Nurturing the Nest (part 1)
JANUARY 22, 2019 by OLIVIA NEELY, RDN, LD
We are so happy to feature this pre-conception preparation guest post from Caroline Grace Ashurst, M.Ac., Dipl.Ac., founder of Restorative Harmony Acupuncture. Caroline is passionate about Women’s Health & Fertility. She helps facilitate support, empowerment, and transformation through traditional healing. She received her Master’s Degree in Acupuncture at the Tai Sophia Institute in 2009, and currently practices in Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia.
We just had the first snowfall of 2019, and as I look outside it seems I never cease to feel the stillness with which the cover of snow fills my being. Winter is indeed an enchanting time. I find that the deep darkness of this season is a beautiful time to tune into our bodies and evaluate what our intentions are for the upcoming days in the year, and how we will go about creating them. Seeing as it’s the season of hibernation and reflection, it really is the perfect time for tending and nurturing the nest.
As an Acupuncturist and practitioner of Chinese medicine who specializes in Women’s health (from Pre-conception through Post-Partum), I spend much time coaching my clients on lifestyle practices that support and maintain healthy wombs, minds, spirits and bodies. Oftentimes, what I find in my practice is that women tend to wait until they have the “perfect” set of circumstances in their lives to start thinking about getting pregnant. By the time that day comes they may already feel like they wanted to start their families years ago! Of course, this tends to create a situation where stress is already wreaking havoc on their hormonal health, and they don’t feel like they have time to allow the natural process of their body’s preparation to unfold.
The good news is that you can start preparing your body for fertility enhancement months and even years before you actually start trying. It’s a beautiful, healthy process to engage in that will boost your immune system and overall health, regardless, so it is also self love at its finest!
Whether you are currently trying to conceive, or know that you want to get pregnant sometime in the future, you can already begin creating a vital environment for conception right now. Months before my husband and I started trying to conceive, I engaged in these practices as well, and I found the process to be empowering and incredibly successful. In addition, following these suggestions before conception helped me have a much healthier pregnancy and a healthy little one!
What follows are suggestions based on what I’ve learned from Chinese medicine and from my education in Women’s hormonal health from a functional medicine standpoint. If you have any questions, would like additional support through my Acupuncture practice, or would like more suggestions besides these (there are more!), please feel free to contact me.
DETOX. There is so much information out there about how to detox the body, and here is my simple (but incredibly challenging for some) approach: eliminate certain foods that potentiate health challenges.
- Eliminate Dairy: Dairy has hormonal elements that can scramble our own hormones’ messaging. There have been studies conducted that show that eating dairy negatively affects fertility.
- Eliminate Processed Sugar: Sugar causes insulin levels to spike, which in turn dysregulates cortisol, progesterone, and estrogen- all very important fertility hormones! This is NOT an easy one! You can use maple syrup, honey, molasses and coconut sugar in small amounts instead.
- Eliminate or Drastically Reduce Alcohol Consumption: Alcohol consumption taxes the liver, monopolizing its detoxifying function from the rest of the body. It also spikes our insulin levels just like sugar, leading to similar effects on our hormones as mentioned above.
- Go Gluten Free: Gluten’s effect on the gut’s integrity, and hence the immune system make it unhealthy to ingest regularly. It causes systemic inflammation, which usurps your body’s energy.
- Eat Whole Foods. Integrating whole foods into your diet is just as integral to your hormonal health as eliminating problematic foods. So first, lets establish just what whole foods are:
- Foods that are not processed (always check labels—they should be simple and have ingredients that you can pronounce!)
- Foods that basically are in their original form without additives
- Fruits, vegetables, grains, animal meats
- Increase Your “Good” Fat Intake! The myth that fat is bad is finally getting de-bunked. Fat is an integral precursor to hormones, so eat all the avocados, nuts, olive and coconut oils you want! It’s all about choosing healthy fats and not trans-fatty acids and fats from unhealthy industrial oils (soybean, corn, etc)
REDUCE EXPOSURE TO TOXINS (BPA, Phthalates, etc.) Did you know that plastics and chemicals can alter the way your endocrine system functions? They have agents like BPA, which contain xenoestrogens that mimic the effects of estrogen in the body, and can lead to unhealthy hormonal imbalances.
- Trash the plastic now- no plastic near food, no drinking out of plastic bottles. Also, opt for no receipts at the store—the ink on the receipt is found to be toxic as well.
- Filter your drinking water (I like the Berkey system– for the quality, it is very affordable). Use all natural cleaners, and use natural body products (don’t ever use anything on your body that you wouldn’t eat!)
START EATING MORE COOKED FOODS. Healthy eating in Chinese medicine isn’t just about the right foods, it’s about the right temperature of foods as well. Warm foods are much easier for the body to assimilate, and the digestive system prefers them according to the Chinese medicine perspective. It takes extra energy for your body to warm foods, so pre-warmed foods use less of our precious energy to digest. Warm foods are also partially “digested” when we ingest them, which lightens the work that the body needs to do.
Warm soups, stews, porridges and congees are all really great for everyone’s constitution, and they’re recommended for building our immune system and overall strength and health. Cooked vegetables (steamed is a great option instead of raw) are preferred as well.
Congee is incredibly easy to make and is a mega fertility booster! Here is one of my favorite recipes.
YIN-BUILDING PRACTICES. The concept of Yin and Yang is a core theory that a lot of Chinese medicine is based on. To simplify the concept of Yin, it represents everything in the universe related to quiet, stillness and the dark (Yang is the opposite – activity, movement and light).
Yin building practices are incredibly balancing and helpful when strengthening our constitution. Here are some ideas of what to begin to integrate into your weekly lifestyle:
- Yin/Restorative Yoga: specifically these types because they are more calming to the nervous system vs. stimulating
- Meditation/Mindfulness Practices: if you do not have a regular meditation practice, consider using the Headspace or Insight Timer apps to get started
- Nature excursions: walks, hikes, still time in natural settings
- Artistic endeavors: painting, knitting/crocheting, ceramics, drawing, photography
- Pleasure reading of uplifting or enlightening subject matter: I mean actual reading, not just looking at kitty pics on Instagram
BONE BROTH. Bone Broth has gotten really popular over the more recent years and for good reason! It has so many benefits and I truly believe it helped me get pregnant. Not only does it help boost your immune system’s functioning (it’s called Jewish Penicillin for a reason!), it supports a healthy gut.
Earlier on I mentioned a lot about nutrition, and one of the reasons why good nutrition and detoxing the body is integral is that so much relies on how our body digests and assimilates food. If we have bacterial imbalances in our gut, we also may have a compromised gut lining. Bone broth heals the gut lining that can be damaged from years of unhealthy eating, drinking, and use of NSAIDS and other pharmaceuticals.
Why is this important? Because when you have permeability in the gut, all kinds of toxins can easily seep into your bloodstream and cause inflammation and a heightened immune response, which can have a detrimental effect on fertility.
Transitioning from the Maiden to the Mother is a journey that will completely reshape you in ways you never may have imagined, and you don’t have to wait for the right set of circumstances to begin your journey preparing the nest. You can follow these simple steps now so that your body will be ready whenever the time is right for you to begin to start your journey into motherhood.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions. I am always happy to help you on your way! Be on the lookout for Pre-Conception Preparation: Nurturing the Nest (part 2) coming your way soon!