We talk to renowned fertility expert Zita West about preparing your body for pregnancy a second time around
With her innovative holistic approach to conception and pregnancy, Zita West has become one of the most prominent fertility experts in the UK – everyone from Kate Winslet to Stella McCartney has sought her advice during their pregnancies. One of the first to introduce acupuncture for pregnant women, she is a trained midwife who developed her practice when she recognised there was a need for an alternative approach to the traditional medicalised help available to couples having difficulty trying to conceive. Focusing on nutrition and lifestyle, her pioneering method looks at all aspects of life that could impact on fertility and pregnancy. Here we talk to the world-renowned expert about trying for a baby after pregnancy and how even small changes can have a significant effect.
Is it just as easy or hard to fall pregnant again as it was the first time?
Very often what I see in my clinic is that if you get pregnant quickly the first time around you are lulled into a false sense of security. It can sometimes take longer the second time around and so women begin to worry about their fertility status before they need to. Even with regular sex, it can generally take up to six to 12 months to become pregnant.
Is it true that you are more fertile after childbirth?
Not necessarily. It depends on the birth, how tired you are, whether you are breastfeeding and of course, as ever, your age.
Putting aside financial and emotional reasons, in sole regards to your body, when is the best time to have another child?
I see so many women who are older and have one baby and they try very quickly for another because they are concerned about their age and want more than one child. In an ideal world you would probably wait longer between having children as it can take the body a good 18 months to fully recover from childbirth.
How long should you try to conceive before seeing a fertility specialist?
This is age dependent and history dependant for both partners. If you are under 35 and having frequent sex, at least three times a week, you may need to seek help if you have not conceived after 12 months. This is longer than many women expect it should take and as a result they can begin to worry earlier than they should. However, if your own history or that of any of your family suggests that there may be fertility issues then as a starting point it is important to get some tests – both male and female fertility tests. Also, if your mother had an early menopause then seek help sooner.
Is it possible to have fertility problems and not realise, as you fell pregnant naturally with your first baby?
Yes because things change – hormones and underlying medical factors change.
What are the simple ways that women can help increase their fertility?
Assuming you are having sex around three times per week you can help increase your chances of becoming pregnant by getting your body ‘baby ready’. This involves, as we do at the clinic, assessing your nutrition and lifestyle and making adjustments that support conception including the following:
Weight Management – Many women try to lose weight before becoming pregnant but this may not help your chances of conceiving. Without body fat, the cascade of pituitary hormones turns off, stopping your periods. Your body needs fat to produce oestrogen – even if you have a period, low oestrogen levels reduce your chances of ovulation. Also, if your body perceives that you’re not getting enough nutrients, it diverts its reserves to your vital organs, reducing the supply of nutrients to your reproductive organs. Being overweight can also be detrimental. Too much body fat raises oestrogen levels too high, causing irregular menstrual cycles and hampering ovulation.
Stress Management – Stress depletes you of nutrients – it is one of the biggest negative factors I come across. If you want to have a baby, learning techniques to help you cope with managing stress is essential. A programme of stress management techniques and therapies – including hypnotherapy, acupuncture, massage and meditation – can be very effective. However, relieving stress does not necessarily require formal techniques. Find time for a walk, meet with friends, or organise dates with your partner.
Nutritional intake – A poor nutrient intake from your diet can cause such issues as inflammation, weight gain or weight loss, damage to eggs and sperm and immune issues, all of which impact on your ability to conceive. Yet just small changes in diet can bring in a nutrient profile that better supports the health of the reproductive organs and the body as a whole to support child birth.
How does your state of mind affect your fertility?
Most of us lead extremely busy lives, juggling hectic work schedules, family demands and social lives. Excessively stressful lifestyles can affect the reproductive system, and an increase in stress hormones can interfere with ovulation in women and sperm production in men. Stress often triggers changes in our appetite too, often leading us to feel less hungry or seeking ‘comfort food’ rather than a nutritionally balanced diet. Negative emotions and behaviours can lead to increased anxiety, depression and stress, all of which are pervasive elements that affect our reproductive health. When a woman finds herself faced with another negative pregnancy test month after month, it’s understandable that she begins to feel less in control of her body and life. Anxiety sets in, stress levels increase, and the problem gets worse. A woman’s relationship with her partner is also crucial. If she feels any anger, resentment or other negative emotions towards her partner, they are probably not connecting on an emotional level and not enjoying sex – hardly a conducive environment to making a baby together. Our counselling service at the clinic helps women and couples to begin once again to feel like they are in charge of the process, work through any emotional blockages to a healthy sex life, and help to reduce and manage stress levels.
Why did you decide to develop your own line of vitamins?
Very early in my work with couples trying to conceive, it became evident that there were common nutritional gaps. It is not always practical to make the dietary choices necessary to ensure we eat the required range or quantity of nutrients that support fertility and there was nothing in the supplements market that focussed specifically on these nutrients. So I very carefully put together a range of nutritional supplements that support each stage of the reproductive process – pre-conception for both partners, the three trimesters and post-natal. Each of our supplements are specially formulated to provide the vitamins, minerals and essential fats that the cells within our body need to work at their best, including the reproductive cells. I have also recently introduced a multivitamin and mineral product for children aged 12 months to 4 years in conjunction with MyBaba.com. Our new Zita West MyBaba Children’s multivitamin is a delicious berry flavoured powder that provides children from 12 months to 4 years important nutrients that may be missing from their diets. Of course, any supplement for children is only as good as their willingness to take it, and parents know that children can be finicky about the taste no matter how nutritious. Which is why it comes in powder form with a natural strawberry flavour.