If you’re thinking about becoming pregnant, hormone balance might be on your mind. Especially if you’re transitioning from a long period of trying to prevent pregnancy, or if your body is still adjusting from the hormonally demanding phases of a pregnancy and postpartum.
Whether you’re feeling like your hormones are out of whack from hormonal birth control or you just want to optimize your mood, your cycles, and your chances of conception, we’re sharing some tips for how to balance your hormones in the important stage of preconception.
Stage 1: Preparing for Conceiving
Once you’ve decided that you want to get pregnant (or get pregnant again), it’s time to focus on two main goals: detoxing and replenishing.
Detoxing doesn’t mean throwing yourself onto a juice cleanse for three days, it means supporting your body’s natural ability to detox from excess hormones or any other potential toxins. Research has shown many benefits to a detox period prior to pregnancy and how it can support egg and sperm health. The burden of toxins has been shown to negatively impact everything from sperm motility and ovarian function to miscarriage rates and IVF outcomes. A preconception detox has the potential to impact a number of positive fertility and pregnancy outcomes.
An effective detox shouldn’t be rushed, it should be intentional and consistent, often lasting at least three, ideally six months. Here’s how:
- Support the body’s natural elimination processes: These include your liver, skin, lymphatic system, and lungs. Your liver is your main detox organ and can be compromised by birth control. Cruciferous veggies, bitter greens, algaes like chlorella and spirulina, lemon water, and the herb milk thistle can support liver health. Drinking plenty of water, sweating regularly (exercise, saunas), and a daily bowel movement also supports the detox process. It’s important to note that birth control can affect your liver function and can cause hormonal imbalances, so this phase may need extra attention if you were ever on hormonal birth control.
- Limit toxic exposure: Give your liver a break from having to detox substances that you can actively avoid. This includes things like chemicals in your beauty products and cleaning products. It also includes consuming toxic substances like alcohol, chemicals in processed foods, and even pesticides on conventional produce.
- Eat sufficient protein: Protein is required by the liver to bind to and clear out toxins as part of its two-phase detox process. Many women find it difficult to meet increased protein needs in preconception and pregnancy. Our Collagen Protein is a clean and convenient way to boost your intake. Increasing your protein intake is a good habit to get used to when planning a pregnancy, as protein needs increase substantially during pregnancy. A recent study in the Journal of Nutrition estimates current recommendations for protein intake during pregnancy are too low and suggests optimal intake is 39% higher than baseline (nonpregnant) in early pregnancy (less than 20 weeks) and 73% higher than baseline in late pregnancy (greater than 20 weeks).
- Support gut health: Healthy gut bacteria are essential to removing excess estrogen and estrogen metabolites that may be a source of hormone imbalance. Healthy gut bacteria also enhance GABA activity. GABA (Gamma Aminobutyric Acid) is a naturally occurring amino acid that works as a neurotransmitter in your brain and supports progesterone. In addition, gut imbalance, or dysbiosis, can be at the root of hormonal imbalance. And since you pass your microbiome onto your baby, ensuring a healthy gut is key to optimal fertility and pregnancy outcomes.
- Get more information from one of our practitioner partners in this three-part series on How to Prepare for Conception with a Pregnancy-Safe Detox.
When you are depleted from taking hormonal birth control, a prior pregnancy, stress, toxic exposures, or any other number of factors that can deplete our bodies, a focused period of replenishing nutrient stores can support hormone balance.
- If applicable, focus on replenishing the nutrients that are commonly depleted by hormonal birth control: Zinc, Selenium, Vitamins B2, B6, B12, C, and E, Magnesium, and Folate. A convenient way to replenish these and other nutrients is to take a comprehensive prenatal like our Prenatal Multi powder or capsules. While many prenatal vitamins have bare minimum amounts and/or poor forms of nutrients which aren’t capable of addressing pregnancy needs or deficiencies, ours has optimal doses and forms of all of these nutrients. Because we know that prenatal nutrition begins prior to conception, our Prenatal Multi was designed with the needs of preconception and fertility in mind.
- Test for other common nutrient deficiencies to identify where you may need additional attention in your diet or supplementation. Most women are deficient in Vitamin D and Omega-3, and you can test these nutrients at home. Other tests such as Iron and Vitamin B12 can be performed by your practitioner. Once you’ve identified nutrient deficiencies, work to increase levels through your diet or a high quality supplement.
