Saturday, January 23, 2016

How I Prepare for Pregnancy

In our modern culture of fast food and instant health care, we have a lot of advantages. But we also have a lot of disadvantages. Namely, we're not living as we should, food-wise and lifestyle-wise, and our health suffers.

One of the areas in which we have floundered (badly!) is the area of pre-conception nutritional preparation for the childbearing years.

In traditional societies, couples about to be married often went through a time of preparation, eating specific cultural super-foods in order to nourish and build up the body preparatory to marriage and subsequent pregnancies. And in many traditional societies, it was customary to give women of childbearing age extra-nourishing foods - such as raw organ meats, which are a super-food all by themselves.

However, those days are - alas! - far gone in America. If you go to a doctor today and tell him that you are about to be married and ask what you should do to prepare for possible pregnancy, you will get the same answer in virtually every doctor's office - "Oh, um, take a prenatal vitamin." *

That's it.

And that, my friends, is not good enough.

Pregnancy and childbirth are an incredibly stressful time for a woman's body. A pregnant woman is growing an entirely new body for the little soul she is nurturing! While a prenatal vitamin might be a good start, it's not going to cut it for helping a woman through the incredible stresses of pregnancy, especially repeat pregnancies, especially repeat difficult pregnancies. **

Additionally, for those of us who experience extremely difficult pregnancies due to strong NVP or hyperemesis, pre-conception nutrition is our only shot at giving baby a good start - because once pregnancy begins, good nutrition has to go out the window in favor of survival.

This is where I start inserting random pictures into this post in order to get more clicks.
Sorry, folks, you'll have to live through it. 

There are several other factors to consider as well:

(1) Our bodies in the modern world are being blasted with additional stressors in the form of pesticides, altered DNA sequences through GMO foods, artificial hormones in meat and dairy, artificially altered fatty acid profiles of the animal fats we consume (through poor feeding practices), and industrial toxins through environmental contamination - to name a few.

(2) Most of us have long-term damage in the form of impaired insulin regulation from the unhealthy carb overload we've experienced in this country since the bad diet advice of the mid-1900's (fat is bad! eat more sugar!) became virtually institutionalized and culturally normed. Many of us are dealing with systemic inflammation, chronic disease, and other issues stemming from that same diet (high sugar with loads of pro-inflammatory vegetable oils and a deficiency of healthy fats) that most of us were raised with.

(3) Most modern foods are less nutritious than they were a hundred years ago due to soil-depleting farming practices. So even if we eat healthy foods like broccoli, that broccoli does not have the same level of micro-nutrients that broccoli had in the early 1900's. That's a problem.

(4) The modern American diet has canceled out lots of super-foods that previous generations relished, making us even unhealthier than we were before. Examples: bone broth, lacto-fermented foods, organ meats, meat with skin, gelatin, seaweed.

Thus, if you're about to be married (or are already married!) and want to be open to God's gift of children.... Sister, you've got some work to do if you want to be ready. 

Those of us who have experienced hyperemesis gravidarum - or other hardcore pregnancy problems - know how incredibly taxing pregnancy can be when our bodies are maxed out and suffering under terrible duress. In those cases, preconception preparation is even more important.

With that in mind, I wanted to take a few minutes to tell you about what I am doing for preconception preparation for pregnancy. Unfortunately, I have no guarantees of what will or will not work to prevent recurrent HG. All I can do is read, research, apply what I've learned, and pray for the best outcome possible.

My pre-conception protocol focuses on the following areas:

  1. Overall macronutrient ratios
  2. Nutritional super-foods
  3. Probiotic foods
  4. Supplements

I will update my official pre-conception pregnancy protocol next month, and that post always includes detail-work like brands and places to purchase. But for now, here's an easy and conversational description of the different things that I'm doing to prepare my body for possible pregnancy.

* We've all heard about the magnesium/morning sickness connection. Magnesium is my friend! I take an oral supplement, plus an occasional glass of Natural Calm. I also use a magnesium oil spray. Additionally, I schedule a weekly Epsom salts bath - but that almost never happens (being that it requires half an hour of uninterrupted free time - HA).

