Throughout my “adult” (a term i use loosely) years food has played a huge part, from fearing it in my late twenties, when developing an eating disorder I had a turbulent relationship of binging and depriving food, to when eventually overcoming this a few years back, I started studying nutrition and from that gained control of a habit that had become out of control and learnt to let go of any misconceptions and fear that had built up over the years, I forgot all that I believed and had learnt associated with food, diet and nutrition and built upon healthy, realistic and nourishing philosophies.
I am in no doubt though that the constant battle I had over the years left my body malnourished and lacking essential nutrients, which took a long time to build up again.
Throughout my fertility treatment my diet was a huge factor, not in a negative way, but through developing my studies and knowledge within human nutrition and health promotion I was able to understand the effects that certain macro and micro nutrients had on my body processes, hormones and emotions. This is a blog topic that I will share another time as for now I want to focus on nutrition in Pregnancy … that one infamous phrase “eating for two” and importantly what it right FOR YOU and YOUR BABY!
If you Google pregnancy nutrition it will give you thousands of conflicting results, advice, statistics etc, from foods to eat, foods to avoid, how much you should be eating, pregnancy super-foods, even what to eat to have twins!!!!! There is so much fear, myth and old wives tales associated with what you can and can’t put into your body during pregnancy, this is equally not helped by the media blowing up controversial claims and also a current dangerous trend at the present with so much focus your postpartum body and dieting when pregnant before you have even put on your first lb. Another closer to home and damaging trend it seems is for those around you to suddenly have an opinion on your diet, all turning into qualified prenatal dietitians when without prompt you and your bump become an open arena for comments such as “are you eating enough you’re not very big”, “you need lots of red meat else you will get anaemic”, “remember you are eating for two now” and even more shockingly comments that some of my pregnant friends have got “you are vegan, then you are starving your baby!”, “do you really think you should be eating that, you are giving your child diabetes” and “how many do you have in there? you look like you are feeding an army!” … the fact of the matter is, it is never OK for someone to pass judgement or comment on a mothers (or anyone’s) diet, even a healthcare or medical professional can only advise on a healthy diet and lifestyle. Just because a person is big or small in pregnancy that doesn’t indicate they are eating the wrong food, it could be down to many things, health, genetics, amniotic fluid .. but sadly it does seem to be one topic that I’ve heard discussed a lot between mums to be and new mums, as if there isn’t enough anxiety around pregnancy and wanting to do the best for your baby already without others planting the seed of “you’re not good enough”! So mummies if any of you have, are or do experience this just remember that if you have any concerns then talk to your midwife or consultant, give that person “that knows better” a wide birth and just know that if you want your baby to be happy and healthy then you are already doing the best things you can … right that’s me down off my soap box (for now!).
So on to some of the big questions that we do ask as mums to be …
What should I be eating when?
Right to start off, yes there are certain things at certain points of the baby’s development that are more important to include in your diet, but above all if you just make sure that throughout your pregnancy you are eating the governments recommended foods, remember the eat well plate (and yes they do know what they are talking about) you can’t go far wrong with that.
A diet that’s full of colourful fruit and vegetables is essential, and yes that does mean sugar, but in its natural form. There is nothing more frustrating to me at the moment then the new year fad of “sugar free” eating, we’ve been here so many times now with “fat free” and “carb free” they all account to the same which is a diet industry making lots of money whilst you eating an unbalanced diet which in turn messes around with all your body’s functions. Not eating an apple because it contains sugar is ludicrous and you know what there is nothing wrong with a sticky gooey refined sugar brownie either, just not everyday (I told you I would be back on my soap box!) but just a note here, Pregnancy is NOT a time to be dieting, if you are worried about your weight, have a history of an eating disorder or any health complications that may arise then get a referral from your doctor or midwife who can signpost you to a dietitian or counsellor that will support a healthy eating program. But back to fruit and veg, stick with you 5 portions (if not more) a day, try if you can to buy organic or locally, but all that matters is that you and your baby are getting all the fantastic vitamins (folic acid), minerals (calcium), anti oxidants and fibre … fibre being especially a god send if you suffer from the lovely pregnancy constipation, you’ll be straining and pushing enough later on in labour, without doing so now! Some great greens to get are; citrus fruits, dark green leafy veg like kale, broccoli, soya beans, avocado, tomatoes and finally dried dates & sweet potatoes, which my Chinese doctor also swears by as they have so many health benefits.
