Monday, August 20, 2012

Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy and Birth

I absorbed most of this information from a childbirth class taught by Sher Anderson during my first pregnancy (same woman who gave me this priceless information). Sher is an RN, former home-birth midwife, and has taught birth classes for 30+ years. Our first 3 1/2 hour class concerned nutrition almost exclusively, more time than any midwife from a clinic spent on the subject during my first two pregnancies combined. I am deeply grateful to Sher for arming me with this information and setting me on a seeking path.

Here is an all-too-brief summary about how to have a strong pregnancy, what to arm yourself with during labor, and what nutrients Sher considers extra important during pregnancy. In my experience, everything she told us in this class has proven true. Any woman would do well to have these things in place even before conception.


Labor pains should be confined to the cervix, so if contractions are hurting in the uterus, mama's low on calcium (also magnesium and vitamin D... more info below). Red raspberry leaf tea is a great long-term tonic for uterine strength (contains calcium, phosphorus, iron, and vitamins C & E). In fact, pregnant animals eat the leaves of the raspberry bush for the same reason. This tea will also help decrease afterpains (and after baby #2, I couldn't want that more!).

Bag of Waters
Keeping your bag of waters intact will make for a less painful, smoother labor by cushioning cervical dilation. It's also very protective of baby. Prepare and strengthen it with vitamin C, protein, and good fats.

For a healthy placenta, get plenty of protein and vitamin C, also wheat germ oil.

If these pull a lot during pregnancy, vitamin C levels are low.

Take wheat germ oil in a capsule to prepare vaginal tissue to be strong, soft, and stretchy for birth. This oil will also help a woman avoid cracked nipples in breastfeeding.


Lots of water
Electrolyte-enhanced beverages are a good idea.

Eat regularly 
Especially protein and carbs. Labor can come to a grinding halt without the energy of food (though contractions will continue...).

Calcium, magnesium, and vitamin C
Massive amounts of calcium are being used when we contract over and over. Calcium helps the uterus work more efficiently and less painfully, magnesium helps you relax, and vitamin C prevents bleeding and build-up of lactic acid (a byproduct of muscle contraction). Every 1-2 hours in labor, drink a mixture of:
  • Baywood Cal-Mag Fizz
  • Peter Gillham's Natural Calm magnesium supplement
  • Emergen-C

Vitamin E
Take a capsule at the beginning of labor, then every 4 hours (400 IUs with D-alpha-tocopherol). This will enable the body to utilize oxygen more efficiently. Baby will be more relaxed and pinker. If necessary, rub some on the bottoms of baby's feet to restore oxygen after birth. Vitamin E will also reduce blood loss.

Shock Tea
At the beginning of both 1st and 2nd stages of labor, take this tea to prevent bleeding, give energy, and prevent the shakes after labor. Sip through a straw, as the cayenne will settle.
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 1 T. honey
  • 1 T. apple cider vinegar
  • Cayenne powder (start at 1/8 tsp, can go as high as 1 tsp.). The fresher and hotter, the better.


Very important! Take your weight in pounds and divide it in half. The resulting number is the amount of water you need in ounces each day.

For every quart of water, you need about 1/4 tsp. salt. If you're eating a lot of whole foods, you might not be getting enough salt. Use sea salts, as opposed to refined.

A pregnant woman's amniotic fluid contains the same concentration of iodine as the ocean, and there's 4x that much in a developing baby's brain! Iodine tells baby's cells what to turn into and affects brain activity. Selenium must be in place for the body to pick up iodine.

Lack of iodine can cause chilliness, sluggishness, and a foggy brain. Iodine dictates how well the thyroid functions in adults, and thyroid function is known to drop with each additional child (since they rob mama of iodine). If a woman is low enough on iodine: 1) fertility can also drop off, and 2) because sex organs have an affinity for iodine, these parts can develop growths or tumors trying to trap iodine.

Though it's best to get nutrients from whole foods, you can try kelp capsules if you want a supplement. Some Japanese women get roughly 12.5 mg of iodine per day from kelp (our table salt has only .0125). Try adding powdered kelp to soups and stews, etc.

