Pitter patter!

Karen Young suggests some natural ways to boost fertility and support a healthy pregnancy

Trying for a baby and creating a new life is a time of great excitement and anticipation, but it can also bring with it a certain level of stress and anxiety. For some, conception may take a little longer than anticipated or, when the happy occasion does arrive, it might be closely followed by emotional highs and lows, along with other common but unpleasant pregnancy-related complaints.

Thankfully, there are lots of natural ways that mum- and dad-to-be can help to boost their chances of conceiving, and support a happy, healthy pregnancy.

Down to diet

A balanced diet, rich in fruit and vegetables, is essential before and during pregnancy, to ensure mother and baby get all the vital nutrients they need for optimum health and development. Other lifestyle factors also play a part, such as gentle exercise, sleeping well, not smoking and avoiding alcohol and high levels of caffeine. When trying to conceive, this applies to daddy-to-be too, as his health will affect his sperm’s health.

In terms of supplements, the NHS recommends that women take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day while trying to conceive and up until the twelfth week of pregnancy. This is to reduce the risk of birth defects, such as spina bifida.

The NHS also advises pregnant and breastfeeding women to consider taking vitamin D supplements (10mcg a day), particularly during winter, when we produce less vitamin D in our skin due to low levels of sunlight. Vitamin D helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, which are vital for maintaining and developing healthy bones, teeth and muscles.

While morning sickness tends to resolve itself within 16 to 20 weeks of pregnancy, it’s still very unpleasant and affects around 7 out of 10 expectant women. Evidence and clinical guidelines suggest that ginger may be useful for treating vomiting and nausea in women with an uncomplicated pregnancy. Of course, it’s also important to know which foods and supplements to avoid or treat with caution during pregnancy, which is something the NHS offers lots of guidance about.

Complementary support

While the evidence base (research) for many complementary therapies is sadly lacking compared to other health interventions, lots of women and their partners find these very beneficial throughout their pregnancy journey.

Complementary therapies such as aromatherapy, massage, reflexology and reiki can help to promote relaxation, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve sleep – all of which are hugely important for helping to create a sense of calm and the ideal growing environment for baby-to-be. Once the pregnancy is established (and if all is well) these therapies can also help to address a range of physical challenges, such as back pain, postural problems, fluid retention, aching muscles and constipation.

Aromatherapy: This complementary therapy draws on the therapeutic properties of different plant essential oils according to a person’s individual needs and health. These oils are typically added to a carrier oil or cream and applied through massage, or can be used in a vapouriser or mixed into milk and added to a bath. There are a number of essential oils that can be very beneficial during pregnancy, such as mandarin, which is calming and can help to address digestive problems and fluid retention. However, some oils can be potentially harmful to mother and baby. For this reason, it is extremely important to seek treatments and advice from a suitably qualified therapist, and not to self-administer essential oils without professional guidance.

Reflexology: For those happy to have their feet touched, lots of women find reflexology beneficial when trying to conceive or once they are in the second or third trimester of pregnancy. Reflexology is based on the theory that specific ‘reflex’ points on the soles, tops and sides of the feet correspond to different areas of the body. In this way, the feet can be seen as a ‘map’ of the whole body, and treating these different reflexes can help to restore balance. A recent study involving 64 women with low back and/or pelvic girdle pain (LBPGP) showed that alongside standard medical care, reflexology during the third trimester of their pregnancy helped to reduce the frequency of LBPGP, and also reduced the second stage of labour by 44 minutes compared to women who didn’t receive reflexology.

Acupuncture: This is another therapy that helps to restore balance and wellbeing. A form of traditional Chinese medicine, this therapy involves inserting fine needles into special ‘acupoints’ on the skin, to help stimulate the flow of qi (vital energy) throughout the body and maintain optimum health. When treating women having difficulty trying to conceive, over the course of a few months, they should notice their cycle becoming more regular, less tenderness around ovulation, and fewer mood swings before menstruation – all of which indicate that the body’s hormones are falling into balance. Male fertility can also be improved, however this can take a little longer as sperm is manufactured within the body several months beforehand, meaning that any changes will only be effective several months later. Issues affecting the mother throughout pregnancy can also be assisted by acupuncture, such as back pain, morning sickness or nausea.

Safety matters

  • When choosing a complementary therapist, check they are listed on an Accredited Register, independently approved by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care.
  • Ask your therapist if they have specialist training and experience in treating clients who are pregnant or trying to conceive.
  • Just because something is ‘natural’ does not mean it is safe.
  • Certain complementary therapies may not be suitable for everyone, or may need to be adapted during pregnancy.
  • Advise your doctor or midwife if you are planning to have a complementary therapy or take a supplement before or during pregnancy.
  • Only use complementary therapy alongside conventional medical care, and not as an alternative.
  • Only buy supplements and other natural products, such as essential oils, from reputable suppliers.

To find a complementary therapist you can trust, search FHT’s Accredited Register, independently approved by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care. Visit www.fht.org.uk

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