Whilst pregnancy is an exciting time for most, it does take some planning to keep both you and baby well. Ideally you would see an Integrative Medicine practitioner prior to trying to become pregnant in order to provide individualised advice and check baseline nutrient levels, e.g. vitamin D. This will benefit your pregnancy and long-term health but also make it more likely that you will become pregnant.
I’ve summarised my top tips for both during pregnancy below but let’s start with some exciting news. Contrary to urban myth, a woman’s brain in pregnancy receives an upgrade, not only to IQ but also emotional quotient (EQ), facial recognition, social reasoning, smell, and taste. These are permanent changes and interestingly IQ usually increases with each pregnancy (which provides great relief for me as a mum of five!).
The memory loss described by many women (including myself) post labour tends to be more related to the tiredness of having a new baby, the physical exertion of labour and the lack of the types of support by a ‘tribe’ that ancient cultures have benefited for years. All the tips below can contribute not only to our brain upgrade but also our health generally, during pregnancy AND beyond.
In an ideal world you would only eat organic foods, especially organic plant foods, to reduce both you and your baby’s exposure to heavy metals, chemicals, hormones. If it’s not possible to buy organic for cost or availability reasons, refer to the EWG Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen lists for which foods are safer to buy non-organic, and which are not.
Foods to focus on and their sources include:
- Iron: Clams, oysters (all shellfish must be thoroughly cooked, soybeans, spinach, beef, kidney beans,
- Fat soluble vitamins (e.g. vitamin D): Fatty fish (e.g. salmon), fish liver oils, carrot juice, unpeeled sweet potato
- Choline: Meat, eggs, poultry, fish, potatoes , cruciferous vegetables (e.g. broccoli)
- Omega 3: Flax and pumpkin seeds and their oils, walnuts and their oils, deep-water fish and their oils, legumes (dried beans, peas, and lentils)
- Folate rich foods: Leafy green vegetables (e.g., spinach), dried peas and beans, citrus fruits
- Iodine rich foods: seaweed (although recommended to avoid sushi), seafood (well cooked), Eggs, Natural sea salt enriched with NZ deep water sea kelp)
Consider minimising gluten and dairy consumption. Both tend to be inflammatory foods, even in those that don’t have true allergies. In addition, dairy can cause hormone imbalances, and inhibit nutrient absorption; and gluten can increase gut permeability.
Also, aim for low glycaemic index (GI) foods and reduce trans fats as both are inflammatory, linked to hormone imbalances and have additional negative effects.
GI basically means the sugar content of food and with sugar having about 60 different names it’s worth reading food labels. Trans fats are usually labelled “trans”, “hydrogenated” or “partially-hydrogenated” on food labels. The easiest way to avoid both sugar and trans fats is to avoid most packaged foods, though paleo/keto packaged foods are an exception to this rule, in general.
Caffeine and alcohol are best avoided not just in pregnancy, but also when trying to conceive. Caffeine can cause the loss of minerals involved in many important cellular functions. Alcohol impacts our hormones, can cause fetal alcohol syndrome and usually contains sugar which is inflammatory.
Lastly, avoid processed soy products such as soy milk and heavy metal rich foods such as big fish, e.g. tuna. Processed soy products contain phytoestrogens which can interfere with our hormones and heavy metals in big fish are super-concentrated by the developing fetus as well as being harmful for our own health.
Please aim for a regular sleep-awake time and have a minimum of 7.5 hours per night and to be in bed by 10pm to have higher quality sleep. To optimise melatonin (sleep hormone) release please use low lighting and avoid blue lights (computers/cellphones/tv/LED lightbulbs) for 2 hrs pre-bed and/or purchase blue light filtering glasses. There are plenty of great sleep meditations available as app’s or CD’s. There are plenty of other strategies to improve sleep which can be found here.
Keeping active in pregnancy benefits both you and your baby in numerous ways. The key with exercise is to have a check-up with your healthcare provider to see if it is safe for you to start a new exercise program, but a 30 minute daily gentle walk is usually safe for most. In general it is safe to carry on your exercise in pregnancy that you were doing prior but again it is best to discuss your individual requirements with your healthcare provider.
Stress management is the most important key to your well-being. Along with the other factors, nutrition, sleep exercise etc., stress can also affect the health of the foetus both in the short and long term. One of the stressors in pregnancy can be morning sickness or its more severe ‘evil twin’ hyperemesis gravidarum.
Check out this link for tips on reducing morning sickness (http://drwellness.co.nz/morning-sickness-tips-from-a-mum-of-5/) There are a raft of stress management techniques with a summary here. My personal favourites include cuddles, time with my family, dancing, singing (badly!), reading, walking in nature and HeartMath.
Ideally you should start these a few months before trying for a family. This gives you a chance to replenish any deficiencies. For more accurate supplement prescribing and to avoid contraindications and overdose, I highly recommend having blood and urine testing of key vitamins and minerals.
When taking supplements, aim for the highest (pharmaceutical) quality supplement you can afford, for the reasons found here. In a nutshell I recommend the following:
- Prenatal multivitamin/mineral containing 800mcg of methylated form of folate and 150mcg of iodine.
- DHA/EPA fatty acids from fish or krill oil produced by a reputable source that tests their supplement for heavy metals.
- Probiotics with at least 30 billion mixed bacterial cultures.
- Vitamin D3 (in the cholecalciferol form) ideally combined with vitamin K (or taken with a vitamin K containing multivitamin).
Post-natal planning to avoid post-natal depletion can be done at any stage in the pregnancy (I wish I’d known about it for my pregnancies!). For post-natal planning and more personalised pregnancy advice, talk to the experts at Dr Wellness. In the meantime, lie back and enjoy your gorgeous bump!