Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Part 4: A look at how I believe my changing diet with each pregnancy has affected my children and the pregnancies themselves. (pregnancy #4, baby due in May)

Well, I certainly meant for this post to go up a couple of weeks ago. It turns out trying to buy a house, getting ready for a move, taking care of kiddos and everything else under the sun that is going on has kept me away from blogging. I do believe that my posts may be pretty intermittent for a while, so bear with me as my family and I make some pretty big transitions in our lives. All our awesome, but all take time and there is only so much energy and only so many hours in a day. 


This is the fourth part of this series. To read about my other pregnancies check out the links below.


Pregnancy, birth and the life that is brought forth into this world is amazing, scary, empowering, difficult and in the end a true learning experience, that is, if you want it to be.

I am over halfway through my fourth pregnancy and this one has been a journey all of it's own. I chose the route of learning from past experiences and applied that knowledge to this pregnancy. I've known since having my daughter that I truly desired to have a natural birth, without any tests and ultrasounds. I didn't want to be back in a doctor or midwife office feeling pressured to do things I wasn't comfortable with, nor feeling supported by my view points and research. So this time around I've chosen to go the route of having a home birth and seeing a certified professional midwife (CPM). This child, thus far has had about the most natural life that anyone can have, seeing as how we haven't so much as taken a pregnancy test, although the ever expanding belly and the regular kicks tells us our little one is growing healthy and strong!

I found out I was pregnant shortly before we were to move this last fall. The pregnancy came as a surprise. Not a bad one, but one that we weren't quite prepared for either. We had actually been wanting to have another child and I had originally desired to be pregnant exactly when I ended up being so, however this last year has brought a lot of transitions and a good portion of our life has been up in the air. I was trying to not feel stressed or overwhelmed over the many things going on and the many things that were out of my control. I truly was hoping that life could be a little more settled before being pregnant again so I could spend more time concentrating on the pregnancy and taking care of the two beautiful children I already have. Plus, I had wanted to go through a detox and get my diet back on track. Between scrambling to look at houses to buy, packing and then finding an apartment to rent, my real food diet went pretty much out the door this summer. We were going too many different direction all at the last minute and I found it difficult to stay on top of meal planning. I can honestly say that all of our bodies suffered for it, especially my sons who's wheat/gluten allergy flared it's ugly head. We are still working at getting his body back to a healthy place.

Although I knew I wanted to have a home birth this time around I visited one birth clinic, because until recently we weren't sure we would be able to do a home birth giving our current living situation. This clinic was wonderful, inviting and the midwives were very knowledgeable about health and nutrition and their vital role in pregnancy and birth. As wonderful as it was, it was expensive, very expensive. If you've read this blog for long, I've shared here and there that we have been trying to get out of debt. We are just about there, but the expenses of having this baby at a birth clinic would set us way back. Our insurance wouldn't cover anything. I went home and showed my husband the numbers and we talked about the clinic. While I did really like it, I didn't feel settled about giving birth at the clinic and the expense didn't help this. I decided to wait on seeing anyone and prayed that the Lord would make our future path a little more clear for us, before I had to make a final decision on a midwife.

I think this pregnancy thus far has shown me the most evidence on what a different diet can do for the body. Just prior to my pregnancy and especially in the first trimester I started to wean out desserts and as my pregnancy has progressed I've also tried to not consume empty calories. The main reason I started this was because I wanted us to stay healthier this winter, knowing what sugar can do to the immune system. For myself though it also had to do with eating empty calories that ultimately cause weight gain and cravings. This step was made far easier for me because sweets made me pretty sick the whole first trimester. Even now I can only eat them in small amounts and typically only after a well balanced meal. Cutting out foods that were eaten more out of desire (like sweets and many grain snacks) than for their nutrients allowed my body to eat more of the food it actually needed. If you don't let yourself fill up on treats, you are either going to be hungry or you find yourself grabbing a piece of fruit or vegetable, or better yet, not needing anything at all because the munching was mostly something to do.

Thus far in this pregnancy I've put on between 16-20 lbs. This is far less than in my last two pregnancies, where my weight gain was excessive, at least in my opinion and for my frame. It has really been wonderful to not have the evening sweet cravings I used to have, even the kids don't beg for sweets and we are all very content having a piece of fruit or a bowl of plain, whole milk yogurt with maple syrup and fruit instead. I will warn people though, cutting out treats/sweats isn't typically easy, but if you stick with it, the treats won't be nearly as appealing as they once were. It also helps to not have it in the house at all. If it's not there, you can eat it!

