11 Things we tried that helped us conceive with PCOS

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’ is 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 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.

Our infertility journey with PCOS

The irony isn’t lost on me that you spend a huge portion of your life trying not to fall pregnant and then when you want it to happen it doesn’t; turns out falling pregnant isn’t as easy as what it’s made out to be. That small window of opportunity (24 – 48 hours every 28 days) is so easily missed, add PCOS on top of this and that window is suddenly more like a tiny crack in the wall.

You won’t be able to conceive naturally”. I will NEVER forget hearing those words over the phone from the GP. I have never for a second doubted that I want to have children, hearing those words felt like my world has collapsed around me.

 

I knew that having PCOS would make conceiving slightly more challenging than normal but never in a million years did I think that this was how my journey to being a mum would begin or worse yet, end.

For the last three years, I have had my PCOS under control. Through changing my diet, understanding my PCOS root cause, exercising for enjoyment not punishment, managing my stress levels and prioritising sleep, I have managed to regulate my cycle to roughly 31 days. My skin was acne-free, my energy levels were great and insomnia was not something I had struggled with for a long time.

Until a few months prior to this conversation with the GP.

As a business owner my schedule was ridiculous, for three months I was insanely busy and constantly felt like I was running around like a headless chicken seldom pausing for breath. Suddenly my hair was falling out, my energy levels were at rock bottom, my periods were only lasting 2 days, my weight was dropping even though I was constantly eating and craving all the carbohydrates.

In hindsight, it’s so easy to see what was going on, but at the time I kept telling myself that I just needed to get through to the end of the year and once we broke for Christmas things would calm down and come January my load would be more manageable. It was just 3-4 months of go, go, go, and then I’d be through the thick of it.

What I chose to overlook was the fact that as someone with PCOS I am more prone to the effects of stress. I also know that for me stress is a huge contributor to my PCOS symptoms flaring. My body was so busy trying to survive and just get through every day without breaking down that there was no chance in hell it would allow me to conceive – my body was not in a state to grow and nourish myself let alone another human. This was confirmed by blood tests which indicated that I was not ovulating, which meant we were referred to the fertility clinic at guys hospital.

So, I slowed down. I made some changes to my schedule that gave me the chance to pause and breathe. I had to learn to say no and create boundaries between business and my personal life because this line had become so blurred. Basically, I chilled the F*@k out and prioritised managing my PCOS, regulating my cycles, and trying to get my body ready to grow a human.

December was a month of rest and recuperation, followed by a 3-week holiday in February. These came with the promise of ‘I bet it happens on holiday because you’ll be nice and relaxed’. It didn’t and the disappointment simply seems to escalate.

On the day we came back from our holiday we had our first appointment at Guy’s fertility centre – it was a little glimmer of hope that they would be able to find out what was going wrong and fix it. The fertility team was incredible, and I will be forever grateful for how kind, compassionate, and caring they were. I was immediately whipped off to a room to have an internal scan and some blood tests. Both of which confirmed that I was ovulating and nothing abnormal was picked up. On one hand, this was great – maybe all that rest and sunshine did do the trick and I was on the road to recovery, but I also had Negative Nancy on the other shoulder thinking what if there’s something else wrong that they just haven’t picked up on yet.

We left the clinic with an appointment booked for my partner to have a sperm test (it takes two to tango after all) and for myself to have follicular monitoring once my next period had started.

And then lockdown happened, I received the email I’d been dreading to say that due to COVID-19 all non-essential (fertility) appointments were cancelled. Our journey was now on hold and there was nothing we could do about it. I felt more helpless than ever.

Just before we went into lockdown my fiancé managed to send off his semen sample, after weeks of waiting for the results we finally got them back with confirmation that all was normal – a relief, but it didn’t give us any answers. Then a week later we found out that the results he was given were not his (angry doesn’t begin to describe how we felt) –  his actual results were slightly abnormal. Although his sperm count was high, his swimmers had little sense of direction and weren’t quite the right shape (in more medical terms their progressive motility and morphology were slightly below normal).

Although we now had a possible reason for our infertility it didn’t feel like a huge relief, instead it felt like another obstacle that we had to contend with, and our dreams of parenthood felt more impossible than ever before.

What’s more, there was no advice given. We were just told that if we could (dependent on the COVID situation) my fiancé should have another test done in 2-3 months. Helpful!

We did our own research and my fiancé decided to give up alcohol for a while and started taking some multi-vitamins which claimed to help.

In some weird way, I’d resigned myself to the fact that it would take at least three months for his lifestyle changes to take effect and that I would just need to dig deep and find some patience and not lose all hope the next time my period arrived.

And then two months later my period was one day late, I knew it, my fiancé knew it but neither of us dared say anything in case we got one another’s hopes up. In my mind, it was too soon to test but I could not resist the urge, I popped into Superdrug and bought a pack of three tests, that way if the first one was negative and my period still hadn’t arrived a week later I could test again.

