I sat down with fertility expert, Bridgit Danner and asked her one key question. “If a woman with PCOS who is trying to get pregnant has changed her diet and her lifestyle, has added some appropriate nutritional supplements and is seeing a fertility specialist, but she’s still having a hard time getting pregnant, what are some of the other factors that she should be thinking about and considering?” Listen in as she shares some fertility factors and tips you may not have thought about, including:
- How does your age but also the age of your partner factor into fertility?
- Does a partner’s stress, nutrition, supplements and lifestyle impact his fertility?
- How can you best approach discussing fertility with your partner?
- What role does your relationship with your partner and your own mindset play?
A full transcript follows.
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Bridgit Danner runs an online women’s health community called Women’s Wellness Collaborative. Through this community, she interviews experts in women’s health through blogs, videos, podcasts and online summits. Bridgit Danner practiced Chinese Medicine for nearly 12 years and has performed over 12,000 treatments. She is also a certified Functional Diagnostic Nutrition practitioner. She has worked extensively in the fertility field, and has worked with many professional women in helping them find health within their busy lives. Bridgit became passionate about women’s health after her own postpartum health crisis. With the help of life coaching, holistic nutrition, functional medicine and whole food cooking, she was able to recover from postpartum depression, epstein barr virus and adrenal dysregulation. She loves to share the tools and skills she’s learned, along with the tools of other experts, to help women everywhere find the energy and balance they crave.
|Hello and welcome to another edition of the PCOS Diva Podcast. This is Amy Medling. I’m a certified health coach, and I’m the founder of PCOS Diva. Today we’re going to be talking about fertility. As many of our listeners know and are probably struggling with infertility, PCOS is the leading cause of female infertility. The good news is that with lifestyle change many, many women with PCOS can get pregnant. I know in fact I’ve shared my fertility story with you all and after I made lifestyle change, I was able to get pregnant at age 37 after doctors told me that I would never get pregnant again without fertility treatment.
|I just want to let you all know that there’s so much hope and there’s a lot of information about fertility and lifestyle change on my site pcosdiva.com. Today we’re going to be talking about the points to consider infertility beyond PCOS. I’ve invited Bridgit Danner to join us to talk about this subject. Just to give you a little information about Bridgit. She runs an online women’s health community called Women’s Wellness Collaborative. Through this community she interviews experts in women’s health through blogs, videos, podcast and online summits.
|She has a wonderful summit coming up that I’m going to be excited to share with you, and we’ll talk a little bit more at the end of the podcast about it but it’s called Hormones Women’s Wellness Summit. Bridget has practiced Chinese medicine for nearly 12 years and has performed over 12,000 treatments. She’s also a certified functional diagnostic nutrition practitioner and she’s worked extensively in the fertility field. Welcome Bridgit to the PCOS Diva Podcast.
|Hi Amy I’m so happy to be here. Hello to all your listeners.
|Let’s jump in to our topic. A woman with PCOS who is trying to get pregnant and has changed her diet and her lifestyle and has added some appropriate nutritional supplements and is seeing a fertility specialist, but she’s still having a hard time getting pregnant, what are some of the other factors that she should be thinking about and considering?
|There are a few other factor that I thought we could talk about today. One is the age factor and the second is your partner. The third is your relationship with your partner, and then also we’re going to talk about is the relationship to yourself and how you’re feeling through this process. What you’re doing with the PCOS work is so valuable on so many levels. One is you’re healing your PCOS, but also as you get more nutrition that’s helping to feed your cells and the information that they need to do their job.
|I know you encourage moderate exercise and taking care of yourself and detoxing. All these things are really so potent. I’m thankful for your work and if people are listening and they’re following your guidelines, I’m sure they’re well on their way and like you said there’s a happy ending with PCOS. It really is quite manageable with natural treatment. That’s the good news.
|Absolutely and there is a lot of hope. I know you’ve worked with women with PCOS and you had a practice that was focused on fertility. I’m sure you’ve heard from a lot of women whose doctors have told them that they can’t get pregnant with PCOS. I just want to make that clear that a large majority of women with PCOS can, but there’s some other factors to consider too. Why don’t we talk a little bit about age?
