How nutrition contributes to the normal physiology of pregnancy, labour and birth: Affirmations for changing your relationship with foods you choose

Photography: K.a de klerk Photography

by J. Michelle Gober

Time and again, you hear “you are what you eat”, yet not many of us really understand what this actually means. The most important time in your life to learn this truth about food, nutrition, and your body is during preconception, pregnancy and childbirth. How your pregnant body and your baby use the food you supply to them is not only fascinating, but crucial information. The simple recognition that food is medicine can be motivating and energising in itself.

We are living in a time where access to healthy food is limited for many. Fortunately, there is a movement taking place to take back our nutrition, and we can see real food making its way back into our grocery stores and onto our dinner plates. The time has come to immediately and permanently change the way we think about what a healthy diet looks (and tastes) like. Our bodies, our babies, and our families will thank us for many, many years to come.

Many, if not all toxicities which affect fertility, pregnancy, and labour, such as thyroid imbalance, gestational diabetes, and exhaustion, respectively, can be managed effectively through diet. Research is moving us in the direction of simplicity not complexity and technology – proving that the old “eat a healthy diet and exercise” recommendation is still the most effective way to prevent toxicity and disease. Each of us is too individual and unique to follow one particular diet, however. In fact, throw out the definition of diet – that is too specific and restrictive. Instead, let’s use the term diet to describe what we DO eat – not what we DON’T eat. Eating what you and only you know to be the best foods for you and your baby comes from deep within a mother’s cells. Following your own intuition, learning how to find and prepare foods that are optimally nourishing, and allowing yourself to let go of unnatural food addictions (among other addictions) is your responsibility and ultimately your freedom to be realised.

I have created a few positive affirmations which you can use throughout your pregnancy to get on the right track with food. You will probably not be able to make the transition overnight – that is nearly impossible for most of us. It can take months to years to reprogram our brains and our bodies. Say these affirmations regularly, especially while food shopping, cooking, and eating, and you will notice how much more aware you are about your food habits and then you can change them. All we can do is our best, so do your best for you and your baby.

I will list the affirmation, then discuss the reasons they are important. It is a good idea to write these affirmations on a piece of paper or put in your phone for when you go to the grocery store so that you will have some guidelines.

1. I read ingredient labels for the foods I purchase. 

There are a couple of reasons that you should read the list of ingredients on food packages. (Note: I do not recommend buying or eating packaged/processed foods). First, most of them have added sugar. For no apparent reason, sugar is in almost everything, and it is not one of the healthier sugars. Instead, food companies choose to use high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is derived from genetically modified corn and added to most processed food products. Our bodies get no nutritional value from HCFS, which ends up stored in fat cells. 

Yes, there are healthier sugars, such as raw honey, maple syrup, dates, date syrup, and molasses. Xylitol is a naturally derived sugar substitute that has zero sugar calories, and in small doses, is appropriate for those who are managing gestational diabetes and/or candida. It also promotes tooth enamel re-growth and can be found in gums, mints, toothpaste, and in bags, granulated for sweetening food and drinks. Stevia is another plant derived sweetener that has health benefits and can be used instead of sugar. 

Avoid all artificial sweeteners. They are directly linked to central nervous system disorders, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, and low birth weight. Sodium is another ingredient added in extreme amounts to processed and packaged foods. It is recommended that you salt your food to taste using high-quality, naturally derived salts such as Himalayan Sea Salt, Celtic Sea Salts and other real salts – not the iodised table salts ubiquitously available to us.

Reading the ingredients list will also uncover the many, many food additives and preservatives in the food like products that are marketed to us as food, which leads to the next affirmation. 

2. I avoid purchasing food products processed with harmful additives and preservatives. 

Rule number one: if you can’t read it, don’t eat it. Rule number two: if you can’t pronounce it, denounce it. Many of the ingredients in packaged foods are chemically derived, and are thusly named. Rule number three: if you can’t picture the item as a food, it is not food. These additives are approved by the FDA, and otherwise would not be in our food. However, the FDA often will approve a specific amount of a substance that is safe for human consumption. We have all heard of the lab rats that are fed a diet strictly of one substance and then develop cancer tumours, yet that same substance is approved for human diets in much smaller amounts. If we just ate one of these substances, one time, or if we just ate one or two of these substances over time, we may not see the effects – like cancer, anxiety, obesity and depression. However, when we eat many of these products every day, like many of us do, we ingest well beyond any recommended amounts than should be approved. And, because our bodies are unable to process these substances/chemicals – since they are not food, they are foreign – many of these chemical substances just stay in our system. There is nothing else for them to do but wreak havoc on the body, leading to all kinds of disease and disorders. Most of us do not realise that these kinds of chemicals are the reasons that we have such disorder in our health – even mental health, are unable to maintain our weight, and have children with excessive behavioural and emotional disorders. There are so many healthy alternatives on the grocery store shelves now. Read your labels, and again, if you cannot read/pronounce/picture it, don’t buy it and don’t eat it.

