Pregnancy nutrition

Just like last time when I learned I was expecting, one of the first things I’ve done is to immediately scrutinise my nutritional intake.

Since I generally keep my diet to paleo guidelines, I have a very varied and nutritionally dense diet on the whole, so my little one should be receiving most of the vital nutrients needed. But babies require certain things in different quantities for their development so it’s essential to make sure they are being supplied with what they need as well as taking into account what should be avoided.

DIET

My diet by and large follows a fairly staple pattern and I don’t intend to change it much for pregnancy.

  • Lots of water, around 2 litres a day on average. I’ve been buying Hildon water to make sure it’s really good quality whilst I’m pregnant. We’d love to install a proper water filter sometime. Brita filters aren’t a bad temporary alternative though.
  • Plenty of leafy greens and vegetables which are packed with vital nutrients for Mummy and baby – we only buy organic and find that Ocado and Abel & Cole together provide all the organic produce we need. If you’ve got a local grocery that sells organic, it’s also nice to support local farmers! If you can afford organic, go for it – so much better than munching through all those nasty pesticides and chemicals.
  • A good range of fruit, particularly low sugar ones like berries, limes, lemons and rhubarb. Again try to buy organic and take care to wash your fruit and vegetables to remove all traces of soil which may contain toxoplasma, a parasite that can cause toxoplasmosis.
  • Lots of high quality protein from high quality sources. Try to source organic grass-fed beef, free-range poultry and eggs, and wild, sustainable seafood – obviously shellfish are off-limits!
  • Heaps of healthy fats! Pregnancy and nursing are not times to cut back on healthy fats which are essential for your little one’s brain development, organ and tissue growth, and your own milk production. Sources like healthy meats, coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, and nuts are especially good during pregnancy.
  • Coconut oil – this deserves a special mention as it’s such an amazing product, boasting antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial properties that can help prevent colds, flu and other viruses. It can soothe the stomach and cleanse the gut, aiding morning sickness. It’s hugely moisturising and can be applied topically to the skin to aid the prevention of stretch marks.
  • Homemade bone broth and soups.

OFF LIMITS

  • Soft cheeses as they can contain listeria bacteria that cause listeriosis. Although rare, even a mild form of this can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or severe illness in a newborn baby.
  • Raw eggs they can cause salmonella food poisoning – no paws in the cake mixture either!!
  • Raw unpasteurised milk – many claim huge health benefits to raw milk but during pregnancy it’s not a risk worth taking
  • Pâté – these can contain listeria, even vegetable ones.
  • Raw or undercooked meat. The latest advice from the FSA is that pregnant women should also be careful with cured meats such as salami, chorizo, pepperoni and Parma ham as they are not cooked, but rather cured and fermented so may contain toxoplasmosis-causing parasites.
  • Liver – organ meats such as liver contain very high doses of preformed Vitamin A
  • Shellfish and shark – food poisoning can be an issue
  • Alcohol – this can seriously affect your baby’s development and is not worth any risks, not hard for me to avoid as I rarely drink anyway.
  • Smoking – I’ve never smoked, nor ever would, but this is vital to avoid while pregnant
  • Caffeine – limit your intake as high levels can cause a miscarriage

SUPPLEMENTS

I’m certainly no doctor and nor do I presume to know enough to give medically-based opinions about what people should take when pregnant. Obviously a lot of people turn to preselected packs like Pregnacare or Biocare Pregnancy. These are great if you’re not sure as they will cover you for all your that your baby needs. However, if you’re more interested in a personally tailored version, I would say do your own research and lots of it to work out exactly what you need according to your diet, body and health. Supplements aren’t really magic bullets and can never put right an unhealthy diet, so getting your diet into top shape is surely the first place for anyone to start. With that box already ticked, I’ve created my own little assortment. In the end I’ve restricted my list of supplements to just the following:

