6 Steps I Took to Help Conceive Naturally

6 Steps I Took to Help Conceive Naturally (and overcome infertility due to short luteal phase)

I’ve discovered one benefit of not conceiving as planned: you have the opportunity to get to know your body really well.

Other couples decide they want a baby, go off the Pill, and BLAM: within a few months they’re pregnant. Without ever having really had a chance to learn about their bodies, or really understand how the whole process happened. Which is great, and I envy them; but it also means a bit of a missed opportunity.

Things are different when it takes you almost two years to conceive a much-desired baby — TWICE — and you’re a pathological researcher.

After three and a half combined years of reading, researching, charting, and making lifestyle changes in attempts to get pregnant, I’ve had the chance to learn a LOT. About the female body in general, and also about my body in particular.

I am currently pregnant with my second baby after 19 months of trying (and lots of reading in the meantime). I thought I’d share a few of the things I’ve learned along the way.

Over the last five years, I’ve learned all about the reproductive system and how different hormones interact within the female body. I learned how to track my fertility signs via the fertility awareness method, so that I was familiar with my body’s monthly rhythms. I knew when I ovulated and when I hadn’t. I learned about how environment and food can play a part in all of it. I also learned about my body’s very specific strengths and difficulties.

And through gradual lifestyle changes, both times I was able to conceive naturally, without the help of drugs, surgery, or hormones.

I thought I’d share some of the steps I took, in case there are other women suffering from similar fertility issues, and could benefit from some of my research and experiences.

Please note that I am NOT a qualified expert, and that I have absolutely no scientific proof that any of these steps actually helped me get pregnant. It may have been none of them; it may have been all of them combined. It may have been luck or a miracle from God. I have no way of knowing. I just thought I’d share a few of the things I learned and tried. I hope it might act as a jumping-off place for your own research.

Also note that I was dealing with a very specific problem, which I identified through practicing fertility awareness. If you’re having trouble conceiving, it is very important that you learn the cause of the problem (if possible). This may require the help of a medical doctor or other fertility expert. Your problems could be completely different from my own, and so the steps I took might not be helpful for your situation. (The first step I would recommend, if you haven’t already been doing this, is learning fertility awareness.)

uterus embroidery hoopImage courtesy of Hey Paul

My Specific Problem: Short Luteal Phase

After several months of reading and charting, I began to recognize that my problem was that I had a luteal phase deficiency. In other words, I could see that I was ovulating every month, but my post-ovulatory phase — i.e. the luteal phase — was too short. This didn’t give the fertilized egg enough time to make it to the uterus before my uterine lining began to shed (i.e. before I got my period). (It usually takes the egg at least 10 days to travel down the fallopian tube into the uterus; my body was only giving it 6-8 days before initiating menstruation.) It was like a super-early miscarriage every month.

So I began to dig deeper into this very specific problem. I began to focus on the interaction between estrogen and progesterone, the two key hormones involved in the luteal phase.

Here’s a basic breakdown of the process: during the luteal phase, the ovarian follicle that released the egg — now the “corpus luteum” — starts releasing progesterone, which causes the uterine lining (endometrium) to thicken and sustain itself — to prepare for the implantation of the fertilized egg — until the corpus luteum disintegrates. But if it doesn’t release enough progesterone, the lining will start to shed prematurely, preventing implantation of the fertilized egg. Which means pregnancy can’t happen.

So in other words, a short luteal phase — which makes pregnancy impossible — is associated with low levels of progesterone. Fertility doctors frequently treat the condition with progesterone supplementation. I tend to be wary of medical intervention unless absolutely necessary, so I went searching for ways to increase progesterone levels naturally.

I learned from Marilyn Shannon’s Fertility, Cycles and Nutrition that low progesterone levels are usually associated with high estrogen (known as “estrogen dominance”). So part of increasing progesterone levels involves lowering estrogen levels. Many of the steps I list below have this in mind.

B vitamins and diet play a role in regulating estrogen and progesterone levels. As Shannon explains, “If B vitamins are lacking, the liver cannot effectively inactivate estrogen, and estrogen rises” (p. 69). Vitamin B6 in particular can elevate progesterone levels, which works synergistically with magnesium and zinc, among other nutrients.

SO. Having all that in mind, here are some of the things I did to help naturally balance my hormones to lengthen my luteal phase and encourage a natural conception.

