A healthy body is the first step in ensuring a healthy baby. In Conceiving Healthy Babies (New Society Publishers, 2014), author Dawn Combs provides information on hundreds of different herbs and focuses on their impact on building a healthy baby. This excerpt, which focuses on herbs and strategies to increase fertility in women, is from the section, “Strategies for Building a Healthy Baby.”
Buy this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Conceiving Healthy Babies.
Increasing Fertility in Women
Our models in nature contrast sharply with the way we currently live our lives. In nature, you must have roots before branches. The tree focuses on healthy roots before anything else. If transplanted, it might drop its leaves to put energy into first building healthy roots. It certainly would never focus energy to produce fruit unless all was right within itself.
Reproduction is an important function in the plant world, but if a plant is imbalanced you might see it die all the way back to the roots, store its energy and try again next year when it is healthy. We are acting contrary to our teachers in nature when we try to not just create branches but produce fruit before our roots are strong and our trunk is whole. We need to take care of ourselves first before we can properly nurture someone else.
When you discover that you are struggling to have a baby, minutes start to matter. With such a busy life, it can feel as though there just isn’t enough time to slow down and fix your own issues, whether mental or physical. Many women pack these imbalances up in a box and set them aside so they won’t interfere with the more important goal at hand. Unfortunately, our bodies don’t operate that way. We cannot compartmentalize dysfunction because we are complex systems. We must be whole and balanced in order to foster a new life that is whole and balanced. Some women may be able to conceive despite imbalance, but why be in such a rush? It is important to know how safe the many allopathic medications one might take while building a baby are, but quite honestly, this becomes a non-issue if we slow down and heal our imbalances before we try to conceive.
As a child I learned a song about a wise man and a foolish man. The foolish man built his house upon the sand and it washed away during a rainstorm. The wise man built his house upon the rock and his house withstood the storm. What a great metaphor for how to build a new life. Build your baby’s foundation on the solid bedrock of your fully nourished and healthy body. It is much more complex than the difference between being foolish and wise. No woman wishes to provide a shaky foundation for her child, and it doesn’t happen because she is foolish. We are building shaky foundations because our culture is not properly supporting us to create solid ones.
Giving your baby the best chance in life is so much more than taking prenatal vitamins and feeding with breast milk. Without a strong foundation, your baby can be born with structural weaknesses in such areas as the immune or digestive system. These weaknesses can be addressed, but it is much more difficult to do so after a child is born.
The following details how I began building that solid foundation in my life and how I achieved balance in my own body to make it possible to conceive. Once my body balanced, it stayed balanced. In fact, after all the work to conceive the first time, our second pregnancy was a complete surprise. Today my cycle is still “in balance,” and while I am no longer trying to conceive, I monitor this as an indicator of my overall health.
Through most of our journey, I was still learning to make my health and vitality a priority. I hope that my story demonstrates that balance is possible, and that a diagnosis of infertility can be overcome with time and patience. It requires a commitment to eating whole foods, working through emotional problems and reaching out to whole-plant medicine for hormonal balance. Above all it requires a mindset that will make the health and balance of your own body a priority, in the belief that a beautiful, nutritionally complete baby will follow. My specific plan may not be anything like yours, but let it serve as a framework from which to create your plan to overcome your specific imbalance or disease.
Achieving whole-plant and whole-food health is a process worth the time and energy. It takes time to shift the paradigm for how we conceive and grow babies, and until we do, we will continue to have high rates of infertility. Our children are sicker than ever before. For the first time, their life expectancy will not surpass that of their parents. Until we start building our babies in a body that is fully healthy prior to conception, we will continue to select for a weakened human population primed and ready for degenerative conditions and diseases.
First and foremost, I recommend that every woman I consult with begin charting her temperatures and cervical fluid. Our bodies are very complex. The mistake of the allopathic model relating to fertility is to assume that any issues lie in a lack of ovulation. In my opinion, lack of ovulation is fairly rare. According to the American Pregnancy Association, one third of fertility problems are due to male issues, one third are due to women’s issues with the rest unexplained. It is believed that the most common cause of infertility, coming in at approximately 25 percent of cases, is a problem with ovulation. This last figure is an estimate for which I cannot find any basis. Perhaps the 25 percent represents the women who were found to respond to the current fertility drug protocol. They would be the very women who did in fact have an ovulation issue. The 20 percent of “unexplained” fertility problems may easier to explain than the medical establishment realizes.
Our conventional food system creates such an overabundance of estrogen in the body (from sources such as pasteurized milk products, soy and conventional meats) that it seems unlikely that many women have low levels of estrogen. Here at the farm, I meet with more women who have low levels of progesterone as a result of diet and/or inherited imbalance. It may be that I am seeing only the outliers. One could make the argument that I see a disproportionate number of women who have not been helped by conventional medicine — those who, like me, have been labeled “broken.” At any rate, I cannot shake the conviction that progesterone levels should be looked at more closely in conjunction with individual charting for those who are more comfortable within the allopathic model.