Magnesium and Calcium
Magnesium is crucial for your body to pick up calcium. Commonly, cal/mag supplements have 1000 mg of calcium and 500 mg of magnesium, but in fact, the mg's should be equal (up to 1000 mg each). Try to get them in the latter half of the day, as we don't pick it up as efficiently in the morning.

Low magnesium levels can cause: achy muscles, a more hiccupy baby, preeclampsia/toxemia, colic in newborns, and low milk supply. Remember that magnesium is a natural laxative, so if mama or baby are constipated, upping magnesium will do the trick. And if mag levels are low, calcium will be as well, which can lead to: crabbiness and irritability, more cramps in labor (including charlie horses), and sleeplessness (body needs calcium to get good sleep at night). Calcium is also dependent on protein utilization.

For adequate magnesium, try:
  • Peter Gillham's Natural Calm, an effervescent powder, easily absorbed by the body
  • Lemon juice and Epsom salts
  • Dark leafy greens (steamed)
  • Redmond salt
  • Dark chocolate
  • Almonds and especially walnuts (soaked in salt water and dried)

Vitamin D
The absorption of nearly every nutrient (especially magnesium) is dependent on vitamin D. If baby doesn't have it, neither did mama. Very few people have adequate levels. Low levels can cause rickets and even change the shape of the pelvis later. Good vitamin D levels will greatly aid a baby in both teething and growth.

The body needs vitamin D in a natural form. Milk is not a reliable source. Cod liver oil is a very good source. You can get some from liver, egg yolks, some seafood, and of course, the sun. UVB rays create vitamin D, but only reach us during peak hours, between 10 AM and 2 PM. It can conjugate in 30 minutes.

Fatty Acids
Hormones are made of fatty acids, some of which we don't manufacture ourselves. Whether labor gels right on time depends on the balance of hormone levels. A growing child's brain function is also dependent on good oils. All our fats (butter, olive oil, etc.) are totally different, and our bodies need some of each. Saturated and unsaturated fats produce different functions in the body.

Fats are easily damaged. Processing fats made by corn or soybeans damages the fats. Fats fit carefully into each cell, but a damaged fat will be crooked and bent, and therefore unable to get all the way in (or back out) of the cell. Getting enough good fats can help repair this damage.

Go for fats from nuts and seeds. The oils in nuts are essential for hormonal balance (soaking does not affect this, but roasting can deplete them). These fats are polyunsaturated. Fats in grains survive baking, so you can get some from bread products. Great oils in avocados.

By way of fatty acids, these two received a very special endorsement:
  • Cod Liver Oil. This oil is full of omega 3 fatty acids, which affect the child's brain development. It also contains vitamins D and A, which you need in a natural form (multis don't cut it), as well as vitamin K (good for teeth enamel).
    • Watch out for artificial forms of vitamin A, as high amounts are risky.
    • The brand matters! Get Blue Ice cod liver oil.
  • Coconut Oil. This special saturated fat contains lauric acid, a fatty acid abundant in breast milk. Lauric acid causes babies to be super smart because it helps make glial cells in the brain, which provide an important function in early and continuing brain development (helps babies and mamas both).
    • Find Tropical Traditions Gold Label and use the oil and/or the cream. Use it in smoothies or rub it right into the skin (it absorbs 100%).

Vitamin B12
Aids in brain development and learning capacities. Brain chemistry just can't work without it. The lack of this vitamin can cause ADD, and is the biggest factor in postpartum depression. Incidentally, the use of nitrous oxide (at the dentist) can wipe out B12 levels, which is a big problem.

The #1 source of vitamin B12 is liver, which contains far more than any other food (Sher cited it as containing 53 mg per serving, whereas a hamburger has 2, and half a chicken breast has only .3!). There are no vegetable sources of vitamin B12. Non-liver meats and dairy have some. You can also try dried liver tablets. B12 supplements don't work in everyone. If it's working, you'll have more mental clarity, more energy, allergies will straighten up, and you'll feel happier and more light-hearted.

