Optimal Pregnancy Nutrition

I originally wrote this article as a guest post for my friend Todd’s blog.  Here’s an updated version for my readers!

What to eat?

Eating a nutrient dense, high fat, moderate protein diet while your baby is growing will give your baby all the building blocks they need to create healthy, strong neural connections and a resilient body.  You will benefit from better sleep, more energy, less nausea and a body that bounces back quickly!

Eating a variety of whole foods, preferably from organic/free-range/grass-fed/wild-caught sources will minimize pesticide, antibiotic and synthetic hormone exposure to your baby, so that they can grow up with a strong immune system, normal hormonal profile and good fertility.

Adding judicious sunbathing, bone broth, gelatin and organ meats from free-range animals and wild caught seafood will provide essential micronutrients that are often missing in the Standard America Diet (aka SAD) and ensure that your babe has strong bones and teeth.

What to avoid?

Avoiding transfats and vegetable oils as well as gluten grains like wheat, rye and barley (if sensitive) will help decrease inflammation. Reducing sugar intake by avoiding processed food will decrease bloating, avoid excessive weight gain, help prevent gestational diabetes and candida/yeast infections.

How much fat should I eat?

In general, I avoid recommending specific numbers, since I trust that women who listen to their bodies will know what they need.  Of course, some women can use a few guidelines to help them transition from a conventional diet.

Eating 50-70% fat is great!  Just make sure it is predominantly healthy fat from free-range animals, wild-caught fish and full-fat grassfed dairy.  If you must eat conventional meat then get most of your fat from pastured butter and cream and/or coconut oil and eat lean cuts of meat.  Avocados are great, too.  Minimize nuts to avoid excess poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs.)

How much protein do I need?

I suggest aiming for 15-20% of your calories from protein–but not stressing if you have some low protein days and then want to eat nothing but meat or eggs for awhile.  The big picture is more important than adhering to a specific daily amount.  Stressing about your diet is not helpful for momma or baby!  Remember that grass-fed/finished ruminants and wild-caught salmon will have the best Omega 3 profile–really important for baby’s brain growth and your hormonal balance.

Some moms I have worked with ended up eating a slightly lower protein diet for their first trimester, but they more than made up for it in the latter stages of their pregnancy.   Our bodies will accommodate quite a range of food sources/availability and still ensure that our babies get what they need.  Making sure you are eating adequate protein and exercising gently ensures that you don’t lose muscle mass during pregnancy.

What supplements should I take?

If you are very careful in sourcing your food, get lots of sun and eat a 100% whole foods diet, you may choose to take no supplements at all.  That said, few of us are perfect and sometimes we can find it challenging to eat the very best food, so here are my recommendations, just in case!

Omega 3:  I recommend 1000 mg/day of Neptune Krill Oil for the best mercury-free Omega 3 source.  Essential for the production of prostagladins; Omega 3 essential fatty acids have been linked to reductions in pre-term birth, pre-eclampsia, as well as post-partum depression.  They are required for baby’s healthy brain development.

Vitamin DDeficiency is widespread and I recommend to all of my pregnant clients that they get their Vitamin D levels tested right away and if they suspect a deficiency, that they start supplementing  4,000 IUs of oil-based D3 immediately and/or increase their sun exposure (depending on their latitude.)  Sufficient Vitamin D has been shown to reduce the chance of pre-term labor, decrease the incidence of pre-eclampsia, prevent rickets and is essential in creating a healthy immune system and healthy teeth.

Magnesium:  Many women are deficient in magnesium and it can be difficult to get it from food sources since it is very depleted in many places in the world.  I suggest 400-600 mg from Magnesium Citrate (if tolerated) or Magnesium oil applied to the skin.  Appolinaris is a great high magnesium mineral water.  Magnesium is great for preventing constipation and essential for optimum Vitamin D utilization and calcium absorption.

Folic Acid:  Current recommendations are to take 400 mcg of folic acid daily before pregnancy and 600 mcg during pregnancy to avoid neural tube defects like spina bifida.  Most women eating a varied whole foods diet including liver can easily meet or exceed this amount, but because it is so cheap and readily available, I suggest supplementing it for peace of mind.

Calcium, Vitamin K:  Most women can get these from their whole foods diet.  However, if you are dairy-free, hate leafy greens and are avoiding organ meats and seafood, then you may want to supplement 500 mg of Calcium Citrate and 90 mcg of Vitamin K.

