However, I realise that this is far from the case for so many people today who perhaps do not eat a balanced diet and who have partners and children not at all disposed to the yoga and vegetarian way of eating. So my purpose in this section will be to address the special pregnancy dietary issues in ways applicable for the average woman and her family.
Sadly, many women find themselves well and truly into pregnancy, especially those caught unawares by an unplanned pregnancy, before they consider changing a lifetime of bad eating habits. Most know deep down that they should “eat well for the baby”, and that there are certain things they “have to watch out for”. I know it is a recurring theme of mine, but the time for improving your diet is long before conception. As mentioned previously, the health of a woman’s reproductive system is greatly dependent on a balanced diet. To give a baby the best start to life, forward thinking about one’s diet is imperative. So if you are recently pregnant, then the time to start is right now.
Mother’s Weight and Baby Size
Early on, during pre-natal checkups, a mother’s weight will be noted. On subsequent visits, the mother’s growing belly will usually be measured to help assess the size and growth rate of the baby. If there are any concerns about abnormal size, more regular weight checks of the mother will be taken.
It must be mentioned here that excess maternal weight gain is not a definite indicator of a big baby, although diabetes is definitely known to be a significant indicator of large babies. (See “Illness During Pregnancy – Diabetes”, page 201, and “Diet During Pregnancy – Diabetes” page 209). Neither is a large mother and / or father a sure indicator of a baby’s size. And visa versa, small parents do not always produce small babies. There are a whole range of genetic and lifestyle factors which can influence the size of a baby. What is under discussion here, and what is of most concern to doctors and midwives, is the issue of preventable excessively large babies caused by poor dietary habits during pregnancy.
Over the years, and well before the modern scientific study of nutrition began, many of the traditional cultures discovered this link between food intake and baby size. In those cultures certain foods were restricted and others were made abundant for pregnant women. In such food-frugal societies, where different kinds of produce were limited to certain times of the year, careful rationing made sense so that the right food went to the right members of the group when
needed.Once a woman had her baby, her dietary intake was again adjust for her breastfeeding needs.
But modern women in the affluent Western societies have virtually unlimited access to all kinds of foods, in or out of season. There is no true mentor system of pregnancy lifestyle and the trap exists (into which many fall) of not knowing what they should eat, and of frequently eating what they know they should not eat! The end result of such injudiciousness is frequently an underweight or overweight mother and / or baby.
The surest way to avoid an excessively large baby (relative to your genes and pelvic structure) is to eat a balanced diet such as advocated in Chapter 8, along with a few other special factors most relevant to pregnancy mentioned in following sections. On the other side of the coin is the prevention of excessively small babies (less than 2.5kg) caused by maternal diet and lifestyle. In both cases, avoidance of smoking, excessive caffeine, drugs of all kinds, excessive alcohol, high stress, along with moderation in diet and lifestyle are the keys.
Basic Dietary Adjustments
Here are what I would call the golden rules of diet during pregnancy:
• Growing a baby requires a lot of energy (i.e. complex carbohydrates and complementary proteins), especially in the early months when the cell division is most intense. We vegetarians source these two items together from pulses and legumes (peas, lentils, beans, nuts, soy products) eaten in combination with wholegrains such as rice, wheat, oats, barley, rye, corn, buckwheat etc. Because the digestive system is often slower during pregnancy, avoid the heavy pulses such as beans, and stay with the more easily cooked and digestible ones like lentils and split peas. Try to eat these heartier, high protein foods for lunch when you will process them more efficiently, rather than at night.
• In the last months calcium is released from maternal bones to provide for the baby, so increased dairy, soy, greens and seaweed products are useful.
• Many women find raspberry leaf tea beneficial for reproductive health during pregnancy, and it is especially useful in the last months as it helps to soften the cervix in preparation for birth, as well as stimulate milk production.
• Excessively hot or pungent spices may cause indigestion, so should be eaten moderately.
• Extra fluids at all times are fundamental to efficient kidney function, and to avoid headaches and constipation.