How I Stayed Healthy During My Pregnancy!
“In pregnancy, there are two bodies, one inside the other. Two people live under one skin. When so much of life is dedicated to maintaining our integrity as distinct beings, this bodily tandem is an uncanny fact.” – Joan Raphael-Leff
Pregnancy has been an incredible experience – growing a little human and watching as your body morphs and changes, with all of the good and bad that comes with that. In talking to other expecting moms, and other women who have gone through the experience, I have learned that every woman’s experience is different. From pregnancy to labour to caring for your new baby, so many factors go into making your own personal experience what it is. Unfortunately, some have a terrible time and experience every negative pregnancy ‘symptom’ in the book from nausea & vomiting to reflux to sciatica. I have been one of the lucky ones who has had a generally good pregnancy. Now, I can’t say this is exclusively due to what I am writing about in this article. A lot has to do with genetics and just plain luck. However, I do believe that attention to your health and wellbeing during your pregnancy can set you up for the best possible experience for you and your baby. I’ve been asked a lot about what I have been doing, in terms of diet, exercise and supplementation, so I thought this blog would be a good way to share with you all.
Disclaimer – this is my own personal experience, and in no way personal medical advice. Please work with your healthcare provider to set up a health plan specific to you.
- Food & Nutrition
I do not adhere to any specific ‘diet’ or have any major dietary restrictions, but I do generally tend to eat “Paleo-esque” and limit the amount of gluten, dairy, sugar and processed foods. I typically follow the “80/20” rule and eat healthfully and by these principles for the majority of the week, but am not afraid to have pizza or ice cream when the mood strikes!
A few learnings for myself during pregnancy and how my eating has changed:
- What you eat is not just fuelling your own body, but the growing baby inside you. Being mindful of this, I tried to focus on nutrient density in my diet – ensuring to get enough micronutrients through lots of fruits and vegetables.
- Your calories need to increase, but you are not eating for two. General recommendations are:
- 1st trimester – you generally don’t need extra calories (and many women experience nausea and may have food aversions, so that’s ok!)
- 2nd trimester – you need ~300-350 extra calories
- 3rd trimester – you need ~500 extra calories
- I don’t count calories, but listened to my body and found I was definitely more hungry and consuming probably around those values. My strategy was to increase caloric intake through a 1-2 extra snacks throughout the day, rather than having larger meals (as your baby grows and pushes on your stomach, this gets more difficult and uncomfortable to do, anyways…)
- I also felt, even early on, my body needed more carbohydrates than I tended to eat before I was pregnant, so I incorporated this through complex carbs like sweet potato and lots of fruits. As a general rule of thumb I always try to pair a carbohydrate with a fat and/or protein to slow blood sugar spikes and keep me fuller longer, e.g. fruit (oranges, apples, pears) with a handful of nuts or spoonful of nut butter.
2. Exercise & Movement
Being active has been one of the most important pieces for me to feel my best throughout the past 9+ months. Of course, with a growing belly and decreasing energy, my exercise routine has certainly changed. If anything, particularly in early and mid-stages of pregnancy, this change in my ability was a real ego-check. I couldn’t do the things I used to do or push to the limit in exercise classes. But accepting what you can do, and still committing to doing it, is very important for you and your growing babe. Exercise, especially yoga and stretching, has really helped me to soothe back pain and keep my energy levels up (compared to when I skip a class or do nothing for the day). My experience has been:
- I have tried to commit to exercise 4-5 times per week throughout my pregnancy (still going strong at almost 39 weeks!). My strategy per week is:
- 3 workout classes (either yoga or barre)
- 2 workouts in condo gym (~10 min cardio warmup + ~30 min strength training, one day upper body & one lower body, using lower weights and higher reps than pre-pregnancy)
- When exhausted or not feeling great, I will forego the above exercise and just ensure that I walk to and from work (which is ~half hour each way). Walking, especially in late pregnancy, is a great exercise.
- While I used to love HIIT and bootcamp style exercise classes, during pregnancy I have switched over to barre and yoga, which I have been able to do the whole way through, with some modifications as pregnancy progressed. Shoutout to my favourite studios in Toronto: Yogathletix (https://www.yogathletix.com/), Toronto Yoga Mamas (https://www.torontoyogamamas.com/), Barre3 (https://barre3.com/studio-locations/torontoksw), Chi Junky (https://www.chijunky.com/).
- I am by no means an exercise expert and if you are working out, it is important to get the advice of an exercise professional to ensure what you are doing is safe and right for your body. I took a pre- & post-natal workshop at Yogathletix that was wonderful! You should avoid major core work and start modifications from about the second trimester to avoid long term complications from diastasis recti (abdominal separation). Working with a pelvic floor physiotherapist can help identify and make suggestions on this (more on this later!).
- I have been using the Shelle band (https://getshelle.com/) for extra belly and back support during workouts and during long days at work. Coming soon to Wellth!
3. Relaxation & Stress Reduction
Just as important as diet and exercise, is being able to wind down and manage stress while pregnant. Emerging research supports the fact that the emotional state of mom during pregnancy, has long term effects on the growing baby. (For a really interesting review of this topic, watch In Utero (https://www.inuterofilm.com/). Our very own Dr. Dominika Zarzeczny screened this documentary at Wellth back in 2017.) Now this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to meditate every day (although that would be great if you can!). Here are some strategies I used:
- Take it easy! If you find yourself getting stressed, physically or mentally, take some time to rest and do what you need to rejuvenate yourself. Take a nap, read a book, have a candlelit bath. Whatever helps you slow down and disconnect.
- Get a massage and/or get acupuncture. Have benefits? Might as well use them! This is great, not only help your body feel better (which, let’s be honest – is growing, tired & achy…) but also a great time to connect with baby.
