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  • Writer's pictureKourtney

Pregnancy Nutrition (early pregnancy - postpartum)

Nutrition support for first-trimester embryonic development

Growing a baby needs a lot of nutrients and nourishment! Using food and supplementation to support a baby’s neurological development is of the utmost importance during this critical time. Deficiencies during pregnancy can affect the baby well into adulthood and beyond! For example, iodine deficiency during pregnancy can cause long-lasting effects on the brain and contribute to learning disabilities later in life. (Pemberton et al., 2005)

Nutrients to focus on early in pregnancy:

  • B Vitamins: Folate is crucial in early pregnancy to support the proper development of the neural tube. A deficiency of folate and other B vitamins can cause neural tube defects, such as spina bifida and anencephaly. Vitamin B-12 deficiency is associated with miscarriage, preterm birth, developmental issues, and preeclampsia.(Finkelstein et al., 2015) There are actually eight B vitamins, and all of them are important for the growth of the baby in early pregnancy (and beyond.) The eight B’s are

  1. thiamin (vitamin B1): important for carbohydrate metabolism, and a deficiency during pregnancy can contribute to issues with the placenta and fetal development. (Gluckman et al., 2014)

  2. riboflavin (vitamin B2): Deficiency during pregnancy is linked to an increased risk of preeclampsia.(Elsen et al., 2012)

  3. niacin (vitamin B3): A deficiency can increase the risk of fetal abnormalities. (Palawaththa et al., 2022)

  4. pantothenic acid (vitamin B5): low vitamin b5 levels are associated with low birth weight. (Adams et al., 2022)

  5. vitamin B6: A deficiency in vitamin B6 can increase the time it takes to get pregnant and interfere with fetal brain development, fetal neurotransmitters, and fetal metabolism. Low vitamin B6 can also contribute to early miscarriage and morning sickness. (Brown & Wright, 2020)

  6. biotin (vitamin B7): Deficiency can cause fetal birth defects during pregnancy. (Gluckman et al., 2014)

  7. Folate: This is the vitamin that gets all the buzz during pregnancy! A folate deficiency can cause neural tube defects.

  8. vitamin B12: A deficiency in B12 can cause early miscarriage, fetal development issues, and preeclampsia. Vitamin B12 can only be found in animal foods, so it is important to get an adequate amount of animal protein in your diet!

  • Foods high in b vitamins are

    • Beef liver

    • Beef

    • Salmon

    • Eggs

    • Chicken

    • Turkey

    • Leafy Greens

  • EPA/DHA: Studies indicate that pregnant women do not get enough of these fatty acids during pregnancy. Increasing your intake of EPA and DHA before and during pregnancy can help the baby’s brain and eyes develop properly. The low consumption of fish high in fatty acids partially comes from avoiding mercury in fish. There are low-mercury fishes and EPA/DHA supplements that are safe for pregnancy. Fish high in fatty acids EPA and DHA to include during pregnancy are sardines and salmon. (Coletta et al., 2010)

  • Electrolytes and hydration: Hydration is vital during pregnancy to ensure proper nutrient transfer from mom to baby. Dehydration puts you at risk for miscarriage, as well as fetal and maternal health complications. If the output of water is greater than the input or absorption, then complications can arise.(Zhang et al., 2020) Water can come from drinking or eating, but it must also be accompanied by electrolytes. Electrolytes are essential minerals (Think sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride, and phosphate) that help maintain water balance in the body. They also serve many other essential functions in the body. Magnesium, for example, helps regulate body temperature and protein synthesis, along with reducing instances of low fetal birth weight and preeclampsia.(Zarean & Tarjan, 2017) Sources of electrolytes include supplementation (when necessary and from a good source,) coconut water, watermelon, avocado, lemons, limes, and more. It is best to source these foods seasonally for the highest nutrient quantity and quality.

Foods for the Second Trimester

At this time, your appetite may be returning while nausea goes down. With this return of appetite, let us break down foods that best support mom and baby during the second trimester! While the brain and nervous system is still very much developing in the second trimester, it's imperative to keep including foods that support this. Eggs and beef liver and both high in choline, b vitamins, and other minerals and vitamins essential for a developing brain. Fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines, are high in omega fatty acids. Bone broth is another nourishing food to include in your diet, as it is high in glycine and minerals. Glycine is an amino acid that increases in need during pregnancy and supports the development of the baby and the growing uterus. Consuming fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and fermented pickles, help prepare the microbiome for birth.

Increase starchy grains and vegetables during the second trimester, particularly sweet potatoes and rice. Sweet potatoes are high in vitamin A, which is needed for fetal brain and eye development. They are also rich in potassium and fiber. Sweet potatoes and rich contain microbiome-feeding materials (also known as prebiotics), which adds another benefit during pregnancy. Incorporate easy-to-digest green vegetables, such as cooked spinach, broccolini, kale, etc. Pregnancy can slow down digestion due to fluctuating hormones and structural changes. This makes incorporating these foods that are easy on digestion crucial! Cooking makes foods easier on the digestive system, allowing more nutrients to be absorbed and utilized in the body.

