I work with a lot of couples that are having trouble getting pregnant. It’s a tender, painful and often heartbreaking circumstance to be in. But it can also be a soul-felt, empowering and potentially beautiful journey, no matter the outcome.
Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive a pregnancy, usually after trying for one year. What causes infertility is different for each woman, or man. Sometimes the cause is, frustratingly, unknown. But infertility can be due to damaged or blocked fallopian tubes, ovaries or uterus. It can also be caused by hormonal imbalances, endometriosis, being over- or under-weight, and/or poor quality sperm or low sperm count in men.
Although herbs can do very little for the structural causes of infertility such as blocked fallopian tubes, they can be amazing tools for hormonal balance, strengthening tissues and supporting a healthy pregnancy. Proper hormonal balance and reproductive health encourage fertility in both men and women.
Stress, in the perfect catch 22, can lower fertility. Of course, as a couple has a hard time conceiving, stress may increase and this in turn decreases the chance of ovulation and therefore fertility. It’s such a tricky place to be. Herbs can help reduce stress and encourage the fertility cycle.
Herbs for Fertility:
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense): High in vitamins, protein, calcium and magnesium, red clover relaxes the nervous system and encourages fertility. Red clover has virtually every trace mineral required by the endocrine glands, which are essential to reproduction. There are differing opinions about whether red clover is safe for pregnancy. If you choose to use it, consider using small amounts in a formula with other herbs.
Nettles (Urtica dioica): Nettles is a uterine tonic, helping to nourish the body. During times of stress, nettles will help strengthen the kidneys and adrenals. Nettles is a tonic and food for the entire body. Nettles is considered safe for pregnancy.
Raspberry (Rubus spp.): A uterine and reproductive tonic, raspberry helps strengthen the uterus and prepare it for pregnancy and childbirth. High in many minerals, including calcium, raspberry is very nutritious. Raspberry is considered safe for pregnancy.
Damiana (Turnera diffusa): is a gentle nervine, euphoric and supportive aphrodisiac for both women and men. It can help support sperm count in men, as well as helping to relieve impotence. Damiana has an affinity for the pelvic area and encourages reproductive health for both women and men. It should be avoided during pregnancy.
Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis): Helping to normalizes the menstrual cycle, Dong quai can help promote fertility. It is usually best taken between menstruation and ovulation and discontinued from ovulation to menstruation. Dong Quai should be avoided during pregnancy.
Chaste Tree Berry (Vitex agnus-castus): Normalizes hormones and the menstrual cycle. Although useful for the entire cycle, chaste tree is particularly helpful for the progesterone phase. Chaste tree berry is safe considered for pregnancy. It is best used for only the first three months of pregnancy, as it can encourage early lactation.
False Unicorn or Helonias (Chamaelirium luteum): Often considered “the” herb for fertility, false unicorn is a uterine tonic, helps normalize the fertility cycle and is useful to prevent miscarriage. As it is rare in the wild, please use cultivated sources only! False unicorn is safe considered for pregnancy.
Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens): Promotes sexual health in both women and men. Saw Palmetto relieves congestion of the reproductive system and can be used as a reproductive tonic for both sexes. Saw palmetto is not safe for pregnancy.
He Shou Wu or Fo-ti (Polygonum multiflorum): Good for sexual vitality, increasing sperm count. He Shou Wu is considered safe for pregnancy.
Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa or D. quaternata): A uterine muscle relaxant, wild yam supports the progesterone phase of the cycle. It is an excellent for spotting and threatened miscarriage. Wild yam is considered safe for pregnancy.
Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus): A wonderful adaptogen for balancing stress, eleuthero is also supportive of hormone balancing. Eleuthero should be avoided during pregnancy.
Cramp Bark (Viburnum opulus): An excellent smooth muscle antispasmodic, cramp bark can be used to reduce spotting and stabilize and strengthen the uterus. Cramp bark is considered safe for pregnancy.
Black Haw (Viburnum prunifolium): Another wonderful smooth muscle antispasmodic, black haw works well with cramp bark. It is considered safe for pregnancy.
Supplements for Fertility and Pregnancy:
Progesterone Cream: can be used topically during the progesterone phase (after ovulation) to support a possible pregnancy. This can be especially helpful if spotting or cramping is happening in the between ovulation and menstruation, or if there is a history of miscarriage due to low progesterone levels.
Calcium: Increases a woman’s ability to conceive and maintain a pregnancy. Calcium is also helpful to reduce stress.
Magnesium: Reduces nervous tension and aids calcium absorption.
Vitamin E: Helps to encourage fertility in both men and women, Vitamin E has been shown to prevent some birth defects. I recommend using only naturally derived Vitamin E (d alpha-tocopherol). Dosage: 500 – 1500 IU daily for men for several months (at least 3) before conception.
Folic Acid: has been shown to prevent nervous system birth defects and encourage brain and spinal cord health. Take for 1 month to 1 year before conception, and for the duration of pregnancy (the first month is especially important). Dosage: 400mcg
DHA: (Docosahexaenoic acid) an omega-3 fatty acid that helps with growth and development of the brain and central nervous system. Dosage: during pregnancy, you need at least 200 milligrams of DHA each day to help your baby’s brain and eyes develop. Nursing moms often supplement with DHA and children can continue to use a supplement up until 6 years old or beyond
Eating well is especially important to encourage health and fertility. In general, I recommend eating whole foods, fresh vegetables, nuts, seeds and fruits. To reduce exogenous (from outside the body) hormone exposure, eat organic red meat and dairy products. Limiting or avoiding sugar and tea is helpful, and of course, completely avoid tobacco, alcohol and drugs.
The following suggestions will also help promote fertility:
- Do not smoke as it can decrease fertility.
