Nutrition and the Pregnant Body.

This week, let’s go back to looking at the body. The beautiful, blessed, vital and evolving pregnant body. Let’s start by taking a look at food – the physical fuel for your well being and the well being of the little one growing within you.

The importance of Nutrition and recommendations.

Nutrition is one of the greatest – and most commonly discussed – responsibilities of the pregnant woman.  And for good reason. Nutrition is something you can do something about. You can make conscious choices that may affect the well being of your body and your baby now. You are in control. Eating well can be a challenge, and it can also be creative, fun and delicious. It’s affordable, accessible, and available to all. It need not be based on fancy or foreign or foods that are hard to come by – rather, you can look pure, simple, and local whenever possible.

You are going to eat – so it is “simply” a matter of making the best choices you can with regards to what you choose to eat. And yes… keep it simple. That’s the biggest rule of thumb. You don’t need charts, scales, weight measurements and diaries or logs – you just need common sense. That said, today, simple, whole, healthy nutrition is not always common. So let’s start by looking at the basics. What is simple, whole and healthy?

First, let’s remember that the key here is quality, not quantity. You are not “eating for two.”  That little one within you is little! He or she doesn’t consume near as much as you or me. Your dietary quantity may not have to increase greatly, but what you do have to concern yourself with is the quality… so that’s what we’re going to look at here.

The focus here is on whole foods, slow foods, simple foods. And reducing, if not completely eliminating, all highly processed and refined foods.  That’s a big step forward and major change for many of us, where fast and convenient foods are a part of what we consider to be the American way.

Yes, whole/simple and slow may take more time. It may take getting used to, having some help, and gradually changing your habits, your time choices, and your tastes. It takes preparation.

Here’s a common example. You’ve been running around taking care of all kinds of important matters. You’re tired, a little stressed, and possible (oh no!) dehydrated. Suddenly you’re hungry and you’re driving by Macdonald’s… What can you do?

Well, first, please be sure to always have that regularly refilled constant companion of a water bottle on hand. That’s one of the best habits you can get into now, throughout the postpartum, and throughout life. Talk about easy, accessible and affordable!

Next, you can make or find healthy snacks and be sure you have them handy for these “just in case” times. In pregnancy, there are lots of them. So, stock the pantry (and your pack) regularly. Spend an extra morning baking some healthy treats and/or pre-packing some healthy goodies in little ziplocks that make it easy to grab and go. Search the web for some intriguing and nutritious recipes or ideas. Keep nuts and dried fruits nearby. Find a good place to stop in to treat yourself to a yogurt smoothie. Make sure you don’t get hungry – keep yourself satiated with good, healthy food and you won’t find yourself empty and craving.

And speaking of cravings, the best way to avoid being ruled by cravings is to eat regularly, and eat well. Hunger triggers cravings. Likewise does an imbalance of the right foods your body needs now. Get in touch and in tune with the true needs of your body, and honor them. Below we’ll look into some specific suggestions, but an easy one to being with is this: If you are conscious to consume more protein, you may find yourself “needing” a lot less sugar. And if you do find yourself longing for a sweet? Grab an apple instead!

Whole, healthy, simple foods. This is the goal. I know it’s not that easy. And I also know of no one who is “perfect” in their eating habits. So give yourself a break and do your best. And when you don’t, because sometimes you won’t, accept it and move on, and get back on track. That’s life.

I hope you’ll have fun with this. Enjoy experimenting with new, healthier whole foods. There are wonderful recipes available on the internet, and access to good, wholesome foods is so much easier today. I live rather remotely, so many of the essentials I now enjoy in cooking for my family, like coconut oil, whole grains, and organic spices, I order on-line. Explore your options and have fun.

Nutritional guidelines?

I always feel strange making dietary suggestions. Diet and nutrition, because they represent self care manifested in things we put into ourselves, are personal, individualized, and common sense.  You know it is your responsibility to feed yourself well now, as it will be to feed your family well later on. So by reminding you, my intention is not to negate you, only to support you. I’d like to look at this as reminders, suggestions and confirmations of what you already know, and maybe already practice. Most important, let’s just look this over, heighten our awareness, make the best choices we can, and discuss this so that you feel comfortable with you understanding and decisions. With that in mind, following are but a few specific dietary needs that are essential for the healthy woman in pregnancy.

