t eat as well as they’d like. So these pre-conception nutrient stores are really important. And the better your nutrient intake prior to pregnancy, the less fatigued and depleted you will be throughout pregnancy and into the post partum period.
Whenever somebody asks me for advice about what they should or shouldn’t be doing while they prepare for pregnancy or are trying for a baby, I always say the same thing. Live like you are already pregnant. Living like you’re already pregnant cuts out the noise and confusion, and somehow you just know in yourself what you should or shouldn’t be doing. As soon as you start to think this way, you’ll know that you’re doing all you can to optimise your fertility and give your future baby the best possible start.
And so, having a healthy, fertile foundation is so important for conception. And this needs to start before conception. It takes around 3 months for an egg to mature before it is released at ovulation, and for males it takes around 3 months for sperm to develop and mature. So, the egg and sperm that begin to develop and mature right now at the beginning of your preconception phase will be mature within 3 months time. And they will be of optimal quality because of the lifestyle changes that have been made, which improves chances of conception. This is why I always recommend taking some time for preconception preparation before actively trying to conceive. This 3 month preconception window makes all the difference.
Truth be told? Pre-conception support for women and couples is virtually non-existent in our healthcare system. As more and more couples struggle to conceive, the multi-billion dollar IVF industry is thriving. But 50% of the couples seeking help have no fertility issues at all. They just have the timing wrong.
For many women that I speak to, the internet has literally taught them more about their fertility than any health professional ever has. They are sick and tired of being told to come back in 6 months if you’re still not pregnant. And while it’s incredible that we are able to access this information so easily. But this also means anyone with a vague understanding of their menstrual cycle can claim their corner of the internet and spout out their opinions, which I’m seeing as a complete epidemic of misinformation and confusion.
So I feel I have a responsibility as one of the few healthcare professionals with expertise and a qualification in natural fertility education, to share up to date, evidence-based fertility practice with women so they, too, can maximise their chances of conceiving naturally and quickly (without the financial, physical and emotional strain of “support” they don’t actually need). So I wanted to create a really simple and accessible guide to overcoming those first challenges that women face when trying to conceive – understanding ovulation, pinpointing the fertile window and boosting fertility with some simple lifestyle changes.
Enter Conceive with Confidence. This is my brand new workshop series and it is incredibly affordable because I want this knowledge to be available to every single woman who wants some extra support on her preconception journey.
So this is a 3 part workshop series and you’ve gotten a tiny sneak peek into it in today’s episode. The first workshop is all about Control – because when you take control of your fertility, it stops controlling you. You’re going to learn my 4/4 Framework – the 4 steps to identify your fertile window and pinpoint ovulation day quickly and easily, in under 4 minutes.
Then, in the next 2 workshops, we’re going to dive deep into how to actually optimise your fertility and supercharge your chances of conceiving. In workshop 2, we are all about Balance and you will learn the fertility secrets to balance your hormones naturally. Then workshop 3, Nourish, is your ultimate guide to eating for 2, while you’re still only 1, because eating well when you are pregnant is just a tiny piece of the puzzle and preconception nutrition is so much more impactful both on conception and early pregnancy.
We’re looking at some really simple, quick-fix solutions to get ovulation back on track if it’s a little wonky and irregular. And we break this down into simple, achievable and sustainable steps.
Ultimately this is a holistic pre-conception plan to help you to optimise ovulation and get pregnant fast. Because the research shows that women who chart their cycles and know exactly when they’re fertile conceive on average in half the time compared to couples who have no idea.
And so how do you do that? You need to know when you’re ovulating. And if you’re not ovulating, you need to know the reason why, and what to do about it.
Because you really do need a plan that isn’t just crossing your fingers and hoping you got the timing right.
Conceive with Confidence is designed to give you all of this. So if you’re ready for a simple, speedy, low-cost strategy for rebalancing your hormones, optimising ovulation and pinpointing your most fertile days so you can get pregnant faster, check out this workshop series.
3 simple steps to find out exactly when you're ovulating (without tracking apps)
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