One Mother's Guide To Nutrition During And After Pregnancy
8.7.12

With my first pregnancy, I was determined to eat nutrient-dense foods and stay fit: raw green juice, step aerobics and a CSA subscription. But during my second pregnancy, prenatal depression, physical exhaustion and morning sickness into the 18th week left me too worn out to cook or exercise, and I began using comfort food as a coping mechanism.

Pregnancy is a strange time nutritionally, especially in the United States. We’re told not to drink wine, eat raw dairy, sushi or cold cuts. But then we’re also told that unbridled cravings for fast food and ice cream are normal. On the one hand we seem obsessed with protecting our unborn children, while on the other we seem to put the wisdom of healthful eating on hiatus.

For me, once I was well down the road of self-indulgence, I felt trapped. I knew I couldn’t go on a cleanse or risk harming my baby and putting greater strain on my taxed body. But without the ability to push a nutritional reset button, I couldn’t seem to rein in my cravings or the impulse to eat whatever I wanted. And soon that became whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.  On the day I went into labor, I had gained nearly 50 pounds.

Soon after delivery, I found the inner resolve to return to healthful living. I embraced a vegan – plus eggs and fish – approach. I eschewed all those well-intended casseroles in the days after we came home from the hospital. I started back to the gym the moment my doctor and I agreed I was well enough (4 weeks after delivery). I was on-track, but I was also dealing with crippling postpartum depression and facing the decision to begin antidepressant medication for the first time in my life.

Enter Dr. Holly, whom I had the great privilege to speak with at this pivotal moment. She took stock of my history with auto-immune and thyroid issues and my current struggle with depression and encouraged me to give attention to my gut, where serotonin is received and the source of many auto-immune disorders. I knew I’d been doing my gut no favors lately, but I also didn’t want to detox too quickly and compromise my breast-milk. She made some long-term suggestions (like the blood type diet, adrenal support and seeing a local Naturopathic Doctor) and I investigated how to heal my gut slowly.

I knew I needed something simple and not overly limiting, but drastic enough to make an impact. I have type O blood, for which an essentially paleo diet is recommended. That felt like too much restriction for right now, so I decided to target the three biggest paleo/ type O culprits (which also happen to be hugely inflammatory foods anyway): wheat, dairy and sugar.

My simple regimen is no wheat, dairy or sugar. I take pro-biotics and B vitamins in addition to my prenatals and engage in hard exercise three times a week for an hour. I’m not a meat person, so I eat beef rarely and no pork. I allow myself spelt, wine and corn, and honey on occasion – though these will be the first to go when I’m ready to up the ante. As someone who does not have celiac disease, I find spelt, which is less genetically modified and has less gluten than conventional wheat, to be tolerable and a nice substitute for baking and bread. I also try to drink 13 cups of water a day. I eat as much as I want whenever I’m hungry to keep up my milk supply.

A typical day looks like this:

Breakfast: Eggs scrambled in olive or grapeseed oil, spelt bread toast with mashed avocado and sea salt, fruit and coffee with almond or coconut milk.

My new morning indulgence is a cheater’s mocha:

- 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
– 1 tsp honey
– 12 oz hot coffee
– 2 oz unsweetened coconut or almond milk

Whisk cocoa and honey into 2 oz hot coffee. Add the rest of the coffee and stir in the almond or coconut milk.

After work-out snack: A banana and a slice of spelt bread with almond butter

Lunch: Turkey sandwich on spelt bread with fruit or a big salad.

My favorite salad right now is a knock-off of Trader Joe’s Super Spinach salad: raw spinach, cherry tomatoes, edamame, quinoa, pepitas, dried cranberries and garbanzo beans topped with the carrot ginger dressing from the mini Clean detox on Goop.

Dinner: Salmon, sauteed spinach and homemade sweet potato fries. I’ve made spelt noodles from scratch to go with a homemade tomato and chicken stock. We do stir-fried veggies and brown rice once a week and marinara with brown rice pasta when we need something easy. For summer, we’ve been grilling chicken and vegetable kebobs.

When I want something snackish for a social event, I make pico de gallo and guac with organic blue corn chips.

One of the hardest things for me to give up is ice cream in the summertime. But Alisha’s Chocolate Cherry Bomb smoothie helps me not to feel deprived. My simplified version with frozen blended banana, frozen cherries, cocoa powder, almond extract and coconut milk somehow translates just as deliciously as Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream  – my all-time favorite.

The other major sacrifice is that delicious free-pour 2% latte and bakery treat I love to get from time to time (Seattle girl through-and-through). My cheater’s mocha as a decaf Americano with a pump of chocolate and an inch of rice or soy milk will suffice for now. And my local shop carries a vegan, gluten-free energy bar made with peanut butter, dates, oats and chocolate chips. It has a little sugar, but the occasional treat is warranted, in my opinion.

It’s empowering to go from not being able to deny myself anything to feeling completely satisfied within the frame of health I’ve chosen for this season. The best (and worst) thing about avoiding wheat, dairy and sugar is that it’s nearly impossible to eat convenience and restaurant foods, forcing me to be intentional (and not impulsive) with what goes into my body.