I snuck into the bathroom with my tests (the last thing I wanted was my fiancé to know I was doing a test because I didn’t want him to experience that same drop of all hope when the test was negative).

That first minute of waiting for the results felt like a lifetime, instead of being filled with the thrill of the possibility of seeing two lines I was filled with dread. I’ve been here so many times before; the sight of that single line confirming another month of a failed attempt followed by spending the rest of the day beating myself up for allowing myself to feel the slightest bit of hope that this time we might have got it right.

And then there were two lines, I did not know whether to laugh or cry, so I think I went for something in the middle and immediately did a second test. Just in case.

I couldn’t believe it, after almost a year of trying to conceive we had finally made a baby, naturally too.

I know how lucky we are, I know some women have struggled for years and they continue to struggle. But I wanted to share our story to give you some hope, that even when you are told it will never happen that is not necessarily true, even when it feels like everything is working against you it can still happen. I want this to be a reminder that if you have PCOS this does not mean you will never fall pregnant; it simply means you may have to work a little harder. I want this to remind you that male infertility is a thing too, it’s more common than you think and it’s okay.

I want every woman who has struggled to conceive to know that this is not your fault, you are not any less of a woman because of this. I am so grateful that we did not have to go down the road of drugs and IVF, but if this is where your journey has led you then know that this is ok too and I have everything crossed for your rainbow baby to happen soon.

What is mindfulness?

Hearing the word mindfulness often conjures up images of someone sitting peacefully on a yoga mat, surrounded by candles, the sound of calming music, eyes shut and breathing rhythmically as they shut out the outside world. Whilst this isa form of mindfulness (more mindful meditation), mindfulness is the every day practice of being in the present moment. It’s the practice of focusing all your attention and senses on one moment and acknowledging the feelings and emotions that arouse from it.

 Why is mindfulness important?

We live in a fast-paced world in which we are constantly multi-tasking and thinking about the next thing on our to-do-list. Have you ever gotten to work and not really remembered the journey? Watched a television programme and not been able to recall what happened, or eaten a meal and not paid attention to the flavours and textures? For many of us we spend our free time scrolling through our phones; browsing the internet or social media, catching up on emails or texting friends or loved ones – our minds are never still, and we are constantly stimulating our brains. Whilst we are thinking and doing our brains do not have the time and space to process everything that is going on around us, which manifests in many different forms, such as stress, a feeling of being overwhelmed, anxiety, depression, insomnia etc.

What are the benefits of practicing mindfulness?

  1. Better stress management – if we can focus on the present and not allow ourselves to get lost in thoughts about what could happen in the future, or has happened in the past, the opportunities for worrying and feeling overwhelmed suddenly become fewer.
  2. Our relationships improve – being mindful around people means that we listen to what they say, notice how they look and feel, respond to their body language and make true connections through quality conversations. We’re all guilty of pretending to listen whilst our mind wanders to a totally different place.
  3. Productivity increases – focusing on one task at a time and not allowing yourself to be distracted by roaming thoughts, the constant flow of messages on your phone or reliving a conversation you had earlier, means you will work better and faster creating so much time for yourself.
  4. It improves your relationship with your body – there is no doubt that there is a strong connection between our brain and our body. Ever eat too much and suddenly feel fatigued and unable to concentrate? Ever feel uncomfortable in your clothes and feel a bit low all day? That’s the connection right there. Being mindful about the foods we eat and the impact they have on our body can do wonders for our confidence and energy levels.
  5. It improves sleep – if we allow ourselves enough time in the day to process our thoughts and emotions and provide our mind with some space without being overstimulated, then when it comes to going to bed at night our brain is not still running at a million miles an hour, making it impossible to get some quality sleep.

It’s easy to see how mindfulness does not just impact your mind but your overall health and wellbeing. Make sure you are giving yourself the time and space to be more mindful. And remember; it’s a process – you won’t master it straight away, but practice makes perfect! Click here for ways to incorporate mindfulness in to your daily routine.

 

Seven ways to be more mindful every day

7 ways to be more mindful

Mindfulness can sound overwhelming and technical, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s important to remember that getting good at practicing mindfulness takes time; start with small changes and build on them as you get better. Here are seven simple ways that you can start incorporating mindfulness into your everyday life:

1. Mindful mornings

So many of us reach for our phones as soon as we open our eyes. We don’t even give our brains the opportunity to acknowledge how we feel when we wake up, what our concerns are about the day ahead or what we’re excited about – whatever we see on our phones dictates this to us. Spend the first five minutes of your morning checking in with yourself; how does your body feel, what thoughts enter your mind, acknowledge them and let them pass. Sometimes it can help to write things down, not as a to do list but just as a way of acknowledging the way we feel.

2. Put your phone away

Do you reach for your phone as soon as you sit down, stand in a queue or have time to kill? Put it away and let your mind be still for that time instead, check in with your mind and your body and how you’re feeling.