Protein – Protein is the basic component of cells and is essential for growth, replacement and repair. Yes, you’ve got a lot of those things going on right now. And all the time, actually. Enzymes, hormones, antibodies – all these things need protein, and you need these things. Now more than ever, protein matters. Your needs for protein are increased in pregnancy more than any other time in your life. How can you get more of it? Make sure every meal is based on wholesome sources of protein. Proteins can be found in all meats, fish, eggs, dairy products. Incomplete proteins that are more efficient when combined are found in beans, tofu, nuts, seeds, rice, corn and whole grains. Keep this in mind too: our bodies don’t store proteins, only use them. So we need to consume them regularly.

Iron – Iron is the most common dietary deficiency in women, so worthy of extra attention. It’s the essential component for the oxygen transportation in our blood. That means an iron deficiency may deprive your whole body and the growing baby of oxygen.  Not something you want to do, and easy enough to be aware of and in turn, conscientious of your iron intake. Meat and eggs are the highest sources of iron. What is the vegetarian to do? With the exception of a few green chili cheeseburgers from Blake’s that I shared with my dogs, I was a vegetarian through my pregnancy and nursing and I was very healthy. My midwife at the time suggested I take Floradix with iron. I did, and with good results. I also know this is not cheap. So research the most simple, affordable and accessible options available for you. The concern with iron supplements, if you choose to take, is that they may cause constipation. So, please increase your fiber. That is very simple now a days with the wonderful variety of whole grains and year round access to fresh fruits and vegetables – all of which are good for you to be consuming regularly anyway.

Calcium – Calcium is essential for healthy bones, teeth, nerve conduction, muscle contraction and blood clotting. You have a lot of this stuff going on, and so does your baby. I’m big on recommending yogurt every day. Great way to get calcium, and probiotics, which we’re attributing to more and more benefits if consumed on a regular basis, everything from balancing a healthy gut, to enhancing immunity and lowering blood pressure. Go for a good one – some are laden with sugars and strange stuff.  I like plain, and then drizzle with local honey. Calcium can also be found in abundance in milk, cheeses, salmon, sardines, tofu, dark leafy greens and fortified cereals. I do not recommend taking antacids for calcium supplementation regularly in pregnancy or any time.

Vegetables and fruit – Look at these as your multi-vitamins without the pill. And your digestion aid. And… so much  more. Here’s a good way to get creative. As one midwife suggests, go for a wide variety of colors! Check out the wild options we are blessed to be able to have access to now a days – and try them all. Pick out something new and then surf the web to find some suggestions on delicious preparations. Increase your consumption the fun way. Explore and experiment. Find your favorites. Be bold, be brave. Be delicious!

Multi-vitamins – Recommendations for prenatal vitamins varies. It’s an easy way to ensure you’re getting everything you need, including some of the harder to get through diet but essential for growth vitamins and minerals, like Folic Acid. But popping a pill is no substitute for eating well.  The ideal would be for us to get all the good stuff from the food we eat, but that’s hard, takes a lot of figuring, and may end up requiring a lot of food, time and money. So taking the pre-natal vitamin may be a good choice for you to ensure you’re getting everything you need. A good recommendation I’ve heard was this:  take them often, but not every day.

Water – Oh, and please don’t forget about water! Hydration is huge. And nothing beats water for simple, affordable, accessible hydration. This deserves a special section, but I respect you only have so much to read all this, so I’ll be brief and to the point. You know you need to keep hydrated.  And water is your best source for hydration. We are blessed to have fresh, clean water regularly. Drink it with gratitude, and drink it often. Plenty of water is needed for cell growth and blood flow, not to mention digestion, energy and brain function. Herbal teas are a nice change (more on this later), and some women enjoy drinking milk to increase their calcium intake. Pop and caffeine and alcohol should be avoided – though for a treat, a non-alcohol beer, fruit juice or natural soda are fun. But nothing beats just plain old water. And lots of it. You may wish to treat yourself to a pretty water bottle so you can refill regularly and enjoy having it always handy.

