Yes, 35 weeks now and it’s flying by! I wanted to post a little about my experience so far through this bizarre and wonderful time. After working with women for years, tuning their food habits through the pre-conception, pregnancy and new-mum stages, and liking to think that I knew a fair bit about it all on the biochemical side, going through it first hand has taken my understanding to a whole new level. It’s kinda like: “Aaaaah, I get what they meant now!“
I’m very grateful that I wasn’t afflicted with harrowing morning sickness or the vomits. I only had 4 weeks during the first trimester of feeling a bit “off and icky” with food aversions that turned me right off the foods I normally devour happily. All of a sudden, bone broths, fruits, cheeses and even chocolate were not at all appealing. Day by day it was a challenge to fathom what might satisfy me (and on some days it was simply about getting energy in in almost any form!) The inner chatter (or should I say arguing) between the “nutritionist” and the “vulnerable pregnant woman” in me during that month was, well, interesting! But then like a flick of a switch at week 12, I was back to normal. Thank goodness. It was a fascinating lesson in the power of hormones and inspired me to dig deeper into the topic of “morning sickness” and other pregnancy nutrition considerations.
Morning Sickness - a.k.a. nausea during pregnancy. Generally related to estrogen dominance due to an inability to detoxify used estrogen in the liver, compounded by progesterone deficiency. This hormonal imbalance is already there pre-conception but symptoms are amplified when pregnant.
“X-ray studies have demonstrated that there are spasms of the small intestine (near the bile duct) associated with oestrogen-induced nausea.” - Ray Peat PhD
Supporting optimum liver function is imperative: adequate protein to assist the liver in storing glycogen and enable estrogen detoxification. Also, hypoglycaemia develops if the liver is over-burdened and malfunctioning. Pregnancy also facilitates faster Phase 1 detox, while inhibiting Phase 2 which can lead to late pregnancy toxaemia and exacerbate sensitivities. A raw carrot salad once or twice a day (see my post and recipe here) is a simple tool for keeping bowels clear and for reducing elevated estrogen and endotoxin.
Ideally, regulate blood-sugar and balance hormones before getting pregnant. Prioritise preconception nutrition if you’re not already pregnant.
Salt – Blood volume should increase when pregnant; if it doesn’t this also creates nausea. Salt is not only essential for helping to restore blood volume, but also for retaining magnesium and regulating blood sugar. Dr Tom Brewer showed that salt restriction during pregnancy (which is still recommended) contributed to hypertension and the development of preeclampsia, as well as decreased uterine blood flow, decreasing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the fetus. For me, I’ve kept my salt intake up (non-iodised) and I haven’t had a hint of fluid retention. Read more for yourself here.
Dairy and Vitamin A rich foods – for strengthening the immune system (which becomes suppressed in the mother through pregnancy) and converting steroid hormones. High quality dairy (ideally from pasture-raised ruminants) contains an abundance of this elusive vitamin, which together with Thyroid and cholesterol, kicks off the hormonal cascade to pregnenolone (the “mother” hormone) and progesterone. Liver is also a good source, but unlike milk, contains too much cysteine, which may inhibit the thyroid. Limit liver to no more than 80-150g once a week or fortnight and make sure it’s very fresh and from the cleanest source. I buy my livers fresh from GRUB or Feather & Bone.
Protein - The body requires a constant supply of complete protein (and that means animal protein) to repair and maintain body tissue, and your requirements are increased during pregnancy. If you consider that an adult woman’s protein needs are around 80-100g daily, when pregnant she’ll need more like 100-120g. This is not only important to fetal development but to supply the mother’s liver with adequate amino acids to properly function and detoxify hormones. Your best sources: dairy, eggs (from pasture-raised hens), white fish and shellfish (from clean sources), broth and gelatinous meats. Gelatin is excellent but not to be relied on as your primary protein source through pregnancy as it does not contain the amino acids required for growth. In cases of estrogen dominance, keep muscle meats to a minimum and focus on the (above listed) non-inflammatory proteins.
