I was talking with my 7 year old nephew last week who asked me “so, do you need to eat certain things to make sure the baby has enough food inside your tummy?”. I was impressed with his thought process but also realized that it really is a very simple deduction to make. And yet that thought process often doesn’t consciously happen for people – at least not with regards to what specific foods to eat. It more often happens with regards to which foods not to eat, which is important too, but in conjunction with the rest of the equation.
Not drinking alcohol, avoiding week-old oysters, gluten, soy, low-fat foods etc, while very important, does not factor in what you DO need to eat in order to fully nourish your growing baby and your own body during pregnancy.
And whilst our bodies are smart, and will ensure that the baby takes the nutrients it needs from our bodies, if our bodies do not have adequate stores of those nutrients, the baby too will end up lacking. Not to mention the fact that our bodies will be left depleted and under-nourished as a result of the baby taking priority. This is one theory behind morning sickness and other pregnancy complications.
Unfortunately most mainstream advice, when it comes to pregnancy, recommends eating plenty of whole-grains, eating saltine crackers and refined carbs to combat morning sickness, and eating every 2-3 hours to keep blood sugar levels steady. Do all of those things, and I guarantee you’ll be setting yourself up for increased morning sickness, crazy cravings, unnecessary weight gain and poor nutrition for both you and your baby. Nutrition during pregnancy affects not only the immediate health, but the health of the baby for the rest of his/her life. And not only does it affect the health of the baby, but even how the baby ends up looking. Genes can be turned on or off depending on the stimuli they receive, and during the gestation period, this process is at its most powerful, in terms of the positive (or negative) effects those stimuli can have on a growing fetus. This means we need to be at our most vigilant when it comes to what we pass through to our babies whilst they are growing inside us.
And for those of you who say “yes, but crack whores have healthy babies all the time, so me eating whatever I like isn’t gonna do any harm”, that’s BS. Yes, plenty of people have seemingly “healthy” babies. That is, a fully formed, functioning little human being with 5 fingers and toes. But the health implications (neurological, physical and psychological) these babies face later (and sometimes this is much later) in their lives are not to be taken lightly. Even if these babies are ok as children (no ADHD, behavioral problems, chronic health issues, etc) there is a huge likelihood that, at some point in their lives, the conditions they experienced during their gestation period and birth (and obviously early childhood), will catch up with them. We can see this in the overall decline in health in this country, with the dramatic increases in diseases such as diabetes, auto-immune conditions, heart disease, cancer, alzheimers etc etc. I don’t know about you, but this was enough for me to take this all VERY seriously. It will also greatly influence how I choose to feed my baby once she is old enough for solid food.
Having said all this, nutrition during pregnancy is a difficult subject, because no-one (and I mean NO-ONE) can understand how debilitating nausea and food aversions can be if they have not experienced those first hand. I used to think you could just suck it up and soldier through it, whilst forcing down all these super nutrient-dense foods despite the nausea, but it is not that easy. In my case, some of my favorite foods suddenly looked and smelled utterly repulsive to me and the very thought of many of my staple nutritious foods made me gag at the very thought, nevermind smell. It is not easy BUT it does pass in most cases. And even during that difficult first trimester, there are choices you can make that will help this pass faster and ensure that the subsequent trimesters are more likely to be far more comfortable.
So, where to start.
Ideally, several months (at least 6, I’d say) before you even get pregnant you would completely clean up your diet and start eating the most nutrient-dense foods possible in order to prepare your body for the nutritional needs of, firstly, ensuring optimum fertility and then, building another human being. This step, in my opinion, is absolutely vital for ensuring the easiest and healthiest pregnancy for both you and the baby. So many people forget this and go into pregnancy with sub-optimal levels of nutrition and then wonder why they get crazy cravings, terrible morning sickness, have their hair fall out, teeth get cavities, get extensive stretch marks, varicose veins, water retention etc. These things happen when our bodies are being taxed beyond what they are equipped for, but should not be the norm. I actively began this process more than 6 months before we even started trying for a baby, and I am so grateful I did, now that I see how most of my pregnancy has gone so far.