Women lose a lot of blood. From making new blood during childhood to menstrual cycles to growing a child to postpartum blood loss, our iron levels get lower and lower if we're not very vigilant. Due to the extra blood volume in pregnancy, and the fact that each new cell requires more iron, it's hard to keep iron levels up and easy to become anemic. Be sure to get enough iron ahead of time! Calcium must be in place to utilize iron well. Healthy iron levels can contribute to stronger contractions and a shorter labor.

Lactoferrin is an iron-based compound abundant in breast milk, in the mouth, and in the intestinal tract. It suppresses the growth of negative organisms, and the lack thereof can cause yeast infections and skin issues like eczema.

When iron levels are low: you're dragging all the time, constipation more common (as iron helps support intestinal wall structure), uterine walls become slack (which may cause hemorrhaging at birth), and varicose veins may appear. Mama's iron levels also affect baby: baby will get diaper rashes and yeast infections more easily, possibly have trouble breastfeeding, and have trouble with reflux.

Get your iron from plant and animal sources:
  • Eat liver (calf or grass-fed beef liver are good choices). Iron from liver is absorbed and used by the body very quickly. Cook it at a low temperature to retain the nutrients. If iron levels are very low, have liver 3 days in a row, then a week later, then at least monthly. This will maintain healthy iron levels.
    • Sher later told me that she credits the incredible intelligence of her children to the iron and B12 in liver, which they ate weekly at home.
  • Kale and steamed spinach are good sources. Because spinach is high in oxalate, the iron from the plant will be bound up in the body unless gently heated.
  • Black strap molasses is also a good source (and yes, molasses is singular... I checked).

Low amounts can cause gestational diabetes. Because eyes store a lot of chromium, a lack can also cause near-sightedness. Levels tend to get worse with each generation because baby can only get what mama is getting. Take a supplement to boost levels if necessary.

Needed to make glutathione, selenium is the main "mop-up" chemical that clears out heavy metals and toxins from the body, and a main defense against viruses. The body needs selenium to pick up iodine, and can also enhance milk supply.

Selenium has been shown to help reduce rates of cancer, AIDS, Keshan disease, thyroid issues, and other serious diseases. Where the lowest levels of selenium are found, we also find the highest cancer counts. For example, in Senegal, the soil is unusually rich in selenium, calcium, and magnesium. The men in that country often take several wives (many preferring to experiment before taking subsequent wives), but in spite of loose sexuality, there is hardly any AIDS or cancer in that country. U.S. soils are depleted of selenium, so we really need good sources of selenium every day. Enough selenium and amino acids intake can actually reverse the diseases.
  • Eat 6-7 brazil nuts a day for a great source of selenium.
  • Pork
  • Liver
  • Brewer's Yeast and Nutritional Yeast (stir into tomato juice or try on popcorn)
  • Capsule supplement in the form of selenomethionine. Amino acids hep pick up selenium. Recommended daily dose is 200 mg.

Different fruits, grains, nuts, etc. The body can use as many different elements as possible.

*The foods listed as containing these nutrients are not necessarily the only options. Sher was naming them off the top of her head as some of the best sources.


  1. Wow wow wow! What an amazing list! I think I just need you to come out here and be my doula :) You're not too busy, right? Where do you get your cal-mag?

  2. I wish we all lived close so we could support each other through these amazing events. Glad we have g-chat, but I doubt I'd make a good webcam doula. ;)

    I get nearly all my supplements at because the prices are super and shipping is fast and cheap (or free). I get the cod liver oil at Green Pastures or DrRons and the coconut oil at Tropical Traditions.

    Personal taste: I like the lemon lime cal-mag with the unflavored Natural Calm.

  3. Thanks, I am pregnant right now. I knew some of this, but other things are news to me!

    1. Congrats, Mia!! May you have a strong and relaxing pregnancy. :)

  4. I like the raspberry Natural Calm, and I actually mix it with the lemon-lime cal-mag! Very tasty. Though I often put a scoop of clay in instead(Redmond Bentonite clay). Great source of calcium... and iron!

  5. A long post, nonetheless extremely informative. I'm 30 weeks today and your post just came on time. I know some of the things listed here, others are new to me. Surgical mesh lawsuit information here.

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