For women who have long dreamt of having a baby, the uncomfortable realities of pregnancy—morning sickness, hemorrhoids, fatigue—can sometimes overshadow the joyful news. But pregnancy is filled with intimations of the sublime. It has the power to engage the mind and open the heart as your body welcomes a new life into form. Use our practical guide to learn how to embrace the whole experience—one trimester at a time.
The week I learned I was pregnant, I could barely contain my excitement; the next week I could barely retain my breakfast. Or lunch. Or dinner. Overcome with extreme nausea, I lost 12 pounds in four weeks. When I finally landed in the hospital, lying under the crisp, white linens with 5 percent dextrose solution dripping into my forearm, I lamented that my situation little resembled the romantic notion I’d had of pregnancy.
It wasn’t until a few months later, while writing to my soon-to-be-born daughter, that I gleaned the wisdom of that time. Feeling like a truck had run me over brought life as I knew it to a screeching halt, allowing me to pause long enough to marvel at this miracle taking place within me. Harried days of tight schedules shifted to quieter moments of exploring this new life with my baby—getting to know my daughter through lyrical dreams; interpreting her kicks as messages from her watery world; playing my favorite music for her; and understanding that my universe was hers.
In the letter, I thanked her for helping me see pregnancy not only as a time of amazing physical change, but also one of profound spiritual opportunity—the beginning of my life as a nurturer.
Like it does for many women, pregnancy made me reevaluate how I lived my life. I began to question what I ate, how I breathed, what I used to clean my house, and even how I reacted to stress. My body, now the home of two physiologies, exemplified a symbiotic relationship. My baby’s world—cocooned within my own—depended on me.
Gathering reliable information on enjoying a healthy pregnancy proved as tedious as patching a quilt together, each unique square representing a different bit of advice from seasoned moms; best-selling authors; and, of course, my obstetrician. I had to sift through a lot of confusing and often conflicting information. Was coffee OK to drink? Could I use conventional cosmetics? Should I only eat organic food? Looking back, I wish I had a Pregnancy Action Plan, as my practical how-to guide to a healthy pregnancy.
Eating for Two
The first step in purifying your baby’s intrauterine home is to eat healthfully yourself. Choose naturally colorful, unprocessed, organically grown foods, free of pesticides and hormones. And remember: Your sugar high is her sugar high. “Use common sense about what to eat,” advises Joel Evans, MD, author of The Whole Pregnancy Handbook. “Build a daily balanced diet around the five big nutrients of pregnancy: calcium, complex carbohydrates, good fats, iron, and protein.”
Although taking supplements won’t replace eating a nutritionally potent array of foods, it will ensure that you get the right balance of nutrients. So begin taking a prenatal vitamin right away. In fact, even if you are only thinking about getting pregnant, start those vitamins now so that you get what you need nutritionally by the time you conceive. Especially folic acid. Research has shown that supplementing with 400 mcg of folic acid every day beginning 12 weeks before you conceive guards against neural tube defects.
Bottom line: A healthy diet and prenatal vitamins are vital for both you and your baby. He needs these nutrients to help him grow; you need them to restore what your little one extracts from your bones and blood. In addition to preventing neural tube defects, good dietary choices may prevent certain diseases like acute lymphoblastic leukemia, liver disease, diabetes, and preeclampsia.
Out with the Toxins
In addition to revamping your diet, pay attention to environmental toxins that turn up in unexpected places. Researchers at two major laboratories found an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in umbilical cord blood from 10 babies born in US hospitals. “The air quality in our homes is two to five times more toxic than the outside air, contaminated by somewhere between 20 and 150 different pollutants—most of which come from petrochemical cleaners,” write Deirdre Dolan and Lexy Zissu, in their book The Complete Organic Pregnancy. For example, common laundry detergent contains alkyl phenoxy polyethoxy ethanols, trace amounts of which can alter the activity of certain genes. Simple furniture polish contains amyl acetate, implicated in central nervous system depression. Dolan and Zissu suggest replacing your cleaning products with natural products such as borax, vegetable-based liquid soap, water, club soda, white vinegar, baking soda, and lemon.
