Pregnancy is a wonderful and exciting time, but it is also a time of increased demand on the body. Ensuring an great diet before and during pregnancy gives baby the best chances for optimal growth and also helps make pregnancy more comfortable and less demanding on mom’s body as well.
Unfortunately, there are hundreds of different opinions on what the optimal diet is before and during pregnancy and some of these suggestions can do more harm than good.
The Pregnancy Diet
A healthy diet for pregnancy should ideally begin at least 3 months before conception, especially if the parents haven’t had an optimal diet in the past.
Pre-pregnancy and pregnancy are not times to skimp on eating high quality foods or try to lose weight. The focus should be on consuming as much nourishing and high nutrient food as needed to nourish both mom and baby.
A good pregnancy/nursing diet includes:
- Lots of high quality protein from high quality sources like grass-fed beef, free-range poultry and eggs, and wild caught, sustainable seafood (smaller fish preferable). Organ meats from grass fed sources are also wonderful for pregnancy and nursing and can help reduce the chance of anemia.
- Large amounts of vegetables, especially green ones! Green veggies have folate, which is important for fetal growth, and are also high in many other nutrients.
- Healthy Fats galore! Pregnancy and nursing are not times to skimp on healthy fats. Quality fats are absolutely vital for baby’s brain development, organ and tissue growth, and good milk production for mom. Sources like healthy meats, coconut oil and coconut products, olive oil, avocados, and nuts are especially good during pregnancy (peanuts are not nuts!).
- Other high nutrient foods like homemade bone broth, soups, fermented vegetables like homemade sauerkraut, fruit (especially berries) and green smoothies are also great for pregnancy and nursing.
The Weston A. Price Foundation Recommends
Cod Liver Oil to supply 20,000 IU vitamin A and 2000 IU vitamin D per day
1 quart (or 32 ounces) whole milk daily, preferably raw and from pasture-fed cows
4 tablespoons butter daily, preferably from pasture-fed cows
2 or more eggs daily, preferably from pastured chickens
Additional egg yolks daily, added to smoothies, salad dressings, scrambled eggs, etc.
3-4 ounces fresh liver, once or twice per week (If you have been told to avoid liver for fear of getting “too much Vitamin A,” be sure to read Vitamin A Saga)
Fresh seafood, 2-4 times per week, particularly wild salmon, shellfish and fish eggs
Fresh beef or lamb daily, always consumed with the fat
Oily fish or lard daily, for vitamin D
2 tablespoons coconut oil daily, used in cooking or smoothies, etc.
Lacto-fermented condiments and beverages
Bone broths used in soups, stews and sauces
Fresh vegetables and fruits
IMPORTANT WARNING: Cod liver oil contains substantial levels of omega-3 EPA, which can cause numerous health problems, such as hemorrhaging during the birth process, if not balanced by arachidonic acid (ARA), an omega-6 fatty acid found in liver, egg yolks and meat fats. Please do not add cod liver oil to a diet that is deficient in these important animal foods. It is important to follow our diet for pregnant mothers in its entirety, not just selected parts of it.”
Just as deficiency of some things can be dangerous during pregnancy, consumption or contact with other things can be harmful to a developing baby. In general, these are things to avoid during pregnancy (not a complete list… do your own research):
- Artificial sweeteners
- MSG or chemical additives
- Diet Sodas or foods
- Vegetable Oils and trans fats
- Any herbs, drugs or medicines without approval from your midwife or doctor
- BPA and plastic containers
- aluminum in antiperspirants (make your own)
- high fructose corn syrup
- sugars or sweeteners
- artificial dyes or colors in food
- chemicals in laundry detergent, personal care products and household cleaners
Pregnancy is not the time to skimp on brain-building fats! From this article:
“Fat intake is vital to healthy fertility. Instead of worrying about how much fat we eat, we need to be concerned with the types of fats we eat. We need a certain amount of saturated fats to produce cholesterol. Cholesterol is needed for formation of healthy cell membranes and is a precursor to all steroid hormones (progesterone, estrogen, FSH, ect). We cannot have proper hormonal balance without adequate amounts of saturated fats. We cannot conceive a child or have a healthy pregnancy without proper hormonal balance.”
