[Yours truly at left pregnant with Max (32 weeks), at right pregnant with Alexandria (34 weeks), photos © 2013 bonbonmini]
NATURAL PREGNANCY TIPS MONTH BY MONTH...
Whether you're a veteran health nut like me, or just interested making a few changes to have the healthiest baby possible, pregnancy is a perfect time to make an extra effort to live a healthy lifestyle. Below is a month by month guide I've put together with ideas for things you can do to be a healthier mama and of course a grow healthier baby...
My advice is sourced from a variety of books, medical journals and websites as well as personal experience, but I'm not a doctor so keep in mind that my suggestions might not be appropriate in your situation. Please check with your doctor before following any of the advice you see here.
Month 1: Revamp Your Beauty Routine
Often we forget (or don't realize) that our skin is an organ capable of absorbing chemicals. Pharmaceutical technology successfully delivers a variety of synthetic compounds into the bloodstream via skin patches, so we know that, just like the digestive system, the skin is capable of absorbing toxins. Yet the beauty products we use are laden with chemical compounds that would never be approved by the FDA for oral consumption. As much as we don't like to think about it, not only are toxins from beauty products absorbed into our skin, they are inhaled, and passed into our foods as we cook and eat (via hand creams, nail polish, lip care etc.)
Pregnancy is an important time to rethink not only what we put in our bodies, but what we put on them. Like many people, in spite of following a healthy organic diet for most of my life, I continued to use synthetic beauty products. But during my first pregnancy I felt that (especially already living in a big city) it was important to limit my baby's exposure to chemicals in every way I could. My first thought was not wanting to expose the baby as he developed in utero. Next came breastfeeding which meant a continued sharing of everything I ingested, as well as constant close physical contact. Soon it dawned on me that I would be preparing meals for my family for decades (and thus exposing them to whatever I put on my hands and nails). But the most important realization was that I wanted to live a long life to care for my family and be as healthy as possible into my old age.
The transition to a natural beauty routine was made easier when pregnancy hormones took over and I developed an aversion to all of the products I had been using for years. My hair products, shower gel, lip balm, and makeup suddenly all smelled like chemicals and seemed unbearable. I made changes to my routine and quickly grew accustomed to the delicate scents and natural feel of simple oils, natural cosmetics and pure soaps that replaced the chemical-based ones. To make the transition even easier, I spent time researching the truth behind the ingredients in my old products on the EWG Cosmetic Database before tossing them all out. In the beginning I struggled to find good replacements, especially since many products that line the shelves of health food stores, claiming to be natural, actually still contain harmful chemicals. But eventually I found perfect natural solutions for all of my bath and beauty needs.
Month 2: Listen to your morning sickness
Around now is when your morning sickness may reach it's most unbearable peak. The fact that morning sickness serves a beneficial purpose may be of little comfort to you now, but take heart in knowing that it will improve around 13 weeks. Let yourself slow down and try to keep taking your prenatals but don't worry about your nutrient intake at this point. Studies have shown that eating less during this time may be just what nature intended and can actually improve your pregnancy outcome.
I felt that the message behind my morning sickness was loud and simple: "You are pregnant!" My intense morning sickness helped me realize that it was time to slow down, focus on preparing for a new life, rest, relax, eat simple, healthy foods, and surround myself with comfort and support.
As for the physical discomfort, I won't lie. The best remedy is time. But here are a few things you can do to make it a little easier:
1) Drink plenty of water, pregnancy-safe herbal teas (like chamomile, mint, lemon, etc.) I even drank water during nighttime bathroom breaks to prevent becoming dehydrated while I slept, since morning sickness tends to worsen when you're dehydrated.
2) When you feel well enough to eat, eat whatever your body asks for. For me watermelon and bagels with cream cheese were all I could keep down for many weeks. During my second pregnancy I developed Hyperemesis Gravidarum and couldn't keep anything down for most of the 1st trimester. Eventually I was able to stomach chocolate milk and rice noodles. All of these foods (except for the watermelon) were things I would not normally eat. I worried about my babies not getting enough nutrients, but by 14 weeks I was able to resume eating all of my favorite veggies, grains, and (sometimes) lean meats, and both babies grew perfectly on track.
Month 3: Begin a regime to avoid stretchmarks naturally
Once you're through the morning sickness haze, it's a good time to start thinking about your soon-to-be massive belly and, if you are concerned about getting stretch marks, natural ways to avoid them. It may seem impossible but for many of us it's actually completely possible to retain the original texture and firmness of your skin.
