This week I have a special interview with friend and herbalist Sarah Abernathy. Sarah is a wonderful herbalist, author, and new mom. She will share with us some of her advice on using natural therapies for fertility:
Please share with us your fertility journey…
My fertility journey started a little late. When I did begin trying to get pregnant at age 35, I didn’t have any pre-conceived notions that it would happen right away. Still, I felt saddened each month I didn’t conceive. As more months passed, I became worried. I had reviewed a ton of research on fertility, so I knew I had plenty of natural avenues to explore before calling it quits or trying in vitro. The first major change I made was making sure my diet was more alkaline than acid forming. A highly acidic environment is unfriendly for conception. I added green drinks and dandelion tea as fast alkalizers, and reduced my intake of acid-forming foods like coffee and sweets.
I started charting my cycles and discovered that I had a short luteal phase, a common problem that can lead to fertility problems and miscarriage, but which often can be corrected. I used the herb vitex to balance my progesterone levels and regulate my cycle, and another fertility enhancing herbs like damiana and red raspberry in Conceptions tea formula. I became pregnant after two months with vitex extract and Conceptions tea. I’m a big believer in whole herbs for fertility, and have many more details on all of these herbs in my book, Do You Want to Have A Baby?
What inspired you to write your book “Do You Want to Have a Baby”?
My book, Do You Want To Have A Baby? was a labor of love in our office. Originally, it was small booklet produced by my mentor and colleague, Linda Page, Ph.D. The booklet version had run out of print for a number of years, but our clients were clamoring for more information on natural fertility and healthy pregnancy. There were few avenues for information, particularly for products and protocols which are safe and effective for pregnant women. My book, Do You Want To Have A Baby? was a consumer-driven project at first, but very soon we all literally fell in love with the idea.
By month two of production, our director of Sales and Marketing became pregnant with twins. I followed her pregnancy closely and those of many other women in my life. At the time, it seemed just about everyone I knew was trying for a baby or already pregnant! I discovered how much I love working with women on this journey. I wrote about everything I saw and learned. I researched and tested the absolute safest natural products out there and detailed the best nutritional protocols we’ve worked with. My own pregnancy followed shortly after. My son is nearly 8 months old now and it has been such an incredible journey. I am incredibly blessed.
What are some of your recommendations for women with Endometriosis?
First, switch to a… largely vegetarian diet. The right diet can make a big difference. Painful uterine cramping can be significantly improved within weeks after a change to a low fat, plant-based diet. In addition, more fiber in your diet is a natural estrogen balancer. Having an apple or pear every day keeps your system free flowing.
Further, because endometriosis is partly a condition of stagnant blood, I use blood moving herbs to clear the stagnation. However, I use them quite carefully, in their whole form, in an herbal combination like Women’s Best Friend. Since endometriosis causes very long, heavy periods with lots of clotting, the formula must be tailored just right to help clear that stagnation without worsening symptoms.
Goldenseal is a key herb to use here with moderate blood moving activity and profound anti-inflammatory benefits. It is also an excellent heat clearing herb for uterine infections. Goldenseal helps deal with the problem and the symptoms. Yet, goldenseal really works best when used in combination with other uterine tonics in a formula like Women’s Best Friend for endometriosis.
What are a few tips you could give to women who have fibroids?
Start by reducing your intake of caffeine. Caffeine from coffee, chocolate and colas aggravate fibroids. Women with a predisposition to fibroids have a hard time metabolizing caffeine in these forms. (Many women say they can drink green or white tea without ill effect.)
Second, rethink highly congesting high fat dairy foods like cheese, milk, and ice cream. This diet change by itself can produce amazing fibroid relief.
Add cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussels sprouts. Indole 3 carbinole in these veggies improves estrogen metabolism and the body’s ability to eliminate excess estrogen- a trigger for both fibroids and endometriosis.
Ginger compresses or baths are a nice bodywork option to promote circulation in the pelvic region and stimulate immunity for fibroid reduction, too.
The Women’s Best Friend formula, that I mentioned in the previous question, also has a long history of successful use for women with fibroids.
How would you suggest a woman could increase her chances of a healthy and full term pregnancy?
My simple answer to that question is to focus on a healthy pregnancy diet, such as the one suggested in my book, for optimum nutrition for the mother and baby. It is important to take your prenatal vitamins, too. Folic acid in prenatal vitamins is proven to prevent neural tube defects like spina bifida and anencephaly. 800 mcg daily is a good dose. (I believe in taking prenatals for preconception as well. That first month in the womb before mom even knows she is pregnant is an important time for fetal development.)
Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration is especially bad for pregnant women stressing the kidneys and liver, and even lowering amniotic fluid levels, not good for the baby. Of course, eliminate alcohol, smoking and any recreational drugs which can harm the baby.
Include plenty of vitamin C rich foods and consider a vitamin C supplement. Vitamin C is critical for collagen development and can help prevent PROM (Premature Rupture of Membranes). Premature rupture of membranes is a serious concern because it significantly increases risk of preterm labor and infections for the mother and baby. In a study conducted by the National Institute of Perinatology, expectant mothers in their 20th week were given 100mg of vitamin C. Premature rupturing of the membranes occurred in about 8% of these mothers versus 24% of the placebo group.
My not so simple answer to that question is if you have a specific fertility issue that affects your ability to carry a baby to term, address it with your fertility specialist and through natural means. A weakened cervix, low progesterone levels, autoimmune problems, and uterine abnormalities can all increase risk for pregnancy complications. Yet, there have been huge strides in both the natural healing world and the world of fertility technologies to handle these concerns. Miracles are happening every day for “infertile” women who want to have children.
What is your all time favorite herb and why?
I can’t name just one. My focus as an herbalist has always been combining whole herbs together for the best results. However, I do have a few herbs that come to mind as my favorites.
Of the great tonics, ashwagandha because it is such a wonderful herb for women with chronic fatigue or “burnout.” That’s a lot of us today! Energetically, ashwagandha is the great rebalancer, reducing fatigue during the day while enhancing sleep at night.
Of the carminatives, peppermint and catnip. Mints are famous for relieving indigestion after meals. They cool off a fiery pitta digestion like mine fast. A dilute mint tea is amazing to cool children’s fevers, too. Peppermint even has anti-viral properties against herpes.
Of the nervines, scullcap. Scullcap is wonderful for relieving stress. It’s routinely used to ease labor pains, too. Scullcap can also be your best friend if you are trying to break a bad habit like smoking or taking addictive medications.