By Don Webber
Our objective this month is to muse over some of the more common, but more often than not underemphasized or even neglected, pregnancy issues including those associated with appropriate prenatal and postnatal dietary supplementation together with selected product suggestions for you and your baby. So here goes.
Preconception Healthcare Considerations
Before we get into the specifics of dietary supplementation before and after birth, we would be remiss in not addressing the subject prior to conception. After all, that which is conceived is the result of the union of hopefully, healthy ova and spermatozoa. Your objective is to reduce your risk for potential problems like diabetes or high blood pressure, and especially birth defects like spinal cord or neural tube damage caused by an all too common deficiency of the B vitamin fraction called folic acid (also known as folate).
The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that women of childbearing age take in at least 400 micrograms of folate or its synthetic analog folic acid daily through diet (including fortified breads and cereals) and/or dietary supplementation. Many healthcare clinicians recommend supplementing the diet with 600-800 micrograms for a minimum of three months before getting pregnant and at least as long after conception.
Women wishing to become pregnant would be wise to seek out the counsel of a baby-wise, healthcare provider to be prepared for dealing with the important issues of pregnancy such as dietary and supplemental nutrition, hydration, physical exercise, healthy weight, rest and sleep, sunshine exposure, and the avoidance of such things as artificial sweeteners, alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceutical medications. And, of course, the birthing process itself and subsequent infant care are equally important subjects for proper preparation for mommies in the making—hopefully.
What about vaccination and immunization? Whatever your position on the subject—whether pro or con—peripregnancy vaccination or flu shots are in this author’s view a definite no-no, since they may very well be the unintended undoing of your uterus and its developing fetus—a healthy and beautiful baby boy or girl.
Supportive preconception dietary supplements for your consideration:
Also, planning ahead for the blessed event, you might want to purchase the Labor Ease Kit by Earth Mama Angel Baby® for a natural labor companion CD, natural stretch oil, mint herbal lip balm, monthly comfort tea bags, and a hot spot labor sock (?) for your labor needs.
Prenatal Dietary Basics
Agencies, both private and public, such as the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and MedlinePlus of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) generally list the following dietary nutrients (in addition to folate or folic acid) as fundamental to a balanced diet for the pregnant mom and her baby:
- Iron found in chicken, fish, red meat and green leafy veggies to prevent “iron-deficiency anemia”
- Calcium found in dairy foods, fortified juices for proper bone, teeth, nerve, muscle and heart development
- Innumerable nutrients (think baby-boosting “phytonutrients” so-called) found in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and low-fat dairy foods
- Dietary oils such as those from fish, cod liver, and flax seed
- Seafood for contributing to your offspring’s future intelligence, social behavior and developmental skills
- Chlorella (an algae) to reduce the risk of pregnancy associated anemia, edema, and proteinuria (excess protein in the urine)
Pregnant women would be wise to completely avoid consuming many culturally common substances, a representative sampling of which would include recreational (alcohol, marijuana, tobacco), pharmaceutical (aspirin), and smart (dilantin, vinpocetine) drugs, and supplemental melatonin, a very popular hormone for insomnia.
In addition to supplemental melatonin, many common herbs should not be consumed including: andrographis, angelica, blue cohosh, goldenseal, juniper, passion flower, St. John’s wort, schizandra, and yohimbe to name only a few. Excessive vitamin A (above 150k IU daily) and Omega-6 dietary oils (safflower and sunflower seed oils) should be avoided to preclude fetal growth impairment and possible malformation.
Coffee consumption, if unable to be avoided altogether, should be limited to no more than two cups per day to preclude the possibility of birth defects.
Finally, for your information and/or caution, it has been reported that eating a lot of sweet potatoes during your pregnancy may increase your likelihood of bearing twins—believe it or not—because of their propensity for “triggering the release of follicle stimulating hormone.”