Steps I Took To Help Conceive Naturally

Complete Weaning

I was still nursing my firstborn past her second birthday, when I started to get really anxious about having another baby. I really wanted her to have a sibling, but it just wasn’t happening.

Of course, LOTS of women get pregnant while breastfeeding, especially if breast milk is not the child’s primary source of sustenance (which, at two, it definitely wasn’t). But since I already struggled with low progesterone levels,  I guessed that continued nursing wasn’t doing me any favours. Lactating inhibits the development of the corpus luteum, which can lead to low progesterone levels and short luteal phases.

So I decided to completely wean my daughter as a step towards being able to conceive again.

Put on Some Weight

I am a naturally skinny lady. It’s just the way I was built, despite the fact that I love to eat. Extended breastfeeding (see above) also prevented me from gaining weight. And body fat is essential to a healthy pregnancy.

Plenty of slender women have no trouble getting pregnant, but my charts seemed to indicate that perhaps a low BMI was partly responsible for my low progesterone levels. According to Marilyn Shannon, if you have a low BMI, delayed ovulation (i.e. you don’t ovulate until Day 20 or later), along with a short luteal phase, you may be slightly underweight and could benefit from gaining a couple of pounds (p. 108).

Obviously, this was the most enjoyable step as it meant homemade ice cream or buttery stovetop popcorn every night, with the justification that is was “so Lydia can have a sibling.” I also began to put on more weight once I stopped nursing. I knew I was on the right track when my thighs started touching.

Supplementation: Optivite PMT and Vitex Agnus (Chasteberry)

supplements to support fertility

As I mentioned, Vitamin B6, along with magnesium and a host of other vitamins and minerals, are essential to healthy progesterone levels.

I could have tried taking all these vitamins separately, but I discovered a multivitamin (again, via the great Marylin Shannon) that emphasizes these vitamins and is specifically designed balance estrogen and progesterone: Optivite PMT. I took it for several months both times I tried to conceive. It’s not ideal in that it’s a tablet, but it’s reasonably inexpensive and contains all the vitamins in the proportions I was looking for. I got mine directly from the manufacturer, here. (Don’t be weirded out by the format of the site. They delivered directly to my home for a low shipping rate.)

I also took Vitex Agnus (Chasteberry) in capsule form, an herb that is believed to affect many hormones that regulate women’s reproductive cycles. It is gentle, slow-working, and considered extremely safe. Some studies have suggested that it can increase progesterone (Shannon, p. 74). It is also fairly inexpensive and easy to find at your local health food store.

Supplementation: Transdermal Magnesium

I’d read that magnesium is essential in the production of progesterone; however, oral magnesium is very difficult for the body to assimilate. Many health gurus recommend taking magnesium transdermally — i.e. through the skin. It’s much more effective that way.

So I started using magnesium oil. I made my own, using magnesium flakes, and began applying it after showers and before bed. I would toss some Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) into my bath or the floor of the shower to soak some in.

Reducing All Phytoesterogens and Xenoestrogens in my Environment

As I mentioned, low progesterone levels are associated with elevated estrogen levels. And our environments today are incredibly high in phytoestrogens and xenoestrogens — that is, estrogen-mimicking chemicals that can build up in our bodies. These estrogen-like chemicals are found in plastics; body products like shampoo, makeup, deodorant, lotions, etc; and soy products. And they can wreak havoc on our hormones. So I got rid of all of them.  I worked to reduce the number of estrogens I was exposed to on a daily basis.

I ditched shampoo in favour of the no-poo method. I started making my own deodorant and lotion. I bought all-natural soaps and ditched all fragrances. I started storing my food in glass instead of plastic. And I cooked from scratch, since soy has a habit of hiding in the most surprising places in pre-packaged food.

I had already done these things with my first pregnancy, but when I found myself unable to get pregnant a second time, I tried to see if there were any more changes I could make. I switched out my homemade laundry detergent, which used Borax (and might contain estrogen-like properties), and started using soap nuts.

Progesterone Cream

When none of the above steps seemed to do enough, I finally gave in and started using over-the-counter progesterone cream. I went with Progestelle Progesterone Oil, since it only contains bioidentical progesterone and coconut oil. (Ironically, many progesterone creams contain xenoestrogens!). I applied it to my skin every cycle during my luteal phase, and continued to use it throughout my first trimester when I finally got pregnant.

Iodine Supplementation

My progesterone oil came with a booklet from the Women’s Therapaeutic Institute. In it, the authors suggest that iodine deficiency is often implicated in estrogen dominance. They recommend supplementing iodine. The cheapest and most effective way to take iodine, they suggest, is by applying it to your skin.

