Prenatal Nutrition — The Building Blocks for a Strong, Healthy, Pregnancy
We all know that well-balanced nutrition at all stages of life is important. This is especially true in pregnancy because your nutrition is what is used for the normal development, growth, and functioning of the baby. We also know that poor nutrition in pregnancy can result in a premature and/or low birth weight baby who has an increased risk of mental and physical problems. Normal reproduction also depends upon well-balanced nutrition. A daily intake of foods high in vital nutrients plays a role in the mother’s energy and health. Well-balanced nutrition also helps the uterus grow correctly and feeds the placenta which feeds the baby.
When a pregnant woman chooses to keep her food intake to a minimum it may lead her to have anemia, infections, placental malfunctions, low blood volume, difficult labor, cesarean surgery, poor healing, toxemia (a.k.a. pre-eclampsia) and problems with breastfeeding. Every effort is to be made to achieve and maintain a well-balanced daily intake of all vital nutrients throughout pregnancy.
Importance of Nutrition During Pregnancy
Blood volume will increase over the course of pregnancy as a protective factor for the baby and the mother provided the mother is healthy and well-fed. You will require lots of highly nutritious food in order for this to occur. The medical community has known since the late 1930’s to the early 1940’s how important nutrition is during pregnancy. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has even developed a nutritional program of their own in an effort to ensure proper nutrition during pregnancy yet we continue to have babies born to malnourished mothers. Poor nutrition is linked to pregnancy induced hypertension (PIH), edema (swelling), pre-eclampsia, toxemia, HELLP, anemias, intra-uterine growth restriction (IUGR), abruption of the placenta, premature labor, low birth weight, and preterm birth, which is linked to poor fetal development, brain damage, etc.
If you don’t understand what some of the above terms mean, research them so you can better understand what they are and how what you eat or don’t eat will impact whether or not you are at risk for experiencing any of them.
Here is the ACOG diet next to the Brewer Pregnancy Nutrition Program, which is taught in this article. Read them for yourself — Which diet looks to you like it could cause low blood volume and related complications?
As previously mentioned, this article teaches the Brewer Pregnancy Nutrition Program because I believe that one must be working toward the best possible diet — one that will benefit both mother and baby. The Brewer Pregnancy Nutrition Program was compiled by Dr. Tom Brewer, an obstetrician, after years of studying the research available since the early 1900s on the effects of nutrition in pregnancy.
This nutritional program includes putting nothing into the body that might be harmful to the goal of growing a strong baby (ie drugs, alcohol, smoking, etc). The amount of play food (a.k.a. “junk” food) and inadequate nutrition eaten will also significantly impact the weight gained by the mother and whether or not she will be able to easily release the weight postpartum. Make your food choices wisely — this isn’t just about you.
(The information for this article can also be found in the book What Every Pregnant Woman Should Know, as well as information found in the Pregnancy Section of Staying Healthy with Nutrition, by Elson Haas, MD, and the following websites: www.DrBrewerPregnancyDiet.com, and www.NutritionSource.org.)
Following this program will help ensure that the mother is getting enough protein, calories and salt needed to grow a strong, healthy baby, uterus, placenta and mother. All three — calories, protein and salt — in the correct ratio are required in order to truly be following the Brewer Pregnancy Nutrition Program. At first glance it looks like a lot of food and some mothers have said they can’t eat that much food, but, if you will please remember that these foods are high in nutrients but low in calories AND never allow yourself to go longer than 2 hours between each meal or snack, you will discover that you are quite capable of eating everything as outlined.
Many mothers discover that if they set the goal to eat everything on the list before they have any sweet treats that they feel great, have lots of energy and crave fewer high calorie, low nutrient food items. It’s important to understand that if a mother gains a lot of weight eating high calorie, low nutrient foods that her baby may be born weighing less than “average”….which is 7 ½ to 9 ½ pounds. Babies are to be born with a certain amount of fat on their bones at birth to give them the starting energy they will need in order to begin growing and developing. Please don’t hesitate to enjoy lots of low calorie, high nutrient foods! Substitutions should be made in case of allergy, sensitivities, dislikes, etc., but do so carefully and consider the various components of each food group before choosing a substitution.
A Nutrition Plan for a Healthy Pregnancy and Birth
The best nutritional program available to you during pregnancy today was developed by Dr. Tom Brewer who was an Obstetrician (OB) wanting to know how to best feed the pregnant female. He did his research and put together a nutritional program that many care givers and mothers refer to simply as “the Brewer Diet”. Unfortunately, most OBs either don’t know about this nutritional program or don’t agree with it. Learning about this nutritional program, gives you the opportunity to avoid pregnancy induced hypertension (PIH), pre-eclampsia (PE), eclampsia, HELLP syndrome, intra-uterine growth restriction (IUGR), placenta abruption, premature contractions, dysfunctional birth process, low birth weight, postpartum hemorrhage, and most milk supply issues that impact breastfeeding. These are all conditions that might be avoided by eating a well-balanced diet made up of whole food sources from as earlier in your pregnancy as possible.
