A woman’s life changes significantly the moment she becomes pregnant. Aside from hormonal influences and the extra bodily stresses of being pregnant, she now has to act with increased awareness, as every action affects not only her but her soon to be born child as well. The mothers physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being have a considerable impact on the developing fetus. It is crucial during the months of pregnancy that the mother makes her best efforts to provide wholesome nutrition for the fetus as well as a soft, calm, pleasing atmosphere for it to flourish.
The extra efforts of the mother to take care of herself during these nine months can reduce some of the undesirable symptoms of pregnancy, increase the ease of giving birth, speed recovery after birth, and most importantly: give a better state of health to the offspring for its entire lifetime. Taking care during pregnancy will reassure and strengthen the growing baby, give the baby a better start on life and prevent physical and mental health problems from manifesting later in the child’s life.
- Attitudes and Outside Influences Which Affect the Mother and Baby
- The Role of Music in Pregnancy
- Rest and Relaxation During Pregnancy
Part Two: Physical Health During Pregnancy
- Exercise During Pregnancy
- Dietary Choices During Pregnancy
- The Importance of Specific Nutrients in Pregnancy
- The Use of Herbs in Pregnancy.
Part One: Emotional, Mental, and Spiritual Health During Pregnancy
The Attitudes and Outside Influences Which Affect Mother and Baby
The fetus can feel everything that the mother experiences. Mother and baby are so connected during pregnancy that every thought and feeling that the mother has will affect the developing fetus. When a pregnant woman is happy and calm, healthy enzymes and hormones enter the bloodstream which influence the growth of the fetus in a positive way. When she feels hostility, anger, frustration, fear, and other negative states of mind, the development of the fetus will be hindered.
Both mother and father should focus on welcoming their child to into the family. A child who, as a fetus, was unwanted in any way, will grow up feeling unwanted, no matter how much attention or love it receives after birth. There should be no anger, frustration, or feelings of resentment toward the baby for any of the symptoms or changes to life circumstances that have resulted from the pregnancy. Focus should be on feelings of love and acceptance towards the situation and the baby-to-be.
The mother should pay extra attention to her surroundings and interactions with others during pregnancy. She may want to avoid stressful situations and encounters with people who are cynical or depressed. Being in such situations will drain her energy and inhibit the positive states of mind which are best for her and her child.
The mother and baby are better off if she keeps herself around supportive, optimistic people and exposes herself only to stimuli which produce feelings of happiness, harmony, beauty, serenity, and other positive reactions. If the mother takes time for spiritual practice, the fetus will register the higher thoughts and calm states.
It is important to stay clear from frightening images as well as suspense and horror movies during pregnancy. The fetus will feel the reaction of the mother and register these in its own psyche. For the same reason, she should resist any urge to stay informed about world news since most of the news in the papers and on T.V is negative and promotes fear.
The Role of Music in Pregnancy
The mother should be mindful about her choices of music during pregnancy. She should choose more soothing music and avoid and music which evokes feelings of anger or violence, including heavy metal, hard rock, or rap. Any music played at an excessively loud volume can startle the fetus, so she should have an awareness of the intensity of sound.
She can use music as a tool to influence thoughts and feelings in a positive way. A pregnant woman should listen to music which keeps her calm and content or music which lifts her up in times of low emotional states. Classical music, soft instrumental music, easy-listening, or nature sounds have a relaxing effect on the mother and have been shown to reduce feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression which may occur during pregnancy. The calming effect of music is also felt by the fetus, and its effects can last even after birth. Many babies can recognize music which they heard from the womb and will be soothed by it later in life.
Sounds travel through the amniotic fluid and will be heard by the fetus when the ear is fully developed in the fifth month of pregnancy. But even before the sense of hearing is fully developed, frequencies and vibrations can have effects on the fetus. Every sound has a vibration which can be felt on the most subtle levels of the being.
The majority of brain development occurs during the fetal stage of life. Exposure to certain types of music is thought to enhance brain development. Listening to classical music during pregnancy is believed to enhance the learning ability, memory, and vocal communication of the baby after birth and throughout life.
Rest and Relaxation During Pregnancy
A pregnant woman should emphasize physical rest and mental relaxation. Her body needs rest to rejuvenate during this time of increased demand, and it is important that she avoids excess thinking and worry which also drain her vital energy.
