Hey, guess what? I’m pregnant!
“No way! Congrats! I guess that means you won’t be drinking for awhile, right?”
Yeah, totally. I gotta give up my coffee habit and sushi too.
“Aw man, that sucks.”
If you’ve ever had a conversation like this, then you know exactly how it feels. Pregnancy is one of the few areas of life that comes with such an insane list of rules and those rules are always changing so with each pregnancy, you have to do a new Google search to make sure you aren’t doing anything wrong. The bulk of those rules end up focusing on food, eating, what not to eat, what not to drink and how much you should weigh at each check-up. All of this can be overwhelming and discouraging as well as confusing. On top of that, many of these rules fall into a grey area that a lot of women interoperate differently for themselves which can add to the confusion.
In the end, what should a somewhat sane, hungry, modern-day pregnant woman do?
Apply Some Common Sense
This might sound like a no brainer but surprisingly, there are a large number of people who could really use some common sense sprinkled abundantly in their lives. Teenagers, for example. When food shopping, all we really need to do is ask ourselves, “Can my stomach handle this today?” Morning sickness is a beast for many women and managing to eat anything is a huge hurdle—let alone worrying about the fact that we ate crackers for breakfast.
We wouldn’t eat three-day-old lunchmeat sitting on the counter for hours, we wouldn’t eat raw meat or fish that smelled funky and we wouldn’t eat that blue fuzzy bread or mushy peach. We already know we’re supposed to eat healthily so when we have a sandwich, we’ll put extra tomatoes and have water instead of a soda and call it a meal. Scary Mommy says,
“I won’t punish myself for having a sandwich and some chips if it’s the only thing my stomach accepts.”
When we are pregnant, there are different rules to love by. Usually, we are told to ignore our cravings. During pregnancy, the new rule (as of now because it’s a good one) is to listen to those cravings. Women’s Health says, “Whatever you’re longing for, it may be your body’s way of letting you know you’re missing valuable nutrients.”
To give an example, let’s say you are craving chocolate. This can indict that you are low in magnesium. A lack of magnesium can cause painful muscle cramps which are a common occurrence in pregnant women. Try an experiment the next time you are craving chocolate and reach for dark chocolate, leafy greens or a nice refreshing glass or two of almond milk (all of which have magnesium) and see if your cravings and muscle cramps go down in frequency. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be a pro at interoperating your body’s messages in no time.
Cultural Pregnancy Rules
All across the world, the rules for a healthy pregnancy vary from country to country. Some of these countries look at America’s rules and laugh while others could benefit from some of our rules. At any rate, if you’re stuck in an argument with someone over sushi, it might be comforting to know that women in Japan eat it all the time while pregnant and so far, they haven’t had any problems. The New York Times says,
“Indeed, in Japan, eating raw fish is considered part of good neonatal nutrition. The Japanese government is fanatical about public health, and Japanese medical scientists are among the best in the world.”
This doesn’t mean we need to go out and buy a ton of sushi—especially if we’ve never had it before or we know we have a history of queasy stomachs around undercooked food. The common sense rule applies here. It just means that if we want to celebrate our anniversary in the middle of the pregnancy with something special, we should feel free to do so.
The Process Of Processed Foods
One of the factors we should consider when purchasing food is the process it undergoes to become food. For example, lunchmeat is previously cooked and then kept chilled. Because it was already cooked some time ago, it has an increased chance of developing listeria which is why the doctors say to avoid it or heat it to steaming. When we consider how processed some of our favorite foods are and what exactly that process entails, we might rethink some of our food choices on our own or have them on occasion instead of regularly.
According to Medium, “In practical terms, the answer is simple: Eat real food. Banish as much processed food as you can from your kitchen. Learn to cook delicious meals from real ingredients, not those found in a package or box.” In the UK, they simply want the sushi to be frozen once before you eat it. Not a bad process, just different than our process.
