It is generally accepted that women require a higher caloric intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding that at any other time. During the first 8 weeks or so many women report feeling incredibly fatigued. I know that during each pregnancy my need for sound sleep increased significantly during this period. Think about what is happening at this time. The body is not only beginning to adjust to housing and nourishing this new little being, the being itself is utilizing some major energy as it explodes in growth from a single fertilized egg to a complex embryo. The placenta which grew from this blastocyst or same group of cells as your baby, has now plugged into the motherboard, ie: you, in order to begin the ‘download’ of nutriment and sustenance it will need to nurture the growing child. Did I mention that a LOT of energy is being used here.
However, it isn’t enough for me to just tell you to consume more calories at this point. There are a few factors that one must take into consideration. First of all, many women lose their appetite during the first trimester. This may be due to the fatigue, or it may more commonly have to do with morning sickness. As the pregnancy progresses, it will also have a lot to do with the impingement on the digestive organs by the growing baby.
Let’s begin at the beginning however. As I am writing this from the perspective of encouraging you to pursue the most optimal diet & lifestyle ever during your pregnancy I will offer some interesting insights as well as practical tips for overcoming this potential problem of malnourishment.
As a side note, a high protein diet is often recommended during pregnancy (particularly if there is a propensity to pre-eclampsia, which in itself is more a condition of poor lifestyle choices. I am yet to meet an optimal-weight vegan who has had pre-eclampsia, high blood pressure, or GD). Please be aware that with an increase in calorie intake, there will automatically be an increase in protein (and other nutrients) without having to necessarily focus in on ‘protein foods’. An excess of protein will cause its own set of problems while also contributing to others.
As your body becomes acquainted with its new responsibility, fatigue in the beginning can be expected. Excessive fatigue should not. The best prevention of this is to adopt a high energy LFRV diet and NH lifestyle before conceiving. If it is proving impossible to turn back the clock there is no harm in starting now if approached wisely. Stimulating foods such as caffeine and heavy spices, alcohol and excess fats, and animal products can also contribute to the fatigue by putting undue stress on the organs of detoxification (our liver and kidneys). Your body really needs to be able to use these organs efficiently during this time as it gets used to the new hormone load to maintain the pregnancy. Eliminate these foods and supply your body with the cleanest, most efficient fuel source available –fruits and vegetables. Fluid intake will also be very important here. In the beginning you will notice that you urinate a lot. This again is your body adjusting to the new hormones. Drinking at least 2 litres/day may see you visiting the rest room more than you would like but your kidneys will love you.
I believe that your body also uses fatigue as a sign to give yourself permission to rest. The journey you are embarking on is a mammoth growth period. Not just for your wee babe but also for yourself as a mother.
The next problem that often impedes on a woman’s appetite in the first trimester is morning sickness, and for some unfortunate women this continues into hyperemesis (a pathological form of morning sickness that can last the entire pregnancy and runs the risk of severe dehydration). Again, I believe that morning sickness has much to do with the condition of our body before we conceive as well as how our body copes with the transition to being pregnant. It is important at this point to realise that pregnancy is not a pathological condition. It is a normal physiological process and state of being that the female body actually has a blue print for, even if you have never been pregnant before. Your body in its innate self-healing wisdom will not act to expel the embryo instead it will act to expel any toxaemia that may threaten the health and sustainability of the embryo. I believe that nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy (and in late pregnancy) are simply signs of toxaemia.
Let me explain further. We know that from a Natural Hygiene (NH) perspective toxaemia refers to the accumulation of toxic waste in our body’s cells. While we produce metabolic waste all the time and have pathways and mechanisms in place to dispose of this, toxaemia is a pathological accumulation that gives rise to the body initiating a healing response (often what is termed dis-ease). One of the pathways of elimination is through the detoxification mechanisms of our liver. When we produce hormones in our body they fulfil their role and they go to the liver to become ‘conjugated’. Basically this means that through various metabolic processes they become inactivated until they can be excreted from the body. If the liver is under a lot of strain then it will have a hard time conjugating (or inactivating) these hormones. This means that they can become free, usually are stored in fat tissue and continue to operate in the body contributing to an overall hormone imbalance. In a non child-bearing woman her body may manifest issues with her menstrual cycle, fibroids, cysts, breast issues and other hormone-related conditions. Now that we can see this mechanism in place we can accurately theorize that the root cause of morning sickness is toxaemia. Again, by removing stimulants as discussed above from our life beforehand and during, we may prevent events such as morning sickness and hyperemesis occurring. Keep in mind that stress also has a detrimental effect on the liver.