It’s also important to note that while this article focuses on hormone balance in women, the lifestyle practices we’re discussing all benefit sperm health as well. It takes about three months for a man’s lifestyle changes to be reflected in his sperm, so give these changes time to work! And check out our blog on 10 Foods to Boost Sperm Health (and Ones to Avoid).
Stage 2: Preconception
Once you’ve been through the initial stages of detoxing and replenishing, you may begin to notice positive changes in your monthly cycles, like more mild symptoms and a more predictable schedule. You may also notice improvements to your mood, sleep, and energy.
In this stage, the theme is to start acting like you’re already pregnant. This means to make sure you’re implementing healthy habits to optimize your daily cyclical hormones, and that you’re supplementing appropriately. These practices will help to balance your monthly hormones and prepare your body for a healthy pregnancy:
Start taking a comprehensive prenatal vitamin: If this wasn’t part of your replenishing step in the prior stage, make sure to start now.
Add in Omega-3s: Omega-3s support hormone balance and decreased inflammation, and are critical to a healthy pregnancy for both mama and baby.
Practice good sleep hygiene: Your sleep habits set the stage for two of the cyclical hormones that your body circulates each day. Cortisol and melatonin help regulate your sleep-wake cycle and influence everything from other hormones to your mood, stress response, and energy. Support their optimal function by waking up at the same time each day, avoiding the snooze button (which throws off the cycle from the start), immediately exposing yourself to natural light and a bit of movement (think 10 squats by your bedside), avoiding blue light or other stimulants before bed, and aiming for 7-8 hours of restful sleep each night.
Balance your blood sugar: Balancing your blood sugar helps to regulate another hormone that you produce daily - insulin. Eating protein, fat, and fiber with each meal and snack helps to keep blood sugar and insulin stable. Furthermore, eating regularly spaced meals and snacks and not skipping meals or attempting to fast during this time will support both blood sugar and hormone balance. We said it before, and we’ll say it again - now is NOT the time for a juice cleanse!
Keep your caffeine low and avoid alcohol: Alcohol and excess caffeine are not only dangerous to a growing fetus, they can contribute to stress on the body and can disrupt sleep. Managing stress and ensuring restful sleep is key to balancing hormones.
- Add it optional hormonal support: Herbs like Vitex or Chasteberry and maca root have been studied for their ability to help balance hormones and support fertility, and potentially improve sperm motility. While these can be purchased over the counter, we recommend talking to your practitioner before incorporating them into your routine as they can affect different women in different ways.
This is also a good time to start tracking your cycles and any symptoms of ovulation. Becoming familiar with your body’s signals will help you understand your most fertile time of the month to try to conceive.
Stage 3: Actively Trying to Conceive
Since Stage 2 was all about acting like you’re already pregnant, there isn’t much to change in Stage 3. You’re really just dialing in all of the little details and committing to your healthy habits. Depending on where you are in your cycle, there is a chance you ARE pregnant, so if you’ve hung onto any habits that you don’t want to keep while pregnant (like a little too much caffeine), now is a great time to cut them out.
In addition, you’ll want to discontinue use of any herbs or supplements that you may be taking for hormone balance that aren’t safe for pregnancy. This includes any type of supplements with detoxing or hormone balancing properties. All prenatal supplements, including your Prenatal Multi, Pre/Probiotic, and Omega-3 should be taken very consistently during this time - even if you get a negative pregnancy test.
Signs You Might Need Additional Support
Hormones can get complicated quickly. If you’re not in a place where the small changes described in Stage 1 add up to noticeable improvements and you’re noticing significant signs of hormone imbalances, we suggest you work with a practitioner to get to the root cause of your imbalances with targeted testing and treatment.
Signs of a deeper or more complex problem include things like unexplained weight gain, very painful periods, missing periods, facial hair, extreme mood swings, depression or anxiety, vaginal dryness, and cyclical headaches.
The Bottom Line
While your preconception journey will vary, all phases of preconception focus on some key tenants of wellbeing. These actionable tips will not only support your hormone balance, they will help set you up for a healthy pregnancy and baby.
- Take a comprehensive prenatal vitamin
- Supplement with Omega-3 fatty acids
- Center your diet around protein and healthy fats, plus fiber-filled and antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies
- Support gut health with fermented foods and a pre/probiotic designed specifically for pregnancy
- Avoid excess caffeine and alcohol
- Manage stress
- Focus on quality sleep
- Limit toxic exposure
Hormones can be a confusing and overwhelming piece of the fertility, pregnancy, and postpartum puzzle. We hope you feel empowered to do what you can to support hormone balance through these effective nutrition and lifestyle strategies.