Diet is a critical component to a healthy pregnancy and to maintaining a quality milk supply when nursing. At no other point in our lives will anyone else be so reliant upon us to be on tip-top shape for their own good.
I’m pretty darn particular when it comes to nutrition. No, I hardly eat a perfect diet. But I do aim to make smart choices, and admittedly must love my children more than I love myself, because I take much more time to plan out my meals and eat well when pregnant or nursing than I do when not.
Eating For Health Versus Weight
I’m a big fan of the Weston A. Price Foundation. There’s a lot of solid research behind the reasons we should eat certain things like organ meats and lots of eggs and greens, and the reasons we shouldn’t indulge in sugars and grains. And I’m the type of person that always needs to know why. So understanding the basic principles of a certain dietary choice makes it or breaks it for me.
Another reason I really dig the WAPF “diet”—really it’s a way of life—is that it’s really focused on eating a boatload of nourishing food, versus restricting evvvvverything.
It helps to know that sugar and grains aren’t “no-no’s” because they’re fattening or full of gluten. Rather, it’s because they’re just not nutritious and do nothing positive for my body but bring on plenty of negative. The worst anti-nutrient in grains and legumes is phytic acid. I know, I know… but we love our roasted almonds and thought all the nuts and seeds were great for brain health. They are; they just aren’t perfect. In this day and age, what food is, right?
No, I’m not sitting around soaking all of my nuts, seeds, etc. I just limit my intake. Plenty of folks do opt for that lifestyle though, and I may someday when I have more free time. If you’re curious to learn more about how this famed dentist reshaped the way we look at these foods, have a peek over at the Weston A. Price Foundation website.
Are Supplements The Answer?
I like the whole food approach to mealtime. I’m not a big fan of supplements. I have found too much research that serves as a basis of proof enough for me that over-supplementation can cause issues, too. It’s not just deficiencies I am concerned with. Not that I’m worried about coming up short. I get my vitamins. I just choose to get them through food.
Pregnancy is a particularly important time to make sure all of those mineral levels are flush. B vitamins are of critical need in early pregnancy to protect against miscarriage and neural tube defects—many of which are formed by week nine. It is well advised to make sure folate consumption is on the up and up by about three months prior to conception.
One issue that often isn’t highlighted and probably needs to be is that many women (and men) have a single nucleotide polymorphism known as methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase—MTHFR for short.
MTHFR impairs the body’s ability to detox. It also impairs mom’s ability to convert folic acid into the L-methylfolate it needs to be to cross the placenta. So, a mom with MTHFR could be loading up on folic acid-based vitamins only to have very little of it getting to baby. On top of such, folic acid blocks folate receptors. This, what good folate mom is taking in via diet also may be blocked from getting to the little one.
Do I supplement if I need to? Sure. And I start in the kitchen. Need some iron? Blackstrap molasses, liver (or grass-fed desiccated beef liver capsules if you just can’t stomach the stuff), and cooking in cast iron can all help. While I wouldn’t turn down synthetic supplements if truly necessary, I will always try to more natural and thus, better-absorbed methods first. That being said, a strong diet has done wonders for my health and I’ve only ever turned up deficient a few times. Once was low Vitamin D when I was living in New England—easily remedied. Otherwise, I’ve been anemic in earlier pregnancies in my life when I was taking prenatals and was not eating as well.
The list of nutritional needs that must be met while pregnant or breastfeeding doesn’t stop at folate and iron though, even though we often hear only about those two. Babies need a wide array of nutrients to develop healthy little brains and bodies.
Love Your Gut!
Last but not least, one thing that can support a strong and healthy immune system—which is the crux of the whole body’s health, really—is a good probiotic.
There are more probiotics and probiotics than most tired, pregnant mamas care to sift through these days. The health supplement department has no shortage of stock to fill its shelves. Is a label that claims it’s from whole food really better? Not necessarily if the nutrients are degraded during processing, like folate from lemon peels or broccoli often is—thereby often rendering it folic acid.
The same rings true with probiotics. Many make claims to have gazillions of strains of this or that. Some claim to be best for the brain, or the vaginal tract, and so on. While some of these claims have merit, there’s a far easier way to get those probiotics, in my experience.
Food! Fermented foods. Natto. Kimchi. Pickles (if you’re like me and love a good pregnancy stereotype; I’m in love with Bubbies brand!). Kefir (tbh, I hate it). What I don’t hate… sauerkraut! Now there’s something I’m a big fan of. I can easily do a few tablespoons of this tasty stuff every day. And no, I’m not talking about your plain, old, dump it in the CrockPot with a slab of pork sauerkraut. No brown sugar needed here, folks. I love The Sweet Farm brand, and the caraway-spiced version is seriously the bomb. But if you’re feeling particularly crafty in the kitchen these days, then I’d absolutely encourage making your own kraut!
Kombucha is another fantastic option for a daily dose of probiotics, but be sure to start off slowly and allow yourself to adjust to it. If you’ve never tried kombucha before, many practitioners do advise against starting while pregnant and/or nursing. That’s a decision you may want to talk through with your midwife or OB. If you’re going for store-bought booch, be sure to read the labels. Some companies are adding things we just don’t need in our fermented beverages these days, like folic acid and sugar.
Sure, there are oodles of synthetic probiotics to choose from these days. I’m a firm believer in the body absorbing nutrients best in food form, though. So, for me, I opt for food-based probiotics whenever I can.
Healing At Home
Surprise, surprise, I’m also not big on going to the doctor if I’m not ill and unable to self-treat. But I do venture in and out of their office from time to time to check up on my hormone and mineral levels. I just don’t like routinely supplement things when I don’t know I am deficient. Nope, not even during this latest pregnancy. And not even now that I’m breastfeeding baby number four. I eat well and it serves us both well.
Hey, even the best of immune systems get knocked down every once in a while. In fact, you can’t really develop a healthy immune system without some germs and bacteria to battle and bolster it. Think of germ exposure like a little workout for the inside of your gut versus the outside we’re accustomed to toning and strengthening.
When the common cold or minor ailments knock us off balance, a lot of us wondering whether we should run straight to the doctor’s office or try to self-treat at home first. That’s a personal choice and one that I recommend education on before making it. Nonetheless, if you’re down for stocking up on some “Food as Medicine” treatments in your pantry, Whole and Healthy Kitchen has a great go-to list.