Bottom line: eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables (organic if possible), some whole grains, lean meats, skinless poultry, mercury-free fish, and nuts and seeds. At the same time forego the traditional three square meals a day and go for six smaller meals throughout the day to maintain a nourished body and baby, and to avoid blood sugar swings.
Epigenetics and Your Baby
What in the world is epigenetics all about? Well, while the dictionary defines it as “the study of heritable changes that occur without a change in the DNA sequence” (Collins English Dictionary), it can be more simply understood by its Greek etymology: epi=over or above and genetics=genes of an organism. So epigenetics is simply all about how your genes or those of your baby can otherwise express themselves by external tweaking, if you will, with specific substances, foods and herbs.
In light of recent research in this emerging field of epigenetics, which can also be defined as thestudy of phytochemical (phyto=plant) modificationof an organism’s specific genes and their subsequent genetic expression, it is increasingly becoming recognized that both mom’s external environment (characterized by an abundance of nutrients and avoidance of toxins like alcohol, drugs, and tobacco) and baby’s in utero placental environment play vital roles in optimal “fetal programming” so-called for expression after birth and beyond. For example, mom’s weight before and during pregnancy can and does influence her baby’s present and future weight.
In addition to folic acid and vitamin D, other nutrients known to be especially beneficial to your baby later in life include hormones, essential fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins respectively as follows: natural progesterone, doco-sahexaenoic acid (DHA), choline, iodine, zinc, and vitamins B6, B12 and E.
Moms Need Magnesium
Pregnancy often increases the need for supplemental minerals (calcium, magnesium, selenium), and vitamins (A, biotin, folate, C, D, K). Not so emphasized by clinicians generally, however, is calcium’s much neglected cousin, viz., magnesium. Since most prenatal formulas deliver a minuscule amount of magnesium, it is vital for you to get all the magnesium you need from what you eat and supplementally, as required, especially with muscle or leg cramping, the most common indications of tissue insufficiency or frank deficiency.
The following foods and herbs provide the most magnesium: raw nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts), raw seeds (mustard, sesame, sunflower), wheat bran and germ, and wild marjoram better known as oregano. Topping the list, however, at a whopping 760 mg per 100 grams is brown seaweed otherwise known as kelp or bladderwrack. And of course a wide variety of greens offers lots of this major mineral.
Some supplement suggestions for your consideration:
Vitamin D Deficiency
Unlike the magnesium story, however, it has been increasingly well-documented even in the popular literature that a world-wide vitamin D deficiency delivers babies with soft bones (remember rickets?), some even fractured when passing through the birth canal. Sadly this catastrophic consequence (often resulting in a tragic and unfounded medical diagnosis of “shaken baby syndrome”) calls for the simple solution of increased sun exposure for mom before and during her pregnancy. Simple sunshine or in its absence something equivalent like safe tanning beds (UVB only) and/or vitamin D3 pills is the sine qua non of a healthy baby before and after birth.
Maternal vitamin D deficiency also increases the risk your baby could suffer numerous other serious ailments including premature birth, low birth weight, eczema, impaired bone and teeth development, diabetes (Type I), multiple sclerosis (MS), and manic depression.
While many ocean creatures such as sardines, salmon, mackerel, shrimp and oysters deliver vitamin D, only cod and halibut liver oil yield any dietary source of any significance. Supplementation, therefore, is absolutely essential. It is generally agreed by both researchers and clinicians that a daily maintenance dose of 5,000-8,000 IUs is required, but only after mother’s blood plasma levels have reached their optimum range (50-70 ng/ml). Higher dosing may be required initially to achieve the targeted blood level.