One of the greatest difficulties I have had thus far is keeping my sugar levels balanced. When you begin to really tune into your body I've found that you start to notice when it's out of balance. This has been especially true for me with my sugar levels. I've struggled on and off with hypo/hyperglycemia for years. Much of what I read for maintaining a healthy sugar level was to eat a decent amount of protein. Well, I do this and have for a long time, but protein hasn't been cutting it. Even before my pregnancy I struggled with insomnia (most likely caused at least partially by hypoglycemia), that only got worse as the weeks progressed through the first trimester. Around the same time I was also starting to have terribly dry skin, a very common frustration in pregnancy. A lot of the mainstreams pregnancy sites essentially tell you to get a good lotion and basically do your best to slather up, but don't give any advice about what you can do to actually correct the problem internally. Well, slathering up in lotion wasn't going to cut it for me, I wanted more information.

So what did I do? Increased my fat content and by a decent amount. Those who are closer to me know I don't shy away from healthy fat, but when you are pregnant and growing an amazing little child your need for healthy fats can drastically increase. This meant that at night, when my sugar level was the hardest to keep balanced I started changing my evening snack. I tried to do primarily protein at first and little to no grains. After many nights of trying different things what I found worked best is a combination of protein, a little whole grain properly prepared through soaking or fermenting (like with naturally fermented sourdough) and a decent amount of fat. What I eat most often is a slice of toast with at least a tablespoon of organic butter (preferably from cream of grass-fed cows) on it, then topped with a nice helping of organic, unsweetened almond or peanut butter and a bit of raw honey for a little more flavor. Plus I drink a cup of warm, organic, raw whole milk. Another simpler treat is sliced apple with peanut/almond butter and again a glass of warm milk. What a difference these snacks have made for my sleep. Now for full disclosure, I still don't sleep awesome and am often extremely tired, but that is primarily do to my youngest not sleeping well since we've moved, noisy neighbors, middle of the night bathroom visits and so forth. At least now though when I go to bed, if it's quiet I sleep very well until something wakes me up.

One of the other benefits of increasing my fat intake is the extremely dry, itchy skin also went away for the most part. I can't say I don't ever have dry skin, but it is far, far better. Also, I think it has made a significant difference for cravings and a need to munch. My body is overall more satisfied. I have had virtually no cravings thus far. It's interesting, if I were to listen to what standard American practices say a "healthy" diet should be (low calories, low fat, and so forth) you would think that I would be having a weight gain issue, especially since I put so much weight on in my last pregnancies, but the exact opposite has been true so far. It's often recommended that while pregnant you put on between 25-35lbs. Where I stand now with my weight gain should, I hope, have me right around 35 lbs of gained weight by the time this baby is born. That is of course If I don't start putting on crazy weight over the next couple of months. If it ends up being more, who cares. I really am not to overly concerned about weight, I just don't want to put an unhealthy amount on. In the end I think if a woman eats healthy, gets some exercise, which for me is chasing after and taking care of two little kids and doesn't indulge in those junk food cravings, then what weight she gains in her pregnancy shouldn't be too big of a concern (unless there is a medical issue with either the mother or the baby).

When I say I want to eat a balanced diet, what this means to me is doing my best to get as much nutrients as possible from a wide variety of food. I have chosen to not take a prenatal vitamin this time around and have instead had to be more thoughtful about what foods I consume. I follow much of what the Weston Price Foundation has to recommend for a pregnant woman's diet, although tweak it in my own areas going by what my body type needs and also some of my own beliefs and research.