This nutritional program was based on at least 60 years of research and scientific evidence that was available when Dr. Brewer was in medical school in the 1940’s as he learned about this perspective of prenatal nutrition in his classes and textbooks. Since the 1940s, there is more scientific evidence to back up this program. The secret combination of the Brewer Diet are: Protein (no less than 80 grams), Salt, and calories (nothing less than 2300….the more you eat the better off you and your baby will be). These three — protein, salt and calories — must be in the right proportion for your body or you will begin to see and experience “pregnancy induced” illnesses, such as pre-eclampsia and hypertension. Protein, salt and calories are required for proper blood volume expansion which must occur over the course of your pregnancy. If this blood volume expansion does not occur, both you and your baby are at risk.
Pregnancy is not the time to be “watching” what you eat. Counting calories is never a good idea and Dr Brewer didn’t like putting a caloric number to this nutritional plan because he knew that it might lead to some women restricting their calories in order to stay “on target” thereby placing both themselves and their babies at risk. No pregnant woman — even women who start their pregnancy “overweight” — should restrict their calories in any way. If you are not eating 2300 calories than you must find a way to get there. You may feel your best consuming more than 2300 calories and this is what you want to use as a gauge — how well do you feel? If you’re feeling tired than something is off. You’re either not eating enough protein, calories or you’re not taking in enough salt.
The calories for The Brewer Diet are made up of the following:
- Milk, Milk products, and Milk substitutes: 4 servings daily.
- If using a milk substitute: calcium replacement 2 servings per serving of milk substitute
- Eggs: two daily
- Meats, Seafood, Meat substitutes: 6 to 8 1-ounce servings daily (animal or vegetable — you decide)
- Eat between 80 and 120 grams of high-quality protein daily (NOTE from Angie: We have learned that soy is not a high-quality source of protein and should be avoided unless you are blood type A….even then, it should be fermented first. Read more here and here and then do your own research.)
- Fresh Dark Green Vegetables: 2 servings
- Vitamin C Foods: 2 servings
- WHOLE Grains, starchy vegetables and fruits: 5 servings (think rice, oatmeal, etc — NOT bread, crackers, etc)
- Fats & Oils: 3–5 servings daily (include Omega-3)
- Vitamin A Source: yellow or orange fruits and vegetables: 1 serving
- Liver: 1 serving weekly (Not a fan of liver? Eat more protein than originally stated to make up for the lack of liver.)
- Drink water to thirst — do not force fluids
- Salt food to taste — unlimited (plays a role in the necessary blood volume expansion) (See below for more information on how to use salt properly.)
- Snacks and additional menu choices — unlimited
- Optional Supplements — only as needed
There is information for you to use if you are choosing to live a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Please go to www.DrBrewerPregnancyDiet.com to learn more.
It is my personal opinion (and Dr. Brewer agrees) that pregnant women should not go longer than 2 hours between meals and can feel good about grazing all day long — as long as your grazing is done on highly nutritious foods. What you eat does matter because it will either help or hinder the growth and development of your baby, placenta and uterus while also play a large role in the necessary expansion of your blood volume that is required in order to support two lives. Highly nutritious foods will provide your body with what it needs for a healthy blood volume expansion while adding few fat stores to your body. Understand that foods that contain little to no nutritional value will add a lot of fat stores to your body and little expansion of your blood volume. This is because foods that contain little to no nutritional value are not giving your body the type of energy it needs to do its job, which means it must store fat as a backup (emergency) fuel.
You might like to have a way to track how you’re doing everyday. I don’t normally recommend tracking what one is eating but when it comes to growing a baby, placenta and uterus, doing so can be beneficial. Go to www.PrivateWomb.com to download the form I use with my clients.
Salt is an important part of The Brewer Diet. Proper intake of salt aids with the necessary 60% increase in blood volume that must occur in order for both mom and baby to experience a safe pregnancy and birth. This isn’t just about salting your food to taste. This is about fully understanding what salt does for the body and which salt to use.
The Brewer Diet does not indicate what type of salt to use. In recent years we’ve learned a lot about salt and which salt is good for the body and which salt isn’t. Sea salt is the best source of minerals. In fact, it contains over 80 minerals in the exact ratio needed by the human body. Because of this balanced ratio of every single mineral needed by your body, sea salt balances the body so there’s no need to be concerned about salt increasing your blood pressure.
A good book to read to learn more about how the body uses sea salt is Salt Your Way to Health by Dr. Mark Brownstein. You can go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKKJciJ4BNo to watch a webinar to learn more about how to properly use salt. You can learn more about salt and pregnancy at http://drbrewerpregnancydiet.com/id70.html. To learn even more about your body’s need for salt, read Your Body’s Many Cries for Water, F. Batmanghelidj, MD.
The salt I most often recommend is Baja Gold sea salt or Himalayan Pink salt. Salt your food to taste and also include it when you drink water between meals. Some have chosen to put a pinch of salt into their water. At times it is better to dissolve a pinch of salt on your tongue and then drink 12 to 16 ounces of water. Doing it this way allows for the salt to enter your bloodstream immediately. However you choose to use it, know that daily salt intake is important and a required part of a healthy prenatal nutrition program.
(If you enjoyed this article, purchase my book — Embracing Birth: wholistic childbirth education (a home study course) — from Amazon)