We are created to procreate. It is one of our human conditions to want to lead a long and healthy life and to have children. Like many of the best things in life it often goes more smoothly if it is planned.
Ideally pregnancy starts about six months before conception as both partners prepare themselves for the magical act of creation. As a good gardener says, it is essential to prepare the ground so that your seeds can grow, or so that your body is clean and nourished and unobstructed by toxins and blockages. It is vital that the mother-to-be is at optimum health so that she stays strong for the journey ahead. The father-to-be must rid himself of toxins and nourish his reproductive tissue so that optimum fertilization can take place.
A priority for understanding your health in Ayurveda is establishing your constitution, known as your prakriti. It is best for you to see an Ayurvedic practitioner to determine this and from here you can tell the best diet for you both, the best time of year for you to try to conceive and other appropriate lifestyle recommendations.
Before we look at what Ayurveda recommends we do to get into this rejuvenated condition we need to understand the reproductive system.
The Ayurvedic view of egg and sperm production
Eggs and sperm are the result of the deepest level of nutritional transformation. All that we eat and drink gets continually refined until it is transformed into the most vital essence, the potential of life, known as ‘shukra’ in Sanskrit. This is the seed of life.
Ayurveda believes that if there are any obstructions in the body then the reproductive system becomes deficient and it is necessary to undergo a programme of rejuvenation to re-establish the health of the reproductive tissues. ‘Obstructions’ may be such problems as an impaired digestive system, excess weight, anemia, constipation, fibroids etc.
Certain foods and herbs are more egg and sperm potentiating than others. Milk, almonds, walnuts, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, saffron, honey, ghee are all seen as the ultimate reproductive foods in Ayurveda. Herbs such as Ashwagandha and Shatavari are all used to enhance egg and sperm quality and quantity. Ashwagandha is the fertility tonic for vata types, Shatavari is the tonic for pitta types and a herb called Punarnava is often taken by kapha types.
The Ayurvedic view of the menstrual cycle:
As menstruation is controlled by the different doshas here is a quick overview of what is happening in your cycle from the Ayurvedic point of view. Normal menses are considered to be on a 26-30 day cycle, 5 days long, moderate flow, moderate colour, no clots, no discomfort, no PMT.
The cycle is divided into three phases according to the different doshas.
Kapha phase: From the end of bleeding until ovulation is a time of building the endometrium and increasing kapha. Oestrogen is increasing. It is the phase of restoring strength to the body and preparing for conception.
Pitta phase: This lasts from ovulation until your period starts. The corpus luteum secretes progesterone which peaks during this phase. This prepares the endometrium for implantation of the fertilized egg and the breasts for milk production. This can be a time of PMT due to pitta accumulating in the blood and liver. As the blood channels and menstruation are connected this means that there can be extra heat in the system and this can lead to feelings of irritation and emotional overload.
Vata phase: This predominates during the period itself. Apana vayu (the force that regulates all downward movements in the body) pushes the menstrum down and out, therefore emptying the contents of the womb when menses occur and facilitating delivery during birth.
Understanding the doshas in the menstrual cycle
In order to enhance fertility it is essential that any signs of the doshas being out of balance are normalised.
1.Vata dosha regulates the nervous system. Interestingly, the menstrual cycle is closely related with the nervous system and a relaxed nervous system helps to have a smooth menstrual cycle. Vata also affects the plasma tissue responsible for much of the nourishment of the tissues and the quality of the menstrual flow. Excess vata can dry the plasma. This results in a chain of events from plasma through blood to the menstrual flow. The key here is to balancing vata dosha.
• Signs of vata being too high are: Scanty flow, dark red/brown/black/dry/old blood, menstrual cramps (pricking pain, moving pain, numbness), pain radiating down into groin, thighs and lower back ache, a short and less than 5 day period, irregular cycle, long cycle, vaginal numbness, painful discharge, frothy flow, stiffness, depression, fatigue, anxiety, mood swings, insomnia, weakness, feeling cold, vaginal dryness, lower abdominal distension, constipation, gas and headaches . It may be an idea to take organic Triphala as well as Ginger to improve digestion and circulation in the lower abdomen. Follow a vata balancing programme.
2. Pitta flows in the blood and the menstrual channel. Toxins from digestive imperfection seep into the blood creating heat and or toxins here; hence the importance of keeping ‘hot’pitta under control.
• Signs of pitta being too high are: Excesss flow, dark red or purple blood, bright red blood, clotting, a longer than 5-7 day menses, inter menstrual spotting, the period can come early, frequent periods, hot discharge, foul odour, sensations of heat, flushing, fever, skin rashes, acne, headaches on temples, migraines, photosensitivity, acne, skin rashes, irritability, anger and diarrhoea. Try including some organic Aloe vera juice and Amla capsules to help clear the heat. Follow a pitta balancing programme.
3. Kapha is responsible for all anabolic activity and is generated by the plasma tissue and so any problem with metabolism in this tissue will create various kapha problems.
• Signs of kapha being too high: moderate flow, pale or light red blood, mucus, large clots, slimy menses, pale discharge, sensations of cold, feeling itchy, mild to dull pain, heavyness, weight gain, water retention, oedema, nausea, vomiting, swollen breasts, back ache, pale pallor, feeling sentimental. Try to include some organic Trikatu in your daily schedule to remove any sluggishness. Follow a kapha balancing programme.