At this point I would also like to explore fasting and fats with you. Let’s start with fasting. If you are familiar with Natural Hygiene then you will most likely be familiar with the practice of therapeutic fasting. I have spoken of it extensively in my book SolFood: A Recipe for Living Simply & Living Well. Fasting is basically about giving the body the space it needs to rest (physically, physiologically, emotionally and sensory) and restore its ‘factory settings’. By consuming water only and completely resting for a given period of time, we allow our body to begin ‘cleaning house’ and self-healing. If we are in a place where we can plan our child’s conception and embark on a Hygienic pre-conception program of implementing an optimal lifestyle, it may be wise to consider a fast, particularly if you have hormonal issues or a history of health-related problems or have used drugs or stimulants of any sort. If you find yourself pregnant and are experiencing nausea and/or vomiting you can also fast safely at this time. In Dr Herbert Shelton’s book, Fasting can save your life, he talks of pregnant women fasting;
“In ordinary cases of morning sickness three to four days of fasting are sufficient to restore comfort and enable the woman to eat without distress.”
Previously, in the same chapter he states;
“She should go to bed and keep warm. She should throw off any fears she may have and poise her mind. No drugs should be taken.
..A period of light feeding of fruits and uncooked vegetables should follow the fast for a few days before the normal diet is resumed.” [The normal diet being the necessary caloric requirement of LFRV]
Again, please keep in mind that therapeutic fasting in this case ALWAYS includes adequate consumption of water. I encourage you to access a copy of Dr Shelton’s wonderful little book for further information. In his long experience he advises that any fast longer than ten days would begin to harm the baby.
In a similar vein I would like to discuss the role of fats in the pregnant and pre-pregnant diet. Typically, and from my own personal experience, a woman deficient in the most efficient (ie: carbohydrate) calories will begin to crave exceptionally fatty foods. Why? Fatty foods are a rich source of calories, albeit a rich source of empty calories (devoid of readily useable nutriment). As a side note it is very rare that a woman will say, crave dairy, for the ‘calcium’ content. This is nonsense because calcium does not occur in isolation. Dairy is a typical fat product. Our body is largely more concerned with consuming enough calories to survive (or maintain an embryo) than obtaining specific nutrients. Remember, the higher our calorie intake the more broad-spectrum nutrients we will be consuming anyway. Let’s re-visit for a moment our understanding of fats. Fats can either be overt (such as olives, avocado, nuts, durian, animal products, oils) or covert (ie: there is a percentage of fat within the food but not in excess of the other macro-nutrients, eg: Cos/Romaine lettuce is 4% fat). There are ‘good’ fats (plant fats, including essential fatty acids which are found abundantly in plants) and ‘bad fats’ (animal fats including cholesterol and trans-fatty acids). Regardless of these types however, one can have too much fat. Emeritus Professor T Colin Campbell author of the widely successful The China Study proved conclusively that a total fat intake of greater than 12% was hazardous to our health and lead to diabetes & heart disease, to name a few all too ‘normal’ disease states. For the sake of this discussion we might also add pre-eclampsia, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, acid reflux, morning sickness and hyperemesis. All of the women that I have worked with who have suffered from hyperemesis, pre-eclampsia, and gestational diabetes were sadly very overweight, had a history of fertility issues such as PCOS or other reproductive issues. They were also all sedentary, ate the Standard Western Diet that was heavy on animal products, salt, fatty foods, and fast foods, and had terribly compromised digestion. As a result of this, birth outcome was also affected for two of these women (out of a total of four) whereby caesarean sections were advised due to the deterioration of their condition. Sadly, all four women could have written a different, much more enjoyable story.
Toward the end of 2010, a small group of women on the Raw Natural Hygiene forum decided to embark on a 90-day overt-free challenge. We kept regular individual blogs journaling our experiences. It was noted that quite a number of us observed significant benefit to our menstrual cycles, in particular the length of the bleed, heaviness of flow as well as peripheral observations of pre-menstrual issues such as cramping, bloating, water retention, breast tenderness and mood stability. Often all of the PMS symptoms were completely alleviated. We noticed that if overt fats were resumed then symptoms would return. In one discussion pertaining to these observations, one of our esteemed members succinctly stated;
“Fats are processed by the liver and can clog the liver (fatty liver) thus creating a burden and the liver can't break down the cholesterol. Plus, eating fat makes you fat and your own fat cells create their own estrogen. Finally, fat creates an anaerobic condition in the colon and those types of bacteria give off wastes that mimic estrogens....thus all creating estrogen dominance.”
Now during pregnancy, particularly in the first trimester, we see a surge in progesterone and oestrogen (produced by the corpus luteum) and later hCGH –human chorionic gonadotropin hormone ( by the placenta) to help maintain the pregnancy (we see this in the post-ovulatory stage of the menstrual cycle in preparation for fertilization). After the third month, the placenta itself provides the oestrogen and progesterone needed to maintain the pregnancy. We also have on top of this the secretion of hCS – human chorionic somatomammotropin, to prepare the breasts to produce milk among other things. (This is a very brief summary of the play of hormones during pregnancy). We can therefore surmise that with this surge in hormone levels, any excess hormone that is already present in the body from overconsumption of fats etc will simply add to the toxic load that the body is trying to expel. By understanding the effect that excess fat (as well as stimulants, animal products, refined & processed foods) has on the body we can understand how conditions such as those seen during pregnancy can arise.
