Angie The Doula – Basic Prenatal Nutrition

Once pregnancy is achieved there are many transformations taking place in the body, such as hormonal changes and increased weight of the pregnant person and the developing child. Vital organs must work harder e.g. kidneys must filter up to 150% of normal blood volume throughout most of the pregnancy. All this building and changing is best done under optimal nutrition and function by the body.

Nutritional Guidelines

In a nutshell, do this EVERY day:

  • drink sufficient purified water or herbal tea
  • eat clean (organic) whole foods and lots of them to obtain high amounts of minerals, vitamins
  • be especially diligent about meeting daily requirements of calcium, magnesium and iron
  • whole food is colorful and looks pretty much like it did coming out of the earth
  • eat quality, health protein at every meal
  • take a high quality prenatal vitamin
  • ingest lots of essential fatty acids (usually through fish oil)
  • take acidophilus daily
  • relax when you eat
  • eat 3 healthy meals and 2 healthy snacks
  • obtain trace-minerals needed for every body function and baby development
  • liberal use of Himilayan (pink) or Celtic salt (grey)
  • drops of “Trace Minerals” added to water
  • avoid the “nasty whites” (sugar, salt, flour), chemicals such as coloring and artificial flavours or sweeteners,
  • artificial/processed foods, caffeine, drugs & alcohol

Nutritional requirements are fairly straightforward. Most sources agree on the nutrients needed for fetal and maternal health, with the exception of dairy, grains and essential fatty acids (EFA). Only the newer and more holistic sources of nutritional highly recommend EFA for pregnancy (see section below). These same sources may or may not recommend foods and portions/ratios that are an integral part of the Canada’s Food Guide. Education and awareness of one’s own health is important.

Proper nutrition is vital before and during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding
Photo by Anton Nossik. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Any nutrients taken in or lacking directly affect the baby. The first step is in eating enough; 2400 calories is the daily minimum. Of course quality of food is as important quantity. Nutrient dense foods are best, such as organic whole foods. Raw or lightly steamed veggies provide many nutrients and fiber. Fiber is important to prevent constipation, a common pregnancy concern. Fiber also carries out toxins and used up hormones, which decreases liver load and morning sickness.

Water: Clean purified water is essential. Water is needed to maintain blood pressure with increased blood volume, to flush toxins safely and to provide transport for nutrients through blood to placenta. The best way to increase fluid intake is with clean pure water and herbal teas from the safe list.

Eat Mindfully: The manner in which food is eaten is important too. Eating mindfully and slowly, chewing food thoroughly, and keeping liquids to a minimum with food will ensure good assimilation of nutrients. Smaller more frequent meals and healthy snacks ensure nutrients are better assimilated and blood sugar stays constant. In the case of digestive problems consider using digestive enzymes.

Eat Organic: Organic foods are higher in nutrients, especially minerals, and of course much lower in chemical toxins. Watch for “certified organic” on labels or know your farmer.

Protein: 60-80g minimum daily. Deficiency tied to congenital abnormalities and pre-eclampsia.
Vegan sources of protein include spirulina, quinoa, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds. Animal sources are usually the densest and include meat, eggs, and dairy. Organic animal foods are important, as conventional farming may use hormones and antibiotics routinely, and poor quality feed.

Essential Fatty Acids: The recommended daily intake of EPA plus DHA is about 650-1000mg/day during pregnancy and lactation. Omega-3 fats, especially DHA, are needed for fetal brain and spinal cord development. Fetal concentrations of DHA are directly correlated to maternal DHA levels. Reduced fetal DHA concentrations lead to decreased visual function and altered learning and behavior. Over the past 15 yrs, breast milk DHA concentrations have decreased by over 50% so it’s important that DHA levels are maintained throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding. DHA also helps prevent premature delivery. DHA is vital for fetal brain development and health throughout life. Most prenatal supplements have absolutely no DHA.

Current recommendations are to limit and even avoid certain fish during pregnancy. Generally, the larger the fish, the more mercury contamination and other toxins it contains. Wild small fish (e.g. sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon) are preferable. Avoid farmed and/or large fish due to lack of nutrients, mercury & other heavy metal contamination, and toxins due to feeding and farm practices. Examples of large fish are tuna, sea bass, marlin, and halibut. Mercury readily crosses the placenta and has a high affinity for nervous tissue i.e. brain and spinal cord. Fetal mercury exposure contributes to mental deficiencies and other neurological problems.

