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Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy

Deciding to have a baby is a major life decision, and with it can come feelings of excitement, anticipation, nervousness, and many others. In fact, many people believe that pregnancy is a miracle in itself due to the intricate and magnificent changes a woman’s body undergoes to sustain the growth and health of a new baby. A holistic approach to pregnancy considers all aspects of an individual and recognizes the importance of the mind, body, and spirit, as they relate to the overall experience.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers preconception health as the health of women (and men) within their reproductive years [1]. Preconception health is significant, as a woman’s health directly affects the health of her baby, which includes lifestyle factors such as diet, stress, and environment. Additionally, a woman’s health during reproductive years can influence her lifelong wellbeing.

Unfortunately, roughly 6% of married women aged 15 to 44 years in the United States are unable to get pregnant after one year of trying, and about 12% of women have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term, regardless of marital status [2]. However, there are several things that you can do to help optimize your fertility and prepare for pregnancy.

Nutrition

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of preconception and pregnancy is the role of nutrition [3]. According to a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, “women who followed a combination of five or more lifestyle factors, including changing specific aspects of their diets, experienced more than 80 percent less relative risk of infertility due to ovulatory disorders compared to women who engaged in none of the factors.” [12]

Both a mother’s health and the baby’s nourishment and well-being depend on the foods consumed during pregnancy. Nourishing foods provide the necessary calories, vitamins, minerals, and protein necessary for optimal brain and organ development, and can set the stage for long term health. For example, development of the heart, brain, lungs, liver, immune function, and the nervous system rely heavily on nutrients like Vitamin D and calcium, among others, which must be provided by mom while in utero. Furthermore, studies have shown that inadequate levels of maternal nutrients through the first trimester of pregnancy can predispose a baby to chronic illnesses in the future [10]. Ongoing research strongly suggests the importance of nutrition in influencing a baby’s genetic expression, which may also be related to chronic illnesses in adulthood [5,6,7].

A healthy diet through pregnancy can also help prevent against gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and preterm labor, each of which may lead to pregnancy complications [8, 9]. Ensuring an adequate amount of nutrients before and during pregnancy is one way to prevent against these conditions. Not only will a healthy diet help protect mom and baby during pregnancy, but studies show that micronutrient deficiencies, such as vitamin D, zinc, iodine, and selenium can also contribute to symptoms of postpartum depression [11].

Food for Pregnancy

  1. Balance. It’s important to consume a balanced diet, consisting of a variety of fruits and vegetables, quality proteins and fats, and complex carbohydrates. Eating a variety of foods can help ensure you’re getting a range of nutrients and prevents the risk of micronutrient deficiencies.
  2. Get your greens! Vegetables are very nutrient dense, high in fiber, and are lower in calories overall. Green leafy vegetables contain calcium, folate, iron, vitamin K, and more, which are essential for a growing baby and to keep mom healthy. Find delicious ways to incorporate things like spinach, kale, collards, bok choy, arugula, and more into your day. Other vegetables to include are broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, carrots, celery, cabbage, bell peppers, and squash.
  3. Fresh fruit. Fruits are packed with antioxidants and are rich in vitamins and minerals. Each fruit contains a unique combination of vitamins such as vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, in addition to fiber. Berries are an excellent option as a snack, a topping to coconut yogurt, added to a fruit smoothie, or added to a salad.
  4. Quality protein. Protein provides the amino acids necessary for the development of a growing baby. Healthy options include organic, free-range chicken, organic turkey, and grass-fed beef. Keep in mind that animal protein and animal products can contain synthetic hormones, antibiotics, and organochlorine chemicals, such as dioxin and other pesticides, which concentrate in animal fat. The same chemicals that accumulate in animal fats are transferred to us when we eat them. Whenever possible, try to find local and organically grown animal protein sources.
  5. Healthy fats. Omega fatty acids, namely EPA and DHA, play an important role in the development of the brain and central nervous system. One excellent source is wild-caught fish such as salmon. Fish also contains choline and iodine, other nutrients that positively influence brain development. It’s recommended that women consume wild-caught fish in moderation during pregnancy, and limit consumption of fish high in mercury such as swordfish, shark, tuna, and sea bass. Methylmercury is a known neurotoxin, and many fish contain PCBs, which are also probable carcinogens. Avoid ‘farmed-raised’ and opt for wild-caught options.

