Lucky parents have the opportunity to prepare themselves for a pregnancy, selecting the ideal time for the pregnancy and optimizing their health before conception. It is impossible to start too soon. Although the sperm and egg cells are only in production for a few months, the longer the body producing those cells has enjoyed living in a healthy manner, the healthier the baby will be. If pregnancy is conceivably (!) in your future, consider implementing some of these dietary and supplement recommendations, for a healthier body before pregnancy.
What Is Known about Eating for a Healthy Pregnancy
Maternal physiology is significantly taxed by the process of pregnancy, birth, lactation, and recovery. Many traditional cultures preferred and managed a three-year space between children. Although modern science helps us better understand the dynamics of maternal recovery, there is still no significant evidence to justify shortening that three-year recovery period when you have the choice.
An excellent resource on nutritional matters related to pregnancy (before, during and after) as well as nutrition for babies (when formula is needed) and young children, can be found through the Weston A. Price Foundation. They have active local chapters across the nation (and the world!) as well as a valuable website and journal.
Morning sickness affects a fair number of women early in pregnancy. I remember it well, several trips to the toilet each morning, leading with my head rather than the usual approach. Morning sickness probably serves a valuable evolutionary purpose (avoiding toxins in unknown foods), but can be very uncomfortable. Serious or prolonged cases of morning sickness require medical attention, but women who are still able to eat might benefit from a B6 supplement, ginger tea, and relax. Even if you're unable to take your prenatal vitamins during your first trimester, you can still have a healthy pregnancy IF you start with a healthy body, eat as well as you can, and take a good three years to recover your own health between pregnancies. Once the nausea passes - usually magically abates at 12-16 weeks of pregnancy - take your vitamins regularly throughout your pregnancy. If one vitamin doesn't work for you, consult with your health care practitioner to identify one you might tolerate.
Healthy Steps: Eating for a Healthy Pregnancy—Full Program
A comprehensive program that includes a healthy eating plan for pregnancy involves many areas in which action steps can be taken gradually or all at once. Start by following the basic nutrition and healthy lifestyle guidelines with the following modifications:
Savor Helpful Foods During Pregnancy
Sound nutrition during pregnancy is a great gift to the health of both mother and child. Recent evidence confirms that foods traditionally emphasized for pregnancy are indeed key to sustaining a full-term pregnancy, delivering a healthy baby, and supporting a healthy future for the child. Research reveals that nutritional choices made during pregnancy manifest throughout childhood and even into adulthood.
- Liver from organic beef, chicken, bison, or lamb. Eat 3-8 oz. twice weekly. You can hide the flavor by blending liver into burgers or stews. Alternative: Dr. Ron's Ultra Pure Liver 4 capsules daily. Contains biotin, choline, folate, and vitamin A.
- Grass-fed beef or lamb . Eat daily and always consume the fat that comes naturally with the meat. Includes vitamins E, K2, zinc, and choline.
- Raw milk . Drink two 8-oz. glasses daily from grass-fed (GF) cows. Also enjoy cultured cream, raw cream, kefir, and yogurt. These products give you vitamin A and choline. When raw milk is not available, look for whole milk that is from grass-fed cows, organic, non-homogenized, and pasteurized but not ultra-pasteurized. Organic Valley is a nationally available brand.
- Raw milk cheese. Enjoy as much as desired. This gives you vitamin K2.
- Organic butter. Consume 4 tablespoons or more daily; raw from grass-fed cows is best. This is a rich source of Vitamin A.
- Seafood is an important and diverse category, giving you DHA, zinc, and iodine.
- Fish eggs: 4 daily as wild; Alaskan salmon roe.
- Wild Alaskan salmon twice weekly.
- Oysters, cooked or smoked, twice a month. (Oyster Stew with cream is ideal.)
- Herring, sardines , and are particularly valuable.
- Other safe fish as listed at Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.
- Bone broth soups. 1 cup daily from chicken, beef, lamb, or fish, prepared correctly (see Recipes). This is an excellent source of glycine.
- Eggs. from pastured chickens. Eat 2 whole and 2 raw yolks daily. Cook whole eggs lightly and include raw yolks in smoothies, ice cream, or cream with nutmeg. Gives you vitamin A, biotin, and choline.
- Nuts. Eat one handful daily for the vitamin E and choline. See Crispy Nuts Recipe.
- Seeds. Consume 2 tablespoons of pumpkin or sunflower seeds daily. This is a good source of vitamin E. Sprout for optimal nutrition (see Recipes).