In the early months of pregnancy, the mother should get as much sleep as possible since the luxury of a good nights sleep may become more difficult as the pregnancy progresses. She will also want to take care not to stay awake too late. The best hours for sleeping are from 10 pm to 6 am.
Meditation or gentle yoga practice will aid in the calming of her body and mind and serve her health much more than unwinding in front of the T.V. Prenatal yoga classes are available in most areas, it will be easy to find guidance on how to safely perform yoga during pregnancy.
Part Two: Physical Health During Pregnancy
Exercise During Pregnancy
Gentle physical exercise is important to maintain a woman’s state of health during pregnancy. A woman should continue to exercise during pregnancy as long as she does not suddenly introduce a more rigorous exercise regime, and as long as she feels comfortable. She should emphasize muscle tone, stretching, breathing, and relaxation.
Warm ups and cool downs become even more important now. Cardiovascular exercise should be moderate, and she should take care not to overheat as this can cause damage to the fetus, especially the brain and nerves. She should also take care that her blood sugar does not get too low, as low blood sugar results in a lack of oxygen for the fetus.
She should also be extra careful with her movements because her chance of injury during pregnancy increases. She is more prone to slipping or falling as her balance is off due to a shift in her weight and center of gravity. The hormone relaxin is secreted during pregnancy and causes a relaxation of the muscles, joints, and ligaments in preparation for a more comfortable passage of the baby. Relaxin affects mainly the area of the pelvis and will also contribute to the lack of balance. Also, due to relaxin’s effects, the woman is more susceptible to overextending joints, and she should take greater care while stretching.
Dietary Choices During Pregnancy
The fetus is entirely dependent upon the mother for its nutritional needs, but this does not mean that an expecting mother needs to double her intake of food. Overeating will have a negative impact on her health and the health of her baby. The human body has a profound intelligence, the metabolic processes during pregnancy increase in efficiency and effectiveness. This results in an increased ability to absorbs and assimilate nutrients as well as a greater ability of the body to cleanse and regenerate itself.
An increase of about 300 calories a day will be sufficient for most woman during pregnancy. A healthy woman should gain about 2-4lbs in the first trimester and 1lb weekly after that for a total of about 27lbs over the entire pregnancy of one child. This is a general guideline and individuals may experience differences depending upon their constitution. However, if a pregnant woman is far above, or far below these figures, then she may want to consider making some changes. If the woman finds she is gaining significantly more weight, but her diet is appropriate, the additional weight may be due to water retention or. If she is unsure, she should consult her doctor, nutritionist, or midwife, rather than cutting back her food intake. Pregnancy is not the time to go on a diet. A diet will add extra stress to a body which is already trying to cope with significant changes and can lead to major nutritional deficiencies having long-term negative impacts on both mom and baby.
Foods and beverages taken during pregnancy should be natural, wholesome, and high in dietary. Avoiding refined, processed foods and eating organic foods will help reduce the amount of toxic chemicals in the bloodstream. Eating free-range or organic meats and dairy will prevent the ingestion of synthetic hormones as well as the stress hormones present in factory farmed animals. If the mother eats fish, she should choose those which are lower in concentrations of the heavy metal mercury.
Foods and beverages that should never be ingested by a pregnant woman include those to which she has a known allergy or intolerance, those which cause her digestive stress, those which she does not like the taste of, and anything containing caffeine or alcohol. Heating substances such as black tea, coffee, and spicy foods should be restricted as they can cause heartburn, increase the overall heat of the body, and can endanger the life of the fetus.
A vegetarian diet is often recommended during pregnancy because it is less toxic and easier to digest; however, every individual must be considered here. If a woman is accustomed to eating meat every day, and rapidly switches to a vegetarian diet, it will put too much stress on her already stressed body. Since her body is already going through so many changes, she will be unable to read how her body is reacting to a drastic change in diet. In general, a reduction in meat consumption is recommended to take some stress off of the digestive system, but she should also not ignore her cravings. If a woman is craving red meat during pregnancy, it may be an indication she is low on iron, and she should fulfill that need with iron rich foods from animal or vegetable sources.
The Importance of Specific Nutrients in Pregnancy
During pregnancy, certain nutrients such as folic acid (vitamin B9), calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, and vitamin B6 are required at higher levels than normal.
It is best to get vitamins and minerals from food or plant sources rather than from supplements. These nutrients obtained from natural sources are more easily absorbed and likely to be kept in the body in balanced ratios. In cases of deficiency or difficulties with absorption, supplementation may be advisable because these nutrients are so crucial in the development and health of the fetus.
