When struggling to conceive, it can feel that there is so much advice out there and so many issues you need to take account of that it can quickly become overwhelming. A preconception programme with Victoria Gazzard can help you overcome this
Here at the Alma Vale Centre, we specialise in women’s health, with fertility being a particular focus. So from preconception preparation, the conception stage itself, fertility issues for men and women, IVF, pregnancy support, and post-natal help: we have treatments and support available for you at all stages.
In this series of articles, we will be looking at each of these core stages in turn.
Our therapist Victoria Gazzard will share advice, and insights into how the particular range of treatments she offers can be of help.
We start off the series by considering how to prepare for conception. In this interview, we find out from Victoria why this is so important, but begin by asking her why she has chosen to specialise in women’s fertility.
What led you to be particularly interested in women’s health, and fertility?
I began by training as a reflexologist. Then about four years later, I decided that massage would work really well alongside this. Once I qualified in Holistic Massage and Bodywork, I then went on to do extra training in Pregnancy Massage and Post-natal Massage, Fertility Massage, Reproductive Reflexology and Maternal Reflexology. I have specialised in this area since then.
As Victoria spoke more about this she explained the difficulties she had had in conceiving:
Prior to doing the massage course, for unusual medical reasons my husband and I were told it would be very unlikely we would be able to have children. Amazingly, we somehow managed to conceive. I like to think the regular massage and the fact that my husband was super healthy helped.
What did this experience give you as a therapist?
It has given me first-hand understanding of being told that you might not be able to have children. It was quite a blow and really increased my desire to have a baby. I also learned a lot about what you can do to optimise your chances of having children. As a result of this, after my daughter was born I went on to train in reproductive reflexology, with Barbara Scott the pioneer of this programme.
So what is different about reproductive reflexology?
The difference is that it is super specific and tailored to what the hormones are supposed to be doing at a particular time in the female cycle. There are also different protocols for helping deal with symptoms of various conditions affecting the reproductive system such as PCOS, endometriosis, poor sperm parameters, and so on. It is very targeted to assisting healthy functioning of the reproductive and endocrine systems. Regular treatment sessions will allow me to evaluate what’s going on within the woman’s cycle and we track improvements from there.
What is the crucial aspect of preconception preparation?
It is about going back to basics and making sure that both partners’ cells are at optimum health for conception and for the creation of a healthy baby.
For men, the life-cycle of a sperm cell is around 90 days. So we need at least three months before trying to conceive to take action that will help get a healthy supply of sperms ready. Similarly, it takes around three months for an egg to fully mature. So, if we are working to improve egg quality, that will also take the same amount of preparation time to give you maximum benefit. This is the case whether it is for a natural conception, or via IVF.
All of the therapies I practise will play a part in this. The purpose of this work is to prepare the body and mind for a healthy pregnancy and baby.
So what does a preconception programme involve?
It is important that both partners come to the sessions, especially to the initial consultation. This will involve finding out where they are at, and helping them to understand the functioning of the women’s menstrual cycle. Many women find this eye-opening and empowering to learn of the amazing different aspects of how their body works, and the impact of hormones psychologically, emotionally and physically.
I also give basic nutrition and supplement advice – I’m not a nutritionist and will refer on if necessary. We will look into lifestyle identifying any changes that could be made. This includes looking at factors such as stress, exercise, smoking, and alcohol intake.
From all of this information, I then work out a specific programme for them both. This will be a lot more effective if both then come for subsequent treatments.
So what could this programme involve for men?
Men really can get forgotten about with much of the focus instead being on the woman. However, of the couples struggling to conceive, these problems are attributed in one-third of cases to the female, in one-third of cases to the male, with the final one-third of cases being both partners presenting with issues. So it is vital that the male role is taken into consideration as part of the preconception programme. A lot of the time, the treatment may be about simple stress management, working with their hormonal system and reproductive system to ensure they are functioning well. The fertility reflexology treatments I provide are generally the same each week for the man, as they don’t have the same hormonal fluctuations as women. We tend to focus on improving the health of the sperm within these treatments.
How many treatments will this involve?
Ideally, men should have six weeks of weekly reproductive reflexology. Treatments will then reduce down to fortnightly sessions. It is advisable that a semen analysis be done before the reflexology programme begins and then after three months to monitor improvement.
For the man, it doesn’t matter when the treatments are each week, but for the woman this will be driven by her menstrual cycle and I will see her during her bleed, pre-ovulation, 5-7 days post-ovulation and then again 7 days after this.
How regularly should the woman have treatment?
For the woman, treatment is on a weekly basis, as it is about working closely with their own unique menstrual cycle. As this is a bit more involved, we will be looking at this in more detail in next week’s article.
What other aspects of preconception preparation are involved?
As part of the initial preconception consultation, I will have explored with the client the effects of lifestyle choices, stress, alcohol and smoking on sperm health. So it is important that they get this sorted before trying to conceive.
Ideally, it is also about making sure their diet is as varied and clean as possible, by having unprocessed food, and eating organic products as much as possible. This will help to minimise the pesticides within their body that can disrupt the hormonal system. Eating good healthy food is key, as well as ensuring adequate consumption of good essential healthy fats.
