What if there were a way to decrease complications of pregnancy and birth like pre-eclampsia, anemia, and hemmorhage? If you could be free of common pregnancy ailments like morning sickness, heartburn, muscle cramps, even itchy skin and swollen ankles? What if you could feel full of vitality throughout your pregnancy and beyond, helping to assure an abundant supply of breastmilk for your baby during the exhausting post-partum newborn days? And if you could do all of these things with absolutely no risks or side effects for your baby, other than being born healthy and plump? If I told you that this was as big of a factor in determining a healthy pregnancy as your genetic disposition, except that you only you can provide these healthy advantages and are in complete control of them, would you be interested? Eating well provides all of this and more for you and your baby throughout pregnancy and beyond. Yet all many care providers tell pregnant women about nutrition is “Just eat a good diet and you’ll be fine.”
Do we know what a “good diet” is? In our culture of fad diets, quick fixes and fast food, where do we find the resources to help us reap the rewards of eating for two? In our society of Western medicine, nutrition is overlooked even though it is often the most obvious solution to our health problems. We have dozens of pharmaceutical remedies for lowering cholesterol and preventing heart attacks, but how many people on these drugs could benefit just as much if not more by altering their diet and exercising? How many of us suffering from chronic pain rely on the constant use of analgesics instead of working to discover the source of our pain? In the midwifery model of care, nutrition is the foundation of a healthy pregnancy, used to prevent problems and complications of pregnancy and birth rather than attempting to treat them after they arise.
What we eat directly affects all of our body systems. Quite literally, we are what we eat. Our body is constantly rebuilding and repairing itself, and it uses the nutrients from food to do this important work. Especially in early pregnancy, what you eat directly affects the life your body is building and supporting. Growing a baby also means growing a placenta, membranes, and drastically increasing your own blood supply. This is all powered by the food you eat. Your baby needs the most iron, protein, and calcium in the last eight to twelve weeks of pregnancy, so it is never too late to improve nutritional status. Certain vitamins have been identified as playing huge roles in preventing problems for the baby, such as folic acid, which taken preconception and in early pregnancy can reduce the risk of devastating neural tube defects by as much as two thirds. Mothers who are at risk for developing hypertension benefit from calcium supplementation. These are just two examples of what scientific studies have proven to be true about nutritional remedies, and new compounds are constantly being discovered in food. A good diet could prove to have benefits we don’t even know about yet.
We do know that the days of limiting weight gain and attempting to grow small babies in hopes of easier deliveries are gone. The vast majority of modern women are unaffected by rickets, a skeletal disease which led women to have difficulties in childbirth due to misshapen pelvises. Today, we understand that women rarely grow a baby that they cannot birth, and that the pelvis is much more flexible than we once imagined. Women often imagine that it is easier to deliver a smaller baby than a large one, but the largest part of the baby, the head, varies in size only slightly between a 5 pound baby and a 10 pound one. Babies lose weight during the first few days after birth while waiting for the mother’s milk to come in, so it is imperative that they have some extra ounces to lose. Extra fat helps cushion the baby down the tight squeeze of the birth canal. Your baby is also building the store of iron she will draw upon for the first six months of life. Babies need their mothers to fill their bellies with yummy, nutritious food! Mothers also need to put on extra fat in preparation for breastfeeding. There is no need to worry about pounds gained from healthy food, these will be pounds used in producing milk.
Every pregnant woman needs a treat sometimes, and eating should be fun and pleasureable in addition to being healthy. The purpose of encouraging expectant mothers to eat well is not to create anxiety or promote analyzing every bite of food. If you're in Albuquerque and are interested in learning more about pregnancy nutrition, please join us for a class on the last Monday of every month from 6-8pm at the ABQ Birth Network, 123 Wellesley SE. Check http://www.albuquerquebirthnetwork.org/ for more details and information on other classes.