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  • Finding the Center: Reflections on Fertility, Pregnancy, Birth & Beyond

    By Kristen Ethier

    In her book Birthing from Within , author Pam England offers a breathing technique called “Finding the Center” which I often encourage laboring mothers to use in my work as a birth doula.

    The basic premise for “finding the center” is to visualize the center of the contraction or labor pain and breathe through it, facing the pain and, at the same time, shattering it with your breath. I often encourage mothers to imagine that they are taking a dive right through the center of a very cold ocean wave, allowing the wave to crash over them and then retreat with the tide. Some women like to imagine a raging tornado, swirling in the center of the storm, their breath dispersing the chaos of the tornado- the pain of their labor.

    “Finding the center” works well during the transition stage of an unmedicated labor, between 7 and 10 centimeters when even our best efforts at distraction are absolutely useless. During this time, all you can do is face your pain and dive in!

    When I reflect on the fertility stories of so many women and families that I am blessed to hear while at Pulling Down the Moon, it seems that this idea of finding the center applies to not only the intense pain of childbirth, but to fertility, conception and parenting.

    I encourage you to remember this if you find yourself at what feels like the height of any pain, heartbreak. Find the center of your pain, dive in and, with awareness of your breath and your body, shatter it. Keep going until you come out on the other side. There is clarity and joy to be found when you get there.

    England, Pam. (1998). Birthing from Within: An Extra-ordinary Guide to Childbirth Preparation . New Mexico: Partera Press.

  • Fully Fertile on WGN News

  • Antioxidants for Your Man

    By Breea Johnson, MS RD

    A recent published Cochrane review reported that the partners of men taking oral antioxidant supplements had significantly higher pregnancy and live birth rates than men taking no antioxidant supplements.  While this may be a somewhat controversial topic in the world of fertility because a) the appropriate dosage for each man may differ and b) the advantages of “mega-doses” of antioxidant supplements are not well established the benefits of antioxidants are clear, especially from food sources. Antioxidants are vitamins (like vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids, and Coenzyme Q10), minerals (such as zinc and selenium) and phytonutrients (flavonoids and polyphenols, for example) that most people consume on a daily basis. If you are eating more greens and beans than the average American chances are you also are consuming more antioxidants. The best sources of antioxidants are fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds.

    Antioxidants are highly beneficial for health because they prevent DNA damage from oxidative stress. Think of oxidative stress as what happens after a nail is left outside – it begins to rust and age because of lack of protection from the elements. The same thing can happen to the body – both inside and out – and antioxidants can provide the added protection. Oxidative stress also affects optimal sperm function by altering membrane fluidity, sperm motility, count and morphology.

    An antioxidant-rich diet is key to quench the excess reactive oxygen species (ROS) caused by inflammation (i.e. a poor diet, smoking, alcohol, stress, chemical toxicity). Here are some easy tips to help increase antioxidants:

    • Eat your green veggies. Push aside the lettuce for more nutrient-rich greens such as kale and chard.
    • Try a daily green drink. We recommend our  which is loaded with antioxidants such as raspberries, blueberries, goji berries, lingonberries, spirulina, green tea, astragalus, ginger, green cabbage, beets, carrots and spinach!
    • Add a serving of nuts to your diet daily – try organic, raw, and unsalted almonds, cashews, walnuts and pecans!
    • Red beans are one of the highest sources of antioxidants – and they are great especially added to soups and salads!
    • If you are taking a multivitamin, make sure it is high quality and a great source of antioxidants.
    • Omega-3 fatty acids are also protective of ROS and help keep sperm membrane fluidity – great sources are dark leafy greens, wild salmon and walnuts! Or try a high-quality omega-3 supplement .

    To learn more about how nutrition may affect male sperm quality, book an appointment with a Pulling Down the Moon nutritionist by calling (312) 321-0004 or visit and click on “Schedule an Appointment.”

  • Surprise “Players” in the Hormone Equation: Gut Bugs and Glucose and Estrogen Metabolism

    By Beth Heller M.S.

    New research is pointing to some unexpected “soldiers” in the battle for good blood sugar and hormone health.

    Experimental evidence has shown that diets enhanced with probiotics (beneficial gut bacteria) have a beneficial effect on glucose metabolism in mice.  Recently, randomized controlled research in women has also found that probiotics supplementation plus dietary counseling improved glucose metabolism better than dietary counseling alone during pregnancy.  The mechanism of action is not yet well understood, but researchers hypothesize that beneficial gut bugs:

    • Limit the proliferation of other “bad bugs” that can break down polysaccharides (starches) in the large intestine which would otherwise be excreted.  The breakdown of these starches by the bad (“saccharolytic” bugs) into sugars increases the glucose load to our body.
    • Improve gut immunity and limit inflammatory action which has been associated with insulin resistance and obesity.

    It turns out that the beneficial bacteria in our gut also play an important role in the excretion of estrogen metabolites and hormone-like environmental toxins.  When “beneficial bugs” are in good supply, the elimination of waste is speedy and regular and estrogen is excreted quickly.  However, when good gut bacteria is compromised due to inflammation, allergy, antibiotics or other conditions, pathogenic intestinal bacteria begin to thrive.  These less friendly critters secrete the enzyme β-glucuronidase, which re-digests estrogens in the large intestines, releasing estrogen back into the body.  High levels of β-glucuronidase are associated with breast and colon cancer and may contribute to hormone imbalances associated with infertility.

    Stay tuned to our blog for more tips on improving gut health!

    Sources: Friebe et al. 2008, Verstraelen  et al 2005