holistic pregnancy III
This blog post was published about 18 months ago, over at my old website. It was my way to share with you all the glorious news of our pregnancy with daughter Lou and my experience and tips during the third trimester. The post was taken off when my new website launched last June (2015) but since so many of you have asked for it, I have done a repost. Here we go!
Late February 2014.
When this piece airs I’ll be super close to my due date. So close in fact, that I’ll spend my days as the most slow version of myself. Making sure I have the richest amounts of energy and stamina to carry me and our babe through probably the most laborious, jaw dropping, awe invoking activity I have (and will) ever experience(d). The week before my due date I have planned in such a manner that all big tasks (nursery, pre-washing of reusable diapers and clothes, house cleaning etcetera) have been done and I can just sit, read, relax, stroll through the park, slumber, yoga, breathe and smile my way to D-DAY. I will have put a limit on social dates, only meeting up with a select group of friends and family and maximum one social activity a day. This is a completely conscious decision made from feeling my needs. I sense a desire to go more internal, to tune into my body and our baby even more. And, last but not least, spend as much time as I can with my man. Life will be different soon and this slowing down is my way to respect that transformation, whatever it might look like. Being aware, at any stage, will give us pregnant girls the opportunity to have the most gratifying of feelings. The feeling that we have truly and consciously experienced and sensed what was happening during this life-changing event. And by having this awareness we create a foundation to respond to what’s happening in the most supportive of ways.
‘When you are present, aware and in touch with YOU, you make decisions that are unique to your needs and desires. And these attuned decisions will consequently bring you optimal health and happiness.’
That said I’d like to take you along MY third trimester ‘nutrition-yoga-wellness’ journey. I will use these three pillars, this structure, to talk a little more in-depth about my experiences. I’ll be sharing background info and practical tips and tricks, from the perspective of a naturopath and a yoga teacher as well as a fellow pregnant mama-to-be.
Enjoy the ride!
'I hope you know how incredibly powerful and capable you are. You were born able and whole. Never doubt that.'
As I traveled further into the third trimester I noticed the natural tendency to start preparing for birth and beyond. This occurred on all levels: wellness, yoga and nutrition. During the last meetings with our midwife the supplementation of vitamin K and D came up, something that I wasn’t aware of before. I had no idea that newborns, directly after their strenuous passing through the birthing channel, get a high dose of vitamin K. Advise is given to keep supplementing with this vitamin throughout the first months.
Since I’m not a huge fan of preventative supplementation I started researching this subject and found out newborns in the USA generally get a vitamin K shot about 20.000 times more than needed and newborns in The Netherlands, where I live, get a high dose of oral supplementation. Why? To prevent hemorrhaging (HDN), which is more likely to happen with newborn babies. Vitamin K levels are generally low at birth because newborn have to first develop their bacterial flora. This usually happens within a few days after birth at which point baby will be able to adequately produce its own vitamin K. Supplementation, when the body is producing enough, is totally unnecessary. Even more so because medical research has found that mama’s who breastfeed and eat a diet rich in vitamin K pass it on to their little one via the breast milk. And breastfeeding will also enhance the state of your babies bacterial flora, which will then produce vitamin K more efficiently. Two for one!
At this point you might be wondering ‘What’s wrong with supplementation?’ Let me keep it short and simple. Supplementation, when depletion is the case, can, when wisely done, help big time. But when we supplement someone without knowing if they’re depleted and when we do this in an invasive and extremely highly dosed way, we might harm instead of help. Dr Mercola has a clear and interesting article and video about this subject that I greatly recommend.
Both the shot, the dose and the extra preservatives that have been included in the supplementation make it potentially harmful for the tiny one who has just entered the world. Here in The Netherlands I haven’t found a supplement that contains only the natural form of vitamin K plus some form of non-processed anti-allergenic oil. All the supplements I came across either have sugars, harmful preservatives or highly allergenic and refined oils in them. General advise given by the nutritional department of the (Dutch) government is to not give peanuts to young children (since introducing some foods early in life can cause allergy development) but the food and drug industry generously uses cheap peanut oil in kids supplementation. This, along with the research I did, is one of the reasons why I have decided to not supplement vitamin K but instead UP my intake of vitamin K rich foods and pass it on through breastfeeding.