|Sure. I think with celebrities getting pregnant at late ages, I think it can be a little bit deceptive that we can get pregnant whenever we want. Then also most of us are choosing to have kids later. We’re delaying that as we develop our careers. Maybe we just haven’t found the right person yet. I think we have a really amazing culture here in the US for women. We can do so much and sometimes we think, “I can do whatever I want to do. Look at all these things I’ve created in my life. I can create a baby whenever I want.”
|Age is a factor. It’s just a biological fact. It starts to decline really perimenopause begins at 35. Perimenopause is when the ovaries start to decline in their function. Part of that is that the eggs are running lower. It’s just biological timing. We’re not meant to be having eggs until we’re 80. It starts to decline at 35. It’s not a death sentence at 35 by any means, but I do find my ladies from like 35 to 39, I do see miscarriage more often. The egg quality isn’t quite as good anymore. Then they could be experiencing more issues with their cycle than they used to.
|Outside of the PCOS conversation just if there’s less hormone being made, if there’s less signaling between the brain and the ovaries, if the adrenals aren’t strong enough to support that slight decline in the ovaries, it is a factor. It’s again not like a death sentence, but it is something to consider. Then when we get over 40, frankly it does get tougher both for men and women. I was reading a statistic the other day that if a 45 year old man is with a like 25 year old woman, it’ll probably still take them 2 years to conceive and that’s not on her. That’s on him. Age factors in for both parties.
|Our eggs have been with us since before we were born and they have a big job to grow intensely and use a lot of energy for fertility once the sperm is in the egg. There’s just a smaller chance of a successful pregnancy in any cycle. It doesn’t mean there’s no chance, but it often means waiting longer which is exactly not what someone wants to hear after age 40 that they’re going to have to wait longer to get pregnant. Just some things to consider. We can talk about some ways to support it. It is going to play a factor maybe to a lesser extent 35 to 39 but 40 to 45 it’ll play a pretty dominant factor.
|I think for women with PCOS, we find that in more finding as we age and come into that period of time 35 and older that our cycles start returning to a more regular rhythm. Our androgen levels start to go down naturally and our hormones regulate themselves. For women with PCOS, it is certainly isn’t unheard of for your cycles to become normal. If you had a really hard time conceiving in your 20’s, I hear a lot of women that have little surprises as they get into the late 30’s early 40’s as well. Maybe you could talk … I don’t know if you want to talk about that. Also there’s been some studies that show that women with PCOS could possibly have a longer fertility window to … because they haven’t ovulated as much throughout their life that they may be able to remain fertile longer.
|I should have mentioned this right off the bat before I scared people. The reduction in the amount of testosterone that circulating as we age can be a benefit for women. I just recently learned from another PCOS expert who is on our upcoming summit as well, Fiona McCulloch, that there could be a better egg reserve even into our later years because perhaps if we haven’t ovulated as often we have more eggs.
|Now I still feel like the quality of those eggs with time is probably still a factor, but it might not play as much of a factor because if there’s more eggs overall that’s just creating a stronger signal out of the ovaries to the brain. I think there is an advantage there. It’s really exciting unless you don’t want to have a baby, then you need to be careful. Like you said a few babies could be coming at 37. I can think of a friend of a friend who gave up on getting pregnant. She never really pursued natural medicine but totally had a baby in her late 30’s. They were very happy. She probably had a PCOS case. As I was in my armchair reflecting on some things I saw with her. I was like, “Yeah it’s really great, and its really exciting.”
|I’m excited to hear that Dr. McCulloch is on your summit because she’s just a wealth of knowledge. I believe she has a book coming out within this year. I think maybe later this year. So definitely, I’ll be tuning in to hear her discussion on your summit. You had mentioned about partners and that their age is a factor too but maybe you could speak a little bit about what other factors to consider with your partner. Does his nutrition and his lifestyle really matter?
|Yeah I definitely think it does and women are so complicated and our reproductive health is that we get a lot of the focus of the fertility treatments. We’re usually the drivers in the healthcare discussion and the treatment options. I’ve been practicing fertility. I was practicing fertility a long time, and I never had a man call me and say, “I’m looking for help for our case.” It’s always a woman making the decisions and seeing the doctors. The fact is so they say that in cases of infertility, a third of it will be male factor alone. A third will be female factor alone and another third will be mixed.