* One of the most important factors of my preparation is working on gut health through the use of lacto-fermented foods. Lacto-fermented foods can also be termed probiotic foods, being that they are fermented foods that are teeming with friendly bacteria and/or yeasts. Adding these foods to my diet made a huge improvement in how I feel! Unfortunately, these foods have been all but eliminated from the American diet. And if you buy the modern forms of such foods, like the "pickles" and "sauerkraut" from the store, they are neither lactofermented nor probiotic, and are useless from a health standpoint. The lacto-fermented foods that I include in my repertoire are raw pickles, raw sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, and yogurt.

* Another item on my list is focusing on super-healthy fats in my diet. This means nixing fake fats (margarine and synthetic shortening), minimizing unhealthy industrial seed oils (cottonseed, corn, canola, soy/vegetable) and using lots of saturated animal fats (from meat and butter), coconut oil and coconut milk, and nuts and avocados. I also take a fish oil supplement in liquid form.

* One thing I'm really bad about is drinking enough water. My normal habit is to forget to drink anything all day, and then realize sometime mid-evening that I am burning with thirst. When I took a day to measure how much water I was drinking, I found that it was less than half the recommended amount for my current weight! Yikes! So now I strive to drink more water (I've only made it to the recommended amount once). I also add lemon juice to my water, which is liver-cleansing and alkaline as well. Most people recommend adding apple cider vinegar to water, which I would do except for the fact that I loathe the taste. But if you can make it work, it's a good option.

* My favorite brand of dessicated liver is Radiant Life. But it's quite pricey, and so I came up with a cheaper alternative - namely, eating raw liver! Yes, really. (Stop gagging, it's not that bad. Really.) I cut up raw, organic, grass-fed liver and freeze it in pieces, then thaw one each day, cut it up with kitchen sheers, and swallow it whole (like a pill, with water). I'm really excited about this, and I can feel how good it makes me feel. Right now, as I'm out of liver, I'm feeling the stress! I can't wait to buy more.
In case you should be crazy enough to try this, do not, under any circumstances, attempt to swallow a piece of frozen liver. Don't ask me how I know, but I can tell you that I'm surprised I survived the experience. Let it thaw first. 

* A few months ago, while reading (on nutrition, what else?) I discovered that Brazil nuts are high in selenium - so high, in fact, that eating two Brazil nuts a day is the same as taking a selenium supplement. Okay, why not? Americans are deficient in selenium (surprise!), and it's an essential micronutrient. Nuts are also a great source of other micronutrients, so it's a win-win scenario.

* Also a month or two back, I read about the health benefits of blackstrap molassesWhile the carbs may not jive with a very-low-carb diet, I justify it by the mineral content awesomeness. Hey, and it's super-yummy, especially when you're sugar-deprived.

* One of my favorite health books is The Wahl Protocol. The author, Dr. Wahl, recommends eating the following amounts of vegetables daily: 3 cups of greens, 3 cups of sulfur vegetables (that is, onions and cruciferous vegetables), and 3 cups of dark-colored vegetables. While I never reach those levels of awesomeness, that is my goal, and I'm working toward it. When I remember it (which is almost never) I try to make spinach and coconut milk smoothies to get in extra raw greens.

* I do my best to use bone broth often, and I also add gelatin to any hot liquids I'm drinking. Bone broth is incredibly healthful, and it's so easy to make. Just put a chicken carcass (after you've baked it and eaten the meat) into the crockpot with water, peppercorns, and some carrot-celery-onion (I keep a container in the freezer for leftover bits of those vegetables so that they're always available and never wasted). Then cook for 24-48 hours, cool, strain, and freeze! Our only problem is that we go through it too quickly!

* I'm trying to add dried seaweed to our diet, also per the Wahl Protocol. This one's been trickier, but I'm working on it. On my to-do list is nutritional yeast, another nutritional powerhouse.

* I continue trucking on with the Very Low Carb Diet. Am I enthusiastic about this? No. Do I think it's the way everyone should eat long-term? No. I believe that all three macronutrients are healthy and needed (at least for most people) in a healthy long-term diet. Additionally, this diet requires strict discipline and self-denial, neither of which is practical for a long-term dietary strategy. (That and it's pretty boring.) But the fact remains that, to the best of my knowledge, this diet worked to prevent hyperemesis gravidarum. No other diet has that same guarantee. And so I continue onward.