What type of foods do I try and consume weekly? 
For protein: 
Eggs - I try to get these from a local farmer where the hens are truly free-range, with access to sun, grass and bugs and the hens are not fed any GMO grains, especially soy. I eat typically 2-3 eggs every day for breakfast.
Fish - I stocked up on some amazing Alaskan salmon at the beginning of winter. My whole family loves sea food, so we eat some type of fish, although most often salmon, 1-2 times a week.
Grass-fed, organic beef - I've become pretty particular about my meat and almost exclusively eat beef that comes from cows who are only grass-fed and again have access to sun and plenty of fresh air. 
Chicken - I use the same rule of thumb for my chicken meat as I do my eggs. My chickens must be healthy, organic, free-range, and eating an omnivore diet (bugs, grass, etc.) I mix up how much chicken and beef we eat, but have at least one of them for every evening meal. 
Organ meat - Can't forget this awesome food. I know, I know liver, gizzards, really? Yep and I see this poor man's food as one of the most essential proteins to have in the diet while pregnant. They contain too much vital nutrients to pass up. We eat liver at least once a week and have one my favorite gizzard dishes (I'll share the recipe sometime soon I hope) every couple of weeks. These are the two most accessible organ meats for us to buy.
Pork and other meats - I am not a huge pork eater, except perhaps enjoying bacon or sausage with breakfast a couple times a week. I go back and forth about how good this type of meat is for our body. In the end, I am honestly just a bigger fan of chicken and pork is more expensive too. When other meats are affordable, like lamb, duck, goose, I add those to our diet too, but that is far more hit and miss. 

For dairy:
Raw milk - We drink only organic, whole, raw milk in our home and have been doing that for about 4 years now. With the raw milk I make my own yogurt and kefir. The kids and I consume at least one of these every day, if not more often. I am actually beginning to focus on drinking less fresh milk (although I do try and drink at at least 16 oz of fresh milk a day while pregnant) and more fermented milk products to increase our probiotic intake in our diet so we all have healthier guts. This largely stems from my son's and my gluten/wheat intolerance. While I don't struggle with it nearly as bad as my son (at least I don't think so), it has been very difficult to see him not be able to eat so many of the foods he used to love now that we have cut all gluten and wheat out of his diet. Gluten issues can be passed down from generation to generation. The health of the mother's gut dictates a great deal of how healthy her children's gut will be. I am working on getting my gut healthier so my newest little one can start out on the best foot possible.

Another great advantage of consuming more probiotics while pregnant is to help keep regular stools. Many a pregnant woman knows that constipation can be terrible in pregnancy. The healthier the gut is the better your stools will remain. I have struggled with constipation in my last two pregnancies, but overall in this one haven't had to much of a problem. I try to consume at least 8 oz of fresh kefir or yogurt everyday.

Cheese - If I could I would probably consume a lot more cheese than I do, but I tend to feed it to my kids before I eat it myself. When I can I make my own raw milk cheese, but this has been pretty hit or miss this winter. I do have a new cheese press coming in the mail so I can start making homemade cheddar and other cheeses, but it hasn't arrived yet. I try to purchase raw milk cheese as often as I can.

Butter and other dairy products - If I could I would only consume butter made from raw cream, but getting raw cream, especially in the winter, is far more difficult than getting raw milk. Instead I buy organic butter from grass-fed cows or just plain organic butter (depends on what I'm using it for). I also make 16 oz. of crème fraîche every week to enjoy with soup, some of my favorite Spanish dishes or with eggs. The cream I buy is organic and from grass-fed cows and is never ultra-pasteurized, but instead vat pasteurized.

For fat:
As I just mentioned above, I eat the best butter I can get and in no way shy away from using it. I try to incorporate butter, and fat in general, in as many places as I can. Other fat that I eat and probably more of than butter is coconut oil, which has become my primary cooking oil. Fats I eat a little less of, but still try to incorporate in my diet are lard and tallow. Tallow is one I actually want to increase. Olive oil is another great fat, although this we now use primarily as only a topping for salads and vegetables. If I could find regular olive oil instead of extra virgin I would use it more in my cooking. From my research I am beginning to find out that cooking with extra virgin olive oil is not good for our bodies. I hope to share more on this topic and on the topic of fats in general in another post.

I do want to point out while I think it's very important to consume a good amount of fat while pregnant, I would never recommend and in fact encourage completely avoiding most vegetable oils, hydrogenated oils and the fats you find in junk food. Sorry folks but you can't use the desire to increase your fat intake to lead you to eating candy bars, donuts, store bought ice cream and so forth. You really will put on the pounds then! Our body doesn't process all fat the same.