Folate or Folic Acid
Taking folic acid is just as important after conception as before. During the first eight weeks of pregnancy, the babies nervous system is being formed, and folic acid is critical at this time. Low folate levels in the mother can result in neural tube defects such as spina bifida or unnatural curvatures of the spine.
Folate is found in foods such as liver, beans and legumes, whole grains, sunflower seeds, spinach and green leafy vegetables, broccoli, citrus fruits and brewer’s yeast.
Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, and Vitamin D
Even though the ability to absorb calcium is enhanced during pregnancy an increase in calcium-rich foods is recommended and taking calcium supplements should be considered. Calcium supplements should be taken at least two hours away from iron supplements because these minerals inhibit the absorption of the other. Excess protein in the diet can also deplete calcium in the body. A woman who is on a lower protein or vegetarian diet will need less calcium than a woman who eats significant amounts of proteins and meats. Calcium is essential in the formation of the skeletal structure of the fetus. Phosphorus is essential for tissue formation in the fetus, and magnesium for the health of the nerves. Vitamin D is crucial in the absorption of Calcium and Phosphorus. It is easy to find supplements with a balanced ratio of Calcium, Vitamin D, Phosphorus, and Magnesium.
Calcium is present in sardines, mackerel, salmon, dairy products, tofu, seaweed, tahini, almonds, dark leafy greens, canned salmon, broccoli, beans, lentils, blackstrap molasses, and dried fruits. Many of the foods high in calcium also contain magnesium and phosphorous. Vitamin D can be obtained naturally from dairy and eggs as well as from the sunshine.
Adequate iron is of great importance during pregnancy as blood volume increases by about 50% in the third trimester. Iron is needed to produce the hemoglobin in red blood cells; the carriers of oxygen. Taking vitamin C in conjunction with iron will help in its absorption. Avoid iron supplements containing ferrous sulfate; this form causes constipation.
Food sources of iron include clams, oysters, legumes, tofu, chickpeas, organ meats, whole grains, beans, dark, leafy greens, dried fruits, apricots, seeds, nuts, egg yolks, blackstrap molasses, kelp, and wheat germ.
Vitamin B6 is essential for red blood cell production, immune function, the balance of sodium and potassium in the body, and the utilization of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. A deficiency may aggravate nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. The use of oral contraceptives depletes the B vitamins. If the mother took oral contraceptives in the months before pregnancy, she will want to take extra care to get enough of the B vitamins, especially vitamin B6.
B6 is found in brewer’s yeast, blackstrap molasses, sunflower seeds, toasted wheat germ, wheat bran, legumes, walnuts, peanuts, oats, whole grains, cantaloupe, cabbage, leafy greens, meat, fish, and organ meats.
The Use of Herbs in Pregnancy
Lists of herbs considered safe or unsafe during pregnancy are found everywhere but often contradict one another. A mother should only take those herbs which she feels comfortable taking, if she has any doubts, it is better to err on the side of caution than to take a substance which she in unsure about.
Ayurvedic herbs rarely appear on lists of herbs which are safe or unsafe during pregnancy, but they have been used for over 3000 years in Ayurvedic Medicine to give certain effects during pregnancy. Ayurvedic herbs listed for use during pregnancy are usually considered safe for moderate use because of their long history of traditional use. There has been little modern research done to support or contradict their safety during pregnancy.
Many herbs found commonly in Western herbalism have been studied more carefully and are known to be safe in smaller quantities. It is important to keep in mind that the use of herbs cannot be generalized over the entire course of pregnancy. Each herb is different in form and action and should be considered individually. Some herbs should be strictly avoided during pregnancy as they can cause birth defects, toxicities in the fetus, premature contractions, or uterine bleeding. Many other herbs are considered safe and even beneficial during pregnancy, but even these should still be taken with care and only in moderate amounts. Some should only be used when needed, to ease certain symptoms of pregnancy and others can be used in small quantities throughout pregnancy to contribute to the overall nutritional intake of the mother.
Culinary herbs such as cinnamon, coriander, caraway, anise, celery seed, marjoram, lovage, oregano, rosemary, saffron, sage, thyme, fenugreek, fennel, nutmeg, and parsley can be used moderately in cooking, but medicinal doses should be avoided as most are uterine stimulants in high doses. Garlic and chili can also be used moderately in cooking, but larger quantities may cause heartburn.
