Responsibility for this new human being starts long before you give birth. Right now she is depending on you to do what she cannot do for herself. It is up to you to
prepare a safe and nurturing pregnancy and birth. You and your baby are worth the effort.
Diet and Exercise
Do not underestimate the importance that nutrition plays in your pregnancy and labor. You have only one chance to produce the body that your child will occupy for a lifetime, and the fuel you give your body can have a huge impact on the health of your baby, yourself, and your birth. Dieting, which some caregivers still recommend to a degree, is not a good idea. Good nutrition is common sense.
A good diet helps with the formation, implantation, and growth of the placenta, muscular development of the uterus, expansion of blood volume, and in dealing with increased stress on the liver. Wise food intake can also go a long way in preventing intrauterine growth retardation, preeclampsia (first signs of toxemia), preterm birth, fetal distress during labor, low birth weight, retardation, and learning disabilities in the child, stillbirth, anemia, maternal postpartum hemorrhage, and much more.
Why, in the past, have women been told to diet during pregnancy? In the nineteenth century, it was advised that expectant women should not gain much weight during their pregnancies so that babies would not grow to their normal size. This, it was believed, would be the answer to avoiding problems at birth that were stemming from child labor practices of the day. During this time period in Europe many children grew up working many hours in dark, stuffy factories without adequate nutrition. This resulted in deficiencies in nutrients needed for normal bone growth. A pelvis narrowed by poor nourishment as a child often made birth more difficult and sometimes life-threatening (so of course this only added to common fears originally formed during those days, about babies not fitting through women’s now very adequate bodies).
The phenomenon of babies not fitting because of a malformed pelvis due to rickets is extremely rare in this present time in the history of the United States. Nonetheless, weight-restriction has prevailed without further questioning until just a short while ago.
Now it is being shown that mothers with inadequate diets and poor weight gain are more likely to have complications, including babies with problems!
The benefits of a daily diet that contains mainly whole foods cannot be overestimated.
This means that foods remain as unprocessed and as close to their natural state as possible, and that they are prepared simply. Eliminate white flour and sugar as much as you can. Whole food also means real eggs, cheese, and butter—not fakes, substitutes, or highly-processed varieties.
Whole grains, as opposed to food made with nutrient-stripped white flour, is the way to go. Try making your own muffins, substituting white flour for a mix of several whole grain flours such as oats, millet, wheat, rice, and more. Results and flavors vary with different types of grains and you may be surprised at how much better baked goods can taste as
Wise food intake
can go a long
way in preventing
a variety of
you learn about whole grain baking. Even better, experiment with using grains soaked overnight (make muffin or pancake batter and place in fridge until morning for example), or sprouted, in various recipes.
It is also very important to eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in all the colors of the rainbow.
Do take caution not to eat your dark, leafy green vegetables raw as it is thought that this can actually bind iron. Lightly cooking them, as is done in Asian cultures, is best. Greens are, of course, also rich in minerals and vitamins. While greens do have some calcium, it is not in great amounts. Dairy sources remain some of the best for providing much needed calcium. However, dark leafy greens are also rich in magnesium, an important precursor for taking calcium into the body. It is also thought by some that magnesium may play a significant role in the baby’s ability to tuck his head, facilitating an optimal positioning of the crown of his head on the mother’s cervix for a more efficient, more comfortable birth!
Potassium is found in orange juice (fresh orange juice that is not from concentrate is key), and in fruits, potatoes, beef, legumes, and other foods. The body is dependent upon salt to take in potassium. Of interest to some pregnant women, is that potassium and sodium play an important role in avoiding constipation.
The myth about pregnant women needing to avoid salt during pregnancy is one that has met its time. Salt is crucial for a normal pregnancy. Mothers on no-salt diets have been shown to have more preeclampsia than women who had as much salt as they wished. Sea salt is suggested because of the important minerals it contains. Getting too much is not an issue as the body will eliminate excess. It is also important to understand that the body is dependent on salt to eliminate unneeded water
from the tissues. Be aware, though, that pregnant women’s bodies do naturally and wisely carry some extra fluid, particularly toward the end of pregnancy and most women experience a bit of swelling.