Foods very high in vitamin K
Herbs (dried & fresh)
Dark leafy veggies
Green asparagus (steamed)
The vitamin D story differs slightly from the vitamin K one. Yes, your midwife and health practitioner will more than likely advise you to supplement (like they do with vitamin K) but vitamin D is generally not given in doses as high as vitamin K and there are “clean” options available. I have talked about the subject of vitamin D on my blog before, since it is such a hype to preventatively supplement it. Everyone, but especially those living in northern countries as well as those eating a plant-based diet, can get a vitamin D deficiency. In kids a vitamin D deficiency may cause developmental or growth problems. In adults a deficiency might result in cognitive problems. There are various natural ways we can make sure we get enough vitamin D, also when we live up north or eat a plant-based diet.
Our main (and most useable) source of vitamin D is the sun. During the summer we stock up on vitamin D. And during the winter we use this stocked supply that has been created by our bodies. If we spend the whole of winter inside and never come in contact with light we will be very eligible for deficiency. Most of us spend the whole of our workday indoors, not going outside AT ALL. We enjoy our lunch break behind our desk or in the canteen. We used to never do that. We used to work on the land and get, also in winter, a vast amount of contact with light. This ensured a continuous supply of vitamin D.
Recent studies have found that even if you live in a northern country and it’s winter you CAN keep healthy vitamin D levels by mindfully stocking up in summer and not letting supplies go way down by spending at least 20-30 minutes per (winter) day outside, in contact with the light. It does not have to be sunny but you should do this daily around noon when the light is most potent. Turning your face and preferably your bare arms to the sun helps even more. The more skin you’re showing the better.
Another way to get your vitamin D levels upped is by eating specific vitamin D rich foods. As an adult eating a plant-based diet you might struggle to find such foods as vitamin D is generally found in fish, (organ) meat and other animal products. But great news! There are a few plant-based foods that will help to increase your vitamin D. I personally have never supplemented vitamin D. I have “survived” Dutch winter happily and healthily by spending time outside daily and eating plant-based vitamin D rich foods.
Essential plant-based vitamin D rich foods
Mushrooms such as: maitake, morel, chanterelle, shiitake, oyster, portabello, white, enoki, crimini (first mention contains most, last mention contains least)
Something that I started doing recently is really funny and slightly wack but extremely beneficial. I call it “sunbathing my shrooms”.
I place my biodynamic mushrooms on a plate and put them outside in the direct sunlight around noon. I keep them there for at least an hour, preferably two. Believe you me, the magic of nature blows our mind yet again. The vitamin D amount of these sunbathe mushrooms has increased rapidly and enormously. In fact 100 grams of these sunbathe mushrooms will supply the average adult with 100% of his/her daily vitamin D requirement. And more good news: by frying them you won’t loose too much of this attained vitamin D. There will still be at least 85% left.
‘Sprout alfalfa, winter sunbathe daily and take your mushrooms along for the ride! You’ll be a happy healthy plant-based (pregnant) vitamin D filled girl!’
Now as for your newborn, he or she will probably not see too much sunlight the first few weeks of its life PLUS does not have the advantage of a stocked up supply (like you) from last summer. It might therefore be smart to supplement winter born babies, those living in northern countries, until there is sufficient time to go outside and be in contact with daylight.
I have found this ‘clean’ brand containing only natural (as apposed to synthetic) vitamin D plus extra virgin olive oil, which is raw and hypoallergenic. I will possibly supplement our little one with this during the months of December, January and February. Other than that there will be plenty of time spent outside and sunlight for my baby to feast on.
A little side note: strong healthy bones are not just build by eating calcium rich foods and getting enough vitamin D. We often overlook other, equally important but not so well known, nutrients such as phosphorus and silicon. Pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts and beans are amongst the richest sources of phosphorus. Horsetail, nettle and oats are amongst the richest sources of silicon. A healthy diet is a varied diet that contains not only the better known macronutrients such as fat, protein, carbohydrates, calcium, vitamin A, C, D, E etcetera. It contains a multitude of micronutrients such as minerals and elements too. Eating nutrient-dense food is the way to go when upping health and happiness.
Okay let’s wrap up this nutrition section. But not before I talk about my favourite subject: why every woman should eat chocolate during her pregnancy. Daily.
Are you loving me right now, or what? Of course I have a reason for this statement and I’d like to shortly delve into that. One of the minerals that a girl, even more so a pregnant lady, needs more of is iron. Iron is extremely important for blood building and since a woman menstruates and looses blood she needs a little extra of this energizing nutrient. During pregnancy the body starts to rapidly increase the amount of blood. This ensures there’s plenty for both mama-to-be as well as her unborn baby. In fact the amount of blood increases by 50%. No wonder so many women experience low iron counts, also those eating an omnivorous diet rich in meat.