Other mild herbs that can occasionally be taken as a tea include lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), chamomile (Matricaria recutita)(, and passionflower (Passiflora incarnata). All are calming herbs useful in relieving stress and nervous tension and help promote sleep.
Nutritive herbs such as alfalfa, dandelion, and nettles are abundant in vitamins and minerals s and can provide many benefits from a nutritional standpoint. They are best eaten raw like vegetables, but another option is to take in them as a tea. It is best to alternate these herbs when taken in tea form.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelion is rich in vitamins A and C, folate, calcium, potassium, iron, and trace minerals. Dandelion aids digestion and is an excellent tonic for the liver. It is also a mild diuretic which can help relieve edema during pregnancy. The leaves can be eaten raw in salads, or cooked, and both leaf and root can be steeped as a tea.
Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)
Alfalfa is a good source of iron, calcium, and protein and is also abundant in vitamins, A, D, E, C, and K, as well as digestive enzymes and trace minerals. Alfalfa can help in cases of excessive bleeding because of its high vitamin K content which promotes blood clotting. Alfalfa should be taken especially in the later stages of pregnancy to reduce the risk hemorrhage after birth.
Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Nettle is high in vitamins A, C, D, K, and folate as well as minerals calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and iron. The fresh leaves can be cooked and used in a similar manner as spinach, or tea can be made from the dried leaves. Nettles are an excellent overall tonic for pregnancy. They provide nourishment for mother and fetus, enhance kidney function and can help reduce leg cramps and muscle spasms. Nettles can also minimize the risk of bleeding during pregnancy, prevent hemorrhoids, decrease pain during labor, and prevent hemorrhage after birth.
Other common herbs used safely in pregnancy include red raspberry leaf, peppermint, spearmint, ginger, slippery elm, oat straw, and rose hips. Most are suitable for special needs or are best during certain stages of pregnancy.
Red Raspberry Leaf (Rubus idaeus)
Raspberry Lead is rich in iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamins B, C, and E. Raspberry leaf helps to tone the uterus, quicken labor, and ease pain during delivery. It is also said to prevent infection and excessive bleeding during and after labor. Raspberry leaf is easiest to take in tea form starting at 1-2 cups a day in the third trimester and gradually increasing to a maximum of 4 cups a day after the 32nd week. Raspberry leaf should be avoided if a previous delivery was under three hours.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) & Spearmint (Mentha spicata)
Peppermint and spearmint are both helpful in relieving nausea or morning sickness, indigestion, and flatulence and are also useful in renewing energy. Mints should be used after the first trimester and only on as-needed.
Ginger root (Zingiber officinale)
Ginger can be used at any stage of pregnancy in moderate amounts for digestive problems, morning sickness, and the relief of colds, congestion or a sore throat.
Slippery Elm Bark (Ulmus fulva)
Slippery elm can occasionally be taken to help relieve nausea, heartburn, sore throat, and vaginal irritations.
Oats & Oat Straw (Avena sativa)
Oats and oatstraw contain an easily assimilated form of calcium and magnesium. Taking oats as cereal or drinking oat straw tea will help to calm the mother, relieve anxiety, and aid sleep. Oat straw is also known to strengthen the capillaries and prevent varicose veins. Oats and oat straw can be taken at any stage of pregnancy.
Rose Hips (Rosa canina)
Rosehips are rich in Vitamin C and are useful throughout pregnancy to help in the relief of colds and flu, and to purify the blood. Rose hips also contain iron, making rose hip tea another nourishing tonic for pregnancy that can be taken at any stage.
* This is not a complete list but is sufficient for most of the mother’s needs in pregnancy. Some additional herbs which are safe for use in pregnancy are mentioned in Natural Relief for Pregnancy Related Symptoms.
Resources and Related Reading:
- Cecile Savereux, Lecture: Life Cycle Considerations
- Dr. Sapna B.A.M.S, Lecture: Garbopacharam (Pregnancy Care)
- Caroline Wilbert, Music Reduces Pregnancy Stress
- Linda B. White, M.D, Wise Use of Herbs and Vitamins during Pregnancy
- Alison Haasch, Herbs During Pregnancy
- American Pregnancy Association: Natural Herbs and Vitamins During Pregnancy
- Penelope Ody, Herbs for A Healthy Pregnancy: From Conception to Childbirth
- Susan Weed, Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year
- Mary Bove, An Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and Infants
Photo: Jenko Ataman