Sunshine Vitamin Supplementation
Vitamin D supplements are available in two forms in doses ranging from 400 IU to 10,000 IU per serving:
- Vitamin D2 (Ergocalciferol) — Inferior vitamin D analog (look alike) from Big Pharma available only by MD prescription
- Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol) — Superior form by any scientific and clinical perspective from a multitude of OTC sources delivered in many forms (liquid, liquid emulsion, softgel, tablet, gelatin or vegan capsule) from both animal (lanolin) and plant sources (e.g., mushrooms)
You moms can consider using any number of Vitamin D3 5000 IU product options from the following quality national manufacturers:
- Bluebonnet, Country Life®, Doctors Best®, Douglas Laboratories
- Jarrow Formulas®, Life Extension®, Natural Factors®, Nature’s Plus®
- Now®, Pure Essence Labs, Solgar®, Source Naturals®, Superior Source
For your baby, consider using these popular products:
As perhaps the number one mineral deficiency in the general population (competing with iodine according to many researchers), magnesium is increasingly recognized for what it truly is—the magic mineral. Its insufficiency or deficiency during pregnancy will be manifested by such common complaints as nausea, loss of appetite, insomnia, irregular heartbeat (cardiac arrhythmias), and as we have seen already, muscle twitching and leg cramping.
Any serious major mineral deficiency may very well result in preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced high blood pressure or hypertension), impaired fetal development, newborn morbidity, and—God forbid—even infant mortality. High blood pressure during pregnancy is acknowledged as the leading cause of both maternal and fetal mortality worldwide. Indeed, the risk of stroke is almost 2.5 times for pregnant women.
Last year the British Medical Journal reported on a Mexico City study which concluded that the likelihood of preeclampsia in pregnant women (and the risk of premature birth as well) was significantly reduced by dietary supplementation with a combination of the amino acid L-Arginine and antioxidant vitamins such as A, C, and E, for example, which work together to promote healthy blood circulation and free-radical scavenging to prevent oxidation or internal “rusting.” Conventional medicine’s aspirin therapy several weeks into a pregnancy is probably not a good idea or practice.
In addition to those nutrients already noted, consider as well the following listed by category:
- Carotenoids — Lycopene
- Essential Fatty Acids — EPA/DHA from Fish Oil
- Quinones — Coenzyme Q10
- Minerals — Calcium, Potassium, Selenium, Zinc
- Vitamins — B Complex, D, E Complex
And finally—you’re going to love this—indulge yourself to your heart’s content with dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa content), because its “theobromine” (from the Greek theo=God + broma=food) component used in medical practice as a diuretic, myocardial stimulant, and vasodilator, has been found to help prevent preeclampsia. Could any other food be so aptly named “God Food”? And we have it on the highest authority from Saint Paul in his 1st century letter to the Thessalonians that indeed God “giveth us richly all things to enjoy” (I 6:17 KJV)—even chocolate which goes well, as you know, with red wine “for the joy of our heart” (according to the psalmist of old), but only after pregnancy and lactation, of course.
Morning sickness so-called can actually happen anytime—day or night, morning or evening. For whatever unknown reason(s), most moms-to-be experience some nausea during early pregnancy and many of those (maybe 50%) suffer even worse with vomiting.
Dietary care might include eating foods high in protein and complex carbs, snacking at bedtime, munching on soda crackers or dry toast, and according to some eating cold foods, since hot stuff often triggers queasiness. Vitamin (B6, K) and mineral (magnesium, zinc) supplementation may be helpful in alleviating this dispiriting condition.
Ginger is perhaps the best known herbal therapy, while teas featuring peppermint, spearmint, and even raspberry, are often found to be helpful.
Supportive supplements for your consideration:
Taking care of your baby after birth should not neglect the taking care of self at the same time. A healthy diet, adequate hydration, plenty of rest and enough sleep (if possible) are fundamental. Challenging issues include such common complaints as legs and feet swelling, constipation, menstrual-like cramping, tender breasts and leaking nipples, climbing stairs, and last but certainly not least is postpartum depression, also known as “baby blues,” if of short duration.
Postpartum depression can make you feel generally “bummed-out”—feeling restless, anxious, tired, and sadly even worthless in the case of some women. Some new moms even worry that they will hurt themselves or their babies as a result. Unlike the “baby blues,” postpartum depression endures for some time, but rarely results in even more serious issues such as not eating, sleeping, or acting normally. Women with this condition may need to be hospitalized for proper care and treatment.
