I feel a bit conflicted trying to give advice to women during such a crazy time like pregnancy or breastfeeding. I myself had not yet discovered clean eating when I was pregnant and I went a little (okay, a lot) crazy.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I fell victim to a commercial from Hardee’s about their $5 burger. It showed a pregnant woman walking into her ob/gyn appointment with her burger. She sat next to a woman who was pregnant with her 3rd or 4th and the older kids were running around the office making a lot of noise. The voice over said that those of us pregnant with our first child should enjoy all the $5 burgers at Hardee’s while we could because we’d have the next 7 years to eat nothing but McDonald’s. And I did…I think I ate at least one of those things a week, if not more.
My first pregnancy was relatively easy. I gained about 35 pounds and despite phases of tiredness, I didn’t have any problems. In fact, most of the weight that I gained was water weight in the last few weeks, you can see it in my face in the top left picture- which was taken the morning that I went into labor. The weight came off pretty easily too since I was breastfeeding- or so I thought. Between the weight that is normally lost in child birth and water weight, I seriously lost 25 pounds in two weeks. So when I was pregnant with my son, I thought it’d be the same.
However, I was getting my MBA at the time and so I was taking night classes. I had a half-caff coffee in the mornings and then drank one or two Coke Zeros at night. Even though I monitored my caffeine intake, the artificial sweeteners did not help. I still had crazy cravings for lots of greasy stuff and sweets though I didn’t have any nausea. I didn’t sleep as well and I was not as good about exercising.
On a funny note, I remember making the mistake of trying to take a nap during the middle of the day when I was home with my daughter. She was going through a drawer phase and liked to open them and pull everything out. Well, she didn’t want to take a nap at the time and shortly after I lay down next to her she woke up and started getting into all of my drawers. By the time I woke she had gone through three or four of them and was climbing up the front of my dresser to get in the top one. Talk about going from nearly-comatose to wide-awake quickly.
Anyway, I had to be induced at 37 weeks because my son stopped growing in utero. He was very small and had to stay in the NICU for 2 weeks and he never really hit the growth spurt that they expected. He was very small for a long time. Even though I assumed that the weight would come off like it did with my daughter, it held on for a while. It took me over a year to lose the weight.
When I think about the different situations of my pregnancies and how I dealt with each one, I do wish I had known more about nutrition than I did. Maybe I could have dealt with stress better, not relied on non-nutritive forms of energy and maybe not had the complications at the end. I don’t know if it would have made a difference, but every little bit helps when you’re growing a little human. So, alas, I’m going to give some recommendations. Take these as they are and try to incorporate them when you can.
The best foods for preconception, pregnancy, and breast-feeding are the same. You want to remember that nutrient density is going to be most important. Nutrients are going to prevent deficiencies and deficiencies are what lead to cravings, nausea, messed up hormones and other unpleasant side effects of pregnancy. Processed foods have no nutrients, so kick those to the curb. Vegetable oils and fats (like shortening, canola oil, vegetable oil, etc) are also highly processed and should not be used. Sugar also has no nutritional value and can mess up your blood sugar and lead to more cravings- an ugly cycle that can complicate already eventful and hormonal pregnancies. Caffeine should be avoided or used in moderation.
It is estimated that women need an extra 300 calories during pregnancy and 500 during breastfeeding. The best way to build a healthy baby while getting that in is not to add an extra Snickers bar every day, but to make sure that you are getting a good balance of healthy proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Many women have noted that getting enough protein during pregnancy has kept their nausea at bay. I’ve also heard the same about fats from good sources- olive oil, coconut oil, butter, pastured eggs, nuts, avocado, etc. Protein should be good quality, like pastured chickens and eggs, grass-fed beef, and humanely raised turkey.
Hydration is also key. Water not only helps to keep morning sickness at bay, but it also is important for the increased amount of blood volume that you need during pregnancy and to replace the liquid that you are using up during breast-feeding.
Green leafy vegetables, alfalfa, and liquid chlorophyll are important especially at the end of pregnancy because they raise levels of Vitamin K, which promotes blood clotting.