Grains and beans:
I have gone back and forth with grains in this pregnancy, not because I think they are horrible for you, but because it comes back to healing the gut. Grains and beans can both be very difficult for the gut to digest, especially if it's not at it's optimal health. Properly preparing grains through soaking, sprouting and fermenting greatly increases their digestibility. Since I know my son and I, if not the whole family, has weakened guts, I have begun trying to cut down our grain consumption. Primarily the only grain we eat regularly now is rice. I love rice, primarily for the kids because I always cook it in some type of stock. Getting my kids to consume as much stock as possible has, for the time, out weighted me cutting rice our of our diet. I hope that in time we can get our guts to the healthy place they should be at. At some point we may try to do a full GAPS diet, but for now I'm trying to do things in a way that I feel the kids and my body can get as much nutrients as possible. In the end I think grains need to be a balanced part of the diet, but not the overwhelming centerpiece that our society has made them. It's too easy to snack and fill up on grains in the form of simple carbohydrates and then not eat enough vegetables, protein and fats. I must be honest though, if there is one food I really, really miss eating it's homemade pasta. Oh how I love pasta. One of these days we'll eat it again, I hope, just not now. As far as beans go, I do eat beans fairly regularly (probably a couple times a week). However, I never eat them without soaking them, preferably with some form of lactic-acid (from whey from yogurt or kefir) for at least 12 hours. One of my favorite simple bean dishes comes from Spain In Iowa and is called frijoles rancheros. So good!

Vegetables and fruit:
Fruit and veggies make their appearance at every meal or for snacks. I try to get a balance of both raw veggies and cooked. Sometime, for me, getting enough vegetables in my diet can be the hardest of all the foods to consume, especially in the winter. Our vegetables are primarily bought fresh. The only canned item I use is the tomatoes I canned in the fall. We do eat some frozen veggies, although this tends to be at lunch time and for the kids when I want something they can both eat easily. During the winter, I think making sure you can a good variety of veggies is especially important.

The fruit selection during the winter is far more limited and is typically for us only apples, citrus and bananas. I mix it up by also adding frozen berries. One of my kids favorite desserts is a small bowl of frozen blueberries. So good, even in the winter! All of the veggies and fruit I consume are organic and as often as possible come from local sources too.

Meat/bone broth/stock:
Stock is one of those items that I continue to try and increase more and more in our diet. Ideally I include it in at least one of our meals through the day (often by cooking food in it, like with beans and rice), especially during the winter months. This is another one of those poor man foods that does wonders for the immune system, while it delivers a wide variety of essential nutrients. I make stock every couple of weeks using my large 4 gallon pot. What I don't use within a couple of days I freeze and thaw as needed.  The basic recipes I use for stock/broth are these:
Fermented Food:
I am trying to eat some type of fermented food, like sauerkraut, at least once a day. Preferably though with every meal. Like cultured dairy products, fermented foods help aid our bodies ability to more easily digest food my strengthening our guts health. Most often I eat about a 1/4 cup of homemade sauerkraut with my meals. I also encourage my children, especially my son to eat a couple of tablespoon of fermented food with his meals.
I mentioned earlier that I have chosen to not take any prenatal vitamins with this pregnancy. Instead I am focusing on getting the vitamins I would in those pills in food form instead. This way I know my body can actually digest the vitamins and minerals I'm consuming and none of it is synthetic. I still question whether we really understand how vitamin and minerals work in our bodies and it wouldn't for a moment surprise me to hear years down the line that vitamins taken in the form of pills actually do more harm for our bodies than good. There are many people who already feel this way now. Now with that said, I do take three supplements every day (I guess you can call them supplements). The first is a high vitamin cod liver oil (CLO) where I can get a well balanced amount of vitamin A and D and omega 3. Not all CLO is the same, and I'd highly advise doing some research on the proper ratio of A and D, along with the best processing used to get the CLO. There are some CLOs on the market that could do far more harm for the body than good. I like Green Pastures products. I am also taking butter oil. This is an item that I'm still learning about, what I know is it contains the vitally important vitamin K2.