A few facts on folate:

  • Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9. Folates consumed through food are converted into 5-methyltetrahydrofolic acid (5-MTHF) in the intestines and can then be used by the body.
  • During pregnancy, it’s recommended to have adequate levels of B9 as deficiency has been linked to low birth weight, neural tube defects, fetal growth abnormalities, and even congenital heart defects [15].
  • Folate and folic acid are often used interchangeably, however, folic acid is a synthetic compound and is often found in fortified foods and supplements. In some cases, folic acid is more readily absorbed by the body. However, not everyone can utilize synthetic folic acid in the body. It’s important that the folic acid that is consumed is converted into 5-MTHF in the intestines to prevent unmetabolized folic acid from building up. Having too much unmetabolized folic acid in the body may contribute to increased cancer risk, heart disease, and may even worsen symptoms of B12 deficiency [16].
  • An important role of folate is supporting proper methylation. Methylation is a complex physiological process that relates to neurotransmitter production, inflammation, and turning genes “on” or “off.” One methylation abnormality is a MTHFR gene mutation, which is now thought to be present in more than 60% of the population. Individuals who have what is known as the C677T MTHFR mutation do not process folic acid into 5-MTHF. Because of this, folic acid builds up in the body, so it’s recommended to avoid foods enriched with folic acid or supplements (including prenatals) that contain it for those with this genetic variant.
  • The best way to get enough folate is by eating lots of veggies that are rich in naturally occuring folate, such as spinach, asparagus, avocado, beets, turnip greens, broccoli, cauliflower, and nuts and seeds.

Maximize the microbiome

The microbiome is an extremely diverse ecosystem, rich in bacteria that governs nutrient absorption, neurotransmitter function, hormonal balance, and immune function. Along with the skin, the gut is the interface between the internal and external environment.

This intricate ecosystem consists of 10 times more bacteria than human cells, so it’s no wonder that the health and integrity of our microbiome can affect every part of our health. With the rise in antibiotic containing products, such as antibacterial cleansers, disinfectants, glyphosate, and triclosan, it’s thought that children today have less than a third of the bacterial diversity as compared to previous generations, which may, in part, be a contributing factor to the rise in allergies and other immune-related sensitivities [17, 18].

The first major source of microbes for new babies is during birth as they move through the birth canal. During the journey through the birth canal, babies are covered with their mom’s bacteria, which provides the foundation for a new microbiome. A second major source of bacteria is breast milk. Breast milk feeds the good bacteria and can promote a healthy terrain in the GI tract. Early exposure to microbes shape a baby’s immune and digestive systems, which can impact almost all other functions throughout the body. It’s thought that the first three years of a baby’s life are the most formative, including for the microbiome, which can set the stage for gastrointestinal related conditions and ecology later on.

Unfortunately, major disruptions to the normal seeding of a baby’s microbiome include C-section births and early antibiotics. While many aspects of birth may be unpredictable and out of one’s control, there are still steps you can take to help boost your baby’s microbiome.

  1. Eat plenty of fiber-rich foods during pregnancy. Fiber increases the diversity of bacteria in the gut and feeds the beneficial strains, which the baby will come into contact with after birth. The bacteria that feast on fiber also produce byproducts such as acetate and butyrate, which are shown to help maintain the gut barrier, preventing “leaky gut” down the road.
  2. If you do need to have a C-section, consider swabbing, which is the process of covering your baby in the bodily fluids they missed in the birth canal. A 2016 study showed that babies who were born via C-section but still swabbed had oral and skin microbes that closely resembled those of vaginally delivered babies [19].
  3. Consider delaying the first bath. Early bathing may interfere with the early bacterial colonization by mom’s bacteria. The World Health Organization recommends waiting at least 24 hours [20].
  4. Supplementing with probiotics may be beneficial for mom before and during pregnancy, as well as beneficial for the baby as this can broaden the diversity of bacteria an infant is exposed to [21]. Studies have shown that babies may have a decreased risk of eczema and other atopic conditions when supplementing probiotics as they can influence the immune system [21].

