This article explores how nutrition can support various health issues around pregnancy
Very few pregnant women escape what is called morning sickness – a misleading name as the waves of nausea, and for some actual sickness, can occur throughout the day.
It is thought that morning sickness may be caused by an increase in human chorionic gonadotrophin hormone (HCG) which is produced by the placenta. It appears that pregnant women who are less well nourished suffer from worse symptoms. Another theory is that it is a sign that the body is trying to eliminate stored toxins from the body in order to protect the developing foetus. Nausea is also a symptom of low blood sugar levels, which is very likely to be an issue in pregnancy.
Tips to alleviate morning sickness:
- Take a good quality pregnancy multivitamin and mineral supplement to ensure that you are getting optimum levels of essential nutrients
- Have a good breakfast, combining complex carbohydrates and protein, in order to ensure that you optimise your blood sugar levels at the start of the day. For example scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast; porridge or muesli sprinkled with berries, nuts and seeds
- Eat little and often to maintain blood sugar levels throughout the day. Always have a mid morning and mid afternoon snack (a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts, oatcakes and hoummous)
- Avoid refined foods (biscuits, cakes, white bread, pasta and rice) and sugary foods and drinks, as these upset blood sugar levels
- Avoid foods containing additives, preservatives, artificial sweeteners and colourings as these place a burden on the liver
- Decrease or avoid tea and coffee, as these too place a burden on the liver
- Drink plenty of water to help the body flush out toxins.
- Ginger helps with nausea. Try ginger herbal tea bags or steep freshly grated ginger root in hot water
- Taking extra vitamin B6 has been found to be useful in relieving morning sickness. It is thought that high circulating levels of oestrogen can contribute to morning sickness, and vitamin B6 is helpful in helping clear excess oestrogen by optimising liver function
Anaemia is usually caused by a lack of iron in the blood protein haemoglobin, but can also be caused by a deficiency in vitamin B12, folic acid, manganese and vitamin B6. Iron carries oxygen around the body and this is why a lack of iron causes symptoms such as fatigue, lethargy and breathlessness. Other signs of anaemia are pale skin, gums and nails, a sore tongue, dizziness, headaches, hair loss, brittle nails, cracks at the sides of the mouth and susceptibility to infections. Anaemia develops during pregnancy because the body has to dramatically increase the volume of blood to support the growing foetus.
If you are suffering from the symptoms listed above ask your GP to check you for anaemia. GPs generally prescribe iron in the form of ferrous sulphate, which whilst effective at raising iron levels, can cause digestive problems such as constipation and stomach pain. There are other forms of iron available which are less irritating to the digestive system such as ferrous citrate.
In order to maximise the effectiveness of iron supplementation take it away from meals (as it can block the absorption of other essential minerals such as zinc) and with a glass of orange juice, as the vitamin C in the juice aids absorption of iron.
If you want to reduce your risk of developing anaemia during your pregnancy, make the following changes to your diet:
- Don’t drink tea with your meals as the tannins in tea block the uptake of iron from your food
- Phosphates found in fizzy drinks also prevent iron absorption so avoid these
- Increase your intake of iron rich foods: lean red meat, eggs, fish, dark green leafy vegetables (such as spinach, watercress, rocket, broccoli, lettuce), beans, peas, chickpeas, basil, parsley, dried apricots, nuts and seeds, ginger, tomato paste, curry powder, seaweed
- Drink vitamin C rich fruit juices such as orange, apple, pineapple, with your meals
Leg cramps, often experienced during the night, can be a painful feature of pregnancy, and can interrupt your precious sleep.
There can be a number of causes for muscle cramps but in pregnancy it is usually due to a lack of calcium and magnesium. Calcium and magnesium are electrolytes which control the electrical balance that causes muscles to relax and contract. A cramp happens when muscles go into contraction.
A growing baby needs lots of calcium and magnesium for bone formation, and will take this from the mothers’ reserves, leaving her deficient and prone to cramps.
Tips to alleviate leg cramps:
Eat plenty of magnesium rich foods: dark green leafy vegetables, oats, brown rice, quinoa, seeds, nuts, lentils.
Eat plenty of calcium rich foods: dark green leafy vegetables, sardines, white bait, anchovies, plain live yoghurt, cottage cheese, almonds, sesame seeds and soya.
Drink plenty of water: dehydration can cause cramping and water contains both calcium and magnesium
Try eating a banana before going to bed as they are rich in magnesium (and potassium, another electrolyte)
If you would like more advice on any of the points mentioned in this article or would like to find out how nutrition can support pregnancy please contact Emily on 07967 639347 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. I offer one to one consultations in my family friendly clinic in Ealing. Read more about my practice.