- “Nesting”, or making your abode feel like a home is important and can help encourage feelings of safety and wellbeing.
- Moderation in everything is a good rule of thumb. This includes exercise, stress, diet, work and in all activities.
- Learn about Fertility Awareness as a tool to become aware of your own cycle. It can be used to both achieve or avoid pregnancy. Check your basal body temperature and cervical fluid to know when you ovulate. For hormonal imbalance, it is very useful to look at the basal body temperature which can help to assess how the progesterone phase is going. Both a low basal body temperature and/or spotting after ovulation can be signs of low progesterone, causing a greater chance for early miscarriage.
- Reduce stress as it effects the hormonal balance and can lower fertility.
- Do an opening and child welcoming ceremony with your partner. Ask the question “What needs to change so that we may have a child?”
- Exercise regularly, and with moderation, to increase circulation, reduce stress and encourage overall health.
- Some women have reported good results from acupuncture treatments for infertility.
Suggestions for Men:
Men can do most of the recommendations listed above, and there are some specific things they can do to increase sperm health as well. As it takes about 3 months to grow sperm, a clean diet and lifestyle for at least 3 months prior to conception will help produce happy and healthy sperm.
- Sperm production happens best slightly below body temperature. For this reason, it’s best to wear loose underwear and pants, as well as avoiding hot tubs, hot springs and hot baths in general.
- Daily cold sitz baths can increase sperm production, pelvic circulation and energy. To do this, simply fill the bathtub (or a large tub) with lukewarm to cold water just high enough to cover the pelvis. Sit in this for 3-5 minutes.
- Regular exercise helps to encourage hormone balance and aid circulation.
- Male infertility can play a part in up to half of all infertility issues. I suggest to all my couples to have a semen analysis. This will let you know how many sperm there are (concentration), how the sperm are moving (motility) and what the sperm look like (morphology), which all contribute to their ability to fertilize an egg.
- If the sperm count is low, ejaculate no more than every other day.
Herbal Formulas for Fertility and Pregnancy:
Often, I suggest 2 formulas for many of my women clients. The first formula helps encourage ovulation, hormone balance and pelvic circulation. It should be taken from the first day of menstruation thru ovulation. Here is an example of such a formula:
Women’s Ovulation Encouragement Tincture Formula: (makes a 4 ounce bottle)
- Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis) 24 ml
- Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) 24 ml
- Chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus-castus) 24 ml
- He shou wu (Polygonum multiflorum) 24 ml
- Red clover (Trifolium pratense) 10 ml
- Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) 8 ml
- Vegetable glycerin 6 ml
Dosage: take 60-90 drops 3 x a day from menstruation to ovulation. Do not use during pregnancy.
The second formula is antispasmodic, helping to stabilize the uterus. It supports progesterone and is strengthening to the uterus and reproductive system. Here is an example:
Women’s Progesterone Support Tincture: (makes a 4 ounce bottle)
- Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa) 26 ml
- Chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus-castus) 26 ml
- Black Haw (Viburnum prunifolium) 20 ml
- Partridge berry (Mitchella repens) 20 ml
- He shou wu (Polygonum multiflorum) 20 ml
- Vegetable glycerin 6 ml
Dosage: take 60-90 drops 3 x a day from ovulation to menstruation. This formula is safe for pregnancy and can be used to support the first trimester as well.
Men’s Essentials: (makes about 3.3 ounce bottle)
- Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens) 25 ml
- Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) 20 ml
- He Shou Wu (Polygonum multiflorum) 20 ml
- Vitex (Vitex agnus castus) 10 ml
- Burdock (Arctium lappa) 10 ml
- American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) 5 ml
- Vegetable glycerin 10 ml
Dosage: 60-90 drops 3 x a day for male reproductive health and hormonal balance. This formula is best taken for at least 3 months prior to conception.
Not all couples who try to get pregnant are successful on this journey. It can be a long and arduous process that may or may not end up where one had originally hoped to be. Sometimes the journey takes us to unexpected destinations. If you are on this road, I wish you peace and flexibility. I encourage you to embrace the possibilities and all that you might learn along the way. Even if you don’t end up where you had hoped, I do believe that every journey has its purpose. Either way, may you see the silver lining, dear one.
About the Author:
The author of several books on herbal medicine and healing, clinical herbalist Elaine Sheff has been passionate about sharing herbal knowledge for over 30 years. Her latest book is Naked: Botanical Recipes for Vibrant Skin and Healthy Hair. Elaine is the Co-Director of Green Path Herb School, located in Missoula, Montana, where she strives to inspire and empower students and clients to remember their connection to the earth, the plants and their own healing process. She is a professional member of the American Herbalist Guild and teaches workshops, and at conferences, both nationally and internationally. Elaine has an International Certification in Aromatherapy from the Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy. As a certified Instructor of the Natural Family Planning and Fertility Awareness Methods, Elaine has helped many couples to avoid or achieve pregnancy naturally. She has written numerous articles about her family’s journey with epilepsy and a special needs child. Elaine has written for publications including the Journal of Medicinal Plants and their Applications, Mamalode and AromaCulture magazine. Elaine’s workshops have been featured at conferences including the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference, Montana Herb Gathering, Northwest Herb Symposium, Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference, Spokane Herbal Faire, the Ecoexpo, Mountain West Herb Gathering, Inland Northwest Permaculture Convergence, and the Pacific Women’s Herbal Conference.You can often find her bent over an herb in her garden or marveling at small flowers in mountain meadows with her husband and sons. If you’d like to learn more about medicinal plants, you can connect with Elaine, and Green Path Herb School via the Green Path Website or through social media: Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter, or Instagram. You can find out more about Elaine and her life work at GreenPathHerbSchool.com.
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