I bought a bottle of Lugol’s iodine from my local pharmacy and began applying one drop to my skin a day. I slowly increased this over the next 3 months to 15 drops a day. It stained my skin yellow wherever I applied it and made my laundry smell like iodine; but this is a small price to pay if it did indeed help me to conceive.

Further Reading

Fertility, Cycles and Nutrition – Marilyn M. Shannon. An invaluable resource for learning how to correct menstrual and fertility issues through diet and lifestyle.

Taking Charge of Your Fertility – Toni Weschler. My absolute favourite book on fertility awareness.

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  1. Thanks for sharing these! I’ll set these aside for the future. ;-)

    Also, I didn’t know that the body more easily assimilated magnesium through the skin! I’ve taken a magnesium supplement for years, but I may need to make some of that magnesium oil instead.

    • Hi Lianna! I’m trying to remember where I first heard about the transdermal thing, and I’m trying to find a good link. But I guess it’s hard for the body to digest — often resulting in (ahem) digestive disturbances, because most just goes straight through the digestive tract. It’s mentioned here and here.

  2. Yay for conceiving! I, for one, am thankful to have been a beneficiary of your knowledge in the past, which ultimately led me to figuring out the solution to my own fertility problems. (Well, maybe “solution” is a strong word, but you know.) FAM FTW!

  3. What a blessing it is that these steps worked for you to help you conceive naturally! That is really such a gift and a blessing that so many people pray for, and I specifically have almost made it a holy Grail in some sense (I wrote about it several years ago but have still never been able to “conceive naturally” by my own definition). It is a specific trial to be so naturally minded and be faced with the decision to pursue invasive medical procedures like surgery. You did a great job with the disclaimers, but posts like this are understandably difficult to read, when you see that what works for one person didn’t work for you. But it is a simultaneous reminder that we CAN and SHOULD do things in our life to change and better our health. That is the only reasonable place to start.
    alison recently posted..Thankful – 6/11/2014My Profile

  4. Also, just a note about progesterone cream….this stuff can prevent you from ovulating or even cause a miscarriage if you take it at the wrong time in your cycle so please please please don’t anyone take it sooner than peak+3. And of you don’t know what that means, talk to a NFP instructor or at the very least read the FAM book. No need to further complicate our fertility problems!
    alison recently posted..Thankful – 6/11/2014My Profile

  5. The link to the multi-vitamin is taking me to a post of yours about popcorn. Might want to change that. :)

  6. I have charted for 4 months and realize my LP is only 10 days. I realize this isn’t that short but I’m also not getting pregnant. I also spot several days after my period and have a poor thermal shift, so I do feel this adds up to low progesterone. My question is did you do all the above things at once? So, did you take optivite, vitex and natural progesterone cream all at once? Did you intro 1 at a time and see what each did to your LP? Just curious because your situation seems very similar to mine. I am also quite thin and know I need to gain a little fat. Thanks!!!

    • Hi Lisa! I am DEFINITELY not a qualified expert, but it does sound like low progesterone to me, too. The first time I dealt with it, I did try just one thing at a time to see how they worked (starting with Optivite and vitex). The second time around I kind of did everything at once since I had experience with it all and wanted to maximize my chances of achieving pregnancy. I wish you all the best during this difficult and frustrating time!

  7. Amanda Mcleod says

    I just want to say thank you so much for writing this article you have informed me so much, on things I’ve never even heard of. The vitamins you suggested are on there way to be delivered right now. I think that they will do wonders for me. Thanks again!

  8. Wow, I’m so so so so thankful to stumble on your blog post. I had a miscarriage a year and a half ago, and my body has been incredibly out of whack since then… Been wondering why I’ve been having anxiety, dry eyes, spotting, breast tenderness and haven’t been able to conceive in the last four months. Getting my blood tests done to check my thyroid, and starting to supplement with chasteberry… Also trying to incorporate some liver into my diet daily (I cut up tiny pieces of liver and freeze them and take a couple in the morning like supplements)

  9. Thank you for writing this! It was extremely encouraging and informative. Question, when you were supplementing with the Progesterone, did you stop taking Vitex at 3-DPO and start with the Progesterone or did you continue to take the Vitex throughout your entire cycle? Also, did you switch to a prenatal and off the Optivite once you found out you were pregnant? I only ask because the Optivite is lower in folic acid than would be ideal. Thanks!

