Starting a family is one of the most exciting chapters in the life of any couple!
In this article, I share some of the common mistakes couples make during this stage of your journey. I’m sharing these insights not to judge or criticize anyone, but to help couples in the process of preparing for conception recognize and address issues that may be sabotaging them during this very special moment.
Sometimes we focus so much on the excitement of making a baby that we can actually get stuck in patterns that weaken us as a couple, which can make it harder to conceive in the first place.
Challenges that make the transition to parenting difficult
Furthermore, when couples conceive while stuck in a pattern like any of those listed below can make the transition to parenting harder than it should be. I hope this article will help you grow your family and strengthen your partnership so you can conceive with ease and transition pleasantly into parenthood!
Please note that that while I’ve written this article with all types of couples in mind, not all of the contents of this article will apply equally to all couples. For example, if you’re a couple that plans to conceive via assisted reproductive technology, IUI, donor sperm or surrogacy, some of the points below won’t fully apply.
Furthermore, much of the information below applies at least to some degree to same-sex couples as well as heterosexual couples.
Timing intercourse exclusively or mainly to coincide with fertile days
When trying to conceive, it’s important to have sex on days when the woman is potentially fertile. However, this should be in addition to, not instead of, your usual frequency of intimacy. Some women get so excited about trying to conceive that they forget how important sex may be for the health of the relationship and their partner’s well-being.
When this happens, the male partner may feel neglected and may even feel as though he has been downgraded to the status of reproductive tool. I don’t know any woman who would knowingly exploit her spouse in this way, of course.
However, it’s important to recognize and address your partner’s emotional and physical needs even when your excitement around conception may make those needs seem less important (they aren’t!). Regular sexual activity is good for your relationship, but also benefits fertility because it promotes hormonal balance in both men and women.
Ladies, if you’re struggling with low libido that’s making you maxed out on sex during the preconception period, you may have a hormonal imbalance to address, and just having sex during your potentially fertile days will only make things worse.
Take a month to see if you and your spouse can address this on your own
On week one, increase sexual frequency to at least once a week – not an average, but every week, and more is better. On week 2, increase sexual frequency to at least twice a week, and on week 3 and beyond, increase sexual frequency to at least three times a week.
This is a healthy weekly average for adults of reproductive age, and will help you have healthier hormones during the preconception period and beyond, and will strengthen your relationship.
If you’ve been struggling to conceive and/or have a history of pregnancy loss, one or both of you may be grieving. This may make sex traumatic or difficult. If this is your case, please seek out professional help with a good therapist experienced in the area.
This will benefit you, your relationship and your family in ways that are too numerous to count.
Eating a nutritionally depleted diet
In practically all traditional cultures, the role of nutrient-dense foods to support the couple as they prepare for conception is central.
This isn’t just cute, and there is plenty of science to back ancestral practices.
Even if your doctor tells you it doesn’t matter what you eat, you should be aware that both male and female fertility and hormonal balance rely on nutrients. Some crucial nutrients include:
– Fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K
– Antioxidant nutrients, especially from food sources
– Zinc, which is a special mineral that support the health of both sperm and eggs
– Essential fatty acids
– Cholesterol, which is a precursor to both male and female sex hormones and which is crucial for fetal brain and nervous system development.
You can learn more about nutrient-dense foods in the pre-conception period at https://buildnurturerestore.com/top-foods-fertility-pregnancy-breastfeeding/
Sabotaging fertility and the relationship
There are several types of unhealthy habits (we call the most extreme of these addictions, but the addiction spectrum really is quite broad, with a lot of “normal” and socially accepted behavior falling within it) that can impact couples trying to conceive, and they are each disruptive in their own way. I’ll cover the three that the couples I work with bring up the most.
We all know that alcohol consumption during pregnancy can cause varying degrees of harm to the developing fetus, recognized as fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
A lot of couples continue to party right through the preconception process, with the idea that once pregnancy occurs, the woman will stop drinking. However, there are great benefits in addressing an alcohol habit even before conceiving. Not least of these is the fact that alcohol may make it harder for you to conceive in the first place, as I’ll explain below.
In both men and women preparing for conception, alcohol has been shown to cause epigenetic damage.
Additionally, in women trying to conceive or preparing for conception, alcohol can take up a lot of wavelength from:
– Nutrients your body needs, such as magnesium and B vitamins, which it greatly depletes
– Your liver’s ability to perform its routine tasks, including the conjugation of hormones (hint: proper conjugation of hormones is really important for fertility, metabolism, energy and sleep)
– Pregnancy – if you do get pregnant, you may have increased risks of miscarriage or harm to your developing baby.
In other words, don’t wait until you’ve conceived to give up alcohol, because drinking alcohol while trying to conceive might stop you from conceiving in the first place!
1. Strengthen the relationship dynamic by giving up alcohol
I highly recommend that both men and women trying to conceive give up alcohol, not only because of the chemical and epigenetic damage it can cause, but also to strengthen the relationship dynamic.
After struggling with infertility and pregnancy loss for five years, a client of mine stopped drinking alcohol while her husband was away for work, in preparation for trying to conceive again when he returned. She had previously consumed a couple of glasses of wine per day as a way of unwinding and relaxing with her husband in the evening.