|Really potentially there are 2/3 of these cases involve male factor. One could be age like we mentioned. If you’re 40 probably your partner is around 40 too, not necessarily, but that’s one thing to consider. Also his diet is important just like your diet is important. You were telling me before we got on air that you’ve heard a lot of women be frustrated that they’re making changes and their partner isn’t, and I hear the same thing all the time. Hopefully, we can keep changing the discussion about it takes 2. Hopefully in more conventional world that comes across too.
|Sometimes women will tell me oh you know we saw our reproductive endocrinologist and she said he’s fine or she says there’s nothing he can do change his sperm quality which frankly is not true. There are other doctors who do have more education and are putting their male clients on antioxidants and fish oil and having him do some things to enhance his sperm quality and nutrition. That’s really good.
|The tricky thing about the conversation with your partner is force and fighting doesn’t really work, doesn’t really make things better. There needs to be other options for how to communicate and how to go about that that we can talk about. There is his nutrition which he’s making sperm all the time unlike us with our eggs that started out so long ago. Our eggs still get nourished by nutrition, but men are making sperm all the time. If you have intercourse today, he just made those sperm a few months ago so he can really change his quality of sperm very quickly which is exciting.
|His nutrition and then also his hormonal health. Just like just like us our brains are communicating with our ovaries. His brain is communicating with his testes. His dominant hormone is testosterone, so does he have enough of it? Other factors that lower testosterone being things like stress. Just like for us ladies if we’re under a lot of stress, we don’t make as much sex hormone. He’s under a lot of stress, he might not be making as much sex hormone either. If he’s not exercising, he might not be making as much. If he’s overweight, his fatty tissue will be putting out estrogen and imbalancing the testosterone.
|One way to potentially approach this with your partner if some of these issues are going on in your relationship are to just to focus on the 2 of you just getting healthy for the sake of your own health and happiness. If he’s stressed at work and he’s self-medicating with whiskey and ice cream and sitting on the couch, that’s one way to handle to it but there’s, “Hey let’s take walks after dinner. Let’s go away to a retreat weekend.” Let’s eat some food that he likes that are also healthy.
|Get him on board for improving his own health and happiness because I think for either man or woman when you think, “I’m just doing this to get the baby.” You can start to get some resentment and it doesn’t feel good. If you think, “Actually I would love to be 10 pounds lighter and I would love to start riding my bike again.” That’s one way to approach it that gets him some more immediate wins and hopefully like the 2 of you can get on a page together to encourage each other to be healthy.
|I want to direct listeners to an article that my husband wrote on PCOS Diva because it’s great to hear a man’s perspective about changing the lifestyle piece of it. It took a while for my husband to get on board. I think every guy is different and sometimes they have to do it at their own pace. My husband in the article he writes how much he loved beer and cheese but he decided that he loved me more and instead of …
|I know. Instead of throwing back another slice of pizza while I was eating kale and quinoa and organic chicken or whatever for dinner, he decided that it needs to be a family lifestyle change. It’s only benefited all of us especially my husband because he’s in much better health than he was 5, 7 years ago. I think part of it is just not nagging and just leading by example. By eating well and taking care of yourself you become a stronger, happier, better person. I think my husband thought, “I want some of that.” I’m going to post the link to an article under the podcast because I think a lot of what you’re saying he shares in that.
|It’s not a lost cause. There are many husbands that have come on board and I’ve heard lots of Divas talk about their husband making the shift but it’s a process and it may not happen overnight but keep encouraging rather than nagging.
|I totally agree. That just puts a relationship in the wrong dynamic. You can get frustrated sometimes I just got frustrated my husband because I don’t use the microwave. I’m against microwaves and I found out just today that he has a toaster oven at his work but he still will microwave the food that I lovingly made with organic ingredients. I was so mad. I get frustrated with the same time like you said I lead by example. He gives me a hard time sometimes like, “Why can’t we just have pizza?”
|He’s happy to eat what I cook and when he goes away for work trip and he eats pizza for 3 days, he comes back saying, “I feel awful. What are we having for dinner?” It is a bit of a process, but I think we all feel better when we eat better. It’s tricky with fertility because if you perhaps have waited 9 months into trying to think about getting healthier, you have some anxiety or you feel like you’re behind.