- Fermented foods. Enjoy lacto-fermented sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, or drinks for the vitamin K2.
- Vegetables and leafy greens. Eat 1-2 servings daily. This category offers vitamins E, K1, and K2 as well as folate and choline. Leafy greens include chard, beet greens, spinach, kale, mustard greens; beets; and cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower. All of these vegetables should be at least lightly cooked. Salad greens may be eaten raw.
- Coconut oil. Consume 2 tablespoons daily or 2 cup of coconut milk daily for the lauric acid. Add to smoothies for a delicious and healthy treat.
- Whole grains. This food group is optional. You can include rice or other organic whole grains but avoid gluten if possible. Grains should always be soaked and sprouted or soured.
- Legumes. Enjoy 3-7 servings weekly for the folate.
- Fresh fruits. Eat organic fruits for their antioxidant properties, but do practice moderation to avoid high sugar consumption. Blueberries are best, followed by apricots. Limit total fructose from fruit to 15-30 grams daily.
- Minimize sweets. For sweeteners, choose stevia (the green powdered herb version, not the white concentrate). Occasionally, you can use raw honey or organic maple syrup.
- Salt . Add to taste using true sea salt (often sold as Celtic Sea Salt).
Benefits Attributed to Specific Nutrients
- Choline. Increases baby's memory and attention span.
- Biotin. Boosts growth and decreases chance of birth defects.
- Glycine. Boosts growth.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Improves brain development.
- Vitamin A. Optimizes endocrine (especially thyroid and adrenal) health as well as mineral and protein absorption.
- Lauric acid. Serves as an antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal agent. Appears in mother's milk.
- Iodine. Encourages healthy thyroid gland and mental capacity.
Avoid Problematic Foods During Pregnancy
- Processed protein. This includes protein powders and special protein bars. It is best to avoid all processed, canned, and boxed foods.
- Artificial milks. Substitutes for goat or cow milk such as almond, rice, soy, and hemp milks should be treated like any sweet, sugary substance and are best avoided completely.
- Refined sugars. Take particular care to avoid high-fructose corn syrup (present in most processed foods). Excessive intake of sweets during pregnancy, especially fructose, has been linked to an increased risk of pre-eclampsia.
- Artificial sweeteners. These can cause depression and migraines, and they are even implicated in brain tumors.
- All boxed cereals. Even organic cereals are extruded with high temperatures and are an extremely unnatural food. Avoid completely.
- Unfermented soy products. Avoid unfermented soy for its thyroid toxicity. Limit amounts of fermented tempeh, miso, and tamari because all soy contains phytoestrogens, which can cause problems for the mother as well as allergies, early puberty issues, and brain development problems in the child.
- Contaminated fish. Mercury is the worst contaminant, but other industrial residues appear in toxic amounts in many varieties of fish. Again, for full details, see the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. The current list of fish to avoid includes the following (worst marked in red):
- Swordfish (US)
- Tuna: Bigeye, Yellowfin (troll/pole)
- Tuna: Canned white/Albacore (except US and BC)
- Sturgeon* (imported wild)
- Marlin: Blue*, Striped*
- Salmon, farmed (including Atlantic)*
- Swordfish (imported)*
- Tuna: Bluefin* and Tongol Tuna: Canned (except troll/pole)*
- Raw egg whites. Avoid raw egg whites and consume cooked ones in moderation. Raw egg whites' glycoprotein component interferes with the absorption of the yolk's valuable biotin, so always cook whites before eating.
- Caffeine. Avoid as much as possible. Caffeine affects fetal heart development and function.
- Gluten. This is present in wheat, rye, barley, and oats.
- Raw nuts. Occasional raw nuts are allowed, but Crispy Nuts (as above) are preferred. Avoid all peanuts.
- Fluoridated or chlorinated water. Filter tap water with a Doulton Water Filter.
- Trans-fats. These dangerous fats form readily in foods fried in Canola oil or any vegetable oils. Ask restaurants what kind of oils they cook with; most use vegetable oil, which becomes unstable when heat is applied and is liable to form trans fats. Consuming these fats can cause overweight babies and complications at birth.
- Genetically modified foods. At best, the effects of GMO foods are an unknown in pregnancy. Animal studies certainly suggest risks that are too high to take when two lives are at stake.
- Alcohol. Adverse affects from alcohol consumption begin at the time of conception and continue throughout the pregnancy. Drinking alcohol puts your baby at risk for fetal alcohol syndrome.