Pregnant and nursing mothers’ needs for iron can also not be overestimated. The form of iron in iron supplements is not a good source of iron at all. Iron is also necessary for taking in calcium. Interestingly, while iron supplements can be the cause of constipation, iron from sources such as red meat can help to solve the problem. Not a popular food, but very much worth mentioning, is liver. Mom was right. Liver is extremely beneficial, and probably the very best source of iron you
will find, particularly for pregnant women and women who have just given birth. It helps prevent depression and low energy—just a couple of the many reasons to seek out ways to prepare this excellent food at least once a week (teriyaki meatballs of a mix of beef and liver served perhaps with mushrooms over rice, or in a pasta sauce, etc.)
Getting adequate iodine is crucial in pregnancy and when breastfeeding too. Babies get their iodine from the mother’s valuable stores. Maternal problems with hair loss, memory, cysts, and a score of other problems can occur when mothers become low on iodine. Babies that do not have sufficient amounts of iodine to draw from are also at risk for a variety of serious problems. Sea salt does not contain adequate iodine, nor does standard table salt contain a quality type of it. Taking a proper source of iodine, such as kelp is probably a good idea.
Protein is also extremely important during pregnancy, and is believed to greatly decrease the risk of preeclampsia, because it is so essential for the body to have. It is recommended that pregnant women consume eighty-plus grams of protein daily. Protein can be found in eggs, cottage cheese, meat, and a variety of other sources. Beef, in particular, is a wonderful source of both protein and iron. If you do not normally eat meat, pregnancy and breastfeeding are times of greatly increased needs for the nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, contained in meat. You will need to be particularly vigilant and creative in seeking out other foods with these necessities. Many mothers feel remarkably better and find health issues resolve themselves when they
It is essential to
supply your baby
and your body
add meat, beef in particular, to their diets during pregnancy and when nursing.
Fatty acids are beginning to receive more attention as nutritionists realize how essential they are. Fats received a bad rap, especially in the 80s and 90s. Researchers are discovering that fats are important components of foods that normally contain them and that some of the nutrients in those foods cannot be absorbed without the fat that naturally accompanies them if left whole. Women who are pregnant and breastfeeding, and babies too, have a greater need of good fats in their diets. Fats are important for placental attachment to the uterus and then detachment at the time of birth, for the umbilical cord, suppleness and stretching abilities of the vagina and birth opening, and for avoiding stretch marks.
Now, during pregnancy and breastfeeding, are excellent times to buy organic or better yet, grow your own organic garden if possible.
It is essential that you do not starve your baby! Don’t let anyone discourage you from supplying your baby and body with proper foods!
Exercise is very important as well. Although you will probably want to avoid high impact exercises that might put you or your baby in danger, many caregivers agree that it is fine to continue most exercises you were used to before pregnancy. Myriad benefits can come from simply walking daily. Walking has even been found to be a remedy for preeclampsia. Practicing strengthening exercises is especially helpful. Prenatal yoga can be a wonderful option. There are many benefits to this lowimpact form of exercise including increased strength and energy, better balance and control of the body, greater flexibility, breathing capacity, a sense of well-being, stress reduction, a greater sense of confidence, and an increased level of pain management. When exercising, be sure not to become overheated or exhausted. If you are becoming exhausted or if you feel any pain, it is best to stop and take it easier. Babies can be put into a hazardous situation when the mother becomes overheated by exercise or by taking baths that are too hot, because the baby cannot cool off as easily as the mother can afterwards.
Be careful of household cleaning products and other chemicals. With such natural products as baking soda, table salt, distilled white vinegar, lemon juice, trisodium phosphate (TSP, which doesn’t emit fumes), and a plunger, it is possible to clean drains, wash windows, degrease, prevent mold and mildew, disinfect, and scour.
Drinking, drugs, and smoking are also very dangerous for your baby. It is imperative if you have any of these habits that you stop immediately! Avoid caffeine intake too, and switch to decaf or herbal teas. There are some superb resources on the subjects of nutrition and exercise for pregnancy that are available. Of course be sure to consult your caregiver with any questions you have about dietary changes, or before beginning a new exercise program.
(Adapted from Wise Childbearing, What You’ll Want to Know As You Make Your Birth Choices by Jennetta Billhimer.)