How to Stay Healthy During Pregnancy

12 September 2013

Eating well before conception, during pregnancy and while breastfeeding can have a long term positive effect on the health of your baby.  In addition to a wide variety of organic fresh produce and dry goods we also stock supplements, oils and herbal remedies designed specifically for use
before and during pregnancy and to support your health while breastfeeding.


Nutrition before and during pregnancy

A balanced diet is vital and should include a wide variety of nutritious foods.  Aim for a steady weight gain especially after the first three months – dieting is not recommended during pregnancy.

Emphasise organic produce to minimise exposure to pesticides, especially those that have an endocrine disrupting effect.  In the last decade many studies have linked these chemicals to a number of reproductive and other health effects.  The chemicals closely mimic natural hormones and can disrupt the functioning of hormone systems in humans and other animals at very low levels of exposure.

Replace refined foods with fresh, preferably organic, wholefoods e.g. wholegrain breads, whole grains (try some of the more unusual grains such as amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa which are particularly high in nutrients), fresh vegetables and fruit.

Protein is more important than ever.  Animal proteins – meat, fish, eggs and dairy foods – are complete protein sources whereas plant protein foods must be combined to provide all the essential amino acids.  Legumes, pulses, nuts and seeds need to be combined with wholegrains – this occurs frequently in traditional vegetarian dishes like corn chips and chilli beans, dahl and rice, tahini or hummus on wholegrain crackers or bread.

Drink plenty of fluids every day, at least 6-8 glasses preferably filtered water per day.

Some herbs are not considered safe in pregnancy especially in the first three months – consult a practitioner about taking herbal remedies during this time.

Women coming off the contraceptive pill need to be aware that hormones need a minimum of 6 months to adjust to normal levels.  The pill will also deplete your body of essential B vitamins (especially folic acid) and zinc so it is important to build up levels of these nutrients.

Use high quality oils e.g. extra virgin olive oil for cooking.

Latest research indicates that essential fatty acids that are found in flaxseed oil and some fish oils enhance brain and eye development in the foetus.  1–2 tablespoons of flaxseed oil can be taken each day in salad dressings, smoothies or drizzled over muesli.


Probiotics

Beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract, taken during pregnancy and breastfeeding may give enhanced protection against atopic conditions (e.g. eczema) especially during the first 2 years of life.  These can be obtained in natural yoghurt and in probiotic supplements such as those containing acidophilus, bifido bacterium, lactobacillus and reuteri.


Nutrients

A number of vital nutrients that are often lacking in our diet are extremely important in pregnancy and in the months prior to conception, specifically folic acid, iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium.

Good food sources of these nutrients are:

Folic acid

Barley, bran, brown rice, lentils, legumes, split peas, wheatgerm, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, root vegetables, beef, chicken, liver, cheese, milk, salmon, tuna, mushrooms, oranges, dates, brewers yeast.

The NZ Ministry of Health now advises that a folic acid supplement or pregnancy supplement containing folic acid at a level of 800 mcg (0.8 mg) per day should be taken for 4 weeks prior to conception and for the first 2–3 months of pregnancy.  This is because a deficiency of folic acid at this time is associated with a higher risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida in the baby.  It can be difficult to obtain sufficient folic acid from diet alone.

Iron

Eggs, fish, liver, poultry, meat, green leafy vegetables, whole grains (especially millet, quinoa and amaranth), blackstrap molasses, brewers yeast, legumes, lentils, dried prunes, dates, apricots and peaches, almonds, kelp and spirulina.  Do not drink tea with meals as tannins in tea can inhibit iron absorption.

Calcium

Dairy products, sea food (especially sardines and salmon with bones), kelp and other seaweeds (sea vegetables), tofu, tahini, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, brazil nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, blackstrap molasses, kelp, figs, prunes, brewers yeast (nutritional yeast), amaranth and quinoa.

Zinc

Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and tahini, whole grains, brewers yeast, legumes, meat, seafood.

Magnesium

Dairy products, fish, meat, blackstrap molasses, green leafy vegetables, avocados, bananas, barley and wheat grass.

 

Health supplements during pregnancy

We stock a range of products: supplements, teas, tinctures, homeopathic remedies and creams that can be used for various conditions during pregnancy and for preparation for birth.  Product brochures are available for further information.

Caution: If considering using herbal medicines or essential oils in the first 3 months, first consult a qualified health practitioner.

Multi-nutrient products and general pregnancy tonics

Artemis Pregnancy Tea (after first 3 months), Solgar Prenatal Nutrients, Thompson’s Pregnacare, Vitalize 4PV powder – these supplements are also suitable for use pre-conception and while breastfeeding.  They include folic acid but not at the level recommended by the Ministry of Health.

Red Raspberry Leaf tea is a traditional pregnancy tonic valued for its iron content and uterine toning qualities.  Again it is recommended that it is not taken until after the first 3 months.