Carbohydrates / Starchy foods .. this food group still makes people of my generation recoil as it had such bad press for so long and actually currently has this week with the news reporting about many foods in this category causing cancer. However your baby doesn’t care what’s happening in the news and just needs you to have a healthy intake of wholegrain varieties to maintain a constant & stable balance of energy and blood sugars which can reduce your chance of gestational diabetes and other pregnancy related problems. Again this food group has the benefit of added fibre, its all about keeping that digestive system regular. Choose low GI foods, which means that they are broken down slower, so rather than a peak of sugar and energy, you and your baby are keeping levels stable, these include; sweet potatoes (again), wholemeal bread, rice and cereal, pulses, beans & chickpeas and oats, which are also amazing if you are planning on breastfeeding as they help with the production of breast milk.
Your beautiful baby started life as two little cells that took a liking to each other and multiplied again and again … and again, to help support this blossoming process protein is essential. It is found in every cell in the body making up skin, muscles, hair, antibodies and hormones it also helps with the transportation of oxygen. Now contrary to those old wives and their information we now know that you don’t have to just eat meat to get protein (although it is an excellent source!), which is a good thing for me. Never a big meat eater in the first few weeks of pregnancy this became one of my aversions, the smell of meat had me turning green, so thankfully there are some other great sources of protein, such as eggs, nuts, beans and pulses and my favourite and frankly a bit of a super food, oily fish such as salmon, which has amazing brain – building fatty acids. Here again though you need to be aware of the recommended weekly allowance though and also how it is sourced as some fish can contain high levels of mercury which can actually be detrimental to baby’s development, see the link here to the NHS website for current advice on fish in pregnancy.
Although long been considered as unhealthy, you know by now that all Fat is not created equal, there is such a thing as good and bad fats … and there is a reason that these good fats have coined the term essential, because that’s exactly what they are to our health and well-being. “Good” unsaturated fats help to get all those fantastic vitamins and minerals you are eating to you and your baby and act as a carrier, fat also makes up 60% of your baby’s brain and supports cognitive development in the early years, so as previously mentioned while there is nothing wrong with having that brownie now and then, the foods that you need to be filling up on regularly are; Avocado’s, seeds, nuts, olive oil and again salmon.
One of the most amazing and surreal parts of pregnancy is feeling your baby kicking, especially when you get to share that incredible experience with your partner, so to help ensure that your little one is a budding kick boxer you need to include a food source that builds and strengthens their developing bones. Dairy foods are full of protein, vitamin D, calcium and phosphorous which not only help support healthy bones, but also heart health, teeth and their nervous system, good foods that contain dairy are milk, cheese, yogurt and butter. However, if like me then you don’t eat much dairy, are intolerant to lactose or vegan then their are other great alternatives you can get these nutrients from, nut milks such as almond contain calcium, soy milk contains a good level of vit D … as does sunshine, so perhaps book yourself on a sun filled baby moon, or go outdoors for some long walks in the fresh air with your bump.
Not necessarily a food, but an essential nutrient is Water. During pregnancy your body needs more water to cope with the new functions and changes going on within your body and increases by 1 litre. The benefits of drinking water are vast, from being essential for healthy blood cells to preventing dehydration. Water can help prevent morning sickness, heartburn, indigestion, constipation, headaches, problems associated with low blood pressure and urinary infections. Dehydration has also been linked with triggering contractions and premature birth. You need to be drinking around 3 litres of water a day, around 8 – 12 glasses, this also needs to be increased in the summer months and during exercise, you can also eat your water, with foods such as watermelon being full of water that not only re hydrate you, but help with symptoms such a bloating and third trimester muscle cramps.