Some supplements may also be taken. Probiotics are good to promote healthy gut flora for mom and baby, especially during labor and delivery. Probiotics that occur naturally in fermented foods like kefir, kombucha, water kefir, sauerkraut, etc are the best because they help to rebuild a healthy gut. I use Inner-Eco because it is a concentrated coconut water kefir. You can get a 30-day supply from Whole Foods for $18, which is much better than some of the pill supplements that don’t match what we have in our gut so they have to be taken indefinitely.
Omega-3s are important as is cod liver oil. In winter Vitamin D is low due to lack of sunlight so it can be supplemented in D3 form. Magnesium can help with muscle cramps and relaxation as well as constipation, and it’s found in dark chocolate. The same can’t be said of milk chocolate though. Something about adding milk to chocolate messes with the nutrient profile and how our bodies absorb it. Don’t go overboard with dark chocolate though or you’ll end up messing with your blood sugar. It’s also important to monitor Vitamin C and Folate (not folic acid) intake.
Gelatin, like Jensen’s or Great Lakes grass-fed gelatin, can be supplemented or you can get it in food form by having bone broth. Use some homemade chicken stock to whip up an easy batch of egg drop soup and you’re getting quite a bit of nutrients all in one.
Iron shouldn’t really be supplemented as it causes upset stomach for most, but you can get quite a bit by using a cast iron pan. You can also eat some red meat, especially liver, from grass-fed cows, but liver and even red meat sounds a lot less appetizing to pregnant women sometimes.
A great sample meal would be some chicken breast on top of a leafy green salad with some EVOO, lemon juice, and mustard as a dressing and a side of sweet potato with 1 tablespoon of both nut butter and either coconut oil or butter mashed in.
Another would be a spinach omelet made with pastured eggs cooked in butter with a side of apple cinnamon oatmeal (not the packaged kind, but the kind that you make a big batch of at the beginning of the week and then warm it up for an easy meal).
Fruit can be eaten, but should be eaten between meals as snacks. Protein, grains, and then veggies require an ascending pH to digest in the stomach. Fruit needs a higher pH to digest so it tends to go last in the pecking order when it is eaten with other foods. The sugar in the fruit then ferments in the stomach and can cause gas, bloating and other un-pleasantries that tend to be worse during pregnancy anyway.
Cravings are very important during pregnancy as sometimes your body is telling you that it needs something specific. For instance, you may find yourself craving oranges because you need the calcium or vitamin C. In that case you should give in to the craving. Other times, when you find yourself craving Twinkies, you know that that comes from either an addiction to sugar, a need for the quick energy boost that sugar can bring, or a crazy hormonal swing that will more than likely get worse if you give in to the sugar craving. In that case, try to have something better, like fruit for the natural sugars or even as an occasional treat a homemade cupcake that you know all the ingredients of, ie not one that came from a box mix. You can make a batch of homemade treats that you freeze in individual serving sizes to have available for such times, just defrost on the counter or in the microwave.
In one of my lectures during my course Annemarie Colbin talked about her pregnancy. She has been a vegetarian since she was a girl, but when she was pregnant with her first daughter she craved meat- chicken livers and bacon specifically. Then when she had her daughter, she went back to eating vegetarian, but the little girl was just hungry and grouchy all the time. When she was 4 there was a block party and she asked if she could have a hamburger. Annemarie said yes and the little girl was so well-behaved for the next few days she couldn’t believe it. She realized that the little girl had been putting in orders for a meat-eating body the whole time during pregnancy, and the vegetarian diet just wasn’t cutting it for her growing body. So every few days she let her daughter eat dinner with some friends when they had meat for dinner and everything was great. Sometimes the foods that we eat and crave during pregnancy are going to be the very foods that our kids need to grow. Interesting, huh?
The more I learn about the human body through the study of nutrition and personal training courses, the more I am fascinated. When we give our bodies the right fuel, we can do so much, like grow healthy incredible babies.
I hope this information helps you. Getting the right nutrients during pregnancy and breast-feeding can not only help you grow a healthy baby, but can also help you lose the baby weight quicker to get back into your pre-baby clothes.
Questions? Comments? Please let me know.