The healthy road to motherhood
For many, becoming a mother is one of the most precious moments in a woman’s life. As a mother of three myself, I can still recall the moments when the pregnancy tests showed that magical plus sign. It’s one thing to feel this joy, it’s another for the body to be well equipped to hold a baby for 40 weeks.
Imagine your uterus as a home. How can you keep this home clean and comfortable? What do you need to do to keep this home supported and safe? Most of these tips on pre- and post-natal nutrition, exercise and overall well-being I incorporated into my own life while I was pregnant and afterwards. To be on the safe side, always consult with your healthcare provider before trying any of these tips.
The right diet during pregnancy
Keep your womb clean and secure just as you would your home. Nutrition plays a major role. According to The American Pregnancy Association, one should “start making health changes three months to one year before conceiving.” Begin by removing processed foods from your diet and include more leafy greens and colourful fruits and vegetables as well as lean protein sources. There are a few basic nutrients that women should consider adding into their diet both before conception and during pregnancy. These include folic acid, vitamins B6 and B12, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, iron and calcium.
Folic acid is essential for reducing the risk of neural tube, heart and limb defects. A deficiency of folic acid could lead to preterm labour, fetal retarda- tion and low birth weight. You can get folic acid into your diet by eating leafy greens, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains and citrus fruits.
Vitamins B6 and B12 are important for conception and during pregnancy. Vi- tamin B6 assists with the development of the baby’s nervous system and can be helpful in reducing nausea during pregnancy. Foods rich in vitamin B6 include wild salmon, spinach, avocados, banana, egg yolk and nuts.
Vitamin B12 is important for the development of the baby’s neural tube, brain and spine. It can also provide energy for the mother and balance effect on moods. Eating foods rich in omega-3 like chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp hearts, avocados and wild fatty salmon are a simple way to get a moods and stress levels. Foods rich in vitamin B12 include wild salmon, cottage cheese, yogurt and cod.
Zinc is a mineral important for pregnancy because it assists with the cellular growth and production of DNA, which will make up the baby’s genetic blueprint. “Zinc is necessary for the functioning of more than 300 different enzymes, which means it plays a role in a great number of bodily activities”, says eMAX Health. “Some of those activities are critical during pregnancy, because they involve embryo and fetal development as well as infant growth.” Foods rich in zinc include nuts, seeds, poultry, beans and dairy.
Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the most critical nutrients to include in your diet during pregnancy. This is because omega-3’s (both EPA and DHA) play a major role in the development of the growing baby and the wellbeing of the mother. EPA supports the heart and immune system as well as inflammatory response, while DHA supports eyes, the brain and the development of the central nervous system.
“Research has confirmed that adding EPA and DHA to the diet of a pregnant woman has a positive effect on visual and cognitive development of the baby,” says the American Pregnancy Organization. “Studies have also shown that higher consumption of omega-3’s may reduce the risk of allergies in infants.”
Depression and low moods are common both during pregnancy and post-partum. Taking a regular omega-3 supplement may assist with reducing these symptoms and have a positive healthy serving of omega-3.
You may have heard the term: “breast is best.” Breast milk is nutritious for the baby and can build immunity and fight off infections. Eating a diet rich in omega-3’s may also assist with the production of breast milk.
Before becoming pregnant, iron is essential for many reasons. For starters, iron is responsible for making hemoglobin that carries oxygen to cells within the body. Iron also assists with proper immune function.
During pregnancy, your body produces up to 50% more blood than normal and therefore you need more iron to produce hemoglobin. During the second and third trimester, iron is essential for the development of the placenta and growing baby. If a woman is lacking iron during pregnancy, she may become at risk for preterm labour or low infant birth weight.
There are two types of iron: heme iron, commonly found in animal-based foods and non-heme iron, which is found in plant foods. Sources of heme iron include meat and poultry and sources of non-heme iron include whole grains, legumes, pumpkin seeds and prune juice. The best way to ensure that non-heme iron is properly absorbed is to eat it with vitamin C-rich food such as oranges, broccoli or bell peppers.
Calcium is essential during pregnancy for the development of bones, teeth, heart, nerves and muscles. If a pregnant mother does not get enough calcium, the growing baby may leach the calcium it needs from the mother’s bones, causing health issues for her down the road. To ensure you are getting adequate amounts of calcium in your diet, be sure to include foods such as dairy, wild salmon, tofu, kale, bok choy and broccoli.
The importance of exercise during pregnancy
Something that really helped me get through my low moods during pregnancy and after was exercise and meditation. I practiced meditation moreso after the birth of my third child, but exercise was always a priority for me.
I suffered horrible nausea during all of my pregnancies and exercise was a saviour. Although it was hard for me to get to the gym at times, once I completed my workouts, the nausea subsided and I would feel so much better and happier.
A common misconception is that exercise is unsafe during pregnancy. “The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada recommends that women without complications in their pregnancies get regular aerobic and strength-conditioning exercise,” says Health Link BC. It is recommended that women stay within their pre-pregnancy fitness level with modifications at each trimester.
During the first trimester, be sure to take it easy and pay close attention
to your breathing. You should not allow yourself to be out of breath when talking. If you experience dizziness, light headedness, pain or cramping, slow down and be sure to drink plenty of water.
In the second trimester, do not lie flat on your back. The increase in size of the uterus can put pressure on the main vein that sends blood from the lower body to the heart and can cut oxygen supply to the baby. It is equally important to ensure you do not do any abdominal crunches because they put a strain on the abdomen.
During pregnancy, the left and right part of the abdominal muscles separate to make room for the growing baby. This expands the belly, a condition known as diastasis recti.
By doing abdominal crunches while pregnant, you can actually worsen the separation. Instead, I recommend focussing on strengthening the pelvic floor muscles by doing exercises like cat-cow stretches and Kegel exercises, which help support the womb and the bladder.
Your mental health and wellbeing during pregnancy
As a mother myself, I can understand how the changes we go through can affect emotional and physical wellbeing both during and after pregnancy. Each of my pregnancies was unique and different, but the one pregnancy that stood out the most to me was with my middle son, Nicholas. I had what is called Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD), a condition that causes excessive movement of the pubic symphysis accompanied by popping or clicking in the pubic region.
I also suffered depression during my pregnancy with my second child and after the birth of my third child. This is why eating a healthy diet, remaining active pre and postpartum as well as taking care of your emotional wellbeing is so important.
In my practice, I look at the mind-body connection and during pregnancy, this is something that should not be ignored. Pregnancy for some is a glorious joyful time while for others, it can be a miserable, depressing one.
According to recent studies, it is proven that a woman’s mood has a significant and profound effect upon her unborn baby.
The birth outcome and the baby’s brain development are upset when a woman is fearful and anxious.
I encourage new mothers to become mindful of howthese feelings in a healthy manner for both her own health and the wellbeing of her child. This can be done by engaging in regular meditation, yoga and deep breathing techniques—all practices that significantly helped me through some of my own feelings while pregnant and after.
Tip: keep a journal and list all the things that excite you about becoming a mother and all that you are grateful for. Gratitude shifts focus to all the things good in your life and can instantly raises your spirits.
More Insights: Here’s a great article on some core body exercises for women who pregnant.
Author: Andrea Saliba is a certified holistic nutritionist and fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. She offers nutrition plans to gain energy, strength and confidence. Her approach is to inspire people to make healthier food choices while educating her clients on the importance of the mind-body connection.