Caffeine consumption has been shown to have a detrimental effect on fertility, affecting the sperm, the adrenal glands and blood sugar levels, so I will also advise on trying to give up caffeine, or at least cutting down on this. That also includes monitoring your caffeine intake from other things, such as teas, chocolate, as well as some pharmaceutical drugs – for some examples see the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC)
If you are going to drink alcohol, try and make sure it is organic wine. It has been shown that beer and lagers are no good for sperm health due to the chemicals within them. Research on the impact of alcohol on sperm includes ‘Habitual alcohol consumption associated with reduced semen quality and changes in reproductive hormones’ (British Medical Journal, 2012).
It is also really important to have good quality pre-conception supplements, which I will advise on as part of the treatment programme.
What if someone finds these changes to their diet and lifestyle too much?
It is about trying to do the best you can for three months before trying to conceive and for the duration whilst trying to conceive. These changes should also be continued during pregnancy. Many enjoy the opportunity to focus on making improvements to diet and lifestyle and general self-care, including reducing stress.
So it is important not to feel overwhelmed by these changes, but instead just focus on where you can make healthy changes, and improvements. If there are diagnosed conditions impacting on fertility, such as PCOS, or endometriosis, it is really important to make the suggested changes and take on the advice for improvements to be made.
All of this will help put in place the right building blocks for the creation of a healthy baby and will help the body to handle the demands of pregnancy. Eating well, taking supplements, self-care to reduce stress can all help to improve egg and sperm health. It will also have a positive effect on your own physical and emotional health and wellbeing.
You’ve mentioned already about the importance of keeping stress to a minimum – how do the treatments you provide help with that?
Aside from the challenges of getting in the mood during times of stress, the chemical, hormonal response of chronic fight or flight can disrupt and at worse shut down a woman’s reproductive system. A healthy, balanced body does not function well during times of chronic or long-term stress. The adrenals become fatigued, sleep is affected and ovulation subsequently can become erratic and cease.
As part of my fertility programme, we will look at work-related stress and lifestyle, including relationships, and how to reduce and manage stress within daily life. This may involve using different tools such as EFT, Reiki, guided visualisations and so on. Reflexology can really help as it is very grounding, and works with the nervous system, bringing the client out of their head and into their body.
Fertility Massage Therapy / Womb Healing is also brilliant for stress relief and incorporates many different elements such as visualisations, Reiki, reflexology as well as the massage. It is a nourishing, nurturing treatment that helps connect women back to their body, to their divine femininity. At the end of the session I cocoon my clients in rebozo’s – Mexican type shawls – allowing them chance to drop further into a deeply relaxed space.
What about how to prepare emotionally for this, and also for having a baby?
The preconception period is a vital time to prepare yourself emotionally for pregnancy. This includes looking at what it means to become a parent, looking at your own parenting wounds, what you bring at the outset. It can help you overcome any negative core beliefs – for example, ‘I won’t be good mum’, ‘ I’m not worthy to be a parent’, ‘I don’t deserve to be a parent’, ‘I’ll never be able to get pregnant’ are some beliefs that many women hold either through experiences, things they have been told or seeing other women in their family struggling. These are deep-rooted beliefs that are often not spoken about but are buzzing around the brain. All of this will be sending negative signals to the body, and EFT can help release those thoughts, helping you to think more positively as well as building self-trust.
Also, when you start the conception process or become pregnant or perhaps in the post-natal period, any previous traumas that have been avoided due to the busyness of daily life can have a tendency to surface. So at the preconception stage it is an ideal time to look at what you are bringing as a couple or an individual to the parenthood journey, and whether there is anything you need to heal beforehand. Emotional Freedom Technique can also be really helpful in this.
So how does EFT work in all of this?
EFT is brilliant for dealing with emotional issues, trauma, and anxiety. It is also a good tool that I can teach the client so they can then use it themselves at home as part of the ongoing preconception programme. It is good before a treatment to help clear any underlying difficult or unhelpful emotions, so we can then go deeper with the healing within the reproductive reflexology treatment.
How does EFT achieve this?
EFT works for both men and women by tapping on meridian endpoints – that are part of the Traditional Chinese Medicine system. By stimulating these specific points, we calm the body’s fight-or-flight response, by sending signals to the primitive amygdala within the brain to calm down. This will also then quieten any negative feelings and associated thoughts and will help provide you with more clarity, and understanding of your situation. It is very grounding, and puts you in a trance-like state, allowing you to look at things more objectively. It can also help release blockages to becoming pregnant.
What type of issues can cause blockages to becoming pregnant that EFT can help overcome?
It can help release emotional blocks in women who may have been told they can’t conceive or whom hold negative thought patterns about themselves.
It is useful for someone experiencing stress, anxiety, and feelings of frustration who have been trying to get pregnant for six months or more, nothing is happening, and then they find out that their best friend is pregnant. They feel they should be happy for them, but it just increases their own stress and negative emotions.
It can also be very powerful for feelings of grief and loss. Helping women come to terms with miscarriage and still birth and any negative thoughts and emotions as a result of previous terminations and so on. It could also be about working to heal the effects of previous trauma or abuse.
EFT can also help with mindset helping to feel more positive and in control of life and can provide emotional support for those who are having IVF treatment or going through egg donation.
We have touched on a range of issues involved in preparing for conception: if you were asked for one top tip what would it be?
I would bring it back to basics. It’s about one sperm and one egg cell – those two microscopic containers of the codes of life will be joining together to make a human being, its intricate systems, organs, personality and so on, which is incredible! So it is important to make sure that both the egg and the sperm are as healthy and optimal as possible, as well as the womb it will be growing in. The womb and the body need to be fit, healthy, well nourished and nurtured. This means the woman needs to be happy, feel cared for and supported.