Tony and I are expecting a baby in December, and even after 3 kids, this is my first time going through pregnancy as a fit and health-conscious mother. Here is what I have learned about how pregnancy and fitness/nutrition fit together through my new experience and research.
Nutrition During Pregnancy
In the first trimester, you will probably experience morning sickness at some point, and no matter what good intentions you have for your pregnancy diet, may become hostage to your food aversions and nausea. Even if you aren’t sick, you might feel so tired that you don’t feel like going to the effort to get up and make a healthy meal.
I was comforted to know that the body has a built-in defense during this time-the baby’s yolk sack gives it the nutrients it needs until around 10-12 weeks when the placenta takes over. Eat what you can and don’t worry about getting the perfect amount of nutrients and calories, etc if you just can’t stomach it.
However, you can still aim to avoid all processed foods, fast foods, artificial sweeteners, trans fats and keep your choices to whole foods. In other words, if all you can eat is crackers, try to pick the best cracker option (Whole Foods has a good saltine option that I lived on).
After the first trimester, you’ll probably begin to feel much better. Take advantage of this by by introducing the healthy foods back into your diet a little at a time. Here are the staples of a healthy pregnancy diet:
- Protein – Protein is the building block of life, and your baby needs the amino acids to form correctly. During pregnancy, you need about 80g of protein per day. Lean meat, greek yogurt, legumes, cheese, eggs, and nuts all are good sources of protein (avoid high mercury fish).
- Complex Carbohydrates – Vegetables, fruits, tubers, and whole grains are vital to your health and energy levels, and also to help form your baby’s organs and prevent birth defects. The fiber will carry the nutrients through your system and to your baby, and will also help with digestive problems that are common during pregnancy, like constipation. Vegetables are especially high in the nutrients needed to form your baby’s bones, prevent anemia, give you energy, and even aid in morning sickness. Eat vegetables with every meal during pregnancy, and make sure to get at least 1 cup of leafy greens per day to decrease the baby’s chance of birth defects.
- Healthy Fats - Especially (Omega-3) DHA and EPA are so important not only to your baby, but for you. These fats reduce inflammation which will help with the aches and pains of your changing body. They have also been shown to help reduce prenatal and post-partum depression in mothers, increase breastmilk supply, and prevent pre-eclampsia and pre-term labor. These fats also help form your baby’s brain and vision properly, and studies have even found that they may make your baby smarter and reduce its risk of allergies. The best sources of DHA and EPA during pregnancy are salmon, grass-fed beef, walnuts, and flaxseed.
Aim to drink at least 64 ounces of water each day, adding 8 additional ounces for every hour of exercise. Water is vital during pregnancy to prevent dehydration as the physical demands placed on your body are greater. This water bottle helps me increase my water intake. I drink 3 per day and take it with me everywhere.
Supplements during pregnancy are important. I use this all-natural, organic prenatal vitamin made from real food, with no dyes, chemicals, or synthetic vitamins. I also supplement with this cod liver oil for my DHA and EPA requirement, as my research has found it to have no mercury contamination as well as the correct ratio of Vitamin A to Vitamin D. Talk to your doctor about supplements before you take anything!
Exercise During Pregnancy
If you did not exercise before you became pregnant, don’t worry because as long as your doctor clears you, it should be safe to begin working out. If you were already active before becoming pregnant, you should also be safe to continue your normal activities.
(Don’t worry if you have to sit out the first trimester, you can start again when you feel better.)
Guidelines to follow for pregnancy exercise:
- Get your doctor’s approval before you start or continue your exercise program.
- Always listen to your body. If anything feels off-overheating, dizziness, shortness of breath, pain, etc, take a break.
- Don’t exercise less than an hour after eating. Hormones make our digestive systems cranky, and eating before a workout can cause discomfort or nausea.
- Drink tons of water before, during, and after working out to stay hydrated and keep your body temperature cool.
- Avoid exercises with risk of falling or impact to the baby, like contact sports, cycling, box or hurdle jumping, etc.
Remember, being pregnant isn’t a medical condition or illness, and you’re less fragile than you think! The benefits of exercise to you during pregnancy are endless. Not only will you feel better physically, but exercise will prepare you for labor and delivery.
Working out may even lower chances of interventions during delivery, like forceps and c-section. You will likely experience a faster recovery after delivery, and have an easier time getting back in shape. It can also help you with back and joint pains, improve your core strength, reduce the chance of pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes, prevent swelling, and can even help you feel better about yourself and your changing body.
For baby, the benefits are also numerous: baby will receive more oxygen and nutrients, and will likely be born at a healthier birth weight if you exercise regularly.
If you have never tried yoga before, pregnancy is a great time to give it a whirl. I do it everyday in addition to my regular workouts. It helps me with aches and pains, relaxes me, and even helps me to connect with my baby. Many mothers who performed prenatal yoga during pregnancy report having an easier time dealing with contractions, as yoga helped them to get in touch with their bodies.
And remember, if your diet isn’t perfect one day or you can’t workout like you intended, don’t beat yourself up! Stress is harmful to your child and no one is perfect – the sooner you learn that before your child arrives, the easier your life with baby will be.