Having gotten stretch marks on my hips and calves during middle school and high school growth spurts, I knew I was prone to them. During pregnancy however, in spite of beginning with board flat stomach, I was able to avoid stretch marks. I believe I owe this (at least in part) to the following regime I developed and practiced from about 13 weeks on.
1) Apply Weleda Stretch Mark oil liberally 4-6 times a day as well as during one of your nighttime bathroom breaks. Be sure to apply from your bust line all the way down to an inch below your bikini line, as well as on your sides, around to the edges of your back, and on the tops of your hips and thighs. Massage it in thoroughly, but gently since pulling at the skin can encourage the development of stretch marks. Take your time and let your skin absorb the oil before covering up again, otherwise your clothes will absorb more oil than your skin.
Also, keep in mind that this is not the time to wear you favorite silk tops or sleep on your nice sheets. The oil will build up in fabrics and show up in the form of oil stains or, once the fabric has gone through the dryer, the smell of burnt oil. Yeek! Still, most would agree it's worth the sacrifice.
2) Stay hydrated by drinking 10 glasses of filtered water a day. I added lemon or a few tablespoons of juice to mix it up a bit, but because of the sugars, drinking to much juice can actually dehydrate you. I also drank 1-2 glasses of water during nighttime bathroom breaks to prevent overnight dehydration.
3) Gain only the amount of weight recommended by your doctor by following a diet rich in leafy greens, whole grains, lean proteins, and a variety of veggies, legumes and fruit. Typically the recommended gain is based on your starting weight (30-35 lbs if you are underweight, 25-30 lbs if you're a normal weight, and less if you are overweight). Keep in mind that growing a baby only requires an extra 300 calories per day. I gained 28-30 lbs slowly over the course of both of my pregnancies, which fell right within the recommended 25-30 lb range.
4) Engage your abdominals to support your belly during your waking hours. Whether you're walking, sitting at the computer, or waiting in line, a conscious effort to engage your abs can reduce the strain on your skin. Reminding yourself to tilt your pelvis forward by engaging your glutes when you are standing or walking will help keep your abs engaged.
5) Take at least 400mg of prenatal DHA daily before and during pregnancy, as well as postpartum while your skin is healing, and of course for as long as you breastfeed. Not only does it enhance baby's brain and eye development, studies show that after 3 months of daily intake, it significantly increases your skin's elasticity and moisture retention.
Month 4: Eat your way out of cravings and excess weight gain
Once morning sickness has subsided, you may experience a seemingly limitless appetite and a surge of inexplicable cravings. Since endless hunger and unhealthy cravings are often the result of missing nutrients, Limiting your diet to nutrient-dense veggies, grains and healthy dairy and protein sources will help curb craving and keep your weight gain within the range your doctor recommends.
If you listen carefully you may find that your cravings serve as messages from your body. An urge to eat a box of chocolate donuts may actually be a signal that you are low on iron and sleep. To find out where to get the nutrients I needed, I used World's Healthiest Foods to research foods.
Even though I followed a healthy diet, I experienced strong cravings for vitamin C, vitamin A and calcium rich foods during both pregnancies (craving lemons, grapefruits, oranges, kale and cow's milk). Below is an example of what I ate on an average day during pregnancy, once morning sickness had subsided.
Breakfast: 2 slices of whole wheat toast with cheese, 2 boiled eggs, and a smoothie with 3 fruits, kale, yogurt or milk, and blackstrap molasses (which is rich in iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium)
Morning Snack: yogurt, raw almonds, dried apricots and a banana
Lunch: soup with lentils or chicken, 3 or more vegetables, and quinoa, buckwheat noodles, or barley
Afternoon Snack: Raw celery sticks, carrots and cucumber dipped in tahini dressing, with orange juice
Dinner: Salmon, quinoa, steamed broccoli and an avocado
Evening Snack: yogurt with dried cranberries, dried figs and sunflower seeds
Month 5: Prepare for a natural birth by quieting your mind and body
Meditation was for me a God send when anxiety and overwhelm seemed to be taking over. It felt like a vacation from my worries and my monster to-do list, and gave me time to send a message to my body and baby that all was well. Around 20 weeks is a great time to decide which natural childbirth class to take or download a home study course like this one or this one and start daily meditation. Pregnancy is an intense, transformational experience and the daily relaxation that meditation offers can help you to handle it gracefully.
