Congratulations, you’re pregnant! Now it’s time to start growing your healthy baby! Growing a healthy child begins before they are born and the foundation for a healthy child is a healthy pregnancy. Here are my top five recommendations for giving your baby the best start:
WHOLE FOODS NUTRITION
Optimal nutrition during pregnancy is one of the most important elements of a healthy foundation. Nutrition is easier than you think! Eat fresh, “whole” foods (i.e., not processed and packaged foods). Whole foods have all the things you should eat more of (fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, etc.), and none of things you’re always being told to avoid (trans fats, added sugar, salt, etc.).
Did you know? The foods you eat affect your amniotic fluid in the womb. And, as early as 16 weeks, babies start to swallow amniotic fluid, which can influence their palate later in life! Eating healthy foods (rather than over-flavoured, “junk” foods), can influence their food preferences and help them develop a preference for healthy foods as children!
LISTEN TO YOUR CRAVINGS
Attend to cravings when pregnant as they may offer clues as to nutritional needs. During each of my pregnancies, I experienced unique food cravings. In my first pregnancy, I had a strong craving for beef, which is a major dietary source of iron and vitamin B12. In my case, iron deficiency was confirmed using blood work. In my second pregnancy, I had a distinct craving for dark chocolate. Within weeks of noticing these cravings, I started to develop leg cramps, which confirmed a magnesium deficiency.
Warning: Don’t confuse your body’s signals with a green light to eat only ice cream for nine months. Acknowledge cravings, but incorporate craved foods within a balanced, over-all healthy diet. If you’re unsure, a naturopathic doctor can help you understand the relationship between your body’s “signals” and your body’s needs.
REST AS NEEDED
Listen to your body, and be aware of, and respect your boundaries. If you feel tired, rest. We, certainly in the Western World, don’t value rest as we should. It is especially important during your first and third trimesters. Fatigue during the first trimester in particular is common and may be so intense, I call it “non-negotiable” fatigue. The third trimester brings more physical fatigue: the fatigue of carrying more weight and of bearing the discomfort of aching of joints; and the fatigue of disrupted sleep. Acknowledge your needs and give your body the rest it needs to carry out its biological function of growing a healthy baby.
BOND WITH YOUR BABY
A great way to make the most of time spent in rest or quiet is to set aside time to bond with your baby. Honour the fact that they are growing in you, that they share your thoughts and feelings and they are truly a part of you. Yoga, or guided meditations or visualizations can help you begin to form a bond.
PRESERVE YOUR MICROBIOME
A final, important factor in giving your baby the best start possible is to preserve your body’s ecosystem (“microbiome” to those in the know). You are about 90% “not you,” that is to say, bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms. This is a good thing. The population of your microbiome is essential to your/your baby’s health. Disruption of the balance of your microbiome is linked to a host of health conditions including acne, asthma, allergies, eczema, autoimmune diseases, cancer, depression, anxiety, gastric ulcers and obesity. Vaginal birth is the foundation of developing a healthy microbiome.
Support your own microbiome by avoiding undue use of antibiotics and consumption of non-organic meat (antibiotics fed to the animals are passed on to you) and plan to birth vaginally. Passage through your vagina at birth is your baby’s first inoculation with a healthy microbiome and is the foundation of its own bacterial ecosystem.
To maximize the odds that you will have success birthing vaginally, choose a birthing team that supports vaginal birthing. Use a midwife, the experts in natural childbirth and seek out the support of an experienced a doula. Research demonstrates that using the services of a doula to support you during labour and birth reduces c-section rates by 28%, among many other benefits.
Following these tips will ensure your baby is healthy in the womb, at time of birth, and for years to come. Your sweet little pea is sure to thank you, just as soon as they can form the words!