(My current goal is to maintain this diet until menopause, and then transition to something along the lines of Trim Healthy Mama. Which actually allows decent desserts. YUM.)

* I also take a number of supplements:

  • Turmeric (anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial)
  • Vitamin B complex
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium
  • Multi-vitamin
  • Zinc

* I also spend time reading (and reading, and reading) on the subject of nutrition. Every book teaches me more! And every book helps me to make more connections. While almost none of the books I read talks directly about morning sickness, I am starting to understand the human body and the underlying causative factors of chronic illness. I highly recommend that any mama interested in health or NVP-prevention start investing time and energy in reading health-related books. (See my growing list here.)

* I have a whole different list of supplements that I take during the last trimester of pregnancy to prepare for birth and postpartum, but I won't go into that here. See my supplement list for that information.

* There's also work of a practical nature that I do to prepare for pregnancy:

  • Scripture memorization - Pregnancy is frightening for post-HG mamas. Having Scripture readily available to meditate on is very helpful. 
  • Decluttering - Stuff = a nightmare mess, especially when one is too sick to do anything about it. Fewer toys = much better. 
  • Training of children - Pregnancy is my litmus test of how well I'm disciplining the children, because usually I'm too tired to enforce much of anything during pregnancy. I need to take advantage of between-pregnancy times to make sure I teach and train as well as possible. 
  • Exercise - Another one where I'm pretty bad on consistency. Lately I've been getting back into more barre exercises, which has been lovely, so that's a better bet for me than straight "exercise for exercise's sake."

As you can see, this is a lot of work! And there's really so much more to be done.

But the question really comes down to this... Does it work? Yes, it sounds nice on paper. But does it make a difference?

Yes, it does. A huge, amazing difference.

I have been through pregnancy (full-term, that is) four times. As I've gradually incorporated these supplements and dietary choies, my pregnancies have gotten easier. My last pregnancy was even non-hyperemetic and drug-free. Things like afterpains - which are supposed to worsen with each pregnancy - have become more and more manageable. My births have gotten better (less bleeding, less time with afterpains, shorter recovery times), my postpartum times have gotten easier, everything has improved.

There are no guarantees, of course. And I cannot make any promises for the future. I could have a very difficult next pregnancy (though I pray not). But I have come to see that prenatal and pregnancy nutrition is absolutely vital to pregnancy, birth, and postpartum outcomes.

Additionally, whether or not a supplement and lifestyle regimen "works" to achieve a certain goal (such as avoiding hyperemesis), it cannot but be helpful to build up a body's strength, health, and nutrient stores before undergoing the rigors and stresses of pregnancy. A woman's body will have better outcomes for herself and her babies when her body is well-prepared.

If you're working on your preconception or prenatal nutrition, I would love to hear what you have learned! Please tell me in the comments!

(Really. I mean it. Leave me a comment, and make my day.)

* A similar situation faces already pregnant women in America. In virtually every doctor's office there will be absolutely zero dietary advice given to pregnant mamas (and what is given won't be very good). The only time a pregnant woman receives dietary advice in the American obstetrical system is when she is (1) gaining weight faster than her doctor likes, or (2) tests positive for gestational diabetes. But in virtually all other cases, she will be told, "Oh, don't worry about it. The baby will get what it needs from your body." Again, not good enough. In cases of severe NVP, a pregnant mama can do nothing about her diet, and she doesn't need the stress of being told "You need to eat for your baby!" But in cases where a mama has the ability to eat, there are definite pregnancy super-foods that can be a huge blessing to her body and her baby's developing body.

** One thought that came to mind while researching this subject was that the cavalier nature with which the modern medical establishment treats pre-conception and prenatal nutrition may stem partly from the smaller size of modern families. In past ages, when childbearing and breastfeeding were often constant throughout the fertile years, consequences were far more drastic when a mother neglected nutrition - for example, the old country saying that a woman would "gain a child, lose a tooth." This might be furthering the negative trend of neglecting pre-conception and prenatal health.

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