- Meditation can be great too. I sometimes use the Muse device (https://yourwellth.ca/product/muse-brain-sensing-headband/), which is a very cool high tech device that gives you real-time biofeedback. I also use the Insight Timer app, and even Spotify (search: pregnancy meditation)
Of course, everyone knows you need a prenatal vitamin during pregnancy (and ideally 3-6 months before becoming pregnant and while breastfeeding). But, there’s more to the story if you want optimal health for you and baby. Here is my supplement regimen (again – work with your healthcare provider to make sure your supplements are right for you):
- Prenatal vitamin – I use NFH Prenatal SAP (1 capsule 3 times daily).
Some important things to look for in a good quality prenatal:
- Studies have shown multiple daily doses of prenatal vitamins is better than an ‘all in one’. If you struggle to remember to take it 3 times a day, just make sure to get all three pills in at some point (e.g. 2 with breakfast + 1 with lunch/dinner, or even all three at once), but generally these have higher overall micronutrient doses.
- Look for one with folate and other B vitamins in the active methylated form. You need at least 400 mcg of folic acid/folate, perhaps more based on your own health status – talk to your healthcare provider.
- Fish oil – I use NFH Trident SAP 66:33 (2 capsules daily). In addition to this, I try to have cold water, fatty fish that are low in mercury, like salmon and anchovies, 2-3 times per week. Omegas are essential for neurological and early visual development of the baby. Studies have also shown a higher consumption of omega-3 (EPA/DHA):
- May reduce the risk of allergies in infants
- Decreases mother’s risk of postpartum depression
- Has a positive effect on pregnancy itself (may prevent pre-term labour, lower risk of preeclampsia and may increase birth rate)
- Probiotics – I use HMF Maternity (1 capsule daily throughout pregnancy) and UltraFlora Women’s (2 capsules daily in third trimester). Look for strains/products with clinical studies on safety and efficacy in pregnancy.
- HMF Maternity has a large scale randomized controlled trial to support safety in pregnant women. Another study showed that when pregnant women used this strain of probiotic AND their babies received a specific probiotic strain (HMF Baby B or F, depending on if they breast- or formula-fed) it reduced incidence of allergies and eczema in baby.
- The strain in UltraFlora Women’s has been studied to prevent Group B strep in pregnant women, which helps to avoid the need for antibiotics in labour & delivery. It’s also good for overall vaginal health and prevention of UTIs and infections, which can be more common in pregnancy.
- Vitamin D – I use CanPrev Vitamin D (2 capsules of 1000 IU daily). Vitamin D has been well studied for its importance in fertility and health pregnancy. Your dose should be based on your blood levels of vitamin D, to get you to “optimal” levels (not just sufficient!) so talk to your healthcare provider about getting tested and the right dose for you. In terms of which vitamin D to use, it’s a fat soluble vitamin, so look for one in a good quality organic fat source (e.g. organic coconut or MCT oil) with minimal fillers.
5. Your Health Team
Finally, don’t do it alone! It’s important to have a team of healthcare providers that align with your personal values. As I have alluded to throughout this blog, you are an individual with individualized needs. Proper testing and consideration of your health status and risk factors all come into play when creating a personalized health plan. I personally work with:
- Family physician – provided my initial pregnancy testing and screening, before passing on my care to the midwife. I also received the Tdap vaccine to prevent whooping cough (pertussis) from my family doctor ~20 weeks.
- Midwife – in Ontario, assuming you have a low risk pregnancy, you have the choice between a midwife or an obstetrician. After doing some research, I decided to go with a midwife because: they provide 6 weeks of after-care after delivery of which early appointments are in the comfort of your own home; they generally support a natural approach to pregnancy and delivery, which aligns with my values; and I have found they provide a personalized and collaborative approach to care, providing me with the information and allowing me to make decisions with respect to things like testing and medical interventions.
- Naturopathic Doctor (Dr Dominika Zarzeczny at Wellth) – I already had an ND involved in my care prior to pregnancy, but found her guidance throughout my pregnancy extremely valuable for a number of things such as: providing supplement recommendations and advanced testing (which may not be covered under traditional care, e.g. vitamin D levels), acupuncture, and recommendations on lifestyle and dietary interventions throughout pregnancy. (Did you know that studies have shown that eating dates in your third trimester can help with an easier labour & delivery?).
- Chiropractor (Dr Aliya Visram at Toronto Yoga Mamas) – Your expanding belly and increased levels of the hormone relaxin can alter your posture and biomechanics, affecting they way you sleep, stand and move during pregnancy. Chiropractic care helped me with aches & pains (for me, particularly back pain) during pregnancy. I also didn’t realize that chiropractors can help prepare your body and pelvis for childbirth!
- Pelvic physiotherapist (Sarah Marshall at Advanced Pelvic Physiotherapy Centre) – Pelvic physio can help with: assessing your pelvic floor muscles and providing personalized exercises to strengthen, provide guidance on perineal massage (which has shown to reduce the risk of tears and episiotomy during labour), and even help teach you how to push effectively! They can also help assess for diastasis recti (separation of your abdominal muscles) and provide guidance on how to modify your exercise routine. Of course, after baby comes they are great for rehabilitation as well.
Some of my favourite books & resources:
- The Natural Pregnancy Book – Aviva Jill Romm
- Expecting Better – Emily Oster
- Nurture – Erica Chidi Cohen
- Healing Your Body Naturally After Childbirth – Dr. Jolene Brighten
- Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding – Ina May Gaskin
- Spinning Babies (https://spinningbabies.com/)
I hope that sharing some of my journey and strategies that have worked for me, help you in yours!
Yours in Health,
Pharmacist & Co-Founder at Wellth