Vitamin C is used for many fetal developments. Including more dietary vitamin C around halfway through pregnancy is associated with better fetal growth, as well as more growth during the first 6 months of life. (Jang et al., 2018) Tropical fruits are particularly high in Vitamin C. These include pineapple, mango, melon, citrus, and more.

Beets provide gentle and pregnancy-safe liver support, while providing many nutrients needed during the second trimester. They can also help improve anemia, increase blood flow to the placenta, and improve endothelial dysfunction. Endothelial dysfunction increases the risk of hypertension and preeclampsia. (Tropea et al., 2020)

A balance of dietary fats is crucial for fetal brain and nervous system development! Getting enough saturated fats will help with these processes and help increase nutrient absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K. Coconut oil and high-quality dairy are good sources. If cow’s dairy is not tolerated, sub or goat dairy or coconut.

Foods to add in:

  • Eggs

  • Beef Liver

  • Fatty Fish

  • Bone Broth

  • Fermented foods

  • Sweet potatoes

  • Rice

  • Well-cooked greens

  • Beets

  • Tropical fruits

  • Saturated fats

Weeks 27-birth

Increasing nutrient needs: the importance of minerals during the 3rd trimester, magnesium baths, the importance of increasing omega 3’s via cod liver/caviar/beef brain, how to lower high cortisol (pregnancy safe options: chamomile, reishi mushroom, yoga, acupuncture, lemon balm, safe breathwork)

Nutrient Needs in the third trimester

The third trimester is an exciting time! As we begin to approach the end of pregnancy, the baby’s lungs are maturing, red blood cells are forming in the bone marrow, baby is gaining a lot of weight, and more! Nutrient needs will increase in the third trimester, especially minerals. Hemoglobin may naturally decrease during the third trimester due to increased plasma volume. (Churchill et al., 2019) Ensure you are getting enough dietary iron, along with the nutritional cofactors needed to absorb and utilize iron. These include copper, vitamin C, and vitamin B12.

Minerals are especially crucial during this time. Intake needs increase during pregnancy, and deficiency can be exaggerated. Deficiency has consequences for the developing fetus and can increase the chance of postpartum anxiety, depression, and exhaustion. Getting enough minerals in the third trimester will help prevent postpartum depletion and may help prevent these issues. Deficiency during pregnancy also increases preeclampsia, labor complications, and maternal and fetal mortality. (Khayat et al., 2017) Important minerals include magnesium, iodine, selenium, copper, zinc, calcium, potassium, chloride, sodium, manganese, and more! To increase magnesium levels, magnesium baths may be a great therapy to include in your routine.

Along with minerals, DHA and other omega 3’s are in high need in the third trimester. Because DHA is the most abundant omega 3 in the brain and eyes, the needs are especially increased in the third trimester and in the first 18 months of life for the child. DHA must be accompanied by EPA, as EPA helps get DHA to the placenta and into cells. Tapping into ancestral nutrition wisdom is key here. Consuming cod liver oil, caviar, and organ meats, such as beef brain, are some of the most powerful ways to increase omega 3’s.

For more information on food and nutrition during pregnancy, “Food for Pregnancy” by Lily Nichols is a great resource.

Lowering High cortisol

High cortisol during pregnancy can increase preterm labor and birth complications. A proper balance is needed during the third trimester. When levels are too high, diet and lifestyle actions can reduce them to a healthy level. It is important to use pregnancy-safe options, such as:

  • Chamomile- chamomile, in the form of tea or tincture can help reduce anxiety and the impacts of stress. (Keefe et al., 2018)

  • Reishi mushroom- reishi is an adaptogen, which is an herb or botanical that helps the body respond to stress. Reishi helps support the adrenal glands, which are the glands that secrete cortisol. Reishi can taken via tincture, tea, or pills.

  • Yoga- studies show that prenatal yoga lowers cortisol quickly, over a 90 minute period. Pracitcing prenatal yoga can even reduce the risk of postnatal depression. (Bershadsky et al., 2014)

  • Acupuncture- acupuncture can lower cortisol levels by regulating the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis. This modality can also help improve depression. (PIRNIA et al., 2019)

  • Lemon balm- this herb has been shown to reduce cortisol and improve mood and cognition. (Scholey et al., 2014)

  • Breathwork- breathwork is an amazing way to lower cortisol levels and increase endorphins, balancing the nervous system and lowering anxiety and stress. Bee’s breath is a great way to activate the vagus nerve. It is important to include only pregnancy-safe breathwork exercises. Avoid fast breathing (for example, breath of fire) and holding your breath for too long. Breathwork exercises may ask that you hold your breath after the inhale and exhale. You can skip this altogether, but do not exceed 5-10 seconds. If you get light-headed, skip the holds. Breathwork exercises you may want to include are box breathing (do not exceed 5-seconds on the holds), bee’s breath, grounding breath (ujiayi), and alternate nostril breathing.