“Milk is one of the most important and cheapest sources we have available for high biological value proteins.” Dr Tom Brewer – Metabolic Toxaemia of Late Pregnancy
Calcium - Not only is high-quality milk (and its products) a brilliant source of Vitamin A and non-inflammatory protein during pregnancy, but it contains an ideal Calcium to Phosphorus ratio (slightly higher Ca than P). Note that the main role of the hormone Prolactin that is produced in pregnancy (and also during any stress interestingly enough) is to break down bone for the production of milk. So taking in adequate calcium-rich foods (not supplemental calcium) like milk and cheeses is paramount. I’ve been making my own ice creams, custards and cheesecakes, using milk, egg yolks, cream, cheeses, gelatin and flavouring with honey, fruits, vanilla etc. Easily digested and perfect pregnancy foods.
Non-complex carbohydrates – A woman needs a bare minimum of 200g of the right kinds of carbohydrates daily (balanced with her proteins and appropriate fats) in order to support the detoxification of estrogen, to convert thyroid hormone, and to keep stress hormones low … and a pregnant woman needs far more, especially if under additional stress. Fructose is the primary sugar involved in reproduction, in seminal fluid and intrauterine fluid. And the fetus thrives on it and it is essential for its growth. The predominance of fructose (rather than glucose) in the embryo’s environment helps to maintain energy in the low-oxygen environment (Jauniaux, et al., 2005). Your best sources: ripe fruits, OJ (I’m squeezing oranges like a machine!) and pure honey. Additionally, milk sugars are highly beneficial. For more on this, refer to my blog post here, and this article also.
Folic Acid is not Folate – ‘Folic Acid’ is commonly recommended before conception and during early pregnancy due to evidence of Folate’s protective role in minimising the risk of neural tube defects in newborns. But the supplemental form ‘folic acid’ is not the same as natural Folate found in foods, and is poorly absorbed. Further more, there are many studies showing a link between folic acid and increased cancer risk. See studies here and here, and for further reading, Chris Kresser wrote a good summary here. Obviously obtaining folate through the consumption of folate-rich foods is the best and healthiest way. The best food source being liver (from beef or lamb). If your dietary intake is inadequate, then supplement wisely with naturally occurring forms of folate. ‘Folinic Acid’ is the “active” folate found in foods. However for those with impaired methyl pathways (for folate conversion) we still may not assimilate it efficiently. ‘5-methyltetrahydrofolate’ (or 5-MTHF) may be even more metabolically active, bypassing the need for conjugation. If you must use a supplement, look for brands that contain either methyl folate and/or folinic acid. When choosing any supplement, always seek personalised advice and guidance from your doctor, fertility specialist, obstetrician or other health professional.
Hormone balance – The more I am taught about and research into endocrine physiology, the more I’m astounded by the importance of progesterone; of producing enough of it, and the degenerative effects of not. It works in see-saw with estrogen which for a lot of women these days, unopposed by insufficient progesterone, making them “estrogen-dominant”. Do your own reading to understand these hormones more (great books on the subject of female hormones by Dr Tom Brewer, Ray Peat, Broda Barnes, Mark Starr) but to put it very simply: Progesterone is the female fertility hormone (pro-gestation) while estrogen is the infertility hormone, if in excess. See research here, here and here, and further reading here. Not only is sufficient progesterone important in conception, but it also supports the survival and development of the embryo and fetus throughout pregnancy. Estrogen definitely has it’s role in pregnancy but if the ratio to progesterone in out, it can make pregnancy challenging. Addressing liver function (as mentioned previously: adequate protein and sugars, carrot salad for it’s support of liver clearance of used estrogen to prevent its reabsorption etc), keeping the bowels clear and supporting the thyroid all help to restore hormone balance. This really needs to be addressed on a case by case basis.
But honestly, the biggest thing I’ve learned from my real-life experiment so far is that even with all the best intentions to feed you and your “bump” perfectly, there will be times when your body struggles with the enormity of what’s going on within! So not to beat yourself up when you guzzle something not-so-nutritious. Take it day by day, eat small amounts frequently, nibble and sip, rest at every opportunity (I’m “stocking-up” on sleep-ins before the sleep deprivation to come!) and when you do feel well, eat as well as you can. And getting yourself into a healthy state prior to getting pregnant is obviously the ideal approach. Wish me luck!
To fine-tune your eating, specific to you, your particular health struggles and metabolic needs, contact me directly to enquire about a private consultation; locally in Melbourne or long-distance via Skype.
Disclaimer: My posts are not meant to be individualised treatment plans, protocols, etc. I share what I research and use, and that is it. They are meant to spark thought based on the normal anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, etc of the body. The information contained in this blog should not be used to treat or diagnose disease or health problems and is provided for your information only.