Have you ever wondered why some women seem to just radiate with health during pregnancy and even afterwards? They are resilient and strong throughout labour and birth, and in the early postnatal period seem to cope and recover well?
Although there are many reasons why this may be the case, here are 5 ways to use nutrition to improve health at this beautiful time in your life.
1. Drink up!
We’ve heard it all before. Everyone knows that drinking water and keeping hydrated is important. Water serves many different functions, and ensuring you are properly hydrated during preconception, pregnancy, labour, birth, and postnatally is extremely important. Your hydration will directly impact your fertility, energy levels, immune function, and lactation. If plain water doesn’t do it for you, add chopped/sliced fruit, fresh herbs, vegetables (such as strawberry or cucumber), non-caffeinated herbal teas, nourishing liquids such as bone broths, or fermented drinks such as kombucha or kefir. Also highly recommended – add a pinch of sea salt to your glass or bottle to grab some electrolytes and hydrate more effectively.
2. Something fishy
Folks living in Mediterranean countries have got it right. Including seafood in your diet, particularly oily fish at least twice per week (preferably a bit more), is highly beneficial. Of course, it is important to be careful during pregnancy with seafood, but good quality oily fish should not be of concern, provided it is from a reliable fresh, local and trustworthy source, including salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, herring, trout, and snapper, which contain a number of important vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamins A, D, iodine, and omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oils taken during pregnancy have also been shown in some studies to be protective in preventing or reducing asthma or allergies in babies. Fish oils may also assist with regular bowel motions, improved mood and concentration, and tissue integrity and elasticity (which you certainly want during pregnancy and birth!). If supplementation is required, poor quality sources can be useless at best and harmful at worst. See a healthcare practitioner who can advise or prescribe the highest quality options.
3. Bugs and bug food
We require a good balance and variety of healthy bacteria to make up our microbiota (gut bacteria), to ensure that all of our body functions work properly, and that we remain generally healthy as a result. Increasing amounts of research is finding that most biological processes and disease states can all be related back to the gut, therefore it is imperative that we maintain this healthy balance, and ensure that what we eat adds these helpful bacteria to our gut, as well as the fuel required to feed and grown these bacteria. These come in the form of prebiotic and probiotic foods. Prebiotics provide the food for our beneficial bacteria through indigestible fibre, and good sources of prebiotics include bananas, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, leeks, dandelion greens, beetroot, onions, chicory, fennel, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, grapefruit, barley, and breast milk. Probiotics are the actual beneficial bacteria themselves, and these can be found in fermented food and drink such as kombucha, kefir, cultured vegetables, sauerkraut, kimchi, kvass, miso, tempeh, yogurt, and some aged cheeses. Some research has linked use of probiotic supplementation in mothers during pregnancy and breastfeeding with decreased incidence of allergies, eczema and asthma in babies.
4. Healthy fats & protein
In a society that has been told that fat is evil and to be avoided, it is important to realise that a range of healthy fats are of particular importance to a childbearing woman. When choosing fat, go for the ‘full fat’ variety, and avoid anything low-fat or fat-free, as these are highly processed and will often have numerous additional ingredients. Healthy fats can be found in nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, chia seeds, and good quality animal products such as pastured/grass-fed/organic butter, ghee, yogurt, cream, cheese, meats, animal fats, fish, and eggs. Inflammatory fats to be avoided are found in certain seed and ‘vegetable’ oils, such as canola, cottonseed, corn, and soybean oils, which are commonly found in packaged and preserved foods, margarine, and fast foods. Consuming protein, such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs, nuts, seeds, quinoa, fish, or meat with every meal and snack throughout this time will help to balance blood sugars, therefore managing hunger and energy levels. Both fats and proteins are important for building tissue and enhancing function, and to help with stamina during labour and birth, as well as whilst taking care of a newborn. Quality complex carbohydrates (as opposed to refined carbs devoid of nutrients) are also essential.
5. Vitamins & minerals through food
Ensuring a wide variety of whole foods consistently in the diet will increase the likelihood that adequate amounts of all important micronutrients are being consumed. This will depend entirely, however, on what your health status is like even before conception, and on what else is happening for you in your body right now. The only way to know this for sure is to get testing done to check nutrient levels and have this interpreted properly, alongside an overall consultation on all your body systems and how you are functioning, and then getting appropriate advice on what you need more/less of and how to obtain this through food (or supplementation, if required) via appropriate therapeutic dosage for you. In the absence of testing and a professional’s opinion, you can take major steps to ensuring a healthy diet by removing or limiting processed foods, refined sugar and carbohydrates, caffeine (or other stimulating foods and drinks), and alcohol, and replacing these with increased amounts of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, healthy fats and adequate protein, alongside complex carbohydrates. A good quality prenatal supplement is recommended before conception, throughout pregnancy, and throughout breastfeeding, although a supplement alone will not replace everything obtained from real food.
At the end of the day, a diet consisting of real food, with minimal processing done to it, which is fresh and ideally local, seasonal and organic, from trustworthy sources, and reduced packets and packages will put you well on your way to good health. Don’t be afraid to ask for help to find out how you can help yourself if you are feeling overly tired, stressed, overwhelmed, depressed, anxious, or generally unwell; it may mean that you are low in various nutrients or that some body functions are out of balance, and being able to do something about it can help you to feel better – sometimes very quickly.
This information is general in nature, and it is strongly advised to see a qualified healthcare professional specialising in food as medicine for a tailored nutrition plan for you. Click here to make a booking with me either in person or online.
What did you do to help yourself feel well before, during and after pregnancy?
Fallon Morell and Cowan: The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care (2013)