3. I am aware of the effects of many additives and preservatives in food products on my body and health.

One of the most common food additives is MSG or monosodium glutamate. It has received the most publicity and many of us have heard about it and choose to avoid it. What many do not know is that the marketing people have caught on to our distaste for this additive and our awareness of its negative health effects. Therefore, MSG is often disguised as yeast extract, hydrolyzed protein, calcium caseinate, and soy protein among many others. MSG has been linked to fibromyalgia, obesity, fatty liver, and neurological disorders. 

Sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate are common preservatives used in processed meats such as cold cuts, hot dogs, and pepperoni used as a pizza topping, and have been linked to congenital (in the womb) malformations and brain tumours in newborns. 

There are many, many more examples I could give. The point I am making is do your own research, and avoid additives and preservatives in food products. 

4. I eat organic and whole foods whenever possible.

Organic foods are free of pesticides – they are grown without the use of chemicals that seep into the soil, seed, and food (and therefore into you and your baby) and are becoming more and more mainstream everywhere. Most big chain grocery stores carry some organic options, and many of the major food stores are carrying their own organic brand, making them more affordable. There is a trick to eating organic that is also catching on. The Clean 15 (and then some) and the Dirty Dozen (or so), are guidelines for choosing which foods can be commercially grown and safe to eat, and which foods to buy organic. Not all foods have to be organically grown to be safe to eat like avocados and bananas, but some must be like apples and strawberries. These lists are updated regularly, and can be easily found online. I included the most current lists at publish time in the appendix for your reference. The best part about eating organic food is the way you feel about what you’re eating. There’s no worry or guilt, just a healthy, clean body feeling. Many people will say, “Isn’t eating organic expensive?”. Cancer, kidney failure, IBS – you name it – are all more expensive than buying organic food. Of course, there is a better option than buying organic food- growing your own!

Eating whole foods is another one that is becoming more important to our health. Many of us have forgotten that we can just pick up a piece of fruit or a vegetable and eat it as is without processing or cooking it. Eating whole foods, since it is not the norm, can be challenging, but once you begin the process of metabolic reprogramming your mind and body, it becomes more natural and feels right. 

5. I avoid food products that are genetically modified (GMO).

Genetically modified organisms (GMO) are foods that are created using chemicals (pesticides) which are resistant to insects. When insects eat GMO crops, their central nervous system is destroyed, and they die. For some reason the FDA has approved GMO foods for human consumption. These foods should not be consumed by anyone, but unfortunately are becoming more and more widespread due to the efforts of chemical companies posing as food companies. Studies have shown that mice that eat a diet strictly of GMO foods, have offspring who are sterile. Ibu Robin Lim has seen a great difference in the placentas she has helped deliver in her birth centre in Bali and the Philippines (facts) since the rice crops there are mostly GMO now. They are abnormal and are cause for concern. Since the FDA does not require GMO food labelling (yet), we must be aware of which foods to purchase organically. At this time, they are soy products, corn products, canola oil and products, and potatoes. This list is increasing, so make sure you are up to date when you shop. 

This task can seem overwhelming at first, since most products on our grocery store shelves have corn- corn oil, corn syrup (including HFCS), corn, cornmeal, corn flour, and even corn chips. Same with soy; it is in a lot of products, and if it does not say non-GMO or organic, then it is genetically modified and should be avoided. The latest addition to this list is potatoes, so your potato chips and all potato containing products must be organic or specifically state on the label that it is GMO-free. Canola oil is in many products as well and is genetically modified. Most of the world’s rice is GMO, but not yet in the U.S.

6. I am aware of the connection between food and my health. 

When you eat real food, you don’t need to eat so much – your cells have their nutritional requirements met and you feel satiated. When you eat unhealthy, processed, junk, or fast food, you are starving your cells for nourishment and you will never be full. Never. The feeling of constant hunger is your body telling you that its needs are not met. Your cells’ receptors for minerals, like magnesium, zinc, iodine (three of the many minerals and trace minerals the body needs to function at its maximum potential) and vitamins such as A, E, D and K are empty or nearly empty. The body is susceptible to illnesses of all kinds when its nutritional requirements are not being met. When we provide our body with the necessary fuel (food) that it needs to function at its best, we feel better, have more energy, and stay well. 

7. I understand the connection between health and my pregnancy, labour and birth.

Ideally, your diet will meet both your body’s nutritional needs for pregnancy and your baby’s needs, giving you both a head start at a healthy life together. You will feel better during your pregnancy, will have fewer complaints, and will sleep better if you are well nourished. A healthy mother has a better chance at a normal and natural labour and birth. You will expend much energy during your labour and birth, and eating the right foods during this time is also very important. You have probably heard that women in labour in the hospital are not allowed to eat or drink anything that is not clear fluid. Occasionally, a labouring woman may be offered a broth packet in water or a Jello cup. The reason for this is to prevent the mother from having substances in her stomach to vomit up when she is sedated for a caesarean section! It comes as no surprise that labour fails to progress because the uterus is tired and starving for nourishment. You require nourishment and hydration in order to complete the task of birth. Eating and drinking whatever you can or want throughout your labour should be encouraged. Having a variety of foods and drinks available to you will make it more likely that something will sound good to you and you will nibble here and sip there throughout your labour, meeting your goal- your baby! 

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