First off, I want to thank you for following along on this series. I have been really excited for this one. I am sure there are parts that I missed, or questions that have arisen. Please feel free to email me, or comment below. I love discussion.
To top of this series, I want to simplify it a bit. I want to list my FAVORITE foods for preparing for labor and delivery. Some of these may seem different from what you've been told during pregnancy. That's okay, we are trying to deliver a baby at this point, and some of the nutritional needs change slightly.
Top 10 Foods for Childbirth Preparation
1. Bone in, Skin On Meat and Broth
This is my number one! Sorry vegetarians (there are other options, but they require more work on the system). We talked quite a bit in this series about proteins, minerals and that amazing chemical Hyaluronic Acid.
Protein is the building block of oxytocin. Leucine and Isoleucine make up a portion of the hormone and they are essential amino acids, meaning they cannot be made in the body. By cooking the meat on the bone and with the skin, you increase the amount of amino acids you get in that meal.
Hyaluronic Acid is found in the cartilage and connective tissues of the body (ie that joints and skin). By eating chicken with the skin on and cooked on the bone, or ribs, you are accessing the hyaluronic acid from these animals in a usable form. There is no converting necessary, no added nutrition to take carbohydrate and turn it into hyaluronic acid with the use of estrogen (remember those steps involved). No, it's just hyaluronic acid from a food source...done.
The bones, blood vessels, and connective tissues of animals are rich in minerals. When you cook the meat on the bone, these minerals are cooked out of the bone (to some extent). Specifically Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, and Phosphorus.
Broth, in my opinion, is the culmination of all of these in one easy to use food. By cooking the carcass of a chicken, for example, with some meat and skin still attached, you are creating a super nutrient dense food that can be consumed on its own and a nutritional drink, used to make soups, added to grains, or other meals. Adding a dash of vinegar to the cooking process increases the minerals that are removed from the bones, and helps to breakdown the cartilage to access the hyaluronic acid.
Usually starting at 35/36 weeks, I recommend clients eat brothy soups, or make a broth and drink it daily.
2. Green Leafy Vegetables
I am a huge fan of cooked greens. I grow a couple of varieties each year in my garden (Swiss Chard, Kale, Arugula, Beet Greens). During pregnancy and especially leading up to labor and delivery the nutrition they provide is essential.
On of the big nutrients that has been brought up quite a bit in this series is Magnesium. Minerals like Iron, Zinc, Calcium, and Magnesium, Omega 3's and Fat Soluble Vitamins like Vitamin A, K, and E, as well as high amounts of Vitamin C. All things we have talked about in this article series.
Cooking leafy greens breaks down the chemical bond of Oxalic Acid (a chemical that holds minerals within plants). In order to access the mineral in these plants, they need to be cooked.
Most green leafy vegetables provide extremely high amounts of vegetable based Vitamin K. This form, known as K1, but be converted to K2 through bacterial fermentation (remember the probiotic gut health). For those who have weak gut bacteria health, there may be a large portion of the K1 that is not converted to K2, and thus is not functional. Also, the fat soluble vitamins must be accompanied with a dietary fat to be absorbed through the digestive system.
Sea Vegetables are also a part of this group...but they provide something that none of the others do...IODINE. We did not discuss this, as its role in labor and delivery is not that encompassing. But iodine is essential for thyroid function. Some women experience hypothyroid issues postpartum. Adding in some amount of sea vegetables may help to prevent these symptoms.
Variety is key. Having some cooked and some raw, but not extreme either way, will give you the balance you need to get the most of what these awesome vegetables have to give.
Spinach, Swiss Chard, Kale, Beet Greens, Brussels Sprouts, Asparagus, Sea Vegetables
3. Nuts and Seeds
Pumpkin Seeds, Sesame Seeds, Sunflower Seeds, Almonds and Quinoa are my favorites for preparing for labor. There are plenty of others that are nutrient dense, but these are my go to.
