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  • Demystifying the FEM Protocol

    by Marcie Miller, LMT 

    In our fast-paced modern world we are faced with many stresses which are detrimental to the body. Stress can cause our breathing to become shallow, limiting the amount of oxygen and nutrients circulating through the body. Muscles and fascia can constrict and inhibit free and natural movement of the abdomen and pelvis. Over a prolonged period of time, our bodies may become conditioned to operate in fight-or-flight mode, a state in which all nonessential systems, including reproduction, switch off.

    The goal of Pulling Down the Moon’s Fertility Enhancing Massage Protocol is to encourage the body’s natural rhythm by balancing the hormones, cleansing the body of toxicity, promoting deep breathing and relaxation, and increasing blood flow and softening the tissues of the lower torso.

    Cleanse the Body is ideal before beginning your medicated cycle or in the first three days of menstruation in a natural cycle. Lymphatic Drainage techniques move toxic fluids and cellular waste to the lymph nodes where the body’s healing power is most concentrated. Helping to boost the immune system is the use of essential oils, their aromatic effect is calming and may assist in balancing hormones and releasing emotional blocks.

    Enhance the Blood uses myofascial massage to stretch and open restricted tissues in the abdomen, pelvis and lower back. Acupressure and reflexology may stimulate the pituitary gland to release the hormones necessary for the development of healthy follicles and to prepare the ovaries for ovulation. Femoral artery massage increases blood flow to the pelvis enhancing the libido and thickening the uterine lining for implantation.

    Open the Breath continues the work of Enhance the Blood by encouraging oxygenated and nutrient rich blood to flow to the abdomen and pelvis, releasing tension in the surrounding tissues. We manipulate and stretch the muscles of the shoulders, upper torso, and abdomen. Deep breathing exercises calm the mind and nervous system. Deeper abdominal breathing engages the diaphragm, which acts as internal massage for your organs and lymphatic system.

    Enhance the Blood and Open the Breath are done between days four and fourteen. In an IVF cycle, both can be done between days four and ten as well as between retrieval and transfer. This may help to thicken the uterine lining, assist follicle growth and regulate hormones.

    Relax and Integrate is the final session in the series although it can be done at any point between the first day of your cycle and ovulation. With Relax and Integrate, we focus on relaxation and stress reduction. Attention is paid to the body and mind as a whole, bringing you a sense of connectedness. Acupressure and reflexology are still incorporated for their hormone balancing effects.

    Marcie D. Miller has been practicing massage since graduating from Baltimore School of Massage in 2001. Because of her interest in women’s health and well-being, she pursued further training in Mother Massage® Pre and Postnatal Bodywork, Manual Lymphatic Drainage, and Pulling Down the Moon’s FEM protocol. She is delighted to bring her years of experience and her deep passion for massage to women who are working hard to make their dreams come true. When not massaging, Marcie can be found hiking, strength training, hula hooping, and receiving massage.

    To book a massage appointment call us at 312-321-0004 (Chicago Area) or 301-610-7755 (DC Metro) or click here to  book online.

  • On Doing Yoga

    by Lisa Deck, LCSW

    I first tried yoga several years ago, through an “intro to yoga” type of class, and I quickly concluded that I didn’t like it.  It was boring, I thought, not enough action.  People call this a workout?  Felt like a lot of stretching in weird positions and being quiet to me.  Bottom line, I didn’t get it, so I abandoned it.

    However, a couple years later, when I was struggling to conceive, I happened upon the Yoga for Fertility classes at Pulling Down the Moon, and I was intrigued.  At that time, I was trying everything and anything I could to conceive naturally.  So I signed up for Phase One, not sure what to expect, hoping maybe yoga would be the cure for whatever was preventing me from getting pregnant.

    What I found was a space to let go of stress and to connect with my underlying feelings and intentions.  I found a way to forgive my body for not being perfect and a little bit of trust in the grand plan for me and my future baby.  It didn’t happen all at once – which is why I kept coming back week after week (after week).  I enrolled in Phase Two and, still not pregnant, after that I attended an ongoing drop-in group.  It became clear that yoga was not going to be my magical solution to conceiving.  Bummer.  However, what it did was give me something positive to do while working towards my goal.  It also helped remind me that nurturing my body and soul was a better path to pregnancy and motherhood than worry and self-loathing.  It was a lesson I needed to learn.

