Now that we know a little bit about the biology of natural labor, and the beginning of how the hormones play off of each and other and work in the body, let's dig a little deeper.
I wanted to start off with oxytocin. Oxytocin is one of the key players in the birthing game. Without oxytocin, the uterus cannot contract, the cervix cannot efface or dilate, and natural birth does not occur.
What is Oxytocin?
Oxytocin is a peptide hormone (protein based), much like prolactin and relaxin. It is produced in the hypothalamus and stored in the pituitary.
As a peptide hormone it is created by combining 9 different amino acids. Most of these amino acids are produced in the body, but 2 of the components are essential amino acids, meaning we cannot make them and they must be consumed in the diet. They are Leucine and Isoleucine. Right away we can make the conclusion that if we do not have enough protein, especially leucine and isoleucine, in our diets, then we will not be able to make efficient oxytocin. Proteins are very important in pregnancy, as they fuel many different chemical processes and enzymes, as well as fuel the growth of your baby, and now you know they are also important for the production of essential hormones.
Oxytocin Functions and Nutrition
We, of course, are talking about labor and delivery here so that is where we will focus. But, be aware that oxytocin has many other functions in the body that have no play on the reproductive system.
As we talked about yesterday, it isn't as simple as oxytocin stimulates contractions. There are many processes that not only increase oxytocin receptors, so that more of the hormone can enter the muscle cells, but processes that are stimulated by oxytocin.
When the placenta begins to produce CRH, the pituitary is stimulated to release oxytocin. Oxytocin works on a positive feedback mechanism. When the oxytocin binds to receptors, it sends signals to produce more oxytocin (as does the natural increase in estrogen). As the receptors dissolve, the amount of oxytocin production decreases. It's also not as simple as oxytocin binding to receptors.
Cell receptors are proteins in the cell walls that work like doors. Some have locks, others just need the right sized molecule. Oxytocin cell receptors need a key to unlock the door and allow oxytocin to enter the cells. The key to unlocking the oxytocin receptor is two fold...you need BOTH Magnesium and Cholesterol. If you are lacking in either, the door will not open. The oxytocin that is produced by stimulation from the CRH in pre-labor cannot enter the cells, and therefore the cascade of events (increased stimulation of oxytocin, prostaglandin production, contractions, effacement) do not occur.
More on Leucine and Isoleucine
Some of our best sources of leucine and isoleucine are eggs and dairy. Many women will notice that they CRAVE dairy while pregnant. If you can tolerate dairy, then I am all for it. Dairy contains almost everything you need to grow a baby...(that's what it does...) but PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, don't consume low fat or nonfat!!!! Go full fat, or don't eat it. Eggs are one my pregnancy superfoods, again if you can tolerate them. Like diary, they contain almost everything you need to grow a baby. You'll see eggs pop up in the next several articles as well.
Other sources of leucine and isoleucine is beef. Pork and chicken have them as well, just not as concentrated. They can also be found in smaller amounts in legumes. Soy is a unique legume that contains complete protein complexes, but it should only be consumed fermented into real tofu, tempeh, or miso.
More on Magnesium and Cholesterol
Magnesium is going to pop up in this conversation several times more. In regards to oxytocin, Magnesium is the key master and the receptor is the gatekeeper (name that movie). For oxytocin transport there must be cholesterol (again, this will come up in future posts).
Magnesium has many functions in the body, but in regards to oxytocin and labor, it is the molecule that transports oxytocin through the receptors. It is also a muscle relaxant. Not only does it transport oxytocin into cells, but electrolytes to nourish the muscles. Without enough magnesium, the muscles are nutritionally weak. This can cause abnormal contracting and spasming, and increase pain perception (it's painful enough, let's not make it more painful). Magnesium helps to create smooth, fluid, strong, and functional contractions.
Some easy ways to increase your magnesium (and other trace minerals, which are also essential) is by adding in more cooked green vegetables, trace minerals salts (like celtic), nuts and seeds (my favorite is pumpkin seeds), and legumes (black beans, lentils, chickpeas), and of course everyone's favorite....chocolate!
