I want another baby

I want another one

Producing a sibling for your little one is often taken for granted particularly if you have conceived relatively easily first time around.  Increasingly, parents are finding that it’s not always plain sailing. Secondary infertility is the term given to parents struggling to conceive a subsequent baby and it is on the rise. 

Secondary infertility is now more common than primary infertility and with a proven track record of child bearing, many parents delay seeking medical advice.  Even after medical investigation, the cause is usually “unexplained secondary infertility”.   One of the key reasons for this may simply be that women are tending to leave starting a family until later in life.  Fertility declines sharply after the age of 35. Stress and exhaustion (conditions many new parents are all too familiar with) may also play a part.

Very few sleep deprived parents think about conceiving during the first year after their baby is born.  The Office of National Statistics suggests the average age gap between children is 2 years 9 months.  Producing a baby takes a good deal of nutrients and, as any parent knows, is emotionally and physically demanding.  A study at the University of Surrey showed how much of an impact good diet, nutritional support and lifestyle changes can have for couples struggling to conceive.   A staggering 86% out of 204 so-called infertile couples aged 34 to 45 produced healthy babies after undertaking healthy changes to diet and lifestyle.

I am not suggesting parents rush into trying for a second or subsequent child but it is a good idea to support your body throughout the “waiting” time thereby maximising your chances of conceiving in the future. This is particularly important if it took you six months or more to conceive in the past.

Top tips for boosting fertility

Eat a healthy diet

Skipping meals and eating on the go can be all too common for busy parents, but as the University of Surrey study showed, it is important to eat a balanced diet.  Avoid food additives where possible and eat unprocessed foods along with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.  Minimising caffeine and alcohol will also help.  An animal study showed caffeine to reduce muscle activity in the fallopian tubes that carry eggs from the ovaries to the womb.

Take a supplement

Our food tends to be less nutrient-dense than it used to be. For both prospective parents, taking a good quality broad spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement can provide an insurance policy for fertility. 

Increase intake of Essential fats

Our diets today typically contain too much omega 6 and not enough omega 3.  Omega 3 essential fats found in oily fish, walnuts, flax seeds are known to support the endocrine (hormone) system. Studies have shown that they are also have numerous health benefits for babies development.

Check your thyroid function

Thyroid function can decline as we age and an underactive thyroid can affect fertility.  Even pregnancy itself can have an impact on the thyroid so it’s worth getting it checked by your GP. A simple test using a digital thermometer to take your body temperature on waking daily will not only show whether you are ovulating, but if it is lower than 37 degrees Celcius, may also indicate your thyroid is under functioning long before blood tests show this to be the case.  On ovulation, your temperature rises by 0.2 degrees this shift happens up to five days before ovulation or two days afterwards.

Reduce stress

Adrenaline inhibits progesterone which is needed to conceive and maintain pregnancy.  It can affect male and female fertility.  Cortisol inhibits one of the body’s main sex hormone gonadotropin releasing hormones which can not only reduce sex drive but suppresses ovulation and sperm count. Yoga, massage and reflexology are all beneficial for relaxation and improving fertility.

Get support

The world of secondary infertility is a private world of grief and anguish.   As one mother put it to me “You feel guilty because you know you know you should be grateful for what you have got but also guilty for not being able to provide a playmate for your child”.  The NHS recommends that if you are over 35 you should seek help after just six months.  I believe parents should consider all options including complementary therapies such as acupuncture and reflexology but most importantly Nutritional Therapy.  All of these treatments are safe to use alongside medical intervention and assisted conception.

 

Lorna is a practising Nutritional Therapist with over 13 years’ experience of infertility.  She boasts a success rate of around 90% in helping parents with problems such as PCOS, endometriosis, recurrent miscarriage and unexplained primary and secondary infertility.

It’s all about the man – boosting sperm count naturally

red-apples.jpgLow sperm count or poor sperm quality is the main cause of male infertility and it is on the rise. On a positive note, research shows that men can have more control over their sperm than they may think! Here are my top tips for improving sperm quality.

Steal your partner’s folic acid

Chances are, if you are trying for a baby then your partner will be taking folic acid.   A Dutch study showed taking folic acid alongside zinc (a well-known sperm booster) improved sperm count by 74%.

Selenium has also shown promise in improving sperm quality.  Found in high concentrations in Brazil nuts, some studies have shown it helps those with fragile sperm and poor motility.

Use fish to turn sperm into super swimmers!

Omega 3 Essential fats found in abundance in oily fish are vital for sperm production.  A study by the University of Illinois found that infertile mice had their fertility restored when given omega 3 essential fats.  They also discovered that omega 3 turned sperm into super swimmers and that development of the head of the sperm was reliant on this nutrient.

Get your mobile phone out

….of your pocket that is! A meta-analysis showed that carrying a mobile device in your pocket reduces sperm quality, motility and count.  In one of my clinics, a patient’s sperm count doubled when he stopped carrying his pager around in his trouser pocket.

Worth Trying for

In my clinical experience, women are far more likely to comply with healthy eating programmes and supplement regimes than men in order to conceive! Boosting fertility in men requires an all-round approach of good diet, lifestyle changes (such as quitting smoking) and supplements.

Research carried out by the charity Foresight indicated that 82% of infertile men conceived if they followed the programme completely.  It takes at least three months for new sperm to form so improvement in sperm quality takes a little patience!