Iron tonics

Ferroforce, Floradix and Floravital, Solgar Gentle Iron, Thompson’s Organic Iron, Ethical Nutrients Iron Plus, Spatone Natural Iron Supplements and Clinicians Ferrocarb Plus.

Red Raspberry Leaf and Nettle teas are traditional and effective sources of iron – take after the first 3 months of pregnancy.


Problems during pregnancy and breastfeeding


The following may provide relief for some of the conditions encountered during pregnancy.

Birth preparation

Arnica, Naturopharm Pre-Birth and Birth Aid, Weleda Caulophyllum.  Use only in consultation with your midwife.

Breastfeeding

Inseason Herbals Lactation AOL, Naturopharm Milk Flow, Weleda breastfeeding tea, Lactagogue oil; for sore nipples use Weleda Rose-Calendula Cream (Nipple care cream).

Constipation

Avoid harsh laxatives, instead increase fibre in diet through foods such as prunes, wholegrains, fresh fruit, and vegetables.  Also, take probiotics.

Haemorrhoids

Weleda Haemorrhoidal Ointment, Artemis Vein Relief cream and tincture (1ml 3 x daily).

Indigestion / heartburn

Consult your health practitioner for suitable options.

Morning sickness / pregnancy nausea

Ginger is a time honoured remedy: take in the form of tea made from fresh or powdered ginger or in capsule form such as Lifestream; Inseason Herbals Morning Nauze-ease and Digestive Teabags; Naturopharm Morningmed Relief, peppermint tea, Artemis tummy tea, Weleda Nausyn and Saccharum Mel Comp. 

Eat small meals frequently as low blood sugar levels can worsen nausea. 

Ensure adequate liquid intake.

Varicose veins / aching legs

Artemis Vein Relief Cream and Tincture (1ml 3 x daily), Inseason Herbals Vasofirm Cream.

Lifestyle factors

Pregnancy is a natural state and most pregnancies are trouble free.  However be aware of the following precautions:

Try to avoid all intoxicants including alcohol, cigarettes, recreational drugs and unnecessary medications. 

Alcohol, even in small amounts, will enter the baby’s bloodstream and could affect brain development.

Smoking reduces oxygen and food supply to the baby and can slow down growth and development.  Avoid smoky environments.

Limit coffee to the occasional treat once or twice a week.  If you must drink it every day try dandelion root or one of the other cereal coffee substitutes.

Regular moderate exercise (vigorous exercise is not recommended) such as walking, yoga, cycling and swimming help strengthen your heart and lungs and increase strength needed for birth.  Yoga has exercises specifically designed for pregnancy and birth. 

Minimise stress levels where possible and ensure adequate rest.

Avoid eating prepared foods such as takeaway salads, and meat and seafood dishes that are not heated to a high temperature before consuming because of the possibility that these foods can contain Listeria, an organism that can cause Listeriosis.

Exercise extra care regarding hygiene if you choose to consume raw (unpasteurised) milk or milk products as these can also be a source of Listeria.  Listeriosis, though usually mild in its effects at other times, can cause serious illness and miscarriage in pregnant women.

Other food borne illnesses, such as those caused by Campylobacter and Salmonella bacteria can, in severe cases, lead to miscarriage and premature labour.  Be extra careful with food safety – wash hands frequently, store foods correctly, cook all meats thoroughly and avoid untreated water and raw milk products, unless you are absolutely confident of hygiene conditions.

Animals, especially cats, can carry Toxoplasmosis, a parasite that causes miscarriage or fetal damage if contracted by the mother in early pregnancy.  To reduce risk follow the food safety guidelines, use gloves when gardening and wash hands very well after contact with animals or after gardening even if gloves were worn.  It may be useful to keep contact with animals to a minimum at this time.

For further information on these topics see ‘Food Safety in Pregnancy’ produced by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (2003).

 

Enjoy your pregnancy


Pregnancy is usually a time of great joy and anticipation.  It is important to know any risk factors but it is also important to keep them in perspective.  Many women make great demands on their bodies – we live faster lives than our mothers.  While you are pregnant and looking after a young baby give yourself permission to slow down and smell the roses.

 

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References

Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for Herbal Healing.  Penguin Putnam, 2002

Balaskas, Janet New Active Birth, rev. ed, Allen & Unwin, 1989

Elliott, Rose Rose Elliott’s Mother and Baby Book, Fontana/Collins, 1989

Naish, Frances Natural Fertility: The Complete Guide to Avoiding or Achieving Conception, rev. ed, Sally Milner Pub. 2000

NZ Food Safety Authority ‘Food Safety in Pregnancy’ (2003)

NZ Ministry of Health pamphlets:
‘Eating for Healthy Pregnant Women’ (2003); ‘Eating for Healthy Breastfeeding Women’ (2002); ‘Folic Acid and Spina Bifida’ (2002).  There are many other titles on pregnancy and breastfeeding available for loan at Wellington Public Library and for purchase at booksellers.

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