    • Hi Sarah! I continued with the vitex throughout my cycle, only stopping when I found out I was pregnant. And yes, I switched to a prenatal once I found out I was pregnant. (Though if I recall correctly, I think I was taking a folate supplement at the time too just to be sure.)

  10. Hi, just read your post and it was very helpful! Thank you! I am 25 & we have two kids but would love to have one more, however it has been a big struggle. I have been pregnant twice this year, but lost the 1st at 7wks & the 2nd at 4wks. Really believe the first died from food poisoning and after that I believe my hormones went out of whack. After reading alot of articles I started taking vitex & B6 about a week ago and for the first time in months I have ovulated on time- previously was ovulating so late I was only having a 6 day luteal phase & some months I didn’t ovulate at all. I recently purchased progestrone oil (same brand as the one you used) but I am very unsure as to whether I should take it this cycle- in a day or so after ovulation, as my luteal phase should be longer already due to ovulating on time. Really would love some advice as doctors here in australia scorn on progestrone cream and natural remedies. Thanks

    • Hi Naomi! I am definitely NOT a doctor and can’t give advice. I’m just thinking that if it was me, I would try going a cycle without it to see if your luteal phase is indeed longer. I know it’s hard to wait even a month but natural is always better if it’s possible! Best wishes to you as your grow your precious family!

  11. Hello Kathleen

    Thank you for this lovely post. The infertility roller coaster is fraught with many emotional, physical, and financial constraints. Making the first step to go to your GP or OBGYN for information is scary and isolating. You might be afraid of what the doctor will tell you or believe that you are “defective” in some way. Coping with the emotional side of infertility and the strain this battle puts on your marital relationship, not to mention your sex life, is tangible. There is also the reality of dealing with your insurance company, employer, and curious friends/family. There is a physical toll that invasive diagnostic tests and treatments take on your body. And there is the Fear Factor-The fear of failure, of losing your dream. It is almost overwhelming.

    I wish you all the best of luck.
    Alice Clover recently posted..Health and beauty benefits of spinachMy Profile

  12. Hi Kathleen,

    I know this is an old post, but it is one I keep coming back to because I’m having the same issues as you. I’m doing acupuncture and herbs, b vitamins, magnesium and I just started bio identical progesterone cream – I’ve done two cycles with it, my luteal phase is a couple days longer from 10 days to 11-13 days but I still have brown spotting for 4-5 days before my period begins. Did you have this? How long did it take before your luteal phase was normal with the progesterone cream.

    • Hi CLare! I’m sorry to hear you’re dealing with this, too. It can be so disheartening. I’m afraid I don’t remember those kinds of details. I’m back to having short luteal phases/low progesterone, but I’m now at the point in my life where my fertility is the least of my concerns. I’m sorry! But the longer luteal phases you describe sound very encouraging! That’s really great news! Best wishes to you as you travel this wearisome but hope-filled journey!

      • Thank you Kathleen! And thanks again for this post- its one I come back to often to feel less alone. Best wishes to you and your family.

  13. While trying to conceive, are those the only 2 tablets you took? No prenatal? I was njust wodnering if Vitex would be ok to take with prenatal.

    • Hi imee. Yes, I believe these are the only two tablets I took — Optivite should have everything a prenatal would have. (I would double-check to make sure it has enough folate/folic acid.) I believe Vitex would be fine to take with a prenatal but maybe check with an expert.

  14. I will think about it in my future. I think it will help me out on my further way.

  15. Hi, I also have a short luteal phase at an average of 9 days. Did you take the b6 all cycle long too or just following ovulation? I have b6 and also a b complex to try this cycle.

    Usually I would stop vitex following ovulation, but I’m wondering whether to keep going with that plus b6 and b complex in addition to my usual prenatal.

    I have also just bought some Epsom salts; again is that safe all cycle long or just after ovulation? I guess I’m worried that I don’t want to block oestrogen in the first half of my cycle?!

    Ifully appreciate you’re not a doctor and not qualified to advise etc but your thoughts would be welcomed! Thank you!

    • Hi Lisa! It’s been quite a number of years now, so I can’t say for sure, but I believe I took all those things all cycle long. I only stopped vitex after I was already pregnant. If you’re estrogen-dominant like me (and I would guess so, if you have a short luteal phase), I don’t think you have to worry about blocking estrogen. Best wishes to you!

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