The safest way to ingest EFAs is by fish oil or micro-algae. Supplements are not all equal. Liquids are best as they are readily digested and one can smell rancidity (only rancid fish oil smells like fish). One has to take up to 14 caps daily to get the required amount of EFAs. Good brands start with quality oil and undergo strict cleaning / processing methods. They use 3rd party tests for EPA/DHA values and are tested for contamination. The label defines EFA values. And they taste good – really!

Vitamins & Minerals Supplement a.k.a. Prenatal Vitamin

Supplement means supplemental i.e. in addition to food, not replacing it. Food based nutrients are best but the addition of a high quality prenatal vitamin ensures certain requirements are met. High-quality supplements are important. There’s quite a difference between brands and sources in terms of ingredients (fillers, natural vs. synthetic vitamins, quality of nutrients) and absorbability (the form of nutrient used and method of processing). There’s also a cost difference – don’t waste money on low-grade supplements. Small doses need to be taken throughout the day; quality prenatals are never ‘one-a-day’.

Food-based vitamins are generally the best quality. The ingredients are more absorbable and bioavailable than isolated vitamins. More nutrients are absorbed with smaller doses and the micronutrients and enzymes are present, resulting in fewer issues such as constipation and nausea.

Minerals are usually best assimilated when taken in food form or herbal teas. Once a plant has ‘processed’ the mineral i.e. taken it from the soil and incorporated it into its structure, it’s much easier for us to absorb and lower amounts are required. Take your supplemental prenatal vitamins & minerals with food.

Why Prenatal Vitamins?

Prenatal vitamins are designed to meet most of the nutritional needs during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
High doses of Vitamin A have been linked to congenital abnormalities such as cleft palate and heart problems. Daily max during pregnancy = 10 000IU. Prenatals use Beta carotene a.k.a. “Pre-vitamin A” and the body will convert to vitamin A only what it needs.
Folic acid in higher amounts to ensure the neural tube forms properly.
Calcium requirements double.
Too many other vitamins and minerals to list all the benefits.

Iron (40-80mg) with vitamin C
If taken in supplemental form, an organically based one that has gone through plant or yeast is best. For example, Floravit™ or Floradix™ are 95% absorbable and therefore do not contribute to digestive problems and constipation.

Trace minerals are involved in most physiological and metabolic processes and are required to assimilate macro minerals. Sources include kelp and other seaweeds, trace-mineral supplements, and Celtic or Himalayan sea salt (i.e. not white salt).

Probiotics are the ‘good bacteria’ that live in human bodies, mostly in the gut. Functions include:
Helps stave off Candida overgrowth during this vulnerable time (pregnant women are especially susceptible)
Protect baby through birth canal
Assimilation of nutrients
Protects digestive system from invaders
Boost immune system

Decrease or Avoid:

  • ‘Junk’ food of any kind
  • Refined & processed foods deplete minerals and promote dehydration
  • Regular salt promotes edema
  • Alcohol is a teratogen (causes birth abnormalities)
  • Coffee is a possible teratogen and promotes dehydration and mineral deficiency. The research is mixed as to the safety of one cup daily.
  • Caffeine in other forms
  • Meats susceptible to parasites, bacterial infections and high in additives e.g. cold-cuts, raw fish
  • Candida promoting foods (sugars and alcohol)
  • Unnecessary medications. See a pharmacist, medical doctor and/or holistic health practitioner for help with health issues.
  • “Street drugs”
  • Smoking
  • Phenylalanine containing supplements. E.g. – Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet) has high levels phenylalanine and may alter fetal brain growth / development
  • Mineral oil blocks absorption of fat-soluble vitamins
  • Shark cartilage (in joint-pain supplements) inhibits the new blood vessel growth needed during pregnancy

I teach a variety of Child Birth Education classes and prenatal workshops online for people all over.  I have been a birth doula since 2002, and have helped over 300 clients with their births and over 1000 through prenatal classes. Learn more about my birth doula services, and contact me with any questions you may have.