Something to be careful with:

  • Sodium. The general rule of thumb is “salt to taste.” Salt is essential for the pregnant woman’s diet. If you avoid canned, fast, processed and convenient foods, you’re probably going to be within the healthy measures of sodium intake. Self salting of your own foods usually keeps sodium at a healthy level. Balanced with good nutrition and regular exercise, your body does need salt. This is a touchy subject with the rising levels of pre-eclampsia in pregnancy, and salt is often considered a cultprit. This may not be the case. So if this is a serious concern for you – do your research, or let’s look into this together further, because your wellbeing is essential, and salt is a balance part of your wellbeing. Between nutrition, exercise and rest, you have remarkable control over your physical (and mental and emotional) health.

Some things to avoid:

  • Sugar. This is a good one to get into the habit of avoiding, and out of the habit of consuming. (Hint: do it now before you get your kids hooked!) Why? It may not be evil, but what good does it do you? And there are those that claim it might be evil, so why take the chance? There are some terrific natural replacements that can be used for sweetening beverage, baking goods, granola, snacks, desserts. If you have a source for local honey, look into that if you haven’t already. Honey is good for boosting your immunity and handy ingredient for a lot of DIY cosmetics, too. There’s also maple syrup, stevia and agave. None of these are as cheap as sugar. Eating well may cost a little more. But hopefully it will help keep your medical bills lower, right?
  • White flour. Right, talk about over processed, and nothing left but the filler. Today’s flours are blamed for a variety of nasty health woes – why take the chance? If you love your breads and baking, please consider non-GMO and ancient varieties of flours and grains that might actually have good things to offer your body. There are some wonderful, fun options to try. Or find non-bread alternatives to your diet, like rices, grains, spaghetti squash, nut crackers…
  • Fast/Processed/Convenient foods. Avoid them. Get over it. Don’t drink the kool-aid. This stuff is not good for you. Period. If you know that and are still going down this road, figure out why and what you can do about it. If you’re too busy, now is the time to make changes. Only you can do that. And it’s worth it; you’re worth it. You family is or will be worth it, too. I know this often requires a lot of lifestyle changes, not just dietary changes. Please know you are worth it, and I bet your body will reward you for this powerful change.
  • Soda/Soft drinks/Pop. Once again – what good is it? What does it do for you? What benefits? So, why does this country still consume so much?  Soda is tied to some serious health risks, from diabetes to obesity, decreasing calcium absorption, increasing risk of heart attacks, some cancers, gout, and more. If this is a weakness of yours, get tough.  And get over it. Don’t do it yourself, and don’t do it to your kids. You don’t need this stuff in you and you don’t need to be supporting the companies that try to get you going then keep you hooked. But you already know that. So if you need some moral support unplugging the drip, let me know. I’m happy to help.

And then there’s the obvious, which you already know:  cigarettes, weed, alcohol and caffeine.  Avoid them, period. If you are unsure how much is okay, why take the chances? Kick the habits. Get support – reach out – find help. It matters. You matter. If you’re still hooked, let’s see what we can do together to help you help yourself. Please don’t take the route of hiding or denial. Be open, honest and respectful of yourself, in all our beautiful imperfections, and we’ll see about kicking the habit(s) for your own good, as well as for the good of the little one within you.

A good, healthy whole foods diet and due respect for your whole body is hugely important. You might not be able to make all the changes you want, but moving in this direction is a great step. It’s also a good start for the rest of your life, and the healthiest way to raise your child. Be open, be curious, be game, and have fun working on this. Your body is an ongoing work in progress. Ask questions, ask for help. Do what you can. Try. Don’t stress too much if you can’t stick with a “perfect” diet. In fact, in loving yourself you need to let go and forgive yourself, and accept yourself as you are. Just do what you can. Keep the honor and love of your body and your baby in mind with your choices, and slowly you’ll make improvements. Allow yourself some slack when you need it. You’re human. Chances are, a candy bar or soda pop from time to time won’t kill either one of you. Treats can be part of self nurturing. But so is eating really well. Please keep that in mind.

And one more thing, while we’re on the subject. Food, nourishment is nurturing. Body, mind and soul. In that equation, don’t forget meals. Snacking is fine. Even essential. Go for it. But so is sitting down with family and/or friends for meals. Every meal time a sacred act.  Take a moment to bless your food. Express gratitude for those present with you. Say a prayer or hold hands and just say, “Thanks,” to whoever prepared this meal for you. Honor yourself and the Earth by honoring your food.