Nourishing Your Vaginal Health + Fertility
YOU MAY NOT KNOW IT, BUT VAGINAL HEALTH IS VITAL TO CONCEPTION
Sakara Science Council member Dr. Jill Blakeway is a board-certified acupuncturist, herbalist, and the founder of the Yinova Center, where she has been treating patients for over two decades.
If you're trying to get pregnant, you're probably focusing on understanding your menstrual cycle and identifying your most fertile days. You may also be changing your diet to get into peak baby-making shape. (Hint: The Sakara diet, emphasizing healthy fats, fiber, high-quality protein, and colorful fruits and veggies, is very fertility-friendly!) But there's one issue you may not have thought about, even though it's vital to conception—vaginal health.
It's important to note that the vaginal environment is mildly acidic. This acidity helps protect against infections by preventing disruptive bacteria from growing in the area. However, vaginal infections can alter the pH balance in the vagina, making it difficult for sperm to survive. Additionally, some infectious conditions, such as ureaplasma, can interfere with embryo implantation increasing the risk of early pregnancy loss.
When it comes to fertility, healthy vaginal mucus is a key player. Your body produces it to nourish, transport, and protect sperm cells during your reproductive cycle. It's the equivalent of semen in men. Men are fertile all the time, so they produce seminal fluid all the time. Women are fertile only once a month, so they produce fertile cervical mucus only once a month.
Sperm can live longer in fertile cervical mucus—up to five days—than in regular cervical mucus. It has nutrients for the sperm and little striations, like channels, for the sperm to swim in. All this helps ensure that there is a reservoir of sperm waiting for an egg to be released, so timing intercourse doesn't have to be so precise. The mucus also capacitates sperm—that is, it prepares the sperm to fertilize the egg. Without the chemical changes the mucus makes possible, the sperm couldn't attach to or penetrate an egg. Mucus also helps filter out bacteria and prevents bacteria from taking hold in the uterus.
If your cervical mucus is too acidic, it can damage sperm. If it isn't thick enough, it can make it harder for sperm cells to reach the egg, but if it’s excessively thick [it] can prevent sperm from passing through.
Here's the advice we give our fertility patients to help them maintain a healthy vaginal environment:
- Practice Good Hygiene: Maintaining good vaginal hygiene is crucial for preventing infections and promoting vaginal health. Wash your genitals with warm water and mild soap; avoid douching or using harsh products and change out of sweaty or wet clothing as soon as possible.
- Use a Fertility-Friendly Lubricant: Regular sexual lubricants (especially scented varieties) can interfere with conception. They are generally too acidic for the sperm to survive and swim well in. Additionally, the concentration of salts in the lubricants can cause sperm to either shrink or swell beyond their capacity to perform normally. Beware of some other common suggestions for lubrication, such as using a little warm water. Don't! Water can kill sperm on contact. Or how about trying a little saliva? Wrong! Saliva contains digestive enzymes that stop sperm from swimming. Some doctors recommend mineral oil (and many sexual lubricants contain it), but studies show that it may limit the ability of sperm to penetrate the egg. The answer is to use a lubricant designed to replicate fertile vaginal mucus. I like this one because it has no parabens in it.
- Eat a Healthy Diet: A healthy diet rich in vitamins and minerals can help improve overall reproductive health. Foods high in antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables, can also help reduce inflammation, increasing the chance that an embryo will implant, resulting in a pregnancy.
- Manage Stress: Stress can impact hormone levels, which can, in turn, affect cervical mucus and fertility. Conversely, stress-reducing activities such as meditation or yoga can help promote overall reproductive and vaginal health.
- Seek Treatment for Vaginal Health Issues: If you are experiencing vaginal health issues such as infections or irritation, seeking treatment from a healthcare provider is important. Treating these issues can increase the chances of conception.
So, don't neglect your vagina when you're trying to conceive. It's not simply a portal for sperm to swim through on the way to an egg. It plays an active role in conception, so it's important to ensure that it is free from inflammation and infection, and that your vaginal mucus is healthy and supports the sperm.
Jill Blakeway is a board-certified acupuncturist, herbalist, and the founder of the Yinova Center, where she has been treating patients for over two decades. She is known for her specialty in fertility enhancement and hormonal health, and for treating complex chronic disorders. A former professor of Chinese medicine, Jill is the author of three books on health and healing: “Making Babies: A Proven 3-Month Program for Maximum Fertility,” “Sex Again: Recharging Your Libido,” and “Energy Medicine: The Science and Mystery of Healing.” She is also the founder of the acupuncture program at NYU Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY, where she acted as Head of Inpatient Acupuncture Services for many years.
ALSO FEATURING DR. BLAKEWAY