Your Holistic Guide for a Healthy Pregnancy

Your life changes significantly the moment you become pregnant. Aside from hormonal influences and the extra bodily stresses of being pregnant, you now have to act with increased awareness, as every action affects not only you, but your soon to be born child as well. A mothers physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being have a considerable impact on the developing fetus. During the months of pregnancy make your best efforts to provide wholesome nutrition for your baby as well as a soft, calm, pleasing atmosphere for it to flourish.

Extra efforts take care of yourself during the nine months of pregnancy 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 your child for its entire lifetime. Taking care during pregnancy will reassure and strengthen your growing baby and prevent physical and mental health problems later in your child’s life.

Part One: Emotional, Mental, and Spiritual Health During Pregnancy

Part Two: Physical Health During Pregnancy

Part One: Emotional, Mental, and Spiritual Health During Pregnancy

Attitudes and Outside Influences that Affect Mother and Baby

Your baby can feel everything that you experience. Mother and baby are so connected during pregnancy that every thought and feeling that you have will affect the developing baby. 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 a pregnant woman feels hostility, anger, frustration, fear, and other negative states of mind the development of the fetus will be hindered.

Both the mother and father should focus on welcoming their child to into the family. While in the womb, the baby can sense if it unwanted in any way and will grow up feeling unwanted, no matter how much attention and love he or she 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 on feelings of love and acceptance towards the situation and the baby-to-be.

Pay extra attention to your surroundings and interactions with others during pregnancy. You may want to avoid stressful situations and encounters with people who are cynical or depressed. Being in such situations will drain your energy and inhibit the positive states of mind which are best for you and your child.

You and your baby are better off if you stay around supportive, optimistic people and exposes yourself to the things that produce feelings of joy, harmony, beauty, and serenity. When you take time for meditation or spiritual practice your baby will register the calm state.

It is important to stay clear of frightening images as well as suspense and horror movies during pregnancy. Your baby can feel your reactions and will register these in his or her own psyche. For the same reason, you may also want to stay away from world news since most of the news is negative and promotes fear.

The Role of Music in Pregnancy

Be mindful of your choices of music during pregnancy. Choose soothing or upbeat music and avoid 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 baby, so be mindful of the volume.

You can use music as a tool to influence thoughts and feelings in a positive way. Listen to music which keeps you calm and content or music which lifts you up when you are feeling low. Classical music, soft instrumental music, easy-listening, or nature sounds have a relaxing effect 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 baby and its effects can last even after birth. Many babies can recognize music which they heard from the womb and will be soothed by that music later in life.

Sounds travel through the amniotic fluid and will be heard by the baby 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 your baby. 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

Emphasize physical rest and mental relaxation during pregnancy. Your body needs rest to rejuvenate during this time of increased demand, and it is important that you avoid excess thinking and worry which will also drain your energy.

In the early months of pregnancy, get as much sleep as possible since the luxury of a good nights sleep may become more difficult as the pregnancy progresses. Don’t stay awake too late. According to Ayurveda, the best hours for sleeping are from 10 pm to 6 am.

Meditation or gentle yoga practice will calm your body and mind and serve your health much more than unwinding in front of the T.V. Prenatal yoga classes are available in most areas to teach you how to safely perform yoga during pregnancy.

Part Two: Physical Health During Pregnancy

Exercise During Pregnancy

Gentle physical exercise is important to maintain good health during pregnancy. You should continue to exercise during pregnancy but don’t suddenly introduce a more rigorous exercise regime. Emphasize muscle tone, stretching, breathing, and relaxation in your exercise program.

Warm ups and cool downs become even more important during pregnancy. Cardiovascular exercise should be moderate; take care not to overheat as this can cause damage to the developing babies nervous system.

Be extra careful with your movements. The chance of injuring yourself increases when you are pregnant, you are prone to slipping or falling due to the shift in your weight and center of gravity. Also, the hormone relaxin is secreted during pregnancy Relaxin causes a relaxation of the muscles, joints, and ligaments around the pelvis to prepare for birth. The effects of relaxin will make you more susceptible to overextending the pelvic joints during exercise and stretching.

Dietary and Pregnancy

The baby is entirely dependent on you for its nutritional needs, but this does not mean that you need to double your intake of food. Overeating will have a negative impact on your health and the health of your 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 you are far above, or far below these figures, you may want to consider making some changes.

If you find that you are gaining significantly more weight, but your diet is appropriate, the additional weight may be due to water retention or constipation. If you are unsure, consult your doctor, nutritionist, or midwife, rather than cutting back your 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 you and your baby.

Foods and beverages taken during pregnancy should be natural, wholesome, and high in dietary fibre. Avoid refined, processed foods and eat organic foods to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals in the bloodstream. Eat free-range or organic meats and dairy to prevent the ingestion of synthetic hormones. If you eat fish, choose those which are lower in concentrations of the heavy metal mercury.

Do not ingest any foods which you have a known allergy or intolerance to, foods that cause you digestive stress, foods you don’t like the taste of, and anything that contains caffeine or alcohol. Heating substances such as black tea, coffee, and spicy foods should be restricted as they can cause heartburn and increase the overall heat in the body.

A vegetarian diet is often recommended during pregnancy because it is less toxic and easier to digest; however, if you are accustomed to eating meat every day and rapidly switch to a vegetarian diet, it will put too much stress on your body. In general, a reduction in meat consumption is recommended to take some stress off of the digestive system, but also don’t ignore your cravings. If you are craving red meat during pregnancy, it may be an indication that you are low on iron.

Supplements to Support 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 

One supplement you do want to consider taking is folate. Taking folate is just as important after conception as before. During the first eight weeks of pregnancy, the babies nervous system is being formed, and folate 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. Look for folate, rather than folic acid and buy the methyl folate form for the best absorption. Folate is super cheap and easy to take – there is no reason to risk deficiency when you are pregnant or conceiving.

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.

Iron

Getting adequate iron is important 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 B-6

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 in B6 may aggravate nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. The use of oral contraceptives depletes the B vitamins. If you took oral contraceptives in the months before pregnancy 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. Use only the herbs which you feel comfortable taking. If you have any doubts, it is better to err on the side of caution than to take a substance that you are 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.

Other herbs can be used when needed, to ease certain symptoms of pregnancy and some can be used in small quantities throughout pregnancy to contribute to your overall nutritional intake.

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 that help to relieve stress and promote sleep.

Nutritive herbs such as alfalfa, dandelion, and nettles are abundant in vitamins and minerals and 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 dandelion leaf and dandelion 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 the mom and baby, enhance kidney function, and may 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. It is best to take these during certain stages of pregnancy.

Red Raspberry Leaf (Rubus idaeus)

Raspberry leaf 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 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 the majority of needs during pregnancy. Some additional herbs which are safe for use in pregnancy are mentioned in Natural Relief for Pregnancy-Related Symptoms.

Resources:

Photo: Jenko Ataman

Michelle is passionate about holistic health and self-discovery. She received her training in Nutrition, Herbalism, and Bodywork from the International Academy of Natural Health Sciences in Ottawa, ON. She studied Ayurveda and Yoga in India and later continued her Yoga studies on Koh Phangan in Thailand. Michelle truly believes that good health involves body, mind, and spirit. She loves to spend her time in walking in nature, meditating, painting, writing, and learning more about health and wellness.

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