DR LIBBY WEAVER reveals the top nourishing foods for pregnancy and breastfeeding that will have mum and baby blooming
Dr Libby Weaver on pregnancy and breastfeeding nutrition
It’s hard to imagine a more thrilling and nerve-wracking time for a woman than during pregnancy and the subsequent birth of her child. The miracle of life is something extraordinary to behold and that first moment of holding the newest member of our family is something that no parent, mother or father will ever forget. For a woman’s body, growing and nourishing a little human requires an enormous amount of nutrients as our babies draw them from our body and through our breast milk. During this time, it is more important than ever that our diet is nourishing and varied to make sure our baby is getting as much nutrition as possible from us. At the same time, we need to be replenishing our body as well.
So what should I eat?
The best approach throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding (and beyond!) is to eat real wholefoods, as they come from nature, with the lowest human intervention possible. Ensure that your diet is rich in plants, paying particular attention to different coloured vegetables since each colour and variety offers its own unique nutrients. During pregnancy and breastfeeding, there are particular nutrients we need to focus on. IRON The most common dietary deficiency for women, particularly women of childbearing age, in the world. Pregnancy can deplete a woman’s iron stores even further as it is required to build the increased blood volume of the mother, as well as providing for the growing baby. On average, a pregnant woman will need around 22mg/day. Food sources of iron include beef, lamb, eggs, mussels, sardines and green leafy vegetables. Variety is key, as there is a small amount of iron in many foods. Iron from meat is easily absorbed by the body, while vegetable sources of iron are better absorbed in the presence of vitamin C. ZINC: Zinc is very important during pregnancy as it is involved in over 200 enzyme systems in the body and is crucial for the healthy development of brain function and a competent immune system in a growing foetus. Foods that contain zinc include oysters from clean waters, beef, lamb, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. FOLATE This B group vitamin has been shown to be particularly important during pregnancy as the development of the foetus’s nervous system, brain and spine takes place in the first trimester of pregnancy. Folate deficiencies have been linked to neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Great sources of folate include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, English spinach, green beans, lettuce, mushrooms, zucchini, avocado, oranges and nuts. IODINE Modern soils used in conventional farming are now mostly deficient in this essential mineral (or many soils around the world were never rich in iodine in the first place) and with many people now avoiding table salt (opting for rock or sea salt instead), we are seeing an increase in its deficiency. Iodine is vital to brain and thyroid function and essential to a baby’s growth and IQ development. It can be found in seafood, sea vegetables, such as kombu, nori and wakame, and good quality salt. Many sea and rock salts are now available fortified with iodine. Check the label of the salt you use. OMEGA 3 FATS Particularly DHA, omega 3 fats are essential for a depleted mum as they are vital for nervous system (including the brain) support, as well as hormonal balance. The best source is oily fish, though omega 3 fats can also be found in flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts.
THE BEST APPROACH... IS TO EAT REAL WHOLEFOODS, AS THEY COME FROM NATURE, WITH THE LOWEST HUMAN INTERVENTION POSSIBLE
VITAMIN C Vitamin C cannot be stored in the body so we need to consume it every day. This stellar vitamin is integral to strong immune function, acts as an anti-inflammatory, helps prevent damage from free-radicals and is essential for collagen production in the skin. Our need for it is increased during pregnancy. Find it in leafy greens, broccoli, parsley, capsicum, lemon, kiwifruit, orange and grapefruit.
VITAMIN D Our bones require vitamin D to stay healthy and adequate supplies are required to ensure healthy bone development in the foetus and to sustain your baby with enough vitamin D for the first months of its life. There are relatively few food sources of vitamin D (organic butter, oily fish and eggs); the most effective way to increase your vitamin D status is to get some good (safe) sun exposure. MAGNESIUM Magnesium is required for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, keeps heart rhythm steady, supports a healthy immune system and keeps bones strong. Most importantly, it activates enzymes, contributes to energy production and helps regulate calcium levels, as well as copper, zinc, potassium, vitamin D and other important nutrients in the body. Foods naturally high in magnesium include brown rice, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds. Dark chocolate, quinoa, dates and bananas also contain magnesium.
What about supplementation?
During pregnancy, breastfeeding and afterwards, supplementation can be highly beneficial. It is, however, best to work with a qualified health practitioner before supplementing to ensure you are getting the right amount of everything for you and your baby. In my experience, zinc and iron levels are often too low after pregnancy for the body to make the substances required for the restoration of sex hormone balance, happiness and optimism, so testing these levels once you’ve given birth can be useful. Get as much nutrition from food sources as possible and include a good quality, organic vegetable powder to boost your overall nutrient intake. Also, gentle and restorative practices can help support your nervous system and the recovery of your body after birth. A regular yoga class, a tai chi, qi gong, meditation or simple diaphragmatic breath practice can help to restore your calm so you can have the best time getting to know your precious little soul.