    Once I was finally pregnant, I quickly signed up for the prenatal yoga classes that I’d been eyeing and longing to join for so long.  I walked in proudly, as though I had fought a battle and won. I was so happy to be on this side of the fence.  In our practice, the teacher encouraged us to connect with our babies and send our love to them.  It felt so good to do that, to actively welcome my little one.  I also valued the chance to be among other expectant moms.  It felt like a celebration.  I appreciated having time away from my “normal life” to just focus on caring for myself and my baby within.  It felt indulgent and right.

    Last week, for the first time since my baby’s birth, I went back to the yoga studio.  It has been about six months since my last practice. The place was new, but the serenity I felt was the same.  It was a gentle yoga class, which I’ve discovered IS my thing.  Again I was encouraged to honor my body and spirit.  I was given permission to do only what felt good.  And I spent my time breathing and quieting my mind.  Stretching and observing.  Feeling grateful.

    What I noticed was that I was brought right back to the yoga studio where I first meditated my wishes for a baby.  And I easily conjured up the feeling I had, sitting quietly with my hand on my big belly, stroking it and sending my baby love.  I found that there is a thread of peace and self worth that has woven its way through these three phases of my life, and yoga has been the vessel.  For me, it is not a workout for the body, but an exercise in letting go for my mind and a refueling for my soul.  It’s something that I could not have predicted, but has become a vital part of how I care for myself both physically and spiritually.  And for that discovery, among many things, I am extremely grateful.

  • Mediterranean Diets, Glycemic Index and Fertility – Connecting the Dots

    by Beth Heller, MS

    New data presented at the annual meeting of ESHRE (European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology) suggests a Mediterranean-style diet, that focuses on minimally processed foods and higher intakes of monounsaturated fats, may triple chances of successful IVF outcomes.

    Essentially a Mediterranean style diet is one that emphasizes fruits and vegetables, moderate amounts of minimally processed grains, limited added sugars, reduced intake of saturated fat and increased intake of monounsaturated fats from sources like olive oil, nuts and seeds.  Our nutrition programs at Pulling Down the Moon have always been based on a low-glycemic, modified Mediterranean-style eating pattern.  This is because we long ago connected the following dots:

    1.  Good blood sugar regulation is critical for optimal hormone balance.  Ovaries are sensitive to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar.  In cases of overweight or eating a highly processed diet, levels of this hormone can become higher than normal.  The problem for fertility is that insulin can confuse hormone receptors on the ovaries that are designed for reproductive hormones and disrupt communication in the control center of our reproductive function, the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary axis).

    To ensure that our body is producing insulin effectively (only when needed and at the lowest necessary level to get the job done) we want to avoid not only overeating but also the overconsumption of sugary foods and processed grains.  At Pulling Down the Moon we counsel our fertility patients to closely control their blood sugar and adopt a low-glycemic dietary approach.   The Glycemic Index is a measure of the effects of ingested carbohydrates on blood sugar levels.  Technically, a food’s Glycemic Index is how much a 50 g portion of the food raises a person’s blood sugar.   A food with a high glycemic score raises blood sugar amply and quickly.  Lower glycemic foods break down more slowly and release glucose into the blood more gradually.  The level of processing and the amount of fiber a carbohydrate contains can affect its glycemic score.  Generally, minimally processed carbs that are naturally good sources of fiber are the lowest glycemic choices.

    A Mediterranean-style diet is low glycemic because it eliminates most “fast” carbs and includes more healthy fats, which in turn slow the entry of carbohydrate into the blood stream.  There is no room in the Mediterranean food plan for dietary “crutches”  like processed low-fat/sugar-free snacks, processed frozen meals and artificially sweetened foods and drinks.  Our Therapeutic Nutrition, ART Recovery/Prep Program and our FirstLine Therapy for Fertility Weight Loss program all use this Mediterranean-style focus on whole foods and low glycemic eating to reset the sweet tooth and replace poor dietary habits with radiantly healthy ones.