What should I try and avoid?
This is the controversial one, as you will be told a whole list of many things by many people, so here I shall refer you to the NHS for their current list (see bottom of page) of what is not recommended. I think here also common sense needs to be aired and you need to weigh things up. As an example I have a friend that throughout her pregnancy ate a small amount of cured meats and soft cheese, although these are both on the list of things to avoid, she didn’t eat them everyday, but when she did would source good quality, locally sourced products and went on to have a very happy and healthy pregnancy and little boy. She could have eaten a fast food chain processed burger every week however which is not on the list of things to avoid and wouldn’t have a clue what was going into her body, I personally know which i would rather. The same goes with the advice on eggs, there has been a lot of news on this over the years of whether it is safe for pregnant woman to consume eggs that aren’t fully cooked, however I know that I cant have a poachy that’s not perfect and for me that means runny and that’s my personal decision and since the food standards agency have lowered the risk of getting salmonella to low I feel a lot happier in it, although to be honest I think I would have continued to dunk my solders in a runny yolk all the same. Just as with everything, make sure you are getting lion approved, or the equivalent quality checked products or they are sourced locally and fresh by a reputable farmer or food producer. When it comes to caffeine and alcohol here is a very murky line, that again is something you need to personally weigh up, current findings suggest that you can drink 200mg of caffeine a day, I however switched to de caff whilst having our fertility treatment and then for the first 3 months of the pregnancy, I have remained drinking it as its not made much difference to me, although again I have many friends that have drunk 3 lattes a day and have given birth to a baby that was a perfectly healthy weight and on time. However abstaining from caffeine during the later part of the pregnancy I have had a few glasses of Prosecco, although in moderation, the current advice on alcohol is that there is no safe level in pregnancy. Professors, doctors and midwives don’t know how much alcohol causes damage to each individual and as I have been told by friends in the profession if they did give advice on levels then they know that these would be exceeded anyway. Ultimately there are a few guidelines that every medical organisation including the department of health agrees on; that expectant mothers shouldn’t binge drink, drink in their first trimester, or drink more than one or two drinks once or twice a week.
Going back to my soap box though for a moment there was a resent photo on Instagram that caused huge outrage and saw many people giving their opinions, it was a picture of Pink heavily pregnant sitting on the floor drinking a cup de caf coffee … this photo of a mum to be having a hot drink incited thousands of comments such as “She shouldn’t be drinking coffee if she wants a healthy baby!” and “Feeding addictive stimulants to an unborn baby. Well, that’s your choice.” not only did this upset me for the reason she had actually chosen de caff in the first place rather than drinking caffeine, but I found this judgemental backlash so aggressive and upsetting that I posted an article to my Facebook page to get feedback from other parents on the reactions of others to a mothers own personal decision of how she chooses to parent, every single comment shared my personal opinion and they were not only angered and upset, but felt that it is no ones place to pass judgement, whether or not it is something YOU would do a a parent is irrelevant, as I said at the beginning of this post, all you can do is try your best, listen to your body, to the needs of your baby, eating and drinking a diet which is as healthy, wholesome and balanced as possible, but not chastising yourself (or letting anyone else) for the decisions that you choose to make, whether it is that brownie, the full fat, full caffeine latte with sugar or an occasional glass of wine … we all want to be the best mum we can possibly be and to nurture and nourish a baby that healthy and happy … and mums, you know what i think we are doing a pretty dam good job, now I’m off to eat some broccoli (and maybe a brownie & de caff coffee!!)
The NHS current advice for foods to avoid in pregnancy, can be found here; http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/917.aspx?CategoryID=54