Monday, August 6, 2012

Nutrition for a Better Birth

As part of my Mama Monday series on Five Steps to a Better Birth, today I will share about how Nutrition in Pregnancy can help your birth go more smoothly.

Firstly, you may want to review Nutrition in Pregnancy, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. It is such a huge topic because, next the Importance of a Birth Plan, it might be the most important thing about pregnancy and childbirth.

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Here's why. Consider these statistics:
What I'm getting at is that it takes time for our decisions to take effect in our bodies and on our lifestyle. The idea that we are what we eat is completely valid now and in the future. If you want your diet to have positive effects on your birth, it probably won't help to wait until you're on your way to the hospital to lay off the milkshakes and cheeseburgers!

Ideally it would be best if we all adhered to the best nutritional standards all the time, but if you have not always been a start student in the eating department, pregnancy should be the time you start learning and doing your homework!

We already know that choosing to eat healthy during pregnancy promotes proper development of your baby, but we often don't focus on how these decisions effect the birth experience. The best way to think about it would be to compare the body to a machine, perhaps a car. For a car to run properly, it needs the right kind of fuel, proper maintenance and regular oil changes to name a few. It would not run properly if you put water in the gas tank, diesel instead of gasoline, or used windshield cleaner instead of motor oil. It simply will not do what it is supposed to, or will malfunction when not cared for properly.

Our bodies are the same way. When we don't get enough fiber and water, our digestion is backed up and our body fills with unwanted toxins. When we get too many carbohydrates and sugar, we carry extra weight and fat, which can make exercise difficult or painful, and cause unnecessary strain on our hearts and other organs.

Childbirth is referred to as labor for a reason. It is hard work and our bodies need to be up to the task. Since our bodies were designed with specific hormones to aid in the labor process, we want everything working properly so those hormones can flow with ease and so our muscles, joints, and ligaments can respond in kind. I will discuss in a later post how exercise in pregnancy effects the birth experience, and it should go without saying that eating well will help you have energy and strength to get proper exercise.

Lastly, there are specific health issues directly affected by diet that can in turn affect your labor experience adversely. Preeclampsia (Toxemia, HELLP Syndrome or PIH) is a condition that includes high blood pressure, extreme weight gain and fluid retention, not to mention possible risk of bed rest, early induction of labor, and cesarean birth. If left untreated a woman with preeclampsia can have seizures (this happened to me!), stroke and effects to mother and baby can be long lasting and even fatal. Gestational Diabetes can lead to birth complications due to a large baby, need for early induction or cesarean birth, low blood sugar and difficulty breastfeeding in the newborn, and a higher risk of your child developing diabetes later in life. You can prevent or seriously reduce your risk of both of these illnesses by paying close attention to your diet in pregnancy.

Keep the following in mind to maintain a healthy, balanced diet during pregnancy to avoid complications during your birth:
  1. Get enough protein - 80-100 grams.
  2. Drink plenty of water - at least half your body weight in ounces per day.
  3. Reduce your intake of refined sugars and simple carbohydrates as much as possible.
  4. Focus on foods that give you adequate amounts of calcium, iron, folic acid and Omega-3 nutrients.
As a general statement, if you include quality proteins with every meal and snack, drink water throughout the day, and eat a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables, while avoiding junk food, you will be far better off than the pregnant mommy who adheres to every craving for plates of chili cheese fries and brownie fudge sundaes!

To learn more about how to stay healthy in pregnancy and prepare for your birth experience, check out my childbirth classes in Tulsa, or get yourself a copy of my childbirth training manual!

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