Balance And Moderation
A good rule for any eating type is balance and moderation with a splash of variety thrown in. This rule is especially true for pregnant women. We can’t all live off of kale salad and we really shouldn’t since kale salad won’t supply all of our dietary needs required to make a healthy baby. Some of us follow the 80/20 rule (80 percent healthy food, 20 percent junk or unhealthy food), while others just make sure to replace the chips with fresh veggies every other day and move on. Everyone’s balance and moderation diet will look different because it is tailored to our body’s individual needs. Some of us will need a higher red meat count while others will need more citrus fruits. This is where knowing our body’s needs come in handy. As Nestle says,
“There is no one food that can give you all nutrients that your body needs. Thus, three important keys to healthy eating are: Variety, Balance and Moderation.”
All of this information and new rules can be summarized thusly: know how your food is made (from farm to plate), take your cues from your body’s needs, apply common sense to eating safe foods during pregnancy and remember to balance your choices with moderation and variety. This should bring you to what I like to call the Build-A-Baby Diet. This is a pregnancy-exclusive diet and can be tailored for everyone’s individual tastes and nutritional needs.
For the most part, this diet consists of the type of foods you’d eat to build a body—lots of protein, Omega 3s, vitamins and minerals. It also helps to break down the meals into six or more mini meals a day, eating to hunger and washing it all down with a gallon of water a day (16 8-ounce cups). Calorie-dense foods are your friends and smoothies are excellent for smuggling in extra nutritional goodies. It is also important to practice basic food safety rules like washing your hands and not letting raw meat and veggies touch the same cutting board.
Rule One: Fresh Veggies
If you have morning sickness then you know that it is a challenge to get from one meal to another. On top of trying to keep the last meal down, you are also worrying about getting the right nutrients for baby. Firstly, the first trimester is very forgiving on the dietary requirements; we aren’t at the stage where baby is packing on the ounces getting ready to be born so we don’t need to start eating extras at each meal.
Secondly, fresh fruits and vegetables are your best friend. Sometimes all you need to do is buy a veggie tray and feast on some ranch-dipped carrots and celery. Vegetables are easy to digest and won’t overly upset your sensitive stomach. Plus they are excellent sources of all the vitamins and minerals we should be eating anyways. Add in some fruit and we’re golden.
Rule Two: Smoothies Galore
If eating those raw fruits and veggies isn’t very appealing, you can try a different tactic. Rule number two is all about the smoothies. Take your favorite fruits and veggies (and maybe one or two you don’t necessarily reach for first, like spinach or cucumber) and blend it all up with some ice cubes or Greek yogurt and enjoy guilt-free. You can have smoothies for every meal and mix them up to keep the rule of Variety flowing smoothly. For an added boost, throw in some hemp protein powder and milk (cow or almond, whichever you prefer).
Moms with summer babies will especially enjoy a nice cold fruit smoothie as the due date approaches and ice cream just isn’t cutting it anymore. Of course, you still can’t add any rum to the smoothie but next summer, you will rock the alcoholic drink world with all your smoothie-making practice!
Rule Three: Nuts Vs. Crackers
A lot of women will say that their meals consisted of ginger ale and saltine crackers for the first three months of their pregnancies. This is a horror story meant to make you rethink having a baby—disregard it immediately. There is no real ginger in ginger ale (unless you’re buying some very expensive ginger ale) and there are no nutrients in saltine crackers.
Instead, reach for some ginger tea (yes, you can ice it and add sparkling water so it’s all bubbly) and a handful of almonds, walnuts, cashews, peanuts, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds. Whatever floats your boat and your stomach accepts. These choices will help you more than the ginger ale and saltine crackers ever will. If you absolutely need the crackers, at least top them with some smoked salmon or chicken spread or even a piece of salami so you get some baby-building protein.
Rule Four: Sources Of Protein
The majority of protein consumed by us is in the form of meat. There are vegan options like eggs, nuts, seeds and tofu but for the most part, when people think protein they think meat. And there is nothing wrong with that. Craving meat means your body needs protein to help grow the baby. So, order the steak dinner or add those extra meat toppings to the pizza. You are hungry, pregnant and need to eat enough to grow that tiny baby.