Postpartum nourishment plan

Foods focused on keeping the uterus warm, animal-based nourishment (marrow, broth, oxtail, heart, root veggies, ghee, safe herbal teas, gentle fiber for bowel health, adequate protein for tissue healing) + extra nourishment for breastfeeding (hydration needs, carb needs, etc.) [we can talk about this more if needed!]

The postpartum period is often referred to as the fourth trimester, because the baby does not yet know they are separate from you! They rely on their mom to regulate their circadian rhythm and emotions, and for food. After birth, resting and staying in bed is critical for recovery and bonding. So important, in fact, that in many cultures it is traditional to keep mom and baby in bed for the first 30-40 days. Nourishment, rest, spending time with baby, and recovery is the only job of a new mom during this time. Planning ahead and having postpartum-appropriate foods ready will be tremendously helpful for this time. If family and friends are coming to bring you food, give them specifics, so they know what to make you! We want warm soups and stews to keep the uterus warm and to support digestion, animal-based nourishment, such as marrow and broth, root vegetables, nursing-friendly herbal teas, fiber, and protein to support tissue health.

Uterus-warming foods- Traditional postpartum care focuses on maintaining and restoring heat to the body after birth. This is said to improve recovery and reduce postpartum complications. (Bazzano et al., 2020) Most cultures will use foods to help keep the uterus warm during the postpartum period. Focus on warm soups, stews, broths, and cooked foods. Avoid iced drinks and cold foods.

Animal-Based nourishment- Animal foods provide some of the most bioavailable nutrients and are incredibly nourishing. They also provide a lot of minerals, which can be depleted during pregnancy and birth. The postpartum period is a time to restore any lost nutrients. Include marrow, bone broth, oxtail, heart, and other organ meats into dishes whenever possible. These foods will deliver many of the nutrients needed to support postpartum recovery and milk supply. Marrow, for example, is rich in collagen and glucosamine, which aid in tissue recovery and help the uterus return to postpartum size. Bone broth also supplies collagen, as well as minerals. Magnesium is found in bone broth, which helps relieve sore muscles, can help reduce headaches, and lessen postpartum anxiety. Oxtail is another food that is rich in collagen. It is also high in B vitamins, which help support mood and milk supply. Heart is particularly high in iron, which can be lost in labor and delivery. Consuming this organ meat can help rebuild iron stores. Ghee is clarified butter that is a good source of fats and can help support digestion and health in the fourth trimester.

Root vegetables- root vegetables are incredibly grounding in nature and have great rebuilding qualities. Focus on getting potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and beets. It’s a bonus if they are in a soup or stew! Root veggies are rich in minerals and other nutrients needed for recovery, such as vitamin A, vitamin c, potassium, folate, and more. These vegetables are rich in healthy and nourishing carbs needed to support breastfeeding, as well.

Herbal teas- teas help increase hydration while also warming the body. Opt for nursing-safe teas when breastfeeding, and choose herbs that are high in minerals. Some great herbal teas are:

Herbal teas- teas help increase hydration while also warming the body. Opt for nursing-safe teas when breastfeeding, and choose herbs that are high in minerals. Some great herbal teas are:

  • Ginger: ginger can help reduce cramping, which may increase during the postpartum phase as the uterus shrinks. It may also help milk supply. Ginger is also a warming herb, helping to keep the uterus warm.

  • Milky oats: this herb is a gentle nervine, a galactagogue (milk supply enhancer), and extremely mineral rich. This herb helps support the nervous system and mood.

  • Nettle: nettle is traditionally used to help anemia, which is beneficial postpartum due to blood loss during labor. It can also support milk supply.

  • Red Raspberry Leaf: This herb is traditionally used to help tone uterine and pelvic floor muscles, aiding in uterine shrinkage postpartum. It can also help with postpartum hemmorages and tissue repair.

  • Chamomile: This gentle nervine is great postpartum to promote restful sleep and boost mood.

Fiber- Bowel health is important in all phases of life, but constipation can occur during the postpartum period due to hemmorhoids, hormone fluctuations, dehydration, and more. Having regular bowel movements is essential to clearing toxins and excess hormones. Ensure adequate and gentle fiber during the postpartum period to support digestive and bowel health. Gentle fiber sources include fruits like apples, pears, berries and avocados, and vegetables such as carrots, turnips, sweet potatoes, and cauliflower.

Protein- Protein is needed for proper tissue healing, which is essential during the postpartum phase. Getting enough protein, especially collagen, will help facilitate proper healing and tissue rebuilding. Proteins (and fats) are also needed for hormone synthesis! So, getting enough dietary protein will help recovery and hormone balance. You should aim for at least 1.5 grams of protein/kg of weight every day. For example, if one weighs 150 pounds, around 100 grams of protein would be the daily aim. Opt for animal protein sources, such as beef, chicken, fish, turkey, etc. Animal protein is much more bioavailable than plant protein sources.


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