When I was diagnosed with PCOS in my early twenties I was told very little about it, like most others I found myself consulting Dr. Google and the results were pretty devastating. “May have difficulty conceiving”, is what I remember reading before I burst into floods of tears. I knew I wasn’t ready to have children right then, but I was 100% sure that it was something I wanted in the future.
I was told that going on a hormonal contraceptive, for now, would help with all my symptoms and that I had nothing else to worry about until was in a position where I was ready to start trying for a baby.
After about 5 years on oral contraceptive, I decided I’d had enough of simply putting a plaster over my ‘wounds’ and wanted confirmation that my body could function on its own, if it couldn’t I needed to learn how to help it because being on the pill was not going to help me fall pregnant one day.
Armed with my degree in dietetics I started doing loads of research about what I could do to improve my symptoms without medication or the pill. And oh boy was this insightful! There is so much nonsense and nutribollocks out there about what you should/shouldn’t do to help overcome your PCOS symptoms. It took a lot of sifting, but I got there eventually – I finally got to a place where my acne had cleared, and I went from never having periods to having a regular monthly cycle. Wooo Hooo!
Roughly 3 years after this my partner and I decided we wanted to try for a baby, we knew that the sooner we started the better because it may take a little longer than others due to my PCOS.
I won’t go into the details on our journey here as I covered this in a previous blog post which you can find here.
This post is about what we used that we believe helped us conceive, hopefully it will help others on their journey too. So here it is:
Sleep – We forget how important sleep is. Research has proven that when we are even just a little sleep deprived we make poorer food choices and are more susceptible to the effects of stress. I’m an 8 hours a night kind of girl so I tried my best to get my full 8 hours. Sure, this isn’t always possible but when it is take it! Avoiding any screens an hour before bed and creating a calming night-time routine can help you fall asleep a bit quicker. A bath filled with Epsom salts and lavender oil became a frequent indulgence for me.
Stress management – Over the years I have come to realise that stress is one of the biggest contributors to my PCOS. When I’m stressed my symptoms flare including my cycles going wonky. So, finding a way to manage my stress levels was incredibly important for me. I used the calm app for daily meditation, and I was by no means consistent – I skipped days now and then but tried to do it as often as possible. I also learnt to say no which is so hard when you’re running your own business, but the benefits of creating boundaries quickly became clear.
Acupuncture – this is linked to stress management, but the benefits of acupuncture extend far beyond stress management. The evidence for acupuncture in PCOS is growing and shows that somehow (they’re still figuring out exactly how) it helps with ovulation and to regulate androgen levels. I used the lovely Hannah Pearn who specialises in acupuncture for fertility and can’t recommend her highly enough.
Inositol – Inositol improves ovarian function and metabolism of women with PCOS. It does this by decreasing insulin resistance, reducing testosterone levels, regulating menstrual cycles, and promoting ovulation in women. Inositol also supports normal lipid (blood fat) levels and improves egg quality in women trying to conceive.
Vitamin D – We started trying in summer, so I originally wasn’t worried about vitamin D however as we moved into winter, I started taking a vitamin D supplement as I do every winter. The months then got warmer, however, I continued with Vitamin D as we were in lockdown and weren’t getting out and about as much as we usually would.
Fertilily conception cup – A friend had shared an article with me about using a moon cup to help with conception which I thought was a really interesting concept but wasn’t quite ready for that step. Inserting a cup inside your ‘foof’ felt like a pretty big step to take and something I just couldn’t quite get my head around yet. Then as if by fate, I saw a competition on Instagram, by the fertility help hub (an amazing site with lots of great resources), for a cup that is similar to a moon cup but that has been designed specifically to help women conceive. I figured what the hell, entered the competition, won and it arrived the week that I was allegedly ovulating (I say allegedly because although I used the CLUE app to track my cycles these things are never 100% accurate, especially for those of us with PCOS). We started using it straight away and that was the month we fell pregnant! Go figure.
It starts with an egg – A client of mine recommended this book and whilst some of the information and evidence in there is great it’s important to remember that some of the studies referenced include very small groups of people and are not necessarily robust enough to make solid recommendations. I took from this book what I wanted and what I felt I could change. The biggest change we probably made was to continue to keep our use of plastics low and I bought some glass storage containers for foods and tried to use these as much as possible over plastic (NOTE: I did not throw out our plastic containers as that would be wasteful).
I stopped tracking – Whilst I will always recommend using an app like Clue to keep track of your cycles and help you notice any patterns; these are not always accurate when it comes to letting you know when you ovulate. At the very beginning, I bought myself a thermometer and did my daily temperature, but this soon became an unhealthy obsession and one that added to my stress when I couldn’t see any patterns or dips or spikes in all the right places. I kept an eye on cervical mucus but to be honest with you I never experienced that oh so fertile stretchy, egg white mucus (not even the month I fell pregnant). It’s easier said that done but try not to get caught up in all the science and what every else experiences – no one has your exact genetic make up and body, what your body does and how it behaves is truly unique.
And because it takes two people to make a baby my fiancé also took the following supplements:
Inositol – I did some research that showed that inositol helped with improving sperm motility (their sense of direction) and morphology (their shape) as previous tests had shown these were slightly lower than average.
Wellman Conception – These contain vitamin B12, zinc, and selenium which are known to help improve the health of sperm.
Alcohol – This is not one he added to his list but removed. He wasn’t drinking a lot, but he decided to give up alcohol completely until we conceived. Lucky for him this only lasted around 5 weeks (3 weeks in we conceived) and it was lockdown so there was no social pressure to drink.
Now I’m not saying that the above list is the answer for everyone, and it’s hard to know which of the things listed did the trick or perhaps it was a combination of everything we were doing that helped us on our journey? We’ll never truly know.
What I hope you’ll notice is there are no extremes in the list above, I did not eliminate certain foods from my diet, or follow any crazy diet or exercise regime. I was gentle with my body and put more focus on sleep and stress management than I did on food and exercise. It’s so easy to feel like you have to do everything to take control of the situation but often that can do more damage than good.
Be gentle with yourself and make small changes over time that you feel comfortable with and try and enjoy the process, baby making is meant to be fun after all.