It is always a good idea to get grass-fed hormone-free beef when you can and free-range chicken rather than the poor caged ones. Eggs are a complete protein and make a yummy breakfast in a variety of ways. Peanut butter (or almond butter or Nutella if you’re desperate) sandwiches make a great snack or two at any time of the day. Lunchmeat is also protein but you’ll want to tread cautiously in this area; don’t let the nosy neighbor see you eating pastrami sandwiches or crackers topped with salami. You might as well practice eating foods in secret for when you have a toddler and don’t want to share.
Rule Five: Fishy Fish
Fish are an excellent course of protein and Omega 3 fatty acids which are essential for baby’s brain development. A lot of this brain development occurs in the third trimester so now is a good time to take cod fish oil supplements. Or you could cook some tasty fresh salmon two to three times a week. Tuna is another great fish you can have along with some crab or shrimp. When fish shopping, it is best to look for fresh and wild caught rather than farm-raised.
If you do have to go with farm raised, try to find a reputable source without antibiotics and other nasty additives. Mercury levels are always a concern but more so during pregnancy which is why it is a good idea to limit shark, swordfish and other large sea creatures. This is where the balance and moderation rules come into play. It doesn’t take a lot of fish to jazz up a salad or spread on a cracker for a snack. If fish just isn’t your thing, swap it with something else that you do like which supplies the same nutrients—such as walnuts, Brussels sprouts, chia seeds and eggs.
Rule Six: Whole Grains
Most of us know that whole wheat is better than white. But whole wheat is chewy and not quite as tasty as the processed white flour we all love. Turns out, there is another kind of whole wheat known as white wheat. It is less chewy, tastes better and is still whole with all the nutrients and yummy minerals which we need.
While we’re out shopping for bread, we can also get whole oats for some overnight oats, whole flour to make pancakes and muffins with (add in some protein powder for an extra kick of nutrient dense nourishment) and some brown rice for dinner. Grains are super versatile and are very forgiving when we run out of ideas and just want a big bowl of pasta for dinner. When balanced with meat and vegetables, whole grains provide a very tasty meal. We can also experiment and try other things like quinoa, spelt and barley.
Rule Seven: Sweets
Pregnancy is full of food cravings and aversions. Some of these cravings can swing intently to one side of salty or sweet—to the point where there are old wives’ tales of predicting baby’s gender based on what mom is craving for lunch. Salty protein foods for a boy and sweet fruity foods for a girl.
All fun and games aside, we already know that cravings can indict a need for a mineral or vitamin associated with that food. For example, we might crave sugar when what we really need is an orange or some strawberries for vitamin c. And we might be downing all the ice cream and yogurt we can find because we need the calcium or vitamin d from the milk. We should reach for some fruit options first before the cake and cookies but we should also cut ourselves some slack. After all, it is a lot of work to build a baby and we deserve some dark chocolate cake at 3am.
Rule Eight: Time For A Drink
The hard and fast rule for drinking during pregnancy is to not drink during pregnancy. New studies are beginning to emerge that suggest light drinking might be okay. The definition of light drinking often varies from person to person but for one study, it was listed as one to four drinks a week. Others will say the equivalent of a glass of wine twice a week. Harvard Health says,
“In tests of selective and sustained attention, children of mothers who engaged in low or moderate drinking during pregnancy had essentially the same scores as children whose mothers abstained from alcohol.”
If we do decide to opt for a drink, when should we risk it? During the first trimester, all of baby’s important nervous and spinal systems are being built and our hormones have us turned off from alcohol and caffeine in general. The third trimester is all about the lungs and organs. In the third trimester, baby’s brain is doing a lot of developing. Out of the three, midwives in favor of such say the best time to have that rare glass of wine is when there are contractions. If the contractions are early, the wine may help the uterus relax and stop the contractions. If it’s go-time, the wine can help us stay calm as we make the nerve-racking drive to the hospital at 3am in a snowstorm.