While some researchers have argued that the interplay of a mother’s particular set of “genetic markers” with certain socioeconomic advantages or disadvantages affect such depression, most researchers hypothesize that hormonal changes such as a decline in progesterone production during and after pregnancy may be the leading cause of postpartum depression.
Counseling and dietary-specific supplementation, however, may make all the difference. With guidance from your healthcare provider consider taking such nutrients as: natural progesterone cream, Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA, EPA), the mineral selenium, vitamins B2 and B6, and Mexican wild yam.
Prenatal and Postnatal Dietary Supplementation
As noted elsewhere with emphasis by this author just last month (Why Seniors Need Nutrient Supplementation), it is generally accepted as true that food-based multi-vitamin/mineral multiples are superior to conventional formulations comprised of mainly synthetic isolates. Accordingly, the following well-attested, prenatal products from well-known and highly respected manufacturers—to list only three—are suggested for your evaluation and utilization:
Other more conventional formulations for your review, some of which are partly food-based, include the following standouts—again to name only a few out of many:
Vegan moms-to-be are encouraged to check out this product: Vegan Multivitamin and Mineral Prenatal by the Deva® company.
While traditionally thought to be gastrointestinal in origin and nature, stressful colicky crying or “colic” common to many newborns (as this writer and his wife know personally from 44 years ago), it is interesting to note that colic has recently been linked to mothers’ migraines, as reported just this month by ScienceDaily. Migraine-plagued mothers were found to be two-and-a-half times more likely to have such crybabies, who may develop future “childhood periodic syndromes” including of course—you guessed it— migraines. It matters not if mom is feeding her baby breast milk or formula.
Many a migraine has been successfully alleviated or eliminated by simple vitamin (riboflavin), mineral (magnesium), and herbal (feverfew) therapies.
Finally, it should be noted that probiotic therapy has been found effective in both preventing and treating infant colic. So if your incessantly crying baby is bugging you, maybe the addition of some good bugs otherwise known as “benign” or “beneficial” bacteria, such as those in an infant/child-specific, probiotic product will yield some needed peace and quiet.
Supportive probiotic supplements for your consideration:
- FloraBABY™ by Renew Life® — Powder of five strains of baby-loving bacteria (including B. infantis, of course), delivering 4 billion busy bugs (CFUs or “Colony Forming Units” to put it more technically) per gram
- Baby’s Jarro-Dophilus® + FOS by Jarrow Formulas®
Some Lactation Tips
While just last month it was revealed that CDC researchers in a published study suggested that breast milk inhibited the efficacy of the rotavirus vaccine (and therefore presumably should be discontinued in favor of vaccine efficacy!), traditional thinking still contends that breast milk is and will always be best for baby in light of its absolutely vital immune-supporting substances such as immunoglobulin A (IgA) and lactoferrin.
In addition to calcium, folate or folic acid, and vitamin A, lactation supportive substances include herbs such as aniseed, blessed thistle, chaste berry, nettle, raspberry leaf and shatavari. Best known for supporting mother’s milk production are fenugreek seeds, whether taken as an herbal extract or as a satisfying tea.
Supportive breastfeeding supplements for your consideration:
Lest we forget and you unintentionally think more of self and husband than baby, we need to remind you NOT to diet while breastfeeding with the misguided intent to shed some postpartum weight in order to regain your svelte preconception figure.
Nutrient-Specific Products for Clinical Objectives
Finally, please consider with your clinician the following nutrient-specific formulations to address any specific nutritional needs in known or suspected conditions or deficiencies in you or your baby:
- Hyperhealth Pro 10.0, 2010 CD-ROM (In-Tele-Health ©2009)
- YOU: Having a Baby, Michael Roizen, MD and Mehmet OZ, MD, Free Press, 2009