The Importance of Prenatal Nutrition
I recently counseled a woman who wrote to me. She was worried because her baby was not growing adequately and the doctors were discussing possibly inducing her labor early as a result of the baby not gaining enough weight. The woman was seeing a specialist and many different types of tests had been done, with no conclusive results. She was obviously very concerned. After much discussion about her situation, I proceeded to ask about her lifestyle. I don’t know her personally, have never even met her, and so I had nothing to go on. She said she was mostly at home with a number of children. When I asked her about her diet and eating habits, she finally replied that she was really struggling with eating much of anything, and had been for a while. She reported that in a day, she probably eats the equivalent of one single meal. When I learned this, the story made a lot more sense, and I was able to guide her a bit and help her to understand the importance of prenatal nutrition.
What surprised me about this specific situation was the fact that despite the high level care and multiple tests she had been getting, none of her care providers had made a point of asking her about how much and what she was eating. It seemed like the connection between nutritional intake and fetal growth had been totally disregarded; left out of her prenatal care and instruction altogether. So unfortunate for her, and so unfortunate for so many others who are just trying to do their best and are not getting the information they need to grow the healthiest babies possible.
What should a woman be eating in her pregnancy? There are different schools of thought, but I give my clients balanced guidelines which are easy to follow and take their individual preferences into account. I recommend that every woman eat three meals a day and two snacks. I recommend that each meal have a centerpiece of protein, with complex carbohydrates and some veggies accompanying that if possible. If she feels she lacks room to really each much at any one time, I advise her to concentrate on consuming protein-rich foods, and trying to eat every two hours throughout the day. This will allow her to get the needed calories and nutrients necessary for building a healthy baby. Overall, most midwives recommend eating at least 60 grams of protein per day. Its more ideal if the woman can manage a protein intake of closer to 80 grams of protein on average. Foods high in protein are meat, poultry, fish, nuts and seeds, eggs, a combination of beans and grain, quinoa, and different forms of dairy foods. A smoothie with protein powder can also be a wonderful way to get a high protein snack
I work with many women who have special diets. In pregnancy, most special diets can be maintained if the woman is willing to be diligent and put a lot of thought into her nutrition, and secondly, if she is willing to truly listen to her body and modify her diet if her body requires her to. For example, if a woman begins her pregnancy eating mostly raw foods, she may continue. Getting enough protein may be very challenging for her and she will have to work hard at it. If at any point, her body shows signs of needing more cooked foods, a willingness to make the changes could possibly help her avoid problems with her health or the health of the baby. Vegetarian, vegan (no animal products at all), gluten-free, raw, no sugar, and no dairy are a few kinds of common special diets that many people follow.
A very useful tool for keeping track of what you are eating in pregnancy is a simple diet diary. In my practice, I give each woman a form with a weeks’ worth of days on it. She will fill in the blank copy and bring it back. We read it together and discuss her eating habits. I make suggestions if necessary, and encourage her along. Eating well is hard work, takes time and conscious thought. Any pregnant woman can benefit from keeping track of her diet. Even for a few days, just to get an idea of what she’s putting into her body. Count up the grams of protein. How many meals? What is she lacking? What is she eating too much of? Is she skipping meals and then making up for it with tons of carbs? Is she drinking enough water? Drinking plenty of water ensures better digestion and the body can assimilate the nutrients more effectively.
As you can see, Midwives put a lot of stock in good nutrition. Midwifery care is a lot about prevention. We know that a good diet can help prevent major problems for mother and major problems for baby. Simply put, a well-nourished woman is giving herself and her baby an important gift; the ingredients for growing a healthy human.