Then purge your makeup bag. “Most beauty products are filled with chemicals that are hormone disruptors, probable carcinogens, and iffy preservatives,” cautions Zissu. Stay away from phthalates (linked to birth defects), parabens, and hair dyes containing coal tars. Even waxy dental floss is often coated with a form of Teflon, a likely carcinogen.
Nurture the Spirit
“Pregnancy is nature doing something dramatically creative,” says David Simon, MD, coauthor of Magical Beginnings,
Enchanted Lives: A Holistic Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth. Being the vessel for this creative process can be exhilarating but, at times, overwhelming. Watch your stress levels. Prolonged stress can elevate homocysteine levels and put you at risk for delivering a preterm, low–birth weight baby.
Use these nine months as an opportunity to pay attention to how you treat your body, your mind, and your heart. As trite as it may sound, you and your baby are in this together. Each trimester brings with it challenges and blessings for each of you, all of which comes to a joyous conclusion as you hold your baby in your arms for the first time.
Nutrition Do’s and Don’ts
- Eat an extra 300 calories per day.
- Choose organic, when possible.
- Supplement with a prenatal vitamin.
- Begin taking 400 mcg folic acid daily 12 weeks before conception.
- Get 1,500 mg per day calcium.
- Take 1,000 mg per day omega-3s.
- Get 450 to 1,000 mg choline per day, for fetal memory development.
- Supplement with antioxidants.
- Take 400 IU vitamin D per day to increase bone density.
- Drink filtered water.
- Store food in glass containers, rather than plastic.
- Enjoy red raspberry leaf, squaw vine, nettle leaf, alfalfa, spearmint, and burdock root.
- Eat pregnancy superfoods such as almonds, berries, broccoli, chickpeas, leafy greens, figs, eggs, organic beef, raisins, salmon, and sweet potato.
- Eat junk food or trans fats.
- Buy foods with artificial colorings or flavorings.
- Take fish oil supplements with PCBs.
- Eat cured meat.
- Rely on supplements and forego nutrient-rich food.
- Re-use plastic water bottles, which can leach toxins.
- Cook with Teflon, a known carcinogen.
- Consume more than 300 mg caffeine per day.
- Consume alcohol, soft cheeses, sushi, oysters, peanuts, raw or undercooked eggs, pâté, unpasteurized juice or milk, or fish high in mercury.
The baby’s arrival is still six months away, but your morning bouts of nausea still feel hauntingly frequent. Every so often you wake up, run to the bathroom and hover over the toilet, tortured by cramps. You don’t sleep well at night, your food cravings have grown more insatiable every week, and your moods change erratically throughout the day. While the doctor warned you to expect all of these symptoms toward the end of the first trimester, you just didn’t think they would happen to you. You thought they would happen to your wife.
Couvade Syndrome, otherwise known as male sympathetic pregnancy, refers to the experience of sympathy pains that can affect up to 80 percent of expecting dads in one form or another. The physical discomforts are real and varied—including indigestion, insomnia, oscillating appetite, mood swings, abdominal distention, morning sickness, and even stomach muscle contractions during the actual labor. Studies also show an increase of hormones such as estrogen and prolactin (a hormone involved in breastfeeding) in fathers-to-be, similar to the hormonal changes of their pregnant partners.
Amid much debate, experts propose several causes for Couvade Syndrome, including empathy for one’s partner, anxiety about the baby, or even guilt at having caused the pregnancy in the first place. For men experiencing any of these symptoms—often strongest during the first and third trimesters—experts advise a psychological approach to relief. Try, for example, to reflect on any unspoken feelings you may have about the pregnancy—jealousy, fear, inadequacy, or guilt—and be sure to discuss these with your partner. Open communication can often help quell sympathy pains. And if all else fails, know that a surefire cure does exist: childbirth. All symptoms should disappear when the child finally sees the light.
By Sally Wallace Lynch, MS, CD-N and Andrew Behrendt