  • Folate – This has long been established as one of the most important supplements to take for baby’s cell growth as the majority of people will not get anywhere near enough in their diet. I take 800mcg of folate a day, though some sources recommend as much as 1200 for full benefit. This amount should include any excess you are receiving throughout the day in your diet.
  • Probiotics – these are essential during pregnancy as your baby comes into the world with a thoroughly sterile gut. In other words they have no beneficial bacteria with which to fight infections. Probiotics will ensure they are supplied with good gut health. There are a lot of different options on the market, but I’m taking these ones.
  • Magnesium, Calcium and Vitamin D – I’m taking these. I always take magnesium, but it’s especially important in pregnancy. The consequences of a severe deficiency can include preeclampsia, reduced foetal growth or even foetal death. I tried magnesium oil spray which you spray directly onto the skin but found that it was burning me so I rapidly stopped. Generally you want to aim for no more than 500 mg from all sources. Calcium is essential for bones, muscles, blood pressure, healing and nerve function as well as maintaining body pH. As a follower of paleo, I rarely have dairy (other than goat’s yogurt now and then which contains loads of good friendly bacteria) but calcium doesn’t only come from milk. Bones and leafy greens contain loads of calcium, so if you’re having broth or soup and plenty of veg, your calcium levels should be fine. I’ve decided an extra top up is no bad thing though! As for Vitamin D3, it has been shown to help your little one’s bone and hormone development as well as aiding your own immune system during pregnancy. It’s important to take D3 and not vitamin D supplements – D3 is the natural form of vitamin D that your body makes from sunlight. If you’re getting plenty of sunlight daily then your vitamin D levels may be high enough.
  • Omega 3 – I’m taking these. Omega 3 is vital for your baby’s brain and eye development. If you are already eating oily fish every week, you’re unlikely to need Omega 3 supplements. However, since finding that I’m already suffering quite badly from morning sickness, it has totally flattened my appetite for fish in all forms just like last time so if you do need a supplement, firstly, avoid mega high dosage supplements and secondly, consider the break down of how much EPA and DHA they contain – 450mg of EPA and DHA is roughly equivalent to a couple of portions of oily fish a week. Some people swear by Fermented Cod Liver Oil. I considered it but was put off by the very high levels of Vitamin A during pregnancy. In reality I feel that the medical industry might have overdone the scare factor surrounding Vitamin A but as I said I’m no doctor. When I first started doing my research I just remember feeling thoroughly confused. Some articles state that Vitamin A can cause birth defects and liver toxicity which is part of the reason organ meats are not recommended during pregnancy. Others proclaim that Vitamin-A deficiency in pregnant mothers can result in offspring with eye defects, harelip, cleft palate and abnormalities of the heart. It leaves you wondering which way to turn. In the end, I decided to start taking a very small amount of Vitamin A at this point.
  • Vitamin A – as mentioned above, vitamin A is a complicated one, the reasons being that there are two forms of vitamin A: preformed vitamin A called retinol and carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, which must be converted by the body to be in a useful form. There have been huge scares with vitamin A, some valid, some overdone which can frighten people into taking none at all – potentially very bad for the foetus’ development. Whilst the foetus needs vitamin A for proper development, too much can cause terrible birth defects and liver toxicity so it’s essential to avoid foods high in preformed vitamin A. The problem however is that our body is not great at converting carotenoids, so the foetus may end up receiving almost nothing. I’ve looked at my diet and don’t think I get much at all, so I’m taking these pills which I HALVE or QUARTER variously, using a pill cutter – I then take a half or quarter pill daily, sometimes having none at all. This is a decision I took last time and it worked perfectly for me, but it’s important to check your own diet with regards to Vitamin A.
  • B2 – I keep finding I have really dry lips so have been taking B2 to combat this the last few days!

HERBAL CONCOCTIONS

It’s always important to discuss with a doctor before taking herbs or anything during pregnancy as everyone can be affected by things in different ways, but listed below are the ones I’m taking and why. I also only take one or two cups daily – everything in moderation!

You can either make these into hot tea or a cooling iced drink perfect for hot summer days!

Red Raspberry Leaf: I’ve decided I’ll only take this after week 32 of pregnancy as there is a concern that it could lead to problems prior to this. It is thought however to strengthen the muscles of the uterus, aiding and shortening labour. It is also thought to help contract the uterus back down to size, prevent excessive bleeding, and encourage the onset of breast milk. It is rich in many of the vitamins and minerals necessary for a healthy pregnancy.

Nettle Leaf: This is widely recommended by herbalists and midwives as it provides high levels of iron, magnesium and calcium as well as vitamins A, C and K.

Peppermint: This can help digestion and aid nausea. On the other hand it can exacerbate acidity and heartburn as it relaxes the sphincter so be careful with it! I buy Daylesford Organics as I love their range.

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