When the time comes that you decide you want to start a family it can be exciting albeit a little daunting. Coming off the pill can be incredibly empowering and most women enjoy the process of learning the natural rhythms of the body.
When should I come off the pill?
The journey of pill to pregnancy can raise many questions and doubts. In my experience as a naturopath the best outcomes for women occur when time and energy is put into preparing for a pregnancy. I recommend implementing a preconception plan, a 3-6 month journey in which you (and your partner if relevant) prioritise getting physically and mentally ready to conceive.
Before you dive into a preconception plan let's get clear on what the transition off the pill may look like.
How does the pill affect fertility?
The pill shuts down ovulation. As the body receives synthetic hormones the communication between the brain and the ovaries is halted, inhibiting the signal for the ovaries to mature and release an egg, ultimately preventing ovulation.
Ovulation is a key biological process that is required for pregnancy to occur. After coming off the pill it may take some time for your hormones to balance and for ovulation to commence. The time frame on this differs from 2 weeks to several months, if it takes longer than 3 months for you to get a period back I recommend you book in with a health practitioner.
Does the pill deplete me of nutrients?
The pill is known to deplete the body of many nutrients including zinc, magnesium, B vitamins, folate, selenium, tyrosine.
Low levels of these nutrients are linked to fatigue, anxiety, poor thyroid function and mood changes. It is likely that supplementation is necessary as part of a pill-to-pregnancy plan to restore these nutrients prior to conception.
Secondly, the pill can cause increased permeability of the gut lining and reduced nutrient absorption. In simple terms this means your gut health has been compromised and as a result the vitamins & minerals from the food you are eating are not getting into your blood stream and travelling to areas they need to be. Symptoms of poor gut health range from constipation, diarrhoea and bloating to skin problems, fatigue, joint pain and headaches. Focusing on gut healing foods will help you have a smoother transition off the pill.
What is a preconception plan?
The aim of a preconception plan is to:
- Prepare both physically and mentally so you feel healthy and ready to conceive
- Reduce the occurrence of post-pill symptoms (most commonly acne)
- Support hormones back into balance (this includes regulating your cycle after coming off the pill)
- Restore nutrient levels so you are not playing “catch up” throughout your pregnancy
I recommend the following steps:
Step 1- Prepare for pregnancy with your GP
Consult with your doctor about coming off the pill (or other contraceptive methods).
This is also a good opportunity to speak with your doctor about appropriate preconception blood testing. You may want to ask your doctor to check key nutrient levels such as:
- Vitamin D
- Serum zinc
- Serum copper
If you have existing health concerns, it can be wise to get further testing done in relevant areas – e.g. ultrasounds, hormone testing, heavy metal testing, stool/digestive test.
Step 2- Start taking a prenatal vitamin
Start a preconception supplement regime. You may wish to get advice from a naturopath or nutritionist for this as everybody has unique needs and requirements.
Ideally you want to be on a prenatal supplement for 3 months prior to conception as egg development and maturation takes approximately 100 days. Therefore diet, supplements and lifestyle in the months leading up to conception can influence egg quality.
Step 3- Start your preconception diet
Implement dietary and lifestyle changes that help heal your gut and balance your hormones.
I recommend following a whole-foods diet that brings focus to building up good gut health by limiting processed foods, alcohol and refined sugars. Your diet should be filled with good quality proteins (animal & vegetarian), fresh fruits (2 pieces daily), a mix of raw and cooked vegetables (aim for a minimum of 5 servings), and healthy fats fish, eggs, avocado, nuts, seeds and olive oil). Add in gut healing extras such as bone broths, gelatin, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and miso.
The journey of pill-to-pregnancy can have many ups and downs, this is normal but don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Health practitioners that can support you in this process include: GP, naturopath, nutritionist, acupuncturist, psychologist/counsellor and more.