|Ideally, we like to start the conversation on creating a healthy body much sooner if possible. Say you’re already 9 months in and don’t worry about it. Don’t beat yourself up, but you are like you said you’re creating a healthy family. Even if there’s only 2 of you now there will be more of you and think about family you want to create. I think that’s a great conversation to have early. When you’re 2 working people maybe you’re getting take out. You’re working late. These habits form, but is that what you want when you have a family? Well probably not.
|You probably want to have dinner at the table and you want to go to the park. You want to be like the family that you envision. Creating some of that sooner I think is the great idea. Can you 2 sit together and have dinner at a decent hour and that kind of a thing. If you’re 9 months in, still do that also.
|I love that point and that’s such an excellent point Bridgit. I feel like one of the greatest gifts that I’ve given to my kids is to teach them how to eat and cook healthy food. The cooking part is a real lost art, and if you and your husband aren’t comfortable in the kitchen, I think that that’s something that can be a real relationship builder then go take some cooking classes together. On a Friday night plan a special menu and get in the kitchen and I call it sizzling in the kitchen and cook together. It can be a real pleasurable experience and you’re doing something good for both of you.
|I am trying to do more of that. I did get my son in the kitchen sometimes. Again it seems to be an area where you can feel resentment come out if you’re not careful. I get always stressed at the end of cooking a meal because it’s like the timing is getting really critical right at the end. You got to get this out before it gets cold and all that. I’m realizing I need to engage him sooner to be in the kitchen sooner because I found like I need help setting the table. He’s wandering in and I’m already a little bit stressed out because dinner is ready to go. I’m like I really just to get him in here sooner so that I can ask him to help in a peaceful way.
|Then trying to do that a little earlier have him prep a bit or just like, “Hey why don’t you just come in the kitchen and like hang out and talk with me on cooking so that we can be together.” It’s a really important thing. I totally agree. Cooking is becoming a lost art and if you want to be healthy, you have to start to cook. I was not a master chef when I started to cook probably like you Amy I was on Rice-A-Roni and maybe some streamed broccoli or something and little by little …
|Lean cuisine, those were my favorites.
|Microwave your lean cuisine. Little by little you learn just like you said little by little you learn.
|You also had mentioned on sperm quality and how people say that there’s some doctors say that there’s not much that can be done. You’re right there’s absolutely a lot that can be done. I just wanted to point people to the podcast that I just did with Dr. Mark Ratner. He’s a male fertility specialist and we talked about antioxidants like vitamin C and acetyl cysteine, CoQ10, selenium. He had suggested some nice supplements blends to support male fertilely. Check that podcast out, but you’re right Bridgit. I think a lot of times you have to become educated and be your own advocate at the doctor’s office. Be a diva and go with your husband and advocate for him as well.
|I think as we move into fertility with our partner, fertility questions we often are coming from a different value system that doesn’t come up until we’re in the mix so to speak. I think you told me earlier women are often more enthusiastic about natural treatment and they believe in it and they’ve done the research. Then their male partner is like, “No that’s a waste of money. That snake oil or something.” It’s become like a thing where you just have to be on the same page and he probably has his own feelings of it can be more embarrassing for men than women to be involved with fertility issues.
|Just handling those conversations with some tenderness for each other so you can find some common ground is really important. It’s good as like we say we’re laying the foundation for our family you’re going to have more difficult choices as you raise your children and grow old together. Learning to communicate and understanding each other are coming from so you can create a common front is great.
|I think we really touched on some great points to consider in fertility beyond PCOS. We talked about age. We talked about your partner and what you can do to help your partner and then that importance of your relationship I love that point. I think also mindset plays an important role in fertility. I spoke with Aimee Raupp recently and we did a podcast. She was talking about instead of having an infertile mindset so like, “I can’t get pregnant. I suffer with infertility.” Kind of switch that and reframe that to “I’m fertility challenged.”
|The focus being on the fertility part or I’m just … “It’s taking me a little longer to achieve fertility.” I thought that was a nice mindset tip. Do you have any other thoughts on how you can shift that whole infertility journal is a journey is just a rollercoaster. I know I’ve been there and it’s hard to not sink in to the negative. Do you have any other thoughts about how to stay up and positive?