“Lauric acid is a rare medium-chain fatty acid found in human breast milk that supports healthy metabolism and is now being studied for its antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial health-protecting properties. Coconut oil contains lauric acid as well, which is extremely rare for a plant! Some researchers predict that lauric acid will become as well known in health circles asOmega-3 is today.”
During pregnancy, the body needs enough beneficial fats to assist in proper hormone function and for baby’s developing brain:
“Lauric acid found in coconut oil and breast milk has been found to have antiviral, antibacterial and parasiticidal (kills parasites) properties that support proper immune function. This may help to protect your and your baby’s health in pregnancy. The benefits of lauric acid continues on during lactation, as those benefits are directly passed to your baby through your breast milk. Breast milk is comprised of about 20% lauric and capric acid, these help to protect your baby from illness.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study showing that lactating mothers who eat a diet rich in coconut oil and other coconut products, to have significantly increased levels of lauric acid and capric acid in their breast milk. Results of the study showed that, “A single meal of coconut oil can significantly affect the breast milk fatty acid compositions for 1 to 3 days, with the maximum increase occurring during the first 10 hours.” This study proves that foods we eat greatly impact the health of our babies, which includes foods that have a positive effect. It sounds like coconut oil really helps to make rich breast milk!”
Healthy Fats During Pregnancy/Nursing:
- Coconut Oil
- Fermented Cod Liver Oil/Butter Blend
- Grass fed Butter
- Grass fed Meats
- Grass fed Tallow
- Pastured Lard
- Wild Caught Fish
- Olive Oil (not for heating)
- Free range Eggs
- Fatty/Oily fish like sardines/anchovies
- Organic, Full-Fat Dairy (especially fermented like yogurt and kefir)
Fats to Avoid During Pregnancy/Nursing
- Vegetable Oils (canola, vegetable, peanut, sunflower, etc)
- Trans fats
- Hydrogenated fats
- Any chemically created fats/oils
Importance of Gut Bacteria
Probiotics are critical, especially during pregnancy. Babies are born with a completely sterile gut and they culture their beneficial gut bacteria from what the receive from mom when passing through the birth canal and from nursing in the months afterward. Quality probiotics (I take these) help ensure that baby will get a good dose of beneficial bacteria, which can reduce risk of ear infection and illness in the first few years.
Good gut health also has a tremendous impact on lifelong health, and this is one of the most important things you can do for your baby’s health. Probiotics also help mom avoid illness and constipation during pregnancy, and might reduce the risk of Group B strep. Since baby’s gut bacteria continues to culture during the nursing time, it is good for mom to continue to take probiotics during this time as well.
Sample Day of Meals
Breakfast: 2 egg and vegetable omelet cooked in grassfed butter or pastured lard (for Vitamin D) with Fermented Cod Liver Oil Supplements, probiotics and raw milk
Snack: Healthy fat smoothie with milk/coconut milk, berries, 2 pastured egg yolks, coconut oil, grassfed butter and vanilla
Lunch: Large salad with choice or protein (chicken, beef, wild caught fist, etc), glass of Kombucha, spoonful of sauerkraut
Afternoon Snack (optional): Piece of fruit or fresh veggies with homemade guacamole.
Dinner: Homemade soup or cooked meat/fish with vegetables. Examples: Baked salmon and asparagus with hollandaise sauce, grassfed beef burger with sweet potato, Chicken Kiev with sautéed spring veggies.
Supplements For Healthy Pregnancy
Supplement needs can vary by woman, and all supplements should be approved by a doctor or midwife to ensure safety during pregnancy. In general, pregnant women have higher nutrient needs and often supplements are the only way to get adequate nutrients.