As you know I have been eating a plant-based diet throughout my pregnancy, with a few exceptions here and there. Those exceptions being bee pollen and raw honey, biodynamic goat and sheep yoghurt and homemade organic grass-fed ghee, which I have been craving in small amounts during the last bit of my pregnancy. Even with a plant-based diet my iron levels have been fantastic during it all. Why? The foods I have been enjoying most are the foods that I also enjoy pre-pregnancy. These are naturally high in iron: seeds, beans, sea weeds, green leafy vegetables and… chocolate!
Yes ladies great news coming up. Raw unrefined fermented cocoa powder, the basis of chocolate, is the richest source of iron available on this planet. (Plus it contains some other magnificent powerhouse nutrients such as magnesium and phosphorus.)
Iron will keep you and your baby strong, energized and blood-flow-fantastic. Magnesium will relax, de-stress and turn down the minds white noise. Phosphorus will help to keep your bones strong and help your baby build a sturdy structure. Sounds like a (pregnancy) food from heaven eh? I can and will proudly and without hesitation say that there probably has not been a day that I haven’t enjoyed chocolate whilst pregnant. And I have been thriving on it. Now of course the type of chocolate and the amount we choose matters when it comes to thriving or not. I used a scoop of unrefined fermented organic cocoa powder and added it to my daily smoothie or had a piece from a (raw) chocolate bar sweetened with unrefined coconut blossom nectar.
Now with birth just around the corner, us pregnant ladies need a little extra iron*. During this period our iron count generally drops, because our babies will start to stock up on iron to make sure they have enough for the first six months of their lives. And since us pregnant ladies are about to loose a little bit of our fluid of life (blood) during labour we could do with a little extra somethin’ somethin’.
To stock up, prepare your wonderful body for labour and make sure your babe gets to stock up too enjoy plat-based foods that are high in iron, enjoy a small yet daily portion of organic unrefined chocolate and cook your food in a (cast) iron pan. When we cook in iron a bit of that iron transfers to our food. This is important info for all women, especially those pregnant, nursing or who have a tendency towards anemia. Cooking in (cast) iron is also a perfect way to lower the level of toxins in your food. Lots of pans out there still contain substances that interfere with your hormonal system, health and wellbeing. Cooking with iron pans, such as this one by De Buyer, can therefore add greatly to your (families) health and happiness.
*The absorption of iron is generally troubled by the intake of high calcium supplementation and caffeine. To ensure optimal levels minimize both.
Unrefined chocolate (cocoa)
Richest source in the world of:
Magnesium (relaxes you and baby)
Iron (blood building for you and baby)
Manganese (bone building for you and baby)
Chromium (stabile blood sugar for you and baby)
Also rich in:
Phosphorus (bone building for you and baby)
Zinc (healthy nervous system for you and baby)
Copper (healthy nervous system for you and baby)
Now how about that? Can I, with this great news, happily wrap up this nutrition section? I bet you! Let’s talk yoga.
As I mentioned before, I felt a natural shift as I traveled further into this third trimester. Gradually my dynamic yoga practice changed to more birth prep oriented, slow yet effective, time on the mat. I started my days with my personal birthprep flow*. I have taped it for you and made it an online class, so you may enjoy it with me. On top of that I have been doing some exercises that were suggested to me by a physiotherapist. Around week 32 I started to have these pains in my tailbone and my midwife suggested a (preventative) visit to a specialized practitioner. I went although I knew the pain was caused by doing too much. I sensed there was nothing major going on (just me having to make the decision to gradually move towards maternity leave) but out of openness to new experiences and pure curiosity went to see this physiotherapist anyway. She gave me a few exercises that I still do in the late afternoon. They feel great for my back. They strengthen and realign. I have taped this physio sequence* for those who could use a little extra lower back support.
*Always make sure these yoga flows and exercises I suggest feel good to YOU and your body. If not, skip or adjust according to your personal needs. Every body is different and we all need something slightly different to thrive and be happy and healthy. It might be smart to see an expert who can guide you individually.
Another important thing I received from my two visits to a physiotherapist (She send me home after the second visit stating there was absolutely nothing she could do for me. That my body awareness was so well developed it would guide me towards balance and seeing her again would be an absolute waste of time and money.) is knowing the difference between the ‘yogic way of pushing and bearing down’ and the general used way to push and bear down. You can read more about this in the below wellness section. All I can say is that I am grateful to have gained this information before my delivery and will gladly share it with you.