During the day I practiced deep breathing techniques, especially when I found myself tensing up. At night I listened to guided meditations by Gabrielle Targett (available on itunes) and used Penny Alberta's Hypnobirthing Home Study Course.
Now is also a good time to sign up prenatal water fitness or prenatal yoga if you get clearance from your doctor to. I didn't get clearance because of early contractions with my first and a short cervix with my second, but most women benefit from remaining active throughout pregnancy.
Month 6: Nest the Natural Way
Any day now the urge to ready your nest may begin to surface. It is only natural to want to create the safest, cleanest and prettiest space possible for your chickadee. Although it may seem early, it's actually quite practical to ready the house when you are just a few months pregnant. The time, energy and physical ability to organize, clean, research and shop will be increasingly limited as your belly grows, not to mention once baby comes!
Now is a good time to convert to natural cleaning products if you haven't already. When I was pregnant I used a vapor mask and rubber gloves while cleaning with bleach, etc. because while I wanted to protect the baby, I was still convinced that cleaning required harsh chemicals. It was only once my son was born that I made a complete jump to natural cleaning products. If I'd known how simple, effective and cheap natural cleaning solutions could be, I would have done it years earlier!
Now is also a good time to install a good water filter in your bathtub and shower in addition to your kitchen water filter. And if you live in a city like us you may consider adding a good Hepa filter to the nursery.
Month 7: Pack for a Natural Birth
In addition to natural childbirth education study, it's a good idea to begin preparing supplies for the big day. Whether you plan to deliver at home, a birthing center or the hospital, you will need to get certain supplies to have them accessible when the big day arrives. Healthy snacks, coconut water or another natural electrolyte water, soothing essential oils for aroma therapy during labor, chlorine-free diapers and organic layette essentials are just a few of the things you may want to add to your hospital bag.
Month 8: Avoid Unnatural Interventions by Talking to Baby
During my third trimester with Max when he was still in the breech position, I had a conversation with him and asked him to turn head down. I told him about how much I was enjoying the pregnancy and that although I was excited about meeting him, I had fears about the birthing process and wondered if he did too. I talked about some of the wonderful things we would do together once he was born and told him that we should let go of all of our fears because it would soon be time for him to make his debut and begin a wonderful life together. Within 2 days he was head down and stayed that way for the remaining weeks. I had a similar talk with him when our due date was approaching, and he was born the day before his due date. I will never have proof that our talks were the reason things went so well, but they certainly helped me to remain calm and avoid worrying too much about an unknown future.
So as the count down mounts, don't forget this simple technique that may help you to avoid unnatural interventions. I believe that if you are anxious about giving birth, your body and subsequently your baby may respond by resisting preparations for labor. In the same way that discussing something you have on your mind with your partner or a friend can help relieve tensions, discussing the process and feelings about the upcoming birth with your baby can help relieve tension and encourage your little one to move into the birth position and begin the process of descending into the birth canal.
Month 9: Ready Your Kitchen With Healthy Postpartum Meals
During the last month of both of my pregnancies I prepped a few weeks worth of quick and healthy main dishes. Some families cook and freeze meals but I found this to be time consuming and not necessary in the end. Instead I stocked the cabinets with grains, legumes, boxed soup broth and boxed pureed soup bases, then prepared and froze ingredients to go with them. This allowed us to easily prepare an endless variety of soups and veggie dishes which we combined with quick sides like salad greens, quinoa or long grain brown rice. I also prepared and froze dough for energy-packed (and yummy) homemade cookies.
So here are some things you can prep:
Healthy Homemade Soups:
Before Baby: Wash, chop & freeze a selection of carrots, celery, potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, squash, cauliflower, & dark leafy greens. Divide into quart size freezer bags or tupperwares. Cook and chop organic chicken breast and turkey breast, also dividing into quart size portions before freezing.
After Baby: Bring a box of soup broth to a boil (Optional: Include 1 cup of lentils, beans, or barley that have been soaked overnight and cook until tender). Next add a selection of the frozen veggies and lean meat of your choice (adding those with the longest cooking times first). Lastly add a box of soup base such as butternut squash or tomato and sea salt to taste.
Before Baby: Wash & julienne a combination of potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash and carrots and freeze in a container together.
After Baby: Allow to defrost in the fridge overnight. Spread onto a rimmed baking sheet or glass pan. Drizzle and toss with lemon juice, sea salt and olive oil. Roast until tender. Serve with a quick cooking grain like quinoa or long grain brain rice.
Healthy Homemade Cookies:
After Baby: Slice dough and bake and enjoy. Yum!