Iron:  If you are eating plenty of red meat, some liver and/or dark leafy greens regularly then you are less likely to be deficient.  If you test low, then supplementation with chlorophyll or Floradix/Floravital works for most women and avoids the constipation caused by standard pre-natal iron supplements.

Vitamin A:  If you are eating plenty of eggs, dairy, weekly liver, and occasional fish then it’s very likely you are sufficient.  In my opinion, it’s not necessary to supplement for most women who eat a whole foods diet..  We didn’t evolve eating huge amounts of cod liver oil.  However, the Weston A. Price foundation has a different opinion.  In the end, it is up to you to do your own research and decide what’s best for you and your baby.

What about morning sickness?

Some women experience NO nausea at all.  Often, keeping some food in your stomach most of the time is all that’s needed to prevent nausea.  More tips here.

A few moms cannot stomach meat or eggs early in pregnancy and may find their body is craving carbohydrates.  Carbs such as sweet or white potato mashed with butter  (if tolerated) are great alternatives instead of adding gluten grains back in.

If you must add grains, then white rice is a great gluten-free alternative.  Many moms seem to crave creamy foods during their first trimester, so rice or tapioca pudding (a low sugar version) and/or cottage cheese can be helpful to have around.

Sufficient Vitamin B6 has been shown to reduce morning sickness.

EFT is also a powerful tool for eliminating morning sickness.

How much weight do I need to gain?

This can be a loaded subject.  The current Institute of Medicine recommendation is to gain 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy if already at a normal weight and 15-25 pounds if overweight.  However, the recommendation was recently changed–so that tells me that the science may not be settled in this area.

If you aren’t carrying excess water weight from eating excess carbohydrates, then it makes sense to me that you may not need to gain quite as much as is recommended by medical authorities.  This matches some anecdotes I have read from moms eating a lower carb, whole foods diet.  Trust how you feel and how your baby is growing, over the scale.  If you are eating nutrient-dense foods and keeping your carbs under 150 gm/day, then it is unlikely that you will over- or under-eat.

What about stretch marks?

Skin health and elasticity/integrity are a direct function of diet.   Make sure you are getting sufficient (but not excessive) Vitamin A, zinc, and antioxidants.  Gain pregnancy weight slowly.  Drink plenty of water.

What about exercise?

For those new to exercise, I recommend the Primal Blueprint Fitness program (free pdf here.)  It’s well-rounded, easily adaptable and sustainable after your child is born.

Walking is fabulous for pregnant women.  And if you have a favorite activity pre-pregnancy, it’s likely fine to continue it as long as you track your energy levels.  You may decide to forgo sky-diving for awhile, though!

Any other suggestions?

Get as much sleep as possible.  Drink plenty of water and take naps, if needed.  Move slowly/often and spend time in Nature.  Nurture yourself with whatever helps you to feel relaxed and happy.  Focus on the positive and surround yourself with a loving tribe.

Remember that you are feeding your baby with more than just food–they are experiencing your emotions throughout your pregnancy–a happy momma = a happy baby.  Occasional stress is not a problem, though–babies are resilient!

These are my general recommendations–and since we are all unique, not all my suggestions here will work for everyone.  If you would like some Pregnancy Nutrition coaching tailored to YOU, please feel free to contact me!

7 Responses to “Optimal Pregnancy Nutrition”

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  1. Katie Reeves says:

    Excellent post Sondra!

  2. MommaMel says:

    Thanks for sharing this link with me… any suggestions on foods/snacks to take with me to the hospital? I plan to eat/drink very lightly during labor (if I can tolerate foods) and then want to be prepared for post delivery with my own foods so that I don’t fall off the wagon (4 weeks strictly paleo) with crappy cafeteria food. I appreciate any help/advice. Baby girl is almost 10 days past due and the doc is “threatening” induction… doing everything I can to bring on labor naturally!

    • Sondra Rose says:

      Hi MommaMel~

      Fill a small cooler with your favorite snacks–and a few for your birth partner, too!

      Cheese (if you eat dairy), Fruit juice/yoghurt home-made popsicles or smoothies, nuts, slices of an egg/potato frittata, hard-boiled eggs, beef jerky, etc. Think hand-held picnic foods. Make sure to stay hydrated! Watered-down fruit juice or honey/lemon water can be good for this.

      Post-delivery, have a friend bring over casserole dishes that they can heat for you & are ready to eat. Check out my resources page for some recipe sites. Veggies & fruit, too. Along with some gluten-free cake to celebrate!

      Here’s an article about “postdates” babies that may be helpful:

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  4. Amanda says:

    Great recommendations, thanks