Now back to the yoga. As your body starts to prepare for birth there are a lot of things, movement wise, that you can do to support birth. You can help your baby ‘drop’ its head. You can help her get into the perfect position. Movement can help find peace, focus and vitality. And these specific movements can help you keep a strong yet flexible pelvis.
TOP 5. third trimester yoga
1. Practice being on hands and knees A LOT.
2. Release your abdominal muscles when in this pose.
3. Do poses with your toes pointing outward.
4. Squat, squat, squat.
5. Do asymmetrical poses.
Being on hands and knees and releasing the abdominal muscles will create a hammock for your little one to drop into. Her back will turn to your belly and face your spine, which is the most optimal position for delivery.
When you do poses with your toes pointed outward the pelvis closes at the back. This will give you much more stability and strength in that area. This is needed since your connective tissue starts to soften during pregnancy, which may cause lower back issues. By squatting you let gravity do it’s job. Baby will go where gravity goes, down, the perfect position. Asymmetrical poses, such as the pose shown in my Youtube video where I walk forward on hands with one knee bend and up, also help with this. All of the poses I mentioned above are great during dilation contractions. If you start practicing these weeks ahead, you will surely have a pleasant and to-the-point routine to use during “le moment supreme”. During birth the body takes over and your rational thinking shuts down. The things you that have been practicing over and over will automatically and when needed come to surface. They will support you along your way.
Let’s talk about something I recently learned. (Wow! Don’t you agree being pregnant opens up a whole new universe?!)
It’s called purple pushing and it is as it sounds. You, as a lady in labor, push until you start to look purple. This is the general way midwives instruct you to deliver your baby when 10cm dilation has been reached and bearing down starts. The technique is this: you breathe in, hold your breath and with that breath held will push your baby out. As you can imagine the amount of pressure on your head will increase and you will start to turn red and purple. On top of that, the level of oxygen supply to you and your baby will drop, the chance of tearing will go up and there will be an increased amount of pressure on your internal organs. This may, sooner or later, cause prolapsed and collapsed internal organs such as uterus, bowels and bladder. All in all not the most optimal way to deliver your baby.
I read some fantastic (but in depth and some might say not so easy to comprehend) online articles on (optimal) alignment during pregnancy and birth by Katy Bowman who is a master in human physics and the only scientist with an expertise on mechanical causes of disease. In this article she gives you a list of seven tips that will support you, your baby and your body through delivery. Her tips are completely focused on alignment, so you can work WITH the build of your body, with a sense of ease. As opposed to using radical force that might bring harm.
Now I, as a practitioner of yoga (and a participant of yogic birth prep workshops) was completely unaware that there was such a think as purple pushing. I thought it was perfectly logical and clear that I would be inhaling and upon my exhale use external oblique abdominal muscles to gently guide my babe downward. Move with the breath, move with the body, move with gravity.
You may perhaps understand my surprise when my physiotherapist told me that the way I was planning to bear down was by no means the way midwives guide their clients. In fact the remark by and discussion with the physiotherapist made me delve into the subject and explore all the options including pros and cons. Here are some other interesting online articles that I found.
I discussed my findings with my midwife. She was extremely accommodating and supportive as for my reasons why I choose NOT to purple push. My midwife now knows exactly how to coach me and to be extra sure of this I have written my preferences down in my birthing plan. I am so thankful I came across this knowledge before labor. It would greatly confuse me if I had practiced birthing a certain way and then find out my midwife advising me radically different. I am grateful for knowing about bearing down naturally and its health and wellness benefits.
I hope my story helps you to find what it is you need to make your pregnancy and birth the most magical and empowering experience.
I am looking forward to this event, with 0% fear or anxiety, as am sure of my abilities as a woman. I was made to do this like so many powerful ladies have successfully gone through it before. I will continue to trust the wisdom of my body. That it may and will guide me along the way. I am celebrating the opportunity to experience something SO unique and elemental: giving birth and becoming a mama.
I know giving birth and motherhood are by no means a given and I feel grateful beyond words being allowed this gift.
Thank you for tagging along this holistic pregnancy blog post journey. I hope you know how incredibly powerful and capable you are. Trust. Listen to your body. And respond accordingly. All you need is already inside. You were born able and whole. Never. Doubt. That.
Photos by Stof & Ruis, Eveline Vroonland.