Image courtesy of Devine Photography.
I don’t know about you, but my reaction to each of my pregnancies went a little something like this:
OH. EM. GEE.
YAAAAAAY! I’M GONNA BE A MOMMY!
Wait, I’m gonna be a MOTHER?!?!
HOW DO I GROW A HUMAN???
I’m one of those women who feels pretty good and sturdy at the whole motherhood thing. I thrive on nurturing, and have pretty good instincts for caretaking. So when it came to pregnancy, I was really surprised to find myself completely dumbstruck and overwhelmed at the seemingly impossible task of growing a human baby inside of my body. Where to even start???
I managed through it, each pregnancy being a little more successful than the one before. Granted, I had my three children during the most unhealthy years of my life. If I were to have one at this fit phase of my life, knowing everything that I know now, here is what I would do differently.
Eat Clean, Nutrient Dense, Whole Foods
Something I know now as a fit female that I didn’t really understand back then was that whole, clean foods have the highest amount of nutrition for mothers and their babies. Proper amounts of lean meats, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats do endless amounts of work not only maintaining mom’s health, but providing a baby with everything it needs to form. Nutrients from these whole foods such as iron, zinc, iodine and fatty acids play critical roles in development of the brain and nervous system, and vitamins A, B-6, B-12 and folic acid also are critical to DNA production .
Studies show that proper nutrition in pregnant mothers significantly reduces the chance for complications such as miscarriage, stillbirth, low birth weight, pre-eclampsia, and pre-term birth. The best way to maximize the nutrition from your food is to eat plenty of protein, get a large (2 cups) serving of veggies (especially leafy greens which are rich in folic acid) with each meal, and get 2-3 servings of fruit and healthy fats everyday – all from food that came from the earth. I would choose organic, grass-fed meats and organic produce as often as possible to minimize my baby’s exposure to pesticides, antibiotics, and toxins.
Avoid Processed Food
I will admit that even though my diet now is 90% clean, I occasionally indulge in a bag of jelly beans, a chocolate bar, etc. If I were to become pregnant again, knowing what I know now about processed foods, it would be extremely difficult for me to ingest anything with trans fats, artificial colors or sweeteners, bleached flours, hydrogenated oils, or any other un-pronounceable chemicals or ingredients.
While it’s a little easier to sometimes say “screw it, I want some Jelly Bellies” and throw caution to the wind when the health is just myself, I don’t think I could take that same chance with my unborn child. With new research and links being made every day between these “foods” and cancer, ADHD, and various other scary diseases, I think it’s just better to be safe than sorry and stick to the whole, clean foods that are proven to provide benefits, not possible side effects.
Indulge In Cravings, But Smartly
I had all sorts of cravings when I was pregnant. I once woke up in the middle of the night with a craving for crushed ice so strong that I found a hammer and made it happen at 3am. Cravings are the body’s way of telling you what you’re lacking in vitamins and nutrients, so chances are that all those times I wanted a popsicle, I really just needed more water.
This time around, I would truly attempt to find a healthy, unprocessed alternative, just like the ones I indulge in now. Sweets made with honey and nut butter instead of processed, bleached flours and white sugar, or pizza on a cauliflower or whole wheat crust instead of take-out. It would take a little more effort, but just like I handle my kids’ food now, it would be worth it for peace of mind.
I was so terrified to exercise during my pregnancies. I did manage to lightly jog for 6 months of my middle daughter’s pregnancy until I was put on bed rest, and I will say that it was by far the easiest delivery of the three. At this point in my life, it’s a strange day if I’m not sprinting down a football field, flipping over 200 pound tires, or doing burpees at intense intervals. I simply cannot imagine giving that up for 9 months.
I’m sure that there would be limitations with morning sickness, aches and pains, but I would listen to my body and do what I could, as much as I could. Exercise benefits me in so many ways. I have to believe it would do the same for my unborn child.
Increase Calories Strategically
Most doctors recommend an increase of 300-500 additional calories per day during pregnancy – less in the first trimester, more in the last. A 300 calorie increase is not all that much – an apple and peanut butter, an extra serving of chicken, a whole wheat bagel. During my first pregnancies, I had a field day with calories and put on a huge amount of excess weight, most of which I kept until my youngest was born.
“I’m eating for two!” was my mantra, and I used it as an excuse to eat everything in sight, regardless of quality. It is healthy to gain between 15 and 35 pounds during most pregnancies (I gained 60 the first time around, wheee) but it can easily be done with nutritious, high quality, unprocessed food. New studies also show that mothers who gain too much weight during pregnancy have lower quality breastmilk  and an increased risk for pre-term delivery .
Take Fish Oil
Since becoming health-conscious, I have become a huge believer in supplementing with fish oil and getting as much Omega 3 in my diet as possible. Omega 3s are fatty acids that are all too uncommon in the western diet, as opposed to Omega 6. Omega 3, more specifically DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), has endless benefits for a mother, the most of which is a decrease in body inflammation (but what would a pregnant mother care about body aches and pains, right? ha).
But even more importantly, DHA is essential in developing fetuses, particularly in brain development and formation of neurotransmitters . Our bodies naturally give the DHA in our bodies to our babies first, which can leave us depleted as mothers if we don’t supplement. Studies have also linked fish oil supplementation to preventing post-partum depression .
Be picky when choosing a fish oil supplement! You don’t want to expose your baby to mercury, and you want to make sure the oil you choose is as natural as possible so that the Vitamin A to Vitamin D ratio is in the correct proportion (four to five times as much Vitamin D as Vitamin A, as too much Vitamin A without the right amount of Vitamin D can actually cause birth defects). The only fish oil supplement that we take and recommend that has this correct proportion and low mercury levels is Carlson’s Cod Liver Oil.
Leave Guilt Out Of It
I’m the queen of guilting myself. I’m harder on myself than anyone else could ever be. I think back to my unhealthy eating habits during my pregnancies and wonder what could have been had I known what I know now. Would I have still lost my first pregnancy? Would my son still have ADHD? Would I have been on bed-rest for my daughters?
I could beat myself up about these things, but there’s really no way to know, and hindsight is 20/20. So just like I treat my diet now, I would leave guilt out of it and just try to make the best decisions I possibly could. This would mean utilizing the knowledge I’ve acquired, doing my best, and forgiving myself and moving on when I make mistakes.