3. Practice mindful eating

How often do you eat in front of a screen, whether it’s a computer, a TV or a phone? We’re all guilty. This draws your attention away from your food, the flavours you’re tasting, the smells and textures as well as your body’s natural signals which let you know when you’ve had enough. Practice eating away from a screen

4. Mindful listening

The next time you have a conversation with someone, listen. Don’t allow your mind to wander, pass judgement on what is being said or think about what you are going to say back. Don’t just hear what they are saying, listen to their words.

5. Check in

So often we rush from one task or event to another and do so with a list of things rattling through our head. We’re never fully present when we arrive as our mind continues to rattle through and add to that list. The next time you arrive somewhere, take a deep breath, acknowledge where you are and what you’ve come to do and leave every other thought at the door.

6. Schedule time for nothing

It may feel like a weird thing to do, many of us feel uncomfortable and guilty even just sitting down and doing nothing. You’ll be amazed at how much difference even just five minutes of stillness can make. Whether you flop on your bed, sit in your favourite chair or find a sunny spot in the garden, take time to just be alone with your thoughts.

7. Exercise

Many of us don’t realise just how mindful we become when we exercise. You’re often left concentrating so hard on doing a certain exercise or just making it through the class that your mind has no space to think about anything else – that is mindfulness at it’s best. It’s one of the reasons exercise is so good for stress management and linked to making us happier people.

Try adding one or two of these to your daily routine and gradually add more as you get better.

Five tips for workplace wellness

Workplace wellness blog image

One-third of your adult life is spent at work. That’s a pretty big chunk of your life which is why it’s important to make sure that your work place is having a positive impact on your health and wellness and not a negative one.

Whilst more businesses are offering a spectrum of ‘wellness’ benefits to employees there is still a long way to go for some, and we can still take ownership of ensuring we are looking after our own health. I’ve created a list of the five things I think are most important when it comes to looking after yourself in the office:

Stay hydrated

We often get to the end of the day and realise that we’ve been sipping on tea and coffee all day and only had the occasional glass of water. Up to 60% of the human body is made up of water which helps the body function on a daily basis by aiding digestion, flushing waste, delivering oxygen to different parts of the body, and the list goes on. Keeping a bottle of water on your desk helps as a constant reminder to keep drinking. Drinking herbal teas also counts towards your daily fluid intake. It’s recommended that we aim for 2 litres of water per day, if you’ve participated in exercise where your daily losses (sweat) would be higher then you may need a little more to replace this.

Keep moving

Many of us have a job which involves siting at a desk for 6-8 hours a day, followed by relaxing in front of the tv or with a book (in a seated position). Inbetween all this we are commuting – mostly seated. When we are siting we are using very little energy and not a lot of muscle movement is happening, which is not great for our health and wellbeing. Where possible, try to get up and walk around, use your lunch time as an opportunity to go for a walk (even 10 minutes is better than nothing) and on your way to and from work find ways to walk a little more – whether that’s getting off the bus one stop earlier or parking a street or two away. All of these little batches of steps add up and can make a big difference. Going for a walk and some fresh air at lunch time can also do wonders for your energy levels and productivity.

Be aware of non-hunger snacking

Snacking can often be caused by emotion; we snack when we’re stressed, upset, frustrated or even bored. All common workplaces are full of emotions, so it’s no wonder we find ourselves reaching for a little pick-me-up, not to mention all the treats that get brought in by the office star bakers which make it near impossible to choose an apple over a gooey chocolate brownie. Whilst the occasional treat is most certainly allowed, avoid getting into the habit of reaching for a sugary snack. Go to work armed with healthy options, as having these to hand makes it easier to make a better snack choice. Nuts, fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrain crackers with peanut butter, air popped pop-corn, yoghurt are all great options.

Be conscious of your caffeine intake

Although there are benefits to drinking caffeine, such as increased concentration and alertness, having too much can have a negative impact. Consuming more than the recommended amount of 400mg per day can cause headaches, irritability, nervousness, upset stomach and sleeplessness. Coffee, tea, soft drinks and energy drinks are all sources of caffeine so try and be aware of how much your consuming. For more information on the caffeine content in certain drinks click here. If you’re struggling to sleep at night, try and avoid caffeine in the afternoon as it can stay in your system for 5-10 hours.

Practice being mindful

It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut of going to work, charging through the day and heading home again. When last did you stop and take the time to think – think about how that healthy lunch gave you energy to be productive in the afternoon or how that walk you went for at lunch time gave you perspective after a challenging meeting? How did it feel to take five minutes out of your day to catch up with a colleague and share a few lol’s? What about spending a few minutes after each meeting thinking about what you learnt, what could have been done differently, what didn’t work well? Giving yourself time to reflect on your day and different elements of your day helps you to identify things you do and do not enjoy as well as, areas of strength or gaps in skill/knowledge that you can develop further. It can also help you to become aware of tasks that energise or drain you and by learning more about yourself you can improve your overall wellness.

Always remember that you’re not only at work to do a job and earn a pay cheque – you’re there to grow and develop, improve your skills and knowledge and stimulate yourself. In order to do these things well we have to be well so looking after yourself should be your top priority.