These basic supplements are ones that are often beneficial during pregnancy:
- Probiotics: Best obtained from high quality supplements, fermented foods, and beverages like water kefir and kombucha. Since a baby is born with a sterile gut and then has his or her gut bacteria begin to develop based on the beneficial (or not) gut flora of the mother this is an important factor! Adequate probiotics can also help reduce the risk of Group B strep, and have even helped get rid of Group B strep before delivery when probiotic supplements or organic plain yogurt are used vaginally.
- Omega-3s, DHA, RHA- Adequate good fats are absolutely essential for baby’s development and it is difficult to get enough from diet. Supplementing high quality sources of these fats can help reduce risk of complications and give baby the necessary nutrients for good development. I get mine from Fermented Cod Liver Oil.
- Vitamin D- This article reports that “Compared to women who took 400 IU of vitamin D daily, those who took 4,000 IU were half as likely to develop gestational diabetes, pregnancy-related high blood pressure, or preeclampsia, Wagner says. They were also less likely to give birth prematurely.” Vitamin D needs vary, but many doctors are now suggesting at least 4,000 IU and up to 10,000 IU a day. This can also be obtained from Fermented Cod Liver Oil.
- Folate- Well known for its preventative effects against spina bifida and other developmental struggles, folate is another important supplement. The current recommendation is 400 micrograms, though many doctors recommend 2,000 micrograms or more for optimal development, and folate is water soluble and difficult to overdose.
- Iron- Anemia can cause serious complications during delivery, and is easy to prevent. If blood tests show that iron levels are low, iron supplements may be necessary, but things like cooking with cast iron pans, eating red meat/ grass fed liver and eating a variety of fats and vegetables can help optimize iron levels. I personally much prefer to get this from food rather than supplements.
- Magnesium- I take magnesium all the time, but it is especially beneficial in pregnancy. Severe magnesium deficiency can lead to poor fetal growth, preeclampsia or even fetal death. Proper magnesium levels also help mom’s tissue growth and recovery during pregnancy and may help baby receive more nutrition through the placenta. It is very difficult to get enough magnesium from food sources anymore, so I typically recommend magnesium oil on the skin, Natural Calmin the evening before bed, or an ionic supplement. In total, a pregnant woman shouldn’t exceed 500 mg from all sources unless severely deficient.
- Coconut Oil- During pregnancy and nursing, I take 1/4 to 1/2 cup coconut oil in smoothies or tea daily as s supplement in addition to cooking with it. It is naturally immune boosting, supportive of baby’s brain development, and contains many of the components of breast milk to support nursing as well.
Herbs During Pregnancy
Consult with a qualified herbalist, midwife or doctor before taking any herbs during pregnancy! This chart gives a basic breakdown of herbs that are helpful, and ones that should be avoided.
If your doctor or midwife approves, some herbs can be very beneficial during pregnancy. My favorite is to make a strong tea that I drink throughout pregnancy using the following herbs:
- Red Raspberry Leaf (4 parts)
- Nettle Leaf (1 part)
- Alfalfa Leaf (1 part)
- Peppermint (1 part or less)- optional
I blend these dried herbs and make a strong tea by putting 3/4 cup or more in a large glass jar and filling with boiling water and letting sit overnight. I strain, and keep iced in the fridge.
Red Raspberry Leaf: it is an all-around excellent herb to use for pregnancy. It is a uterine tonic, anti-abortive, and helps prevent infection. Aids in preventing cramps and anemia. Prevents excessive bleeding during and after labor and will facilitate the birth process by stimulating contractions.
Peppermint: after the first trimester, may be used to help digestion, soothe the stomach and overcome nausea. It is an all-over body strengthener and cleanser.
Can will guard against excessive bleeding as they have vitamin K; will improve kidney function and help prevent hemorrhoids.
Deep Nutrition by Dr. Catherine Shanahan (must read for TTC or pregnant parents)
Beautiful Babies by Kristin Michaelis
Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Natasha Campbell-McBride
Healing Our Children by Ramiel Nagel
The Magnesium Miracle by Dr. Carolyn Dean
The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Child Care by Sally Fallon Morell
Cesarean Delivery May Affect Early Biodiversity of Gut Bacteria J. Nutr. September 2008 vol. 138 no. 9 1796S-1800S