Herbstalk: Herbal allies for preconception

This upcoming Sunday I’ll be teaching a class at Herbstalk, an herbalism festival taking place in Somerville, MA. The class is on getting ready for pregnancy, and I thought I would share here something I wrote for the Herbstalk blog.

Flickr: zeev72

When should you start preparing for pregnancy? In short, we should all be prepared for pregnancy if it means loving our selves as the creative beings we are, and providing the kind of care we give to what we love. Beyond basic health and self-love, 50% of pregnancies are unplanned and so there are very real benefits to including general preconception care as part of self-care. This can be as simple as ensuring that we’re eating a diet rich in vitamins and minerals, eliminating cigarettes, and cutting down or eliminating caffeine, alcohol, and processed foods from our diets (hint, preconception care looks a lot like living a healthy lifestyle).

For women or couples planning on having a child, how long should they prepare to get pregnant? It depends on your health; healthy women with regular menstrual cycles who eat a whole-foods diet may want to supplement with folic acid for three months before pregnancy. Women with irregular or very short cycles (less than 23 days), or conditions like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome will want to spend more time with diet and exercise to prepare their bodies for optimal fertility and a healthy pregnancy. Women coming off of hormonal contraception should take time to allow their cycles to normalize, but also to work nutritionally to restore levels of folic acid and other B vitamins that are lost while taking The Pill. Herbs are fantastic and can help at each step of the way.

Diet-wise, cut down on processed sugars and flours, eliminate soda, and reduce or eliminate caffeine. Studies have shown that women who consume 300mg of caffeine daily (2-3 cups of coffee) have an average delayed conception of at least a year. Eliminate trans-fats, and ensure that your diet includes a good dose of essential fatty acids, such as those from fish oil or flax seed oil. Begin taking a folic acid supplement, or better yet, increasing your dietary folate intake, especially if you are coming off of hormonal birth control. Herbally, you can incorporate into your routine uterine toning herbs like red raspberry leaf, tonifying herbs such as ashwaganda, and hormone balancing herbs like vitex, to name a few.

For women and couples who intend to have children in the near future and who would like to take some time to prepare, I suggest setting aside six months to a year. During this time you have the opportunity to begin creating spaces for children mentally and emotionally, to get finances in order, and you can work to establish healthy eating and exercise habits. If the wait is unbearable, prepare for at least three months. This includes both women and men—it takes about ten weeks for a man to create and store sperm before it’s ready to travel outside of his body.

Lastly, I like to think of the preconception period as an opportunity for women to connect with their fertile selves, or as Jeanine Parvati puts it, to “[reclaim] the fertile body, the rich, fecund messages coming forth with each turn of the cycle…” Get to know your fertility, and really celebrate it. One great way to do this is to learn the cues of fertility and then chart your cycles.

In my class on Sunday morning we’ll talk about getting bodies ready for babies, cycle charting, diet, and some of the wonderful herbal allies that women can use to support them on the journey to motherhood.

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