How to navigate Christmas when trying for a baby: Maintaining mental wellbeing, what foods to look for and where to seek support
Christmas is the most popular time of year to conceive, with more babies born in September than at any other time of year.
In fact, 26 September, exactly nine months on from Boxing Day, is the most common birthday in the UK.
Though for any couples who have been having difficulties trying for a baby, Christmas can be a particularly tough time. The season where families get together can seem to highlight what you’re already feeling and it might seem like there is an increase in new babies around you at this festive time of year. These difficulties are only amplified for couples going through treatment for infertility.
Although it remains to be a popular time to conceive, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t seasonal stumbling blocks at this time of year. It’s a time of indulgence with mulled wine, mince pies and much more being consumed, and that’s before those tricky conversations with relatives!
To provide expert insight into navigating this, Fertility Family have spoken to The Fertility Podcast co-hosts Natalie Silverman, former fertility patient and Kate Davies, independent fertility nurse consultant, to get some advice on what to avoid if you’re trying to conceive during the festive season and what can be enjoyed in place of some of the traditional treats.
What to consider this Christmas if you’re trying to conceive
Managing mental wellbeing during this unusual Christmas period
Natalie Silverman says, “With everything 2020 has put on our plates, it’s no surprise our anxiety levels have heightened. We have been forced into isolation and infertility itself can feel so isolating. It’s really important not to feel ashamed if you aren’t feeling positive this Christmas. Give yourself some credit and remember how much you’ve handled so far.
“We put so much emphasis on our physical health when trying to conceive and little on our mental health, but feeling overwhelmed by everything can have such a big impact. Anything from the stresses of work to unwanted comments from family members and pregnancy announcements on social media can put the body in a heightened state of emergency, meaning it will pump out the stress hormone cortisol which prevents it from working properly.
“Combined with the constant negative chatter you may be telling yourself about what you might be doing wrong in trying to get pregnant – often without realising it – and you begin to get an idea of how important the mind-body connection is.”
Maintaining physical health and exercise
Kate Davies says, “Regular exercise has so many benefits that can help optimise fertility via our physical and mental health. But exercising in the winter months can be more difficult – it’s challenging to get motivated to go out for a run if it’s pouring down with rain. However, one thing that lockdown has given us this year is access to exercise programmes online, many of which are completely free. There is something for everyone.
“If you’re not in your normal routine while visiting family over Christmas, you can keep up some cardio such as running (but not excessively), muscle strengthening exercises like Pilates or just using light resistant weights (baked bean cans make a good alternative!). However, there’s nothing better than a walk in nature and this is exercise you can easily enjoy post-Christmas dinner.”
What foods should I eat, or avoid?
“One of the pleasures of Christmas is to be able to enjoy all the wonderful food on offer,” says Kate. “Balance is the name of the game here – allowing yourself to enjoy the Christmas feast and not feel guilty. However, there are some foods that may actually help to boost fertility over the Christmas period.
“Nuts are plentiful this time of year and as well as being a fabulous protein source, there is much documented about the benefits of walnuts on sperm health. Enjoy lashings of homemade cranberry sauce with your turkey, as cranberries have high antioxidant capacity and are packed full of vitamin C, E, K1 and manganese. Don’t deprive yourself of a slice of Christmas cake or the occasional mince pie, either – that’s not going to stop you getting pregnant!”
Should I drink alcohol?
Kate explains, “The Chief Medical Officers for the United Kingdom recommend that all women who are trying to conceive should not drink alcohol at all. There is well-documented research into the risks of alcohol consumption on the health of the unborn child and as the majority of women won’t be aware that they have conceived until too late, it is best to avoid.
“The evidence with regards to the impact on sperm health and alcohol remains uncertain. The NHS recommends that male partners should drink no more than 14 IU units of alcohol, spread evenly throughout the week and therefore binge drinking should be avoided, at Christmas or any other time. Sperm take 3 months to reach maturity and therefore any positive or negative lifestyle choices can impact sperm health.
“Christmas can be a very difficult time for couples struggling with infertility. Having to avoid alcohol may be even harder if you’re with family who are not aware that you’re trying to conceive. To ward off any unwanted questioning, alcohol-free beverages can be a good alternative and might just help you feel part of the celebrations.”
Being open with family and support networks
“If you have a good relationship with your family, seeing them might be just the tonic you need, suggests Natalie Silverman. “Making conversations completely on your terms, with what you say and how much you tell, is often better than having pre-prepared answers to expected questions.
“If you are yet to tell your family, remember that they will want to help you as much as they can and will have no idea how devastated you are feeling. All too often people keep infertility a secret and there is nothing to be ashamed of – it’s not your fault and you need emotional support to help you understand yourself better.
“On the flip side, it may be a welcome relief to not have to be surrounded by family, so is this a year to make some new traditions for you and your partner, or with friends? If you are having a remote Christmas, decide ahead of the calls what you do want to talk about and if the conversations get uncomfortable, use the frozen screen trick or poor connection – we’ve all got pretty creative on Zoom these days!”
What support networks where you can seek further advice?
- Fertility Network UK is the number one charity for anyone experiencing fertility problems in the UK. They run a range of local online support groups.
- The British Infertility Counselling Association (BICA) offers a range of specialist counselling services.
- Search on Facebook for fertility support groups – there are many, and Kate and Natalie recommend their group called “Talk Fertility”, as well as the advice available on The Fertility Podcast.
- HFEA, the government regulator provides free, clear and impartial information on UK fertility clinics, IVF and other types of fertility treatment, and donation.