Above all, it is important to get an individual picture of what is going on in your body before you seek treatment. Would you amputate a leg because your foot hurts? You’d probably want to have an X-ray at the very least. We all have different reasons for our imbalances, so understanding the cause of the problem should precede treatment, especially when that treatment is “one-size-fits-all.”
Charting cycles provides another important benefit. The allopathic fertility model serves to “other” the body. Rather than plugging in and learning all about ourselves, we are encouraged to distance ourselves even more and to rely on what I call “external knowing” (relying on someone else) to solve the problem. This model continues into pregnancy, when a medical professional controls the proceedings rather than allowing the body to function as it was designed. Charting demonstrates to couples that we can know our bodies. Men can understand their partners and help them stay in balance. Women too can understand their bodies and then begin to predict their cycles.
We must begin to discuss balance rather than what is “normal.” There is no universal “normal” when it comes to women’s bodies. Just as the fashion industry has established a stereotypical vision of the female figure that is not typical, most women do not operate on an idealized 28-day cycle. The trick is to understand what “balance” looks like for you. Once you do that, you can better understand when you are heading into imbalance. You have a better handle on your overall health, as well as an understanding of how your individual reproductive health works.
By charting, you can become intimately aware of the ebb and flow of hormones, fluids, emotions and fertility that make up your monthly cycles. This is a tool that can help you identify patterns in heavy bleeding, spotting, heavy cramping or mood swings. By becoming acquainted with your own body you can find your balance and learn what it takes to keep it.
Herbs for Increasing Fertility
In a simplistic way, I view progesterone and estrogen as a teeter-totter. When the estrogen side goes up too high the progesterone side drops low, and vice versa. The key to reproductive health is balance. Using herbs and making dietary changes can be a very simple solution to allow your body to rebalance naturally.
Often women who have difficulty finding hormonal balance are experiencing a congested liver. The liver is one of the body’s filters. When there are too many toxins attempting to go through it at once, it becomes clogged. The liver cleans the blood and is responsible for:
• Contributing to the regulation of blood glucose levels
• Storing the fat-soluble vitamins A, E, D, K and B12 and the minerals iron and copper
• Making bile to aid the digestion of fats
• Metabolizing proteins
• Balancing hormones by filtering exogenous estrogen, corticosteroids and steroids from the blood stream
• Filtering toxins, drugs, foreign molecules and chemicals out of the bloodstream.
All of the blood that runs through our body is filtered through our liver. A strong liver therefore has the ability to strengthen and enliven every other body system as it performs more functions than any other single organ. In traditional Chinese medicine it is considered the “seat of life” and is believed to house the soul.
Symptoms of PMS and infertility, as well as imbalances associated with the kidneys, heart, skin, respiratory system and urinary tract, can often be traced back to a “clogged” liver. For this reason, it is always appropriate to work toward a decongested liver as part of any herbal therapy associated with the reproductive system.
Many herbs are available to us for this purpose. Called “alteratives,” they include sassafrass (Sassafrass albidum), yellow dock root (Rumex crispus), dandelion root and leaf (Taraxacum officinale), nettles (Urtica dioica) and burdock root (Arctium lappa). Many of the herbs for the liver are roots, which by their very nature reach deep into the soil just as they reach to the depths of our imbalance. With any liver therapy it is also helpful to focus on an alkalizing diet and bitter foods that stimulate a healthy digestion.
Herbal Strategies for Your Partner
Balanced fertility isn’t just about the female body. We have lost sight of the fact that a baby is made of two contributing cells. We value the quality of the egg and the health of the woman as the vessel in which it grows so highly that we forget the quality of the sperm, which is one half of the equation. It just isn’t enough to have only one parent be fully nourished at the time of conception. Diet informs the health of the sperm as much as it does the ovum. Healthy sperm not only provide a better chance at conception, but they contribute to a balanced nutritional start for a healthy baby. This is why it is so important that both the man and the woman take the time to address their nutritional deficiencies and health imbalances before trying to get pregnant.
When a couple begins to research their issues with conception, both partners are tested. In many cases a hormonal imbalance in the female is the cause. In cases where there is an issue with sperm motility, quality or count, herbal therapies can be just as effective for men as they are for women. In too many instances, couples who find there is a reproductive imbalance with the male partner give up on their efforts to have a child. It doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. It can be more difficult for a man to seek help in this area, but if both partners are equally committed to having a child this can be overcome.
This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Conceiving Healthy Babies, by Dawn Combs and published by New Society Publishers, 2014. Buy this book from our store: Conceiving Healthy Babies.