    2.  Chronic inflammation is bad for fertility and implicated in conditions like poor egg quality, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, endometriosis and fibroids.  Foods that promote inflammation are sugary foods, saturated fats and transfats.  Any fertility-friendly diet is going to include friendly fats.  In fact, we encourage all our patients to let go of the “low fat” mentality and embrace foods like nuts, seeds and healthy oils.  In addition to providing important anti-inflammatory compounds, these foods are filling and give our meals a richness that satisfies our hunger.  Eating lots of fruits and vegetables provides important  antioxidant compounds that support anti-inflammatory action.

    3.  The beneficial bacteria in our gut prefer to eat “Mediterranean-style.”  Healthy strains of bacteria, like lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, really love to dine on soluble fiber and “pre-biotics” found in many fibrous foods like beans and lentils.  Unhealthy bacteria thrive when the diet is high in red meat and saturated fat.  A health gut is essential for optimal health and fertility.  When our gut is functioning correctly we efficiently absorb nutrients from food, have regular bowel movements and no gastro-intestinal discomfort.  Scientist also theorize that gut bacteria may also play a role in hormone balance and cancer prevention by speeding the removal of excess estrogenic compounds from the body.

    Enlisting the help of a fertility-nutrition specialist can be one of the most rewarding things you can do on the fertility journey.  Our nutritionists are not only able to work with you to meet your specific goals (lose weight, defeat your sweet tooth, gain weight, manage PCOS, cleanse) they are also knowledgable about nutrition supplements that may support fertility outcomes.  To book your in-person or phone consult call us at 312-321-0004 (Chicago Area) or 301-610-7755 (DC Metro).

  • What To Do If Fertility Yoga Isn’t Available Near You

    by Beth Heller, MS RYT

    Looking at pictures of yoga poses and reading the descriptions is one thing, actually starting a yoga practice is another.   So how do you really get this thing going?  Well, for your maiden voyage I am going to suggest you actually take yourself to a yoga studio and give it a try with a professional teacher.  Why?  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s just my own bias.  I just remember the first time I walked into a yoga studio.  There was something about the experience that jolted me out of my usual sphere. The funky prints on the walls and strange music felt different – and good.  I liked taking my shoes off at the door and the smell of incense still transports me.  I can remember how the spicy scent would stay on my mat and follow me home.  The whole experience motivated me to learn more, look at pictures of yoga poses …read descriptions.  Get where I’m going with this?

    I’m going to share a big secret right now.  It’s OKAY if you don’t have a fertility yoga class near you.  You do not have to go to a Yoga for Fertility class to get the benefits of yoga.  I may need to burn this after writing it because it’s so secret, but while working with a fertility yoga teacher is very special, not everyone has such a specialist on hand.  Please do NOT let the lack of a fertility yoga class stop you from practicing yoga.  There are classes near you that can help you a lot.  You just need to know a few things first.

    Here is the quick-and-dirty checklist for using (almost) any yoga class as a fertility yoga class:

    1.  Look for gentle hatha yoga classes (Intro or Level 1 classes are just right).
    2. If you’re stimming (taking fertility meds) or in the two week wait period (time between ovulation and pregnancy test) do not do deep twists or deep forward folds.  This is not so much about the risks to a potential pregnancy as is it about your ovaries.  They can get really big during an ART cycle and we don’t want to injure them.  Avoid abdominal work and adjust the class to fit your physician’s guidelines for appropriate physical activity.   As for anything else the teacher does, if it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it!
    3. If you’re comfortable telling the teacher you’re doing fertility treatment, do so.  If you’re not comfortable telling her than just inform her that you have some movement restrictions and will modify your practice accordingly.  Most yoga teachers respect their students’ prerogative to skip poses, modify poses or just lay on the mat and chill if they feel like it.
    4. Hot yoga and power yoga are not appropriate for fertility.  We have nothing against these styles of yoga, they’re just a bit too intense.  Save these for getting your post-baby body back.
    5. There are some great tools for a home practice available at our e-store, including our book and companion DVD Fully Fertile.   While the book is available on Amazon the DVD is not!

    I’m sure this post may spark more questions regarding what’s good and bad in terms of fertility yoga.  Please, send them in!  Have you successfully started a yoga practice?  What did it for you?  The incense?  A cute yoga outfit?  Share your secrets with the rest of us!