A woman’s nutritional needs during pregnancy is my pet subject. I have stacks of reference books, some of them dating back to the 1800’s. My interest began, naturally, with my first pregnancy. Little did I realize at the time that I should have been interested in prenatal nutrition long before I found out I was pregnant with my first child.
The truth is that your baby’s prenatal health begins long before you are even pregnant. By 9 weeks gestation your little baby has all of its body parts and by week 17 a little girl will have all of the eggs that she will have for the rest of her life; that means that her half of all her future children are already inside of her pregnant mama!
It sends a thrill up my spine to realize what a responsibility we mamas have to future generations. Our food choices don’t just affect how we feel today, but how our children and grandchildren will feel for generations to come!
Doctors and midwives break a pregnancy up into three trimesters. No two pregnancies are alike but generally the baby is growing in fast but incremental stages and the mother’s nutritional needs will vary according to those stages.
Stage One or First Trimester
Rapid development is taking place. All of the body parts are forming and a heartbeat begins. Often a woman does not even realize she is pregnant in the very beginning of this stage but that doesn’t mean that her baby isn’t going through miraculous changes. The baby is using large amounts of vitamins and minerals to build all those body parts. The mother may not feel the need to eat any more than usual at this point and in fact may be experiencing morning sickness from the extreme fluctuations in hormones. The first line of defense in nutrition is always a good diet, with supplementation secondary.
The baby needs Vitamin A and D as well as calcium right now, so things like eggs from pastured chickens, wild-caught fish, bone broths and soups and stews made from bone broth are wonderful choices for the queasy tummy. And don’t forget to add herbs like Nettle to your soups! Now is a good time to start a Cod Liver Oil supplement if you haven’t already. During this phase, I find kefir smoothies made with an herbal smoothie mix to be very settling to the tummy and a great way to get the vitamins you need without choking down a pre-natal vitamin. Good food and herbs, the way God made them, are always the best way to get your vitamins.
Folate should be something that is in the diet before the pregnancy if possible. Supplements help but Folic Acid is best absorbed as Folate, in its natural state, through foods like liver, egg yolks, legumes and dark green leafy vegetables. Try a spinach or kale smoothie if you’re having trouble getting your greens! Also, start adding some liquid chlorophyll to your water once or twice a day.
Stage Two or Second Trimester
Protein and calcium are always important during a pregnancy, but even more so during the second trimester when the baby is working on growing those bones and soft muscle tissue. Most resources recommend 80-100 grams of protein a day for a pregnant woman. I find that if I’m including a little protein with each meal or snack, I really don’t need to count grams or worry about it. Now is when the mama usually starts to feel a little better and her appetite returns. She may feel like eating a little extra and might start having real cravings for certain foods.
There’s always a big push to start taking pre-natal vitamins but remember that those vitamins are synthetic and will never be absorbed as well as the vitamins in real food. They may be necessary if the mother’s diet is really lacking in good, natural foods but if she is eating healthy sources of protein like grass-fed beef, all--natural or pastured chicken, legumes, fresh green vegetables and small amounts of fruit she can grow a beautiful baby without many supplements.
For calcium, keep those bone broths bubbling! Throughout my pregnancies I keep a large electric roaster on my kitchen counter. Into it I throw the bones left over from roasting whole chickens, left over beef bones and chicken feet. To this I add vegetables like onions, carrots and celery. Next I fill a mesh bag or two with calcium rich herbs like alfalfa, red clover blossoms, red raspberry leaf, nettle and dandelion root. I cover this whole mixture with water and let it cook in the roaster for a few days. After straining I have a beautiful calcium loaded broth that can be used for my soups and as cooking water for quinoa or rice.
I like to make sure I’m getting plenty of Omega-3 fatty acids during this phase. Our American diet is usually lacking this and many of us hardly get any at all. Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid and is comprised of alpha-linolenic acid. Flax oil is an excellent source and is comprised of over 50% alpha-linolenic acid. If you are including a good source of alpha-linolenic acid in your diet, your body can also manufacture and better absorb the wonderful fatty acids EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish and are essential for brain development among other things. By adding a few tablespoons of flax oil to your herbal smoothies or using it as a salad dressing you can absorb the EPA and DHA in the fish you eat. If you’re not eating fish regularly then a good Omega-3 Supplement will do.
Stage Three or Third Trimester
Calcium is still your best friend. The baby’s bones are formed but continue putting on mass. Now your baby and body are preparing for birth and the things that you will transfer to your baby at birth. You will need to eat foods high in zinc and iron to build and strengthen blood and for passing on to baby. B12 begins to transfer to the baby as well.
The best sources for B12 are animal protein and protein in general will help prevent preeclampsia and reduce third trimester swelling. The B12 in vegetables is not the same as what you find in animal protein and in fact B12 from vegetable sources is better absorbed when eaten with animal protein. So picture a nice cut of grass-fed beef alongside some roasted root vegetables and a nice big salad with lots of baby spinach and kale. You can’t have too many veggies but you can overdo it with carbohydrates.
Throughout the pregnancy but especially in the third trimester, avoid too many starches like bread (even whole wheat), rice and potatoes. These are fine in careful moderation but definitely stay away from anything white, like white bread, potatoes and refined sugar. Keep taking your tablespoon or so a day of liquid chlorophyll as this acts as a natural preventative for postpartum hemorrhage.
Remember, taking care of yourself by eating responsibly before your pregnant, and continuing to do so during those nine months will help you and your little one feel great and get off to a healthy start. Relish this time of growing a beautiful baby body!