Preparing for Pregnancy, Part 1: Laying a Nutritional Foundation
This material originally appeared in a slightly different form in our Fall 2010 catalog.
When I married in 2004, I was almost 26, and my husband and I knew we didn’t want to wait long to have children. Although many women have children after thirty, we both wanted a large family and weren’t sure how long our child-bearing years would last. Even so, we were slightly surprised when just six weeks after the wedding we found ourselves expecting our first child! Excitement filled our house, and to add to our own joy, this would be the first grandchild for both his parents and mine.
At the time, I was a practicing registered nurse, and although I did not work in obstetrics, I’d always been fascinated with the subject. Despite the fact that I had scored a perfect 100 ranking among my peers that year in the OB/GYN national competency exams, I gradually found that I actually understood little about the importance of preparing my body to be a mother.
I knew I needed to take a prenatal vitamin once the pink line appeared on the pregnancy test. I knew the importance of Folate to prevent birth defects. I knew I needed to generally take care of myself. But I did nothing to really prepare my body for pregnancy.
My pre-pregnancy diet consisted largely of fast food, meals from a box, and sodas. I had done nothing to eliminate my chronic gut problems, build nutritional storehouses, or make sure my body was in shape for this miraculous event.
Due to long work hours, my entire day’s nutrition consisted of an orange for breakfast, half a sub sandwich for lunch, and half for dinner (and when I say sub, I mean a foot-long white bread sandwich with nothing but processed cold cuts, American cheese and jalapeño peppers). I washed that all down with the largest cherry limeade I could buy, because it had to last my entire shift; it was a healthier choice, I figured, since it did not have caffeine. I often went an entire week without eating unprocessed meat, fresh vegetables, and whole grains.
My bouts with morning sickness (to the point of vomiting) lasted from early in the pregnancy until three days after my baby was born. With my second pregnancy came nine months of migraine headaches, followed by my newborn son’s chronic health issues. I finally decided there had to be a better way to do pregnancy! The challenges I faced have led me to some fascinating factors that make for a healthier momma and, therefore, a healthier baby.
The Two-Way Gift of Health
Our health is a gift, not just from the Creator, but also from our parents. The field of genetics is still full of mystery, but we do know that the health of our parents when they brought us into the world plays a large role in determining what our own level of health will be, and your health will play a major role in your children’s health.
People generally assume that most health issues depend simply on the genes we pass on, that they determine what makes us more or less vulnerable to various diseases and health conditions. Many of us don’t make the connection that we directly pass on to our children a reflection of our own state of health, apart from genetic factors.
As a result, our children often suffer from the same digestive, immune, and chronic health issues that we do, not just because of genes but also because of how we care for ourselves. If you’ve had problems with your digestion, it should not come as a surprise that your child is colicky. So before you think about having a baby, first consider how to rebuild and restore your own health. Not only will you be passing on to your future children a head start in health, but the habits you develop will benefit them throughout life.
Getting Your Gift in Shape
The place to start building your health is with your diet and your nutritional lifestyle. Nutrients are the building blocks of cells, and it is vital to take in nutrients that build healthy cells. Diets full of healthy fats, grass-fed and organic proteins, fermented foods, properly prepared grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables are vital. While there are several very good diet suggestions out there, I personally recommend Diet for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers as a good starting place. It’s published by the Weston A. Price Foundation and offers great guidance for nourishing your body and preparing the inner stores of nutrients necessary for pregnancy.
Most people recognize the need for protein, iron, and vitamins from fresh fruit and vegetables, but it is only recently becoming known that healthy fats are needed as well. A British publication noted that for a healthy reproductive system, a woman needs 25 to 30 percent body fat, while the American recommendation for women of child-bearing years is 21 to 33 percent. Healthy fats include coconut oil, whole milk, extra virgin olive oil, avocados, and grass-fed butter and meats (with healthy portions of the fat included). A great primer in the study of fats is Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.
Just as important as what you put in your body is what you don’t put in. Fats to avoid are shortening, margarine, vegetable oils like corn, soybean, and canola oil. Other no-no’s include artificial sweeteners, white sugar, white flour, MSG, High Fructose Corn Syrup, caffeine, and soft drinks (even cherry limeades!). Not only are they empty calories, they are often toxic to the body.
Another crucial part of your lifestyle evaluation is your level of physical activity. At any time in life, exercise keeps the body feeling well, the joints moving, aches and pains dispelled, and increases overall vitality. To “get in shape” for pregnancy, it’s important to incorporate into daily life activities and exercises that increase stamina, flexibility, and cardio function. If you’re wary of exercise because of pain, I recommend you read Pain Free. I’ve followed its guidelines for almost a year now and have found incredible relief from aches and pains, while increasing my flexibility and balance.
When you exercise while pregnant, it’s important that you not burn too much fat. High impact aerobics and long distance running often burn more than the recommended amount of body fat for a healthy pregnancy. The key here is to research the regimen you will be participating in and maintain a level that’s right for you.
Join us tomorrow for Part 2 when we discuss choosing supplements and avoiding morning sickness.
Mary Ewing has been with Beeyoutiful for six years (through three pregnancies!). She enjoys exploring life with her husband and five children as they cook, garden, play and dream of homesteading. Her interests include traditional cooking, learning about herbs and essential oils, and traditional art forms such as sewing, crocheting, knitting and smocking.