So, what foods should you be eating in these months?
Plenty of protein and animal fats for starters – these form the basic building blocks for the baby and will ensure that your body is not depleted and run down with the building process taking these things away from your tissues rather than your nutritional stores. Women need plenty of cholesterol (yes really), especially when pregnant, since this is what enables our bodies to produce all the new hormones we need during this time, and also forms the building blocks for the baby. A lack of cholesterol has been linked to morning sickness too. I cannot stress enough how important this is. So, eat egg yolks (lots of them), grassfed organic butter, organic raw cream and cheese (if you tolerate those ok), organic grassfed meat, plenty of organ meats (especially liver), wild fish, fermented foods (for healthy gut bacteria) and, of course, plenty of organic vegetables.
In addition, take a fermented cod liver oil supplement (this is very important), and a decent folate supplement. Note, ensure that you take one that says “folate” and NOT “folic acid” which is a synthetic version that does NOT work in the same way.
Obviousy, during this time, cut out processed inflammatory foods – especially gluten, refined sugar, industrial seed oils, grains etc.
Trust me on this, if you do this you will be setting yourself up perfectly for conception and for your entire pregnancy.
This is, arguably, the hardest time in any pregnancy. You are suddenly over-run by a whole new set of hormones (not to mention the psychological aspect of knowing you’re going to be a PARENT), you will probably be unbelievably tired, very emotionally up and down and experience some version of either nausea or food aversions. And the sucky thing about it is that you usually don’t tell anyone that you’re pregnant until this trimester is done, plus your body doesn’t really (or shouldn’t) show at this point, so to most people you just seem drained, emotional and maybe slightly bloated. But it does pass.
The best advice I can give is get through it in the best possible way you can. If you set yourself up well, nutritionally, beforehand, chances are your nausea will be minimal, with only minor food aversions. Having said this, even that can be extremely hard to deal with.
I did not give in to the refined carb advice (although I did eat white rice occasionally and did have (gasp) corn chips once or twice). But, apart from that, I ate super clean and I am so grateful for that. I made nutrient-dense versions of foods I felt I could stomach and ate lots of those. I couldn’t eat eggs for a while, but I could eat my favorite banana bread, which is full of eggs and relatively low in carbohydrates. I couldn’t eat much meat, but I could stomach cold, pasture-raised chicken and jerky, so I would have that for lunches and snacks. I craved yogurt so I made my own out of highly nutritious raw milk and had that as snacks and in the morning when I could stomach little else. Basically, what I’m saying is that there ARE choices. The first trimester is all about getting through it whilst making the best ones we can. My nutrition was not as ideal as I’d have liked, but it was pretty darn close, and it meant that as I went into the 2nd trimester, I didn’t have any of the blood sugar swings or cravings every other pregnant women seems to talk about. I also didn’t put on a single pound until I was about 20 weeks pregnant. This is not an indication of health necessarily, but many women start to pack on the pounds even in the first trimester. This means a HUGE overall weight gain, which is wholly unnecessary and can lead to problems during delivery. Not to mention the headache of dealing with all the extra weight post pregnancy.
So, decide what foods you can stomach and then make the most nutritious versions of those foods possible. I took a good prenatal vitamin to cover my bases and also supplemented with fermented cod liver oil and magnesium. As I mentioned earlier, low cholesterol has been linked with morning sickness, so TRY to get as many healthy fats into you as possible, even though these may be the last foods you want to eat. If necessary, dump them into a tasty smoothie, block your nose, and get it down. Do the best you can. Magnesium and Vitamin D deficiencies have also been linked to morning sickness, so supplement with a good magnesium supplement (again worth building up those stores BEFORE pregnancy) and get out in the sun as much as you can for that Vit D. And (as hard as this may be), do NOT give in to the refined carb advice people will throw at you. This will only make you feel worse in the long run. If you desperately need a bland carbohydrate, eat potatoes or white rice, but ensure you are keeping these in moderation and eating plenty of protein and fat with them.
