Holistic Approaches to a Healthy Pregnancy
by Julie Peterson
During her first pregnancy, Sarah Wallace, a former registered nurse in Atlanta, was chronically anemic. “I was so tired I would fall asleep while I was eating dinner,” she says. That pregnancy resulted in a baby with a low birth weight. Fortunately, Wallace learned more about nutrition and wellness. Her now 4-year-old has caught up to the growth charts and is thriving, and her next pregnancy went smoothly.
No matter how pregnancy is counted—280 days, 40 weeks or three trimesters—mama and baby share blood, nutrition and air for the duration. “Taking a holistic path before and during pregnancy is about embracing the nature of our bodies and committing to maintaining all aspects of wellness during this journey,” says Nancy Peplinsky, founder of the Holistic Moms Network, based in Caldwell, New Jersey.
Nutrition for Two
The right foods nourish the growing baby, the placenta and the mother’s increasing blood volume, maintaining the mother’s body during the complex mission. Whole foods rather than processed are best. The Whole 9 Months: A Week-By-Week Pregnancy Nutrition Guide with Recipes for a Healthy Start, by integrative obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN) Jennifer Lang and dietitian Dana Angelo White, makes it easier to select the proper nutrients along the way and provides ways to deal with nausea and cravings.
Choose organic foods when possible to reduce exposures to pesticides. If organic isn’t an option for every food, The Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, from the Environmental Working Group (ewg.org), can be downloaded and taken to the market. Either avoid foods on the “Dirty Dozen” list or go organic for those items.
A high-quality prenatal vitamin fills nutrition gaps. Wallace saw a difference between her first and second pregnancy by switching brands. “The first time, I took generic prenatal vitamins. With the second pregnancy, I found whole-food supplements. I never got that exhaustion, and my second baby was a healthy weight,” she says.
“Research has shown that healthy nutrition during pregnancy improves outcomes for mom and baby, while unhealthy food choices can lead to premature childbirth, high-risk pregnancies and poor developmental outcomes in children,” says Peplinsky.
In addition to clean food, it’s important to reevaluate body care products and household cleaners for toxicity. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has linked personal care and cleaning product ingredients to endocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive disorders, neurotoxicity and cancer.
Kristen Burgess, in Fife Lake, Michigan, creator of the website NaturalBirthAndBabyCare.com, teaches classes for moms-to-be. “[Exercise] helps your blood volume increase, brings plenty of oxygen to your baby, increases your stamina and endurance for labor (which is an athletic event), and perhaps best of all, keeps you feeling great,” she writes in her blog.
Options such as stretching, walking and prenatal yoga can be soothing for mom and baby. Burgess also advocates prenatal belly dancing to raise the heart rate “while bonding with your baby and relishing your beautiful pregnant form.”
Peplinsky notes, “A holistic approach to pregnancy also embraces integrative therapies such as meditation, yoga, acupuncture and chiropractic, which may assist in reducing stress, minimizing physical discomfort and joint pain, while improving overall life quality for mom and baby.”
Support Along the Way
A healthy pregnancy includes assistance. In the U.S., most women choose an OB-GYN, with just over 9 percent of 2017 births incorporating a midwife to support the mother before, during and sometimes after birth. A midwife is medically trained and, depending on state law, may offer gynecological examinations, birth control counseling and prescriptions. On her own or as an assistant to a doctor, she coaches the mother during labor and assists with the delivery, which may be in a home, birthing center or hospital. The American College of Nurse-Midwives, in Silver Spring, Maryland, offers a midwife locator.
Another option is engaging a doula that focuses on emotional support for mom, her partner and the family during pregnancy and birth. During labor, she may offer massage, encouragement and breathing coaching. While doulas only provide non-medical care, they can offer evidence-based resources to inform decision-making. There is a database to find one at DoulaMatch.net.
There are also books and apps to provide week-to-week details on pregnancy. Genevieve Howland, a childbirth educator in Destin, Florida, and author of The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth, offers a weekly article at MamaNatural.com about what’s going on with the developing baby and mother.
“Being a holistic mom is about connecting the mind, body and spirit, and approaching wellness with all three in mind,” adds Peplinsky. “The more we listen to our instincts and our needs, the more our health improves during childbearing and afterwards.”