Additional Support:

Acupuncture

A fundamental belief of Acupuncture is that illness and health challenges can be an indication of underlying imbalances in our fundamental energy. For thousands of years, Classical Chinese medicine recognizes a vital source, or ch’i energy, within us that connects all organ systems, circulating from one organ to another along pathways called meridians. Each meridian is associated with one of the main organs or functions in the body, some of which include the heart, small intestines, bladder, kidney, lungs, colon, spleen, and stomach. When the ch’i energy flows freely, there is adequate strength and quality through each meridian for the body, mind, and spirit to function optimally. Overall, the goal of Acupuncture is to restore the balance of energy, which can be significantly beneficial for both women hoping to conceive and during pregnancy.

The description above can be applied to both Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Classical Five Element Acupuncture (CFEA), both practiced at Newbridge. CFEA is uniquely practiced at Newbridge in the state of Minnesota. Both approaches are helpful in many ways for preconception.

CFEA is a less common form that has a long and well-established track record for helping with conception and all stages of pregnancy and birth in particular. CFEA has proven to be consistently effective in women (and their partners) who have had problems conceiving in the past. CFEA also reinforces the emotional-mind-spirit interconnectivity of an individual, which are significant components of preconception and pregnancy as well.

Classical Five Element Acupuncturists treat a person as a whole. In a person, symptoms are a signal that the body isn’t performing as it should and indicate that there is a core imbalance, a cause, to support. CFEA treats the cause, thereby restoring balance and true health to the person. This approach works with all stages of fertility and pregnancy, in conjunction with nature and the woman’s body, mind and spirit. A Classical Five Element Acupuncturist will evaluate a person’s state of health through a wide range of diagnostic tools, including the reading of the six energy pulses in each wrist and then use acupuncture points along the meridians to balance the flow of energy. Energy is brought where it is needed and dispersed from blocked and congested areas to strengthen core imbalances and promote strength at the deepest level.

Chiropractic Care During Pregnancy

Chiropractic care during pregnancy can provide several benefits, including proper pelvic balance and alignment, support the maintenance of a healthy pregnancy, reduce the time of labor and delivery, relieve back and joint pain, control nausea, and may even help prevent a potential cesarean delivery [13].

Chiropractic care involves health maintenance of the spinal column, discs, and related nerves and bones without surgical or pharmaceutical interventions. In fact, there are no known risks to chiropractic care throughout pregnancy. Some chiropractors even specialize in prenatal and postnatal care to promote a healthy pregnancy, as well as those who take advanced steps to work with infertility. Remember that the nervous system, which branches from the spinal cord, is the main communication system throughout the body, including to the reproductive organs. Keeping an aligned spine can help the entire body communicate and function more effectively.

While there are several physiologic changes that occur during pregnancy, it’s worth considering the changes that can result due to a misaligned spine or joints such as increased back curve and protruding abdomen, pelvic changes, and postural adaptations. When the pelvis is misaligned, for example, it may reduce the space available for the developing baby, otherwise known as intrauterine constraint [13]. A misaligned pelvis may also make labor and delivery more difficult if it prevents the baby from being in the best possible position [13]. In fact, the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics released a report demonstrating an 82% success rate of breech babies turning vertex when doctors utilized the Webster Technique [14].