- Flaxseed. This has a potentially adverse effect, although minimal consumption appears to be harmless.
Supplements Can Help
The essential vitamins and nutritional supplements for a healthy pregnancy are:
- Pure Encapsulations Cod Liver Oil . Take 1-2 teaspoons daily. This gives you vitamins A and D as well as omega-3 fatty acids.
- Dr. Ron's Ultra Pure Liver. Take 4 capsules daily if you're not eating liver.
- Klaire Ther-Biotics. Take 2 capsules two times daily between meals.
- Biotics Research Bio-D-Mulsion Forte. Take vitamin D3 as needed to achieve levels of 50-70 ng/ml. Typical doses range from 1000-5000 IU daily. These are significantly higher than standard recommendations. Note: The FCLO may be sufficient without extra D3.
- Thorne Research Basic Prenatal. Take 3 tablets daily with meals.
Daily Life Choices for a Healthy Pregnancy
Taking medication cannot come close to providing the same benefits for your unborn child as practicing a healthy lifestyle. In addition to eating right and exercising regularly, healthy pre-, during, and post-pregnancy living is essential.
Chemicals Hazardous During Pregnancy
The following chemicals pose a significant risk to pregnancy and the newborn child:
- Chlorine and fluoride. Drinking fresh water is particularly crucial when you are supporting the circulation of two bodies. Water that has been treated with chlorine may be bacteria-free, but once the chlorine has done its bactericidal job, it becomes a hazard rather than a benefit. Fairly simple water filters sufficiently remove chlorine from drinking water. Fluoride, however, is a different story. Its dental benefit is topical, and the greatest hazard occurs when fluoride is taken internally. Considered a toxic element, fluoride is ranked near arsenic and lead. Excessive fluoride causes visible fluorosis and other less obvious health problems. If your municipal water is fluorinated, you can filter your own water by using a reverse osmosis filter (the only kind of home filter that removes fluoride). Bottled water would be a second choice for toxin-free water during pregnancy. We recommend the Doulton USA Rio 2000 System.
- Smoking. Cigarette smoke from the mother or in her presence can raise carbon monoxide to dangerous levels. The fetus is more sensitive than the mother to the adverse effects of smoking.
- Arsenic. This poison may be present in rural wells and shows up during routine water testing.
- Lead. This toxic metal is found in older paints and building materials. If you are concerned, test your home before becoming pregnant so the levels can be lowered. Avoid exposure to lead during pregnancy.
- Carbon monoxide. Malfunctioning gas heaters or residential fires can pose a carbon monoxide hazard. After such exposures, consult your physician for a medical evaluation, including a blood test.
- Insecticides. Avoid all insecticides, which should be labeled regarding their safety.
- Nail polish and nail polish remover. These are carcinogenic. Buff your nails for a natural shine.
- Mercury. Primarily consumed through seafood, mercury is also present in fluorescent and compact fluorescent bulbs, which release this toxin when broken.
- Organic solvents. These include benzene, toluene, and xylene.
- Household cleansers. Bleach, certain aerosols, and other cleaning products have been associated with increased childhood asthma. Use natural cleansers like vinegar and baking soda or buy your cleansers in the health food store.
- Paint and paint thinners. Select the zero VOC paints if exposure is unavoidable.
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (BPH). Present in older electrical equipment and flame-retardants, polychlorinated biphenyls are also found in the lining of to-go hot drink lids. As you sip, you get a little dose of BPH with every drop. Avoid completely. Bring your own stainless steel drinking cup or bottle.
- Infectious agents. Cat litter may contain toxoplasmosis, which can endanger the baby.
- Electromagnetic radiation . This is a contentious subject the world over, with strident conviction on both sides of the debate. Research has shown associations between the use of electric blankets during pregnancy and miscarriage, and maternal cell phone usage during pregnancy has been linked to child behavioral problems and heightened glucose activity in the brain near the cell phone's position. Given the serious nature of the potential hazards, it seems reasonable to minimize exposure. Limit cell phone usage, use cell phones on speaker mode, or connect to a shielded wired headset or an air tube headset. Cell phones should be on airport mode when not in use. Do not use cell phones in a closed or moving car. Do not use laptops on your lap when pregnant.
Special note for women with a miscarriage history
If you (or your mother) has a history of miscarriage, careful diet may not be enough to protect you in a future pregnancy. I would recommend you consult a physician for testing of your methylation status and take any indicated vitamins before you conceive as well as during the pregnancy.