This is the happy part of most pregnancies, so enjoy and savor every second! You will probably not have gained any real weight (till the end of this trimester), so you will just have a cute little bump beginning to show, but without the heavy cumbersome tummy of the third trimester. You will also likely suddenly wake up feeling energized for the first time since you found out you were pregnant, and this is the perfect time to do all the preparation you need to do for welcoming your little baby into your life. I suddenly felt the most incredible creative surges and spent weeks hand making almost everything by hand for the nursery – it’s an amazing time.
So back to food. Hopefully (if you followed the above advice), your morning sickness should disappear shortly into this trimester, which is such a relief. You should now be able to fully stomach all those nutrient-dense foods I listed in the pre-conception period, so get back onto them as soon as you can. You likely could ride on your built up nutritional stores during the first trimester (if you had prepared your body well beforehand), but now is the time to replenish those stores and make sure your growing baby is being as thoroughly nourished as possible. If you eat a nutrient-dense diet you should not get crazy cravings or feel the need to eat any more than you used to eat pre-pregnancy. I am still eating pretty much the same amount as I used to eat before getting pregnant, and I’m in the middle of my THIRD trimester. I attribute this 100% to the fact that I am eating such nutritious foods, so my body doesn’t NEED anything else. Both me and the baby are thoroughly nourished with 3 healthy meals a day.
So again, make sure you are getting plenty of the following: egg yolks, grassfed organic butter, organic raw FULL-FAT dairy (if you tolerate those ok), organic grassfed meat, plenty of organ meats (especially liver), wild fish, fermented foods and, plenty of organic vegetables and some fruit.
In addition, keep taking your fermented cod liver oil supplement, and a decent folate supplement and prenatal vitamin (just to thoroughly cover your bases).
And, once more, obviously avoid processed inflammatory foods – gluten, refined sugar, industrial seed oils, grains etc.
Another fun one. At this point you should have gained some weight – both the baby itself and all the rest of it – your increased blood supply, the placenta, uterus, etc etc. You will also have to get used to not fitting into many of your old clothes because you no longer have a flat tummy. One word of advice – maxi skirts and prego tanks/tshirts are the way to go here.
Again, you shouldn’t really be experiencing morning sickness if your body was adequately prepared, but many people do experience acid reflux from the squishing of your stomach in the slowly diminishing abdominal space. You may need to eat smaller meals and maybe more often, but still not much more food overall than you were eating before. I think the recommended increase is something like 300 calories a day, which is NOT a lot. I really don’t eat any more than I used to at all. Again, it is ALL about nutrient-dense foods. Eat mostly those and you will not feel the need to eat all the time. You will also avoid all those famous pregnancy cravings people go on about. I really haven’t had any so far. Generally the body experiences cravings when we’re deficient in certain nutrients. Get all the right nutrients in the meals you prepare and you won’t have to deal with that. As above, continue to eat those foods and you will set yourself and your baby up for great healthy start and an easy post partum recovery. Gain 60 pounds, however, and your life will be a LOT more difficult to deal with, both now and post-birth.
Pregnancy is a normal event women are designed to go through. It should not be the hellish, body-destroying experience we so often hear about in the media/friends’ stories. Our bodies are made to be able to give birth, and then to bounce back to perfect health and body composition. Sure, it varies from woman to woman in terms of each experience, but I truly believe that if we take ownership of our health from the start, we can set ourselves up perfectly for a comfortable pregnancy, uncomplicated birth and quick post partum recovery.
It is all about how much we choose to actively participate in the process, as opposed to feel like it’s something that is happening to us.
Here’s to creating healthy, beautiful babies who remain that way throughout their lives!.
One last thing for any vegetarians out there, this is worth a read: http://www.mommypotamus.com/yes-no-maybe-thoughts-on-vegeterianism-and-pregnancy/.