Enhance Your Environment

Steer clear of chemicals

We’re surrounded by a variety of chemicals in today’s society. Some of the most common sources of toxins include cleaning products, personal care products, drinking water, and anything containing unnatural fragrances. Many personal care products contain chemicals that can disrupt endocrine (hormone) function that is critical for a baby’s growth and development. Many of these chemicals are also neurotoxic, impacting brain development in the baby. These same chemicals pose similar risks to both men and women regardless of pregnancy. Unfortunately, studies have shown that more than 200 different chemicals are found, on average, in a baby’s umbilical cord blood [22]. Look at the product labels and avoid ones that have a warning label, poison concern, or “danger” written anywhere. Avoid products with unidentified “fragrance,” as the term fragrance can include thousands of various chemicals without being disclosed. Additionally, avoid exposure to nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), triclosan, ammonia, chlorine bleach, DEA, TEA, hydrochloric acid, sodium hydroxide, and sulfuric acid.

Consider making your own homemade care and cleaning products. Ingredients you might already have in your kitchen, such as baking soda and vinegar, can be used to tackle many surfaces.

Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning to determine the safety rating of various cleaning products used throughout your home.

Part with Plastics

Many plastics can cause pollution during the manufacturing process. Avoid those numbered 1, 3, 6, or 7 (PC). These resin codes are typically on the bottom of an item in a triangle of arrows. When using any plastic, avoid using in the microwave or with hot food (the heat promotes chemical leaching). Additionally, plastic bottles, containers, and canned items often contain bisphenol-A (BPA) or have been converted to bisphenol-S (BPS), which are hormone-disrupting chemicals. Look for whole foods at their freshest, or pick items that are packaged in glass.

Mind and Spirit

When you are pregnant, your baby is exposed to everything you experience, including the sounds in the environment, the air you breathe, the food you eat, and your thoughts and emotions. It’s important to take the time you need to refresh your mind and body before, during, and after pregnancy as your emotional well being can significantly influence that of your growing baby. Feeling grounded, positive, and happy contributes to an overall positive environment your child is growing in during pregnancy, and contributes to the environment your baby continues to grow in. Conversely, stress can negatively impact both mom and baby.

CFEA is one powerful way to help establish a sense of well being at an emotional and spiritual level. Other modalities include deep breathing practices, mindfulness, meditation, prayer, being outside in nature, and spending time with loved ones.

Key Takeaways

Prioritize a variety of whole, organic fruits and vegetables and high quality sources of healthy fats and protein.
Talk to your provider about your individual needs for folate or folic acid, the best sources, and what to look for on a supplement label.
Focus on gut health for both mom and baby. Fill up on fiber and talk about potential probiotic supplementation with your provider.
Consider how chiropractic care or acupuncture may benefit you before and during pregnancy.
Reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals, starting with products you use regularly such as cleaning products, personal care products, and packaging.

If you’d like more support regarding preconception, fertility, and pregnancy, and the different modalities available, speak to one of our qualified providers!

References:

  1. Preconception Health
  2. Infertility and Public Health
  3. The Effect of Healthy Diet in Pregnancy
  4. Developmental Origins of Health and Disease: Brief History of the Approach and Current Focus on Epigenetic Mechanisms
  5. Meeting report on the 3rd International Congress on Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD)
  6. Maternal and early postnatal nutrition and mental health of offspring by age 5 years: a prospective cohort study
  7. The association between dietary factors and gestational hypertension and pre-eclampsia: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies
  8. Inflammatory and Other Biomarkers: Role in Pathophysiology and Prediction of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus
  9. What’s a Pregnant Woman to Eat? A Review of Current USDA Dietary Guidelines and MyPyramid
  10. Nutrition and the psychoneuroimmunology of postpartum depression
  11. Diet and lifestyle in the prevention of ovulatory disorder infertility.
  12. Chiropractic Care During Pregnancy
  13. The Webster Technique: A Chiropractic Technique With Obstetric Implications
  14. Folate and Human Reproduction
  15. NIH: Folate
  16. The Microbiome and Innate Immunity
  17. Urinary levels of triclosan and parabens are associated with aeroallergen and food sensitization
  18. Partial restoration of the microbiota of cesarean-born infants via vaginal microbial transfer
  19. WHO: Postnatal Care of the Mother and Newborn
  20. Probiotics for prevention of atopic diseases in infants: systematic review and meta-analysis
  21. Body Burden: The Pollution in Newborns
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