Pregnancy is a miraculous time in a women’s life. To be honest, I never truly understood the complexity that these nine months involved until becoming pregnant myself. It’s amazing that as women, we have the ability to grow a tiny human inside of our bodies and supply all of the nutrients needed both inside the womb and even after birth through breastfeeding. Sure, we may experience some negative side effects such as morning sickness and body compositional changes, but how could we expect anything less when conceiving and growing a human being? In this article, I want to share with you what I have incorporated and learned throughout this process to instill a positive pregnancy experience, natural, unmedicated childbirth, and quick postpartum recovery.
This article is separated into four important stages of a woman's pregnancy; antenatal, prenatal, labor support, and postpartum.
Antenatal Health Care
Optimizing health before conception is an essential part of setting the tone for a woman's pregnancy experience, and setting her growing baby up for success. Unfortunately, nobody ever talks about the antenatal (preconception) stage of pregnancy. To increase the chance of conception, a healthy pregnancy, natural childbirth, and postpartum recovery, it is essential to start focusing on improving and/or supporting health at least 12 months prior to conception. This includes but is not limited to: improving digestion, immune function, circulation and ensuring hormones are well balanced. Although there are many reasons to optimize health before conception, one benefit is to ensure the critical stages of fetal development, which occur before the woman knows she is pregnant, are not interfered with. Between weeks five and eight the central nervous system, heart, arms, eyes, legs, and ears are starting their development and the teeth, palate, and genitalia begin to form starting at week nine. This stage is crucial and is the most susceptible time for malformation and possible miscarriage. When the expectant mother focuses on the things she can control such as nutrition, exercise and behavioral changes she can ensure the tiny fetus is getting adequate support, even before being aware of the pregnancy.
Antenatal care includes but is not limited to:
- Implementation of the basic lifestyle guidelines
- Increasing essential fatty acid consumption
- Probiotics and gut support
- Following a personalized nutrition plan that eliminates inflammatory foods
- Regular exercise
- Stress management
Prenatal Health Care
Once the mother is pregnant, extra support will be needed through specific nutritional sources and supplementation. The goal is to eat foods that are high in iron, calcium, and folate, implement adequate amounts of daily protein in the form of fish, chicken, meat, eggs, beans, and nuts, minimize dairy, processed sugar, and flour products, eliminate alcohol consumption and consume a minimum of 72oz water per day.
Along with nutrition, other things to keep in mind are maintaining adequate progesterone levels during the first trimester. This can be done by incorporating sesame and pumpkin seeds into the diet as well as taking evening primrose oil (EPO) daily. A high-quality prenatal vitamin will ensure the expectant mother is receiving the necessary vitamins that are crucial for development such as folate, which can help prevent birth defects of the baby’s brain and spinal cord; and iron, which is important to make extra blood (hemoglobin) for you and your baby. Other, less common forms of supplementation include Ferrum Phos tissue salts, which are small chewable capsules that can help prevent anemia, enhance fluid balance, maintain healthy levels of amniotic fluid and prevent swollen ankles .
Ensuring the mother’s body has the necessary amounts of vitamins and minerals is crucial because the growing baby will take nutrients wherever he/she can get them. This can leave mom feeling depleted if various vitamins are low, such as iron (fatigue), calcium (bone loss), and DHA (depression) . Having comprehensive blood work is important to ensure you are supplementing where needed.
Although childbirth is a natural physiological process, there are things that can be done during pregnancy to support natural childbirth and decrease the chance of induction. Three things need to occur to support a vaginal birth; effacement (thinning), dilation (opening), and efficient contractions. Cervical ripening refers to the softening of the cervix and is necessary for both effacement and dilation to occur. Evening primrose oil, raspberry tea, rubias ideaus, and dates are all ways to support cervical ripening at various times during pregnancy.
Rubus Idaeus is a fancy name for European red raspberry leaf young-shoot and comes in a liquid form to be consumed orally. In terms of uterine function, raspberry is also a remarkable uterine muscle relaxant and can be used for uterine spasms during childbirth to facilitate the efficiency of contractions. Consuming proper amounts twice a day in the last four weeks of pregnancy can support cervical ripening and the onset of more efficient contractions .
Dates are a dried fruit from the date palm tree and contain folate, iron, fiber, and vitamin K; all important nutrients for pregnant women. Dates have also been shown to support labor positively if consumed in high amounts (50-70g) daily several weeks before the estimated due date. A 2011 study concluded that eating 6 dates per day for 4 weeks had a shorter first stage of labor, higher mean cervical dilation and more intact membranes upon arrival at the hospital. In other words, their cervix was more ripe for giving birth.  Another more recent study followed 154 women of which 50% consumed dates late in their pregnancy. The study found that those who consumed dates had a reduced need for labor induction. Although more research is needed to confirm that date consumption would benefit all pregnant women, it doesn't hurt to add this delicious snack to your daily routine a few weeks before birth if you are planning for a vaginal, no intervention childbirth.
Postpartum Health Care
After childbirth, it is important to continue taking prenatal vitamins, EPO, and rubus idaeus for various reasons. Do not stop just because the baby is born! The rubus idaeus will continue to support uterine contractions as it shrinks to its original size and the prenatal vitamins will continue to provide your body and baby with the necessary nutrients needed while breastfeeding. Your growing baby is still dependent on you! The mother can also choose to encapsulate her placenta to help to support postpartum recovery. Placenta encapsulation has been shown to increase the release of oxytocin, which helps the uterus return to normal size and encourages bonding with the infant, increase CRH, a stress-reducing hormone, decrease postpartum depression levels, restore iron levels in the blood, and increase milk production . You can check out Hill Country Placentas for more information if you are in the Austin area and are interested in learning more!
By focusing on all of the things listed above, I personally had a positive birth experience and fairly easy postpartum recovery. It is important to know that my experience is just that, my own, and is not guaranteed by following these protocols, but I do not think it hurts to supplement with necessary nutrients to support your body's natural physiological processes along the way. The first step for a positive experience during both pregnancy and labor is education and awareness. I hope this article provided a little of both! For more information, check out the following books which have been instrumental in my personal journey through pregnancy and allowed me to trust my body's natural ability to grow and expel a tiny human!
- Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May
- Hypnobirthing the Mongan Method by Marie F. Mongan
- Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding by Ina May
- Coping with Food Intolerances by Dickson Thom
- The Fourth Trimester by Kimberley Ann Johnson
If you are interested in getting the support and guidance you need throughout this monumental journey in life, please don’t hesitate to reach out to learn how Central Athlete can help! Click the link below to schedule a strategy session with one of our expert coaches today or contact me directly at Amanda@Centralathlete.com.