|Yeah that’s a great tip she had. Everybody has their own timeline. We don’t totally get to decide everything. That you in that alone can be hard because I think we feel like we have so much control in modern life but we don’t unfortunately have control over this timing. Some of my favorite clients are the ones who are just like really able to stay grounded and find some hope and not to say you won’t have some hard moments. There are some really tragic things that happen to become pregnant and miscarry is heartbreaking or to spend thousands of dollars on an IVF and it doesn’t work is crushing.
|Some of the women I’ve seen really stick through like very long processes. They just more often say, “I know I’m going to be a mother. I know it’s going to happen for me. I know that’s what meant for me.” I think that’s a healthy attitude and then also it allows you to be more open to how it will happen because some people do end up adopting or becoming a mother in another way. I can tell you from being on the observer of many of these situations like they’re always just as happy whether they had an egg donor or sperm donor or whatever happens, they’re always just as happy with their baby.
|Also concentrating on what you want rather than how it happened I think can be good. It can be very crazy making so just doing practices like you teach, Amy, to stay grounded, meditating, journaling, having gratitude. I know you teach about that and I think that’s huge because we can start to feel like our life is all about lack because we don’t have the baby that we still want but we probably have a partner. We probably have a job, probably you know there’s a million things we can write a whole journal about our cat, how great he is. Having that attitude of abundance and gratitude that always attracts more and you’re attracting the people to help you. You’re attracting that energy.
|Then like I think just like we mentioned earlier slowing down your pace and having some space for a baby. If you’re going 90 miles an hour to spin class and work and cocktails, where is the space for a baby in that lifestyle? I think it’s a great idea even though you could tend to want to choose to be anxious and fill your day with Google searches and thoughts about babies. Slow down the day, make space to be in nature, to have a cup of tea, bring in that pace of how motherhood is a very slow pace when you have a new baby. Just bring some of that in.
|Then I guess lastly is like don’t isolate yourself. There’s nothing to be ashamed of if you’re taking longer to get pregnant. You don’t have to talk to everybody about it, but talk to some people that you feel safe with whether it’s your PCOS Diva community or if it’s your acupuncturist or if you have a coach or you have a friend who’s been through it. I think being so bottled up with all the feelings is a hard burden. Find some outlet for that.
|Those are all great points. I just am so pleased that you come on and talk to us about this subject today. I want to make sure that we have a chance to learn more about your hormone summit that’s coming up because I think there’s going to be a lot of speakers that women with PCOS will resonate with and will learn a lot from.
|There’s you and we mentioned Fiona McCulloch talking about PCOS, but there’s lots of background information about hormones. How your gut interacts with hormone, how your brain interacts with your hormones, how your adrenals interact with your hormones. We talk about life stages. I talk about fertility. We have someone talking about nutrition during pregnancy, what you might experience in your postpartum period.
|As you know we’re talking a lot about babies today, but it’s not just for reproduction. We also talk about perimenopause, and we talk a little here and there about raising our daughters and teaching them about their cycles. I want to hope to really just empower people, women in particular, with more information about how our bodies work and from there we can feel like less of a victim of these crazy forces within us and feel like a little bit more like okay, I can influence how I feel in the day or throughout my month and just give some tips and give some hope.
|That is so important the whole piece and I’m just really thrilled to be part of the summit. There’s a wonderful group of speakers and there’s so many summits out there nowadays but this is topnotch, and I really encourage people listening to check it out. I’m going to have a page on PCOS Diva with more information about the upcoming Hormone Women’s Wellness Summit. You can find that pcosdiva.com/hormonesummit. I will put the link at the bottom of the podcast page as well. Thank you, Bridgit, so much for joining us. We look forward to joining you on your upcoming summit. Just give us the dates for that.
|It’s April 11 to 18, 2016. If you catch this after the event. It’s free while its live. You can still purchase it once it’s over. Then you can always if you want to be a part of a second women’s health community besides PCOS Diva. we’re at Women’s Wellness Collaborative if you want to search that. We have ongoing resources as well.
|Great! I will definitely post that below the podcast too. Thank you everyone for listening today, and I look forward to being with you again soon. Bye!