Since sharing my pre-conception journey of balancing hormones to regulate my cycle and get pregnant, I’ve had many women ask what steps I would recommend during this process. I always start with the same question: have you checked your cortisol? Why cortisol? I’m no scientist or doctor, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that when our body is in “fight or flight” mode (aka thinks it’s running from a lion), it doesn’t want to create a baby!
Even for those who are not trying to get pregnant, having your body think it’s fighting for it’s life is not conducive to regulating your hormones and cycle. So what does cortisol have to do with running from a lion? Cortisol is the stress hormone, and as incredible as our bodies are, they do not know the difference between the stress of panicking about your work presentation or panicking when your life is in danger.
Tuning into your body and needs can often give insight to if there may have an issue with cortisol. Here is what I was experiencing: chronic anxiety, daily stress and issues with sleeping. I could sense intuitively that my stress was at the very least not helping my situation, but felt I really had no way of figuring out specific actionable steps to address the issue without guidance.
Consulting the Experts
Here is where professional help came in and there was a HUGE difference between the information I was given from varying perspectives of the medical world. I first got all my hormones/numbers tested from my regular OB and was told there were no issues. Then, when I saw a functional medicine practitioner, though my body and numbers didn’t change, the way they were viewed did. What I’ve come to understand since beginning to address my health from a functional medicine standpoint is that the norms most doctors use are based on averages for the population. The numbers functional medical practitioners use are based on where optimal functioning lies.
So, some of my same numbers were viewed as needing to be addressed when I started working with a functional medicine practitioner. To gain more specific information, he ordered some more extensive labs and had me take a Dutch test. This test required me to provide saliva and urine samples throughout a 24 hour period, as opposed to my previous bloodwork that provided a single snapshot. He ordered the test for me, then I completed it at home and sent it to a lab which provided him with the results to go over.
We got started using the bloodwork a few months prior to knowing the info from the Dutch test due to timing/logistics. This provided us with enough information to help come up with an action plan, though the Dutch test would be even more helpful.
Here’s where things get interesting… when I went to go over the results with him a few months later, I had just found out that I was pregnant! So, the bloodwork was enough for us to make effective changes, however the Dutch test definitely had more specifics that explained a lot.
According to the Dutch test, my cortisol was spiking in the afternoon/evening as opposed to going down throughout the day, which is what is supposed to happen. This was leading to me having difficulty sleeping, which then played into the whole cycle of the stress and anxiety, etc. Since I was now pregnant, he provided some pregnancy safe ways to continue addressing my cortisol. See below for what my action steps were. To figure out what is right for you, I suggest seeing a functional medicine practitioner who can provide you with expert advice based on your specific issues and labs!
What Worked for Me:
Having a professional quantify and explain what I already knew
I had an intuitive feeling that my stress/anxiety was at the very least not helping me regulate my cycle and get pregnant. Having a medical professional address this with me and show me hard evidence helped me actually take it seriously and do the work.
Being prescribed an individualized supplement routine
I had previously underestimated how powerful the right supplements can be. Working with a functional medicine professional allowed me to know the right ones for me even down to the brand that would be a good fit for my needs.
Knowing which herbs to take and what to avoid
I used to play a bit of herb roulette, taking the ones I knew were good for certain issues and intuitively watching how they made me feel. This can be an okay method to use in general, but working with an herbalist allowed me to have an actual expert guided this process and prescribe me herbs like Ashwagandha and chamomile that would help with my specific health goal. I think in our society we often underestimate that herbs can be as powerful as prescription medications and are something to take seriously and also use with guidance.
Slowing down and getting in alignment
I have a whole blog post about this, you can read here. There was no silver bullet in this process. I started taking the herbs/supplements right away, but that wasn’t enough- I was responsible for doing the real work and readjusting my priorities to put my health first.