Our society is still having a difficult time letting go of the Low-Fat, No-Fat, Cholesterol is bad for us nutrition advice we got 30 year ago. I really believe this is the root of many of the health problems we see today. In regards to pregnancy and especially labor and delivery, fats and cholesterol are ESSENTIAL and this is not the time to "diet."
Those eggs and whole fat dairy are good ways to get that needed cholesterol and good fats (and an added bonus they are full of fat soluble vitamins, and if good quality, Essential Fatty Acids).
Day 2 Meal Plan
BREAKFAST #2: Sprouted Grain English Muffin with Swiss Chard Fried Egg, Ham and Cheese; Orange
Swiss chard is a great green veggie. I like to describe it as spinach on steroids. Any green leafy veggie would work. Cooking any green leafy unlocks the minerals inside. You could use spinach, kale, beet greens, or arugula and get a little something different from each.
I am not anti any food. I eat breads, grains, dairy, meats, etc…If you do not have sensitivities to these foods, then go for it. Just make sure to pick quality ingredients, especially during pregnancy. Sprouted grain breads unlock much more nutrition, and decrease exposure to hard to process phytochemicals.
When choosing cured meats (or uncured) choose nitrate free.
LUNCH #2: Italian Beef Barley Bowl
Need a creative way to reuse leftovers? Grain Bowls!
These are super popular right now, and you'll find recipes in several popular cooking magazines. These are super simple. I have a nice little rice maker and I use it to cook all sorts of grains. You can easily do this the over night and make your bowl in the morning. Top with a protein, and some veggies. You can also pour in some nutrient dense broth.
Today I used some leftover Italian Beef Stew (made by crock potting a bone in grass-fed beef roast with tomatoes, italian seasoning, pepperoncini peppers, and roasted bell peppers. I also topped it with some leftover roasted beets, and some roasted fennel.
Barley is one of my favorite grains. I just like the taste. Nutritionally it provides magnesium and b vitamins.
I mentioned in this article the importance of proteins. When you are growing a baby, not only do you need enough for your own processes, but you need to consume enough to grow your baby. In the last couple weeks of pregnancy, your baby is growing in weight…gaining muscle and fat for it's life outside the womb. Protein shakes and smoothies can be beneficial in making sure you consume enough. You can make your own, get a yummy one at some of the smoothie joints in town, or buy some protein shakes. Look for ones that have good protein, veggies, nut butters, dates, probiotics, or other goodies, and low on added sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and preservatives.
DINNER #2: Veggie Miso Wonton Soup and Orange Juice
Not gonna lie, I am pretty excited about my "Orange, Turmeric, Probiotic Juice" I found. With any juice, I always cut it in half with water. The juice in the cup is before I added water so you could see how much juice I had.
This soup is full of nutrient dense chicken broth (homemade). Which is full of cholesterol, amino acids (proteins), minerals, vitamins, and hyaluronic acid. I really push the broth towards the end of pregnancy.
I used organic, limited ingredient, frozen chicken and veggie wontons, white miso, and some diced veggies. I then topped it with some homemade kimchi, green onions, and a fried egg.
I am do not typically like soy, but miso is an exception. The fermentation of the soybeans opens up the nutrient stores. It also adds an element of probiotics. Another benefit of miso in the end of pregnancy is that it contains phytoestrogens. We will talk about this tomorrow.
Want the Recipe?
Miss a Part in the Series?
Planning Nutritionally for Labor and Delivery Part 1 - Biology of Labor
Planning Nutritionally for Labor and Delivery Part 3 - Estrogen and Progesterone
Planning Nutritionally for Labor and Delivery Part 4 - Cervical Ripening
Planning Nutritionally for Labor and Delivery Part 5 - More Than Just Progression
Planning Nutritionally for Labor and Delivery Part 6 - Probiotic Health
Planning Nutritionally for Labor and Delivery Part 7 - Top 10 Foods for Labor and Delivery