My son just turned 3 months old and I have only 6 pounds left to my pre-baby weight. I feel healthier and stronger, and I have an exit strategy for my postpartum depression treatment. I feel like a better version of myself, and that makes any sacrifice worth it for me and for my kids.

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  1. I am perplexed by the author’s description of her diet as being a “vegan-plus eggs and fish-” approach. If you are “vegan” plus eggs and fish, you’re simply an omnivore. Please don’t confuse others as to what a vegan diet is, which is no meat (this includes fish as they are members of the animal kingdom), eggs, or dairy. The author then continues on to list turkey as part of her typical lunch! Turkeys are animals. It is also sad that she was led down the path of these paleo and blood-type specific diets as there is no scientific evidence in peer-reviewed medical journals supporting their claims. A bit disappointed that The Chalkboard would post this article

    Kathy | 08.07.2012 | Reply
  2. Hi Kathy,
    Thanks for your thoughts on this. One of our mottoes at the Chalkboard is that we believe everyone has something to teach and everyone has something to learn! We love to provide our readers with information about all types of healthy lifestyles, which includes, but is not limited to, the vegan lifestyle. While we encourage a healthy dialogue we believe there are many ways to do things right!

    The Chalkboard Team | 08.07.2012 | Reply
  3. Kathy, I appreciate your concerns. You’re right, I should have articulated my initial post-partum diet more accurately: I wasn’t eating meat or dairy, but was eating fish and eggs. I also should have been clearer that my current diet now does include poultry as well–definitely not veganism. The blood type diet is also something I’m not sure about and am still researching. Dr. Holly recommended it as a baseline to identify food sensitivities. I do feel good about eliminating dairy, wheat, and sugar as inflammatory foods and I can tell that my immune system is healthier as a result. I really embrace several approaches to eating, including raw food, naturopathic elimination diets, cleanses, veganism, and am intrigued by the paleo lifestyle. But as a nursing mom, I feel good about gleaning the things that I can manage right now from these various approaches and settling on something more specific and orthodox later on. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to clarify those questions. Cheers!

  4. I loved this article- I had my first child 7 months ago and I lost weight very fast, unintentionally, due to a vegan diet and just not paying enough attention and therefore not eating enough. I’m below my pre-pregnancy weight now by a few pounds, and I’m trying to gain a little but stay very healthy by choosing wisely what to put in my body. Also, I’m breastfeeding and my daughter is very sensitive to everything I eat! Even a small amount of caffeine makes her irritable, so I’m trying to cut that out entirely as well. You diet makes me want to cut out wheat and sugar, and possibly add eggs and some meat. All your meals sound awesome! Thanks for this.

    Laura | 08.07.2012 | Reply
  5. Thank you for sharing this! It is rare that people admit to struggling with depression and I admire your honesty. I struggle with depression too and I am trying to find natural ways to combat the illness– diet and exercise –rather than resorting to medication. I am just curious about how your diet and exercise changes have helped (or not) with your depression symptoms. Thank you!

    Katie | 08.08.2012 | Reply
  6. I’m so happy that @Honest tweeted the link to this article. I know dairy and sugar have been wreaking havoc on my body because I’ve had a terrible case of adult acne that was not resolved with other dietary restrictions. Even adding green smoothies and more fresh fruits and veggies has not helped, and neither has my decision to stop eating meat. I already began restricting dairy and sugar and have seen a slight improvement, but I eat a lot of wheat bread. Now that’s something I should try eliminating as well. As soon as my acne starts improving, I’ll know I’m on the right track.

    Arelis | 08.08.2012 | Reply
  7. Katie, I am so glad that this article has been an encouragement to you. My particular situation is most certainly a chemical imbalance caused by the hormonal changes of pregnancy, postpartum, and breastfeeding. I had these symptoms to a lesser degree the entire 12 months that I breastfed my daughter too. For that reason, it has been necessary for me to address things chemically, at least until the worst is past and I’m back to my normal hormonal makeup. But the work I have been doing with diet and exercise should be like steel reinforcements to undergird my emotional health so that I can recover as quickly and deeply as possible. Exercise in particular does something to my brain chemistry. I notice a big difference if I go more than two days without a hard exercise. I start acting like Miss Minchin toward my children and then I realize–Oh, I need to work out. Before talking to Dr. Holly I had never heard that serotonin receptors were in the GI tract. I know that significant healing can occur in the gut from eating as clean as possible and removing inflammatory foods, and I’m still learning about adrenal, thyroid and GI support in general. Taking a pro-biotic seems to be improving my GI health too. I would encourage you to talk to a naturopath for other non-pharmacological options for treating depression.

  8. Arelis, if you are interested in dropping wheat from your diet, I highly recommend the “Wheat Belly” blog. I hope it’s helpful to you! I am all the way gluten-free since I wrote this article, finally let go of my spelt security blanket. With products like Udi’s gluten free bread on the market, it has been easy for me to take that one extra step to an even cleaner diet. I hope you find the right way of eating for you.

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