Repeated miscarriage – the silent cause

For women who experience several miscarriages, medical investigation often describes the cause as   unexplained.  According to research, repeated miscarriage may not be as inexplicable as we think. Studies have linked a symptomless condition to recurrent miscarriage in many women.

The condition is known as Hyperhomocysteinemia. Quite simply, it means high blood levels of an amino acid, homocysteine.   This is produced naturally by the body as part of protein digestion.    For some time, elevated levels have been linked to heart disease and thrombosis.  It is believed that higher homocysteine may lead to increased risk of blood clotting in the womb thereby cutting off supply of vital nutrients from the placenta.

A Norwegian study looked at more than 5,800 women and their associated 14,000 pregnancies showed women with high homocysteine levels had almost 40% higher risk of miscarriage. It also showed that women with higher homocysteine levels were far more likely to have low birth weight babies and suffer pregnancy complications.  A Dutch Study revealed similar results.

In addition, research shows that there is a link between high homocysteine and antiphospholipid syndrome (APS).  APS increases the risk of blood clots and miscarriage. It follows then that if your cause of miscarriage has been put down to APS, taking steps to reduce homocysteine levels may improve pregnancy outcomes.

The cause

Homocysteine is made in the body from another amino acid called methionine found in various forms of protein. In a healthy body, homocysteine is converted into two substances – SAMe and glutathione.  These are essentially good guys and have many health benefits. However, if this conversion is not carried out efficiently, circulating levels of homocysteine rise.  Effective conversion needs certain nutrients including B vitamins (especially B12), zinc, magnesium and choline.

Nutritional therapy – The only treatment

With no medical treatment or licensed drug, nutritional therapy is the answer to lowering homocysteine. 

The best way to reduce levels of homocysteine is by dietary changes.  Conversion of homocysteine into vital substances needs a balanced, healthy diet and blood levels are highest in those who eat a lot of animal protein and consume low amounts of fruit and vegetables. So cutting down on meat and increasing intake of vegetables is a really good start.  Foods rich in folic acid, vitamins B6 and B12 are known to help clear homocysteine. Sources include green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, sprouts, cabbage and spinach.  Studies have shown that taking omega 3 essential fats significantly reduced homocysteine levels.  Oily fish and walnuts are great sources.

Coffee consumption and stress are also likely to increase levels.  This is because both increase levels of stress hormones which need clearing from the body.  This process competes for B vitamins thereby leading to higher homocysteine in the blood.

Currently there is no routine screening for high homocysteine although private testing is available through most Nutritional Therapists. There is also not yet an agreed safe level amongst health professionals.

If you have suffered miscarriage, it is worth making simple dietary changes and taking supplements of B vitamins, magnesium and zinc. Even if your homocysteine levels are not high, all of these can safely be taken as part of a pre conception programme and all support the endocrine (hormone) system which has the added bonus of boosting fertility!

Case study

When Chloe came to see me she had a 2 year old daughter but her attempts to conceive again had resulted in three miscarriages.  At age 38, she was desperate for another baby and did not feel she had time to waste.  While awaiting an appointment for medical investigations she came to see me.  Looking at her family history, there was clear evidence of high homocysteine levels in her ancestry – heart disease and clotting disorders.   We started her on a homocysteine reducing programme and included supplements to ensure efficient conversion in her body.  Within two months she had conceived again and went on to have a healthy baby boy.

(name changed to protect privacy)

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Before you consider IVF…

cherriesThe main cause of infertility is actually “unexplained infertility”.  Many of these couples will turn to IVF.  However, according to 2010 figures, success rates for IVF stand at around 25%.  This is of little comfort to those desperate for a baby.

Research shows Nutritional Therapy could offer far greater hope to these couples.   A study carried out by the University of Surrey showed that successful conception is actually not rocket science!  Couples who had been given a diagnosis of “unexplained infertility” took nutritional supplements, made lifestyle and dietary changes as part of the research.  The results were astounding – 80% conceived.  This is pretty impressive when you consider the figures for IVF!  

In addition, IVF comes at a price (not just financially).  American research discovered that IVF babies were up to 30 per cent more likely to suffer from birth defects than those conceived naturally.  These included cleft palate, digestive abnormalities and heart valve defects. The reasons for this are unclear and may be due in part to the fact that older women seek IVF where the risks of defects are increased. 

What this study clearly shows is that many couples do not conceive because of nutritional deficiencies.  Our typical diet today is depleted of the key nutrients needed to support the endocrine (hormone) system.  Lifestyle factors such as smoking and high alcohol intake also affect fertility. 

How Nutritional Therapy can help

Even a so-called healthy diet for one may not be suitable for another given that we all have a different make up genetically. A tailor made diet and supplement regime is suggested to all my couples trying to conceive.  Lifestyle changes go alongside this programme including stress management.  In many of the infertile women I see, the thyroid has become slightly underactive.  This may not even show on blood tests but their body temperature is usually lower than 37 degrees Celsius .  Taking your body temperature daily on waking is a really good sign of thyroid function and can also pinpoint when and if ovulation is occurring.

Nutritional Therapy requires a little patience as the body’s biochemistry does not change overnight.  I always suggest couples follow their programmes for at least three months.  In clinical practice, around 90% of my infertile patients have conceived successfully.  Conception times have ranged from six weeks to two years of treatment. 

The rewards are well worth waiting for!