Recommendations for getting pregnant
Ayurveda sees pregnancy as the ultimate call for rejuvenation or something called rasayana. You can rejuvenate your body and mind very simply.
Ayurveda recommends that you both follow a preliminary intensive programme for one to two weeks:
A simple home detoxification
A simple home practice can be a regime of simple eating, lots of oil massage and a mild detoxification. During this whole regime eat only kicharee. This is a wonderful healing food that is known as ‘food of the gods’:
1/3 cup organic mung dal, 2/3 organic basmati rice (or other grain) simmered in 3-4 cups of water (a ratio of 1:3 or 1:4).
Add 1/4 tsp each of organic turmeric, ginger, roasted cumin and coriander.
Add seasonal organic vegetables: spinach, peas, asparagus or seaweeds for an all round healing, healthy and digestive fire enkindling meal. The rules are to cook it on a very low heat in a covered saucepan and DO NOT stir it after all the ingredients are added.
Add a teaspoon of ghee or hemp seed oil at the end.
Whilst living on this simplified diet it can be useful to sip hot drinks; try spicy teas of ginger, cinnamon and cardamom to burn ama and clear toxins.
Day 1-7 vigorously massage yourself from head to foot every day with 100-150ml warm organic sesame oil. Leave the oil on your body for 10 minutes. Then wash off in a hot bath or shower. This will dilate the surface of your skin and will clear toxins through the skin.
Take a dose of Pukka Herbs organic Triphala every night. This is a mix of three herbs that are famed for their ability to mildly detoxify the blood and bowel. Take 3 capsules, 1 teaspoon or 75 drops of the tincture with a glass of warm water at night.
Day 3-6 take a dose of warm medicated ghee. Start with 20 ml instead of breakfast. increase by 5ml a day.
After this detox start to take some herbal supplements and increase nutritive foods.
Women will benefit from including Shatavari, Saffron and Roses as herbal medication and could try Pukka Herbs ‘Shatavari Women’s Formula’ which is made for enhancing fertility.
Men will benefit from taking Ashwagandha, Kapikacchu and Shatavari. Try Pukka Herbs ‘Ashwagandha Men’s Formula’ to enhance sperm motility, volume and quality.
As well as following your constitutional diet you can include lots of almonds, saffron, walnuts and hemp seed oil in your diet. It is also prudent to avoid or reduce alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, drugs, too much sugar, coffee and processed food to ensure that your ‘seeds’ are at their very best.
Care for each other with respect, love and cherishing. It is especially important that the woman is not exposed to any violence, shocks or fear before or during her pregnancy and should be treated gently and softly. She should be surrounded with beautiful flowers and anointed with delicious frangrances such as sandalwood and rose. Your world will ideally become beautiful and welcoming so that your future child is brought into a warm home.
After a suitable time of preparation you are ready for the act of love-making. Treat this time with respect as the two opposite forces of the male and female, the masculine and the feminine energies unite to create a new child. From this union and creative oneness will come the creative force to generate life. Set a time in a beautiful place full of wonderful aromas, comfort, relaxation and bliss.
Before conception both partners are responsible for how they prepare but once conception has taken place the mother-to-be carries most of the responsibility. She must continue to watch her diet, relaxation and rest so that she stays strong, happy and content to live according to her constitutional needs. Many emotions can arise during this time and the man must be a strong rock of confidence, support and happiness so that he can reassure his partner during anxious times. The child can be deeply affected by the world in which they are being developed. Bearing in mind that there is an emotional link between the organs and the emotions and that the babies organs are maturing during the pregnancy it is very important for there to be a peaceful and joyous environment at home as much as possible.
Preparing for delivery
Ayurveda would recommend the regular practice of yoga to calm the doshas, strengthen the body and relax the mother and baby. There are lots of specialist classes for pregnancy that are well worth going to. I have been lucky enough to teach a prenatal yoga class and it was quite revelationary; the atmosphere in the room is one of serene potential and expectant bliss. It is advisable to massage the perenium with sesame or almond oil before the delivery. There are also many herbs that can prepare you for delivery by nourishing the uterus and pelvic cavity and you should see a qualified herbalist about what may be appropriate for you.
Some modern views on preconception
Basal body temperature
It can be very useful for the woman to take her temperature every morning prior to rising. This will give you a clear insight into the fluctuations of temperature in relation to the cycle of the dosha and flow of the hormones. It tells you when you are ovulating, how consistent your pre and post-ovulatory temperatures are and may indicate what sort of herbal treatment you may benefit from, if required. A great book to teach you about all of this is by Toni Wechsler ‘Taking charge of your fertility’; a tome of information and detail.
The volume and quality of cervical mucus is one of the best indicators of ovulation and indicates the optimum time for conception. It is a good idea to check the quality of cervical mucus when you think you are ovulating to ensure that it has a clear, egg-white consistency and stringy quality.
Whilst Ayurveda considers that you should be able to get all of your necessary nutrients by caring for your digestive system and eating nutritious food there is no doubt that many people benefit from taking supplements. Look at some of the other articles written this month for some of this valuable information.
Please note that if there is any diagnosed complication to getting pregnant such as blocked fallopian tubes, endometriosis, low sperm count etc these must be treated specifically and individually by a qualified herbalist. Ayurveda offers much help in the arena of fertility and can often treat these conditions successfully.