Pregnancy offers a unique experience where we are pushed out of our comfort zone and experience our bodies through an entirely new framework. We may go through phases of deep embodiment of our own physical body, possibly more positive, sensual, and loving than ever before. Or we can also feel heavy, uncomfortable, achy and very triggered by our physical changes. Often times it is a pendulum swing of all of these emotions throughout the day.
Let’s face it, most women in our current society are not encouraged to let their bodies be exactly what they are. We are taught to change it and fix it. We are sold agendas and products to fix ourselves from childhood onward — how to lose weight, how to get wrinkle free skin, what clothes to buy to make your body look thinner, creams for cellulite, the best diet plan to fix your life. The list is endless. It is crucial to connect with the power that you innately have. It is no small thing to conceive and then grow a baby. Every day is a miracle. Every woman is different and every body is different. There is no one way to be pregnant just as there is no one way to mother. When I work with pregnant women, I encourage them to connect with their inner knowing. One’s intuition is the direct line to knowing what is best for you and your baby, food included.
Prenatal nutrition is a massive topic and as I touched on before, there is no one-fits-all for every woman. Every trimester offers its own gifts and challenges. Some women are more affected than others but here is a general guideline: During the first trimester it can be challenging to just get food down and to stay down. If you have had “morning sickness” i.e. “all day sickness” you know what I am talking about. It isn’t pretty. Getting any kind of food down no matter if it is ginger ale and toast is a blessing. The second trimester usually offers a reprieve where the nausea has subsided, we feel the pregnancy glow and the extreme exhaustion has lifted. Pregnancy is feeling much better. And then, when we move into the third trimester, we often begin to feel more aches and pains, a new found heaviness, less sleep due to constant bathroom runs and indigestion.
As you navigate all of these different variables, just try to do the best that you can without adding guilt, shame or comparison to your plate.
Key Aspects of Prenatal Nutrition
Listen to your body — A healthy prenatal diet is to maximize your nutrition through the foods you eat to support your own body, as well as grow a happy, healthy, balanced baby (while also enjoying your food!) And you may not be able to get a ton of veggies and fruits in on one day but you can focus on what does your overall week look like? It is important to listen to your bodies’ cravings. What is it telling you? Our bodies are constantly sending us messages. And we often override these messages because we feel that the mind always knows better. We need to listen to the messages. If you ignore them for too long, your body will present a situation where you are forced to listen. So, I encourage women to eat as healthily as they can according to what that means to them and what works for their body. Not what some book tells you. Women have been having healthy babies for thousands of years without looking outside of themselves for the answers.
Each pregnancy is different — To give you an example from my own pregnancies, I am a vegan but craved hardboiled eggs and allowed myself to eat them because that is what my body wanted. I also ate an inordinate amount of animal crackers through both pregnancies and I have a deep love affair with frozen junior mints. I am not perfect. I also ate daily homemade vegetable soups, green juices, salads, roasted veggies, potatoes, loads of fresh fruit and smoothies. So I found my own balance. During my first pregnancy, I could barely eat anything for seven months due to extreme nausea. I lost ten pounds during my first trimester, which was a living hell and sounds way better than it is. I definitely ate way more crackers and white bread and drank more cokes than I ever thought that I would. I did the best that I could at the time. During my second pregnancy, however, I was only nauseated for the first 22 weeks and then I ate as much as I wanted of whatever I wanted. And most of that was healthy. I also felt great so I was able to walk 3-5 miles daily, which I know made for an easy rest of the pregnancy and delivery.
Do not focus on weight gain — I gained the exact same weight each time and I never knew my weight until after my deliveries. I did not want to become attached to some arbitrary number. Because here’s the thing, it doesn’t matter. Yes, there are healthy weight ranges to be aware of. But if you are eating a heavily plant based diet with healthy unprocessed carbs, proteins and fats, your body will do what your body needs to do. What I see with most of my clients, is that the scale and Dr. weigh-ins add un-due stress and further disassociation with their body. And that leads to more stress. And that leads to emotional eating or restriction. Neither of which we want.
Allow food to be medicine — The weight concern comes in when women feel like pregnancy is their one time in life to eat “bad” foods and they go crazy with it and gain a ton of weight because they are eating crap. And a bit of that is OK, from time to time. But we need to actually reframe our own connection to food and what nourishing our bodies actually means. It could be argued that pregnancy is THE time to eat as cleanly as possible because you are giving and growing life. Choosing what we eat, drink, listen to, watch, read, surround ourselves with all inform our pregnancy journey. I do believe in a largely plant based diet. I do believe in eating the healthiest way that you can today which can vary day to day. And I do believe in treating yourself when you have a craving. Practice moderation. Allow food to be medicine and not poison.
The First Trimester
The majority of women experience at least some (if not a lot) of nausea during their first trimester. It can be humbling and debilitating. Depending on where you fall on the spectrum, try to be gentle with yourself.
1. Take a daily high grade prenatal vitamin. If you have the MTHFR gene mutation, you need to make sure that your supplement has Folate not Folic Acid.
2. Get in what food you can. This may sound simple but eating anything and keeping it down can be a miracle if you are experiencing nausea. Stick to easy-to-digest smoothies, soups and healthy carbs such as white and sweet potatoes.
3. Let go of perfectionism. Do what you can each day as far as nutrition goes. Obviously, the more fruits and veggies the better. If it is during the warm months, you can make big smoothies chock full of fresh fruit, greens and superfoods and plant based protein powder. If during the colder months, stick to healthy soups and stews full of fresh veggies.
4. Stay hydrated. Drink to thirst and then some. If super nauseated, you can increase your electrolytes with coconut water and drink freshly made gingerade or lemonade with real ingredients for soothing bellies.
The Second Trimester
Often the second trimester is when women feel their best. The nausea has worn off and they are still pretty small in size so movement feels great and eating becomes easier.
1. Continue eating a balanced diet. Focus on a diet high in fruits and veggies, complex carbs and easy to digest proteins and healthy fats.
2. Stay hydrated. It’s important to keep water hydration high.
3. Eliminate constipating foods. If constipated, lower the amount of foods that tend to constipate, such as dairy (especially cheese), meats, gluten, soy and corn.
4. Listen to your body. Pay attention to what your body is craving and try to find or make the healthiest version of that craving.
5. Enjoy your food. Love the food you are eating. Food is meant to be enjoyed as well as provide nutrition for yourself and growing baby.
6. Try smaller meals throughout the day. If you feel sick or lethargic after meals, reduce the size of each meal but add additional meals. For example, instead of 3 big meals try for 5 or 6 smaller melas throughout the day.
7. Honor your body and it’s changing rhythms.
The Third Trimester
Women often start to feel heavy and lethargic during this trimester and have a harder time with digestion. This is often when indigestion kicks in so you may need to reduce both spicy food and eating close to bedtime. You also may need to sit upright for a while after your last meal.
1. Reduce foods that are hard to digest. If uncomfortable, try eliminating foods that cause you problems.
2. Eat your bigger meal earlier in the day. This allows your body more time and space to digest.
3. Add nutritious liquids. Focus on high nutrition foods that will not constipate or cause indigestion, such as soups, stews and smoothies.
4. Keep fruit and veggie intake high.
5. Try magnesium if needed. If constipated, I love Magnesium Calm powder. It will keep you regular and guard against leg cramps.
6. Continue to stay hydrated. This will help everything.
photo: Beka Tasmagambe