When he returned, they successfully conceived within a couple of weeks, and for the first time her progesterone levels and uterine lining both remained optimal, and she didn’t miscarry.
However, my client and her husband had to readjust as a couple, because the husband was continuing to use alcohol to relax and unwind both at home and in outside social activities, and the wife felt left out. They struggled with a sense of temporary disconnection that made it harder for them to fully enjoy the miracle of this successful pregnancy.
This may seem like a bit of an extreme example, but they were both smart and successful professionals with a very normal social and emotional life.
Daily moderate consumption of alcohol, however, was a major obstacle to achieving a successful pregnancy until the wife fully gave up drinking, and then once she stopped drinking and was pregnant, the husband’s drinking created a disconnect within their relationship.
Giving up drinking together before starting your family will help you reach a higher level of emotional maturity as a couple as well as increasing your chances of achieving a viable pregnancy and having a healthy baby.
These days, a lot of men are accustomed to an ongoing access to pornography. It’s free, it’s easily accessible and apparently everyone else is using it, so what’s the big deal?
I’m going to cover male pornography use here, because that’s what the vast majority of the market is aimed at and all the couples I’ve worked with who have struggled with this topic were impacted by male use of pornography.
I’m not denying that there may be cases where both the husband and wife are using pornography or the wife alone is using it. I’m just sharing the experience and research with which I’ve become familiar due to the problems my clients have encountered.
The normalization of pornography and its ubiquitous availability affects the way men experience sexual desire and how they connect with their partners’ bodies, thus affecting every area of the couple’s intimate life.
Additionally, for many women, the discovery of her husband’s use of pornography triggers questions about their own beauty and desirability which can seriously undermine the woman’s well-being, her trust in her husband and the couple’s relationship as a whole.
In the process of interviewing thousands of men and women for her work on vulnerability and courage, Brené Brown found that the male use of pornography has very different implications for women than for men.
It’s worth summarizing her findings here.
For women, their male partner’s use of pornography implies that they (the women) are not beautiful enough, thin enough, desirable enough, sophisticated enough (or any other variation of the not-enough theme), while for men, broadly speaking, whereas for men it’s about pursuing physical pleasure without the fear of rejection.
For men, Brown notes, having a partner who desires them is proof of their worth, while being sexually rejected or pushed away brings about feelings of unworthiness and shame (Daring Greatly p. 103).
As you may imagine, in a culture where pornography is constantly easily accessible, it may end up becoming a man’s default escape route when his wife doesn’t seem sexually interested or available in him. At the same time, the more a man uses pornography, the less interest he is likely to feel and express towards his partner’s body and towards real intimacy, causing misunderstanding and hurt all around.
A lot of women have been socialized to be sexually passive as a mark of proper female behavior, but if you are a woman and are sexually interested in your husband, you definitely shouldn’t hesitate to express that.
Whether or not the pornography issue is recognized openly by the couple – and a lot of the time the porn-addicted man is in denial about the severity of the problem and is successful in hiding it from his unsuspecting wife for quite some time – one of the most significant effects it has is on the couple’s sexual life, typically through a downward spiral of reduced sexual desire, less intimacy and less sexual activity, making it harder to conceive because of the reduced opportunities.
When a secret pornography habit is discovered, the wife typically feels quite hurt, angry and betrayed, and her trust in her husband is deeply shaken.
She feels less secure with him both emotionally and sexually. This makes it hard to become parents together. It’s even harder for the wife when she discovers her husband’s pornography addiction during pregnancy or after the couple has had a baby, because during pregnancy and throughout the post-partum period many women are struggling with body image.
A pornography habit shouldn’t be looked at as proof of someone’s fault, but as a symptom of dysfunction. The couple should be open and both partners should commit to supporting each other and the relationship – when needed, with the guidance of an experienced professional.
You really can’t connect with another human being or be present in your own life if your attention is constantly divided between your present context, company and experience on the one hand and your electronic devices on the other.
Strong relationships are built and maintained by being present and connected.
If your connection with your significant other is in competition with your “connectedness” to a device that beeps and rings and otherwise demands your ongoing attention, you’re disconnected and unfocused.
Today’s technologies are powerful tools, but often the users aren’t able to control these tools sufficiently well, and the users end up hostage to the technologies, unable to organize their own time and focus on their own lives.
Relationships fall by the wayside, and family-building becomes a challenging proposition.
No matter how useful your electronic device(s) may be, please make sure that you keep them turned off at certain times of the day so you can fully focus on your relationship and be present in your own life.
Putting it all together
By eating nutrient-dense unprocessed foods that contain fertility-supporting nutrients such as zinc, folate and fat-soluble vitamins, you and your spouse will increase your chances of conceiving and of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. Additionally, it’s important to address addiction, especially to substances such as alcohol that can harm sperm and egg cells as well as damage DNA and the physical and cognitive development of the developing fetus.
Finally, by strengthening your relationship and truly honoring your love and intimacy and reciprocally nurturing each other’s physical and emotional needs, you will greatly strengthen your relationship and reach a degree of emotional maturity that will help you prepare for parenting in the context of a mature and committed relationship.
Want to have a happier, healthier marriage?
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
More by Sara Russell