A period of going ‘overt-free’ may prove beneficial in the beginning or even beforehand if possible. Do remember that the more calories one consumes the more nutrient one consumes. Therefore there will be a more than adequate supply of the essential fatty acids from covert sources. A useful way of tracking this is with the software programme called CRON-O-METER. (It can be downloaded for free at http://spaz.ca/cronometer/)
You will find that as your belly blossoms you won’t be able to pack in a huge amount of fruit in one sitting. For this reason it is wise to ‘graze’ over the course of the day and have around 6 or so smaller meals of higher calorie fruits. To increase your intake of tender leafy greens, juicing or blended salads/soups can be a good option. Higher calorie fruits include dates, bananas, grapes, figs, papaya, mango, persimmons, pineapple, cherimoya (custard apple), mamey sapote, jakfruit, canistel, chocolate sapote, and fresh carob pods. If fats aren’t an issue for you feel free to include young coconut flesh and minimal amounts of the overt fruits such as avocado, durian as well as nuts and seeds. A mild fat food that is a nice addition to smoothies and puddings is chia seed. As you are becoming more aware of your body and in tune with its processes you will be able to guage which foods you are more comfortable with.
I would also like to add at this point that it not advisable to drastically alter your diet during pregnancy as detoxification symptoms can prove uncomfortable and possibly be harmful to the baby particularly in regard to what you may be storing in your tissue. Eliminating stimulants, animal products and processed foods such as those listed above is still advisable however it may be prudent to gradually adopt a low fat cooked vegan diet with a gradual build up of fruit than to radically change overnight.
Addendum (added by my friend Jack):
A cooked low fat vegan diet is a much easier transition for most as it allows for more concentrated foods (i.e. a lesser volume of food - many find this a blessing), more the kind of foods people are used to and has very clear health benefits as well. I would go as far as to say that a pregnant woman who has been eating more or less a SAD diet probably would be better off transitioning to a cooked low fat vegan diet than a raw low fat vegan one. Once she finds herself well transitioned to a LFCV diet, she might want to try to gradually increase her intake of raw fruits and greens while decreasing her intake of cooked starches, particularly grains.
The state of the mind is, perhaps more than ever, of importance during pregnancy. A depressed pregnant mother will affect her growing baby negatively, and a blissful mother will affect the baby positively. I'm not sure of the exact mechanisms at work, but there is clear evidence that stressed and maybe somewhat depressed mothers, especially if not having a blissful birth experience, often give birth to children who are 'too advanced' for their age; prepared 'for the worst', growing quickly, getting quickly ready to fence for themselves. Clearly some signals from the mother are telling the growing baby that there is a 'danger' (remember, stress, in an evolutionary sense, is a reaction to a very real danger such as a predator) and that the baby needs to grow up quickly. Again, I'm not sure how this happens but I know for a fact it does, and not only from my own observations but also through the experience of people like the very experienced Danish child psychologist Jesper Juul. He calls such children 'autonomous' (my daughter meets all the criteria).
I would therefore say that the state of the mind of the mother is of utmost importance. Foods affect the state of the mind and it is my experience that a quick switch to a LFRV food regime from a SAD'ish way of life may create emotional turbulence of quite some magnitude while at the same time requiring rigorous food practices and often entailing quite a bit of social challenges in a time when the mother-to-be is in perhaps her greatest ever need of support. This may or may not happen, it all depends on where the mother is coming from, what kind of support she receives etc. Being able to deal with stress is another area of great importance, whether by preemptive means (moving away, getting rid of people who cause stress, seeking others who support and soothe) or through various techniques (yoga, meditation, massage, EFT etc.) or a combination of these.
At the same time, eating a diet heavy in artificial stimulants, heavily cooked fats, salt and the like is also detrimental to both the mother and the baby. It would therefore be a good idea to seek food sources that are less damaging. I believe a cooked low fat vegan diet would allow most mothers to have meals they enjoy and can relatively easily cope with while greatly reducing the damaging effect of the foods they consume. A LFCV diet can therefore be a great stepping stone in the direction of a LFRV lifestyle for those who find LFRV too challenging, especially during pregnancy.
Finally I believe food quality is more important than ever during pregnancy. Every sense is heightened for a pregnant mother and they often find fruits less appealing than they might like. I believe a contributing reason is less than desirable food quality, especially if the fruits aren't organic and, above all, properly ripe. A pregnant mother would ideally be surrounded by juicy, ripe, organic, incredibly tasty fruits and berries of a great variety, the scents of the fruits increasing her appetite and thus contributing to her eating enough. I believe poor fruit quality is more of an issue during pregnancy than at any other time.