Finally, I am continuing to do research about how I can avoid the symptoms of an irritable uterus, as well as issues with insomnia. Two of the most important minerals I have read about in relation to irritable uterus and insomnia are calcium and magnesium. I am trying to get plenty of calcium through my fresh dairy, but getting enough magnesium is a lot harder. It used to be that magnesium was found in most of our food because it came from the soil that the food grew in. However, poor farming practices have greatly depleted our soil's magnesium content. This goes for both both organic and none organic food. This is one benefit to eating locally grown food where you can get to know the farmer and the farming practices they use getting the most nutrient dense food possible. My body has shown many of the signs for depleted magnesium levels. Without this extremely important mineral your body can't absorb many of the other nutrients necessary to maintain a healthy body, so right now I am taking a magnesium supplement.
While I try to eat the best I can, this certainly hasn't been a perfect pregnancy, although it is going well for the most part now. The first trimester and beginning of the second trimester were very difficult. I was extremely nauseous, tired, and overall felt very out of sorts with my body, especially as I struggled to keep my sugar level balanced. Feeling this way often left me feeling depressed, especially when I couldn't even find the time or energy to spend my daily time in prayer and reading the Bible. I can't even begin to say how important this aspect is for mind health!

There are plenty of external factors, with major adjustments coming from moving, kids not sleeping well, holidays, among many other things, that hardly helped in making the first part of this pregnancy easy. I still truly wish I could have had some time to detox and been eating healthier at the time of conception, but life is what it is. While nauseousness has greatly subsided, the extreme tiredness still often plagues me. Taking care of two young children, one of whom hasn't been sleeping well and I've been up with for a good portion of the night on many an occasion, does take its toll on the body. Thankfully though, besides two bouts of the stomach flu over the holidays while we were traveling, I haven't been sick this winter. Phew!

Now I am focusing on consuming the best diet I can and getting exercise as often as time will allow (like walking outside, although exercises most often tends to be in just the daily form of cleaning and interacting with my kids).

For all of you who are thinking, are trying or are pregnant, I share these post to encourage women to recognize that diet plays a more essential role in how we feel than many of us are lead to believe. While doctors can give us medicines to help us feel better, they are only masking the real issues that are important to understand and resolve unless you want them to reoccur. When you body isn't feeling well, is sick, you have restless legs, irritable uterus, can't get pregnant, miscarriages, and so forth, these are our bodies ways of telling us something is up. Our body can't talk to us, but it can let us know through things like these that not all is right.

Here are a couple of articles that I have found helpful to read for diet before, during and after pregnancy:

Nutrition and Mental Development 
Diet for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers
Ancient Dietary Wisdom for Tomorrow's Children
Vitamins for Fetal Development: Conception to Birth
Great Pains: Tips for Having an Easy Childbirth
Successful Breastfeeding and Successful Alternatives

As time allows I'll be sharing more on this pregnancy, so stay tuned!


  1. I've been thinking about the magnesium thing lately... I have a few of the symptoms. I'm thinking of trying some magnesium oil to see if it helps with fatigue and irritability.

    It could just be postpartum hormones... baby is a month old, but hey, I figure it might be worth a shot. :)

  2. Hi Bethany, the magnesium oil is intriguing. I had seen Ann Marie's post that you linked. A lot of people love the oil. I would certainly give the magnesium a shot. Pregnant, nursing or not, almost, if not all of us are in need of more magnesium in our diet. Thanks for sharing the link!

  3. I always enjoy hearing other peoples pregnancy stories. I am currently 32 weeks pregnant with my third child. Have you thought of boosting your iron intake to help with your energy? I also struggled with a lack of energy this pregnancy and last week my midwife told me my hemoglobin (iron) is extremely low. Although I would rather boost my iron naturally I have started an iron supplement as well since if my iron goes any lower I won't be able to have an out of hospital birth. I am also taking natural things to boost my iron: blackstrap molasses, chlorophyl, red beet capsuls, liver, spinach, ect.

  4. Hi Diane, thanks for the comment. I am pretty sure my issue isn't an iron one. I've had low iron in the past, but have completely corrected that problem by increasing food with iron, like you mentioned. The biggest difference was by increasing the amount of liver I eat. I honestly thing the energy issue for me is completely related to lack of sleep, which seems to coincide with my sugar level and perhaps even thyroid (of course my children, along with other things in my environment which keep me awake). I hope the rest of your pregnancy goes well. Thank you also for sharing your thoughts. I always enjoy input and will def. keep the low iron/energy relationship on my radar.


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