Pumpkin Seeds are very dense in minerals (iron, zinc and magnesium), as well as proteins and EFA's. There are also other compounds (phytonutrients) in pumpkin seeds that can be beneficial. There is research that compounds in pumpkin seeds helps to regulate insulin levels, which is beneficial for those with insulin resistance or gestational diabetes in pregnancy (PCOS clients). The volatile oils in pumpkin seeds also help to regulate probiotic balance by killing microbes like bacteria, fungi and viruses that can cause probiotic imbalance (hello Group B strep)
We talked in the articles about the necessary balance of copper and zinc. Sesame seeds have good amounts of both. As well as other minerals (calcium, magnesium, iron and phosphorus). Phosphorus is something we didn't talk much about, but it is important nonetheless. Phosphorus is a building block of many different enzymes and hormones.
Sunflower Seeds are rich in Vitamin E, which is great for tissue softness, progesterone function, and makes up a portion of the nutrients found in amniotic fluid. Low Vitamin E levels are associated with preterm labor. Like the other nuts and seeds, they are also rich in minerals (magnesium, copper), but these seeds also have high amounts of B vitamins (B6 and Folate), which helps create healthy blood. I like sunflower seed butter more than peanut butter...
Almonds are also very rich in Vitamin E, and minerals (magnesium, potassium, copper). They also provide rich amounts of EFA's especially Linoleic acid, which necessary for prostaglandin production. Almonds are also beneficial to those with gestational diabetes or insulin resistance. Research shows that phytochemicals in almonds decrease blood sugar spikes after meals.
Technically a seed, but used as a grain, Quinoa is a complete protein, providing all 9 essential amino acids. It contains many of the minerals needed for healthy enzyme and hormone functions (phosphorus, magnesium, zinc) as well as folate, and fats (a balance of Omega 3 and Omega 6).It is easy to cook, and unlike most grains, doesn't need to be soaked before cooking. There is controversy over the grain/seed and it's effects on the environment and culture where it is grown. I ask you to look for sustainably sourced quinoa.
4. Potatoes; Especially Sweet Potatoes
Oh yes, if you are a meat and potatoes kinda gal...now is your moment; pot roast with potatoes...yep, crock pot chicken with colcannon (oh you need to try this), no problem.
Sweet potatoes are the big star here (not really a potato, but a yam). They provide the starches and estrogens needed to make hyaluronic acid in the body. The phytoestrogens in yams do not gum up the receptors like xenoestrogens. Instead they mimic natural estrogens. In the labor process, this can stimulate an increased production of our body's own estrogens, oxytocin, and prostaglandins.
Nutritionally Sweet Potatoes/Yams have high amounts of Vitamin A (hence the color), Vitamin C, B Vitamins (B6), and minerals (potassium, phosphorus).
Sweet potatoes, over white potatoes, have been shown to have a beneficial effect on blood sugar levels. This means they may be an option for those with insulin resistance or gestational diabetes.
Research also showed a decrease in NERVE inflammation and pain perception in those who consumed yams. So, it may also help with endorphin production, and the reduction of unnatural pain during labor by reducing inflammation in nerves.
Phytochemicals in sweet potatoes also stimulate the production of fibrinogen...remember when we talked about this with hyaluronic acid. It is a protein that helps with blood clotting.
Think of Sweet Potatoes/Yams, as a cervical effacement tool.
Like sweet potatoes, bananas help with hyaluronic acid production, by containing a small amount of plant based hyaluronic acid.
Contrary to what some would have you believe, you do need sugars in your diet...just not processed, nasty, chemically separated sugars. Natural sugars. Your brain, cells and body needs an element of fructose and glucose to maintain certain functions. Bananas can be used as a healthy sweetener to reduce your refined sugar consumption and also provide some added nutrition.
Bananas have always been known for their potassium levels (white potatoes actually have more.), but they also have good amounts of B Vitamins and Vitamin C.
Pre-eclampsia is a concern as we get closer to labor. B Vitamins, Potassium and Magnesium are known to reduce pre-eclampsia symptoms.
Many of you have heard the old wives tale about eating dates, but some of you haven't. It actually comes from the Middle East. Where it was said that women who ate dates would have easy births. (It is actually in the Quran).
Science has backed up this old wives tale.
A study done in 2008 showed those women who ate 6 or more dates per day for the 4 weeks prior to delivery had
7. Grass Fed Butter
Many of the fat soluble vitamins are very difficult to find and get enough of in the diet. Grass-Fed Butter is rich in Cholesterol, Vitamins A, D, E, K, B Vitamins, and more.
Cholesterol is the building block for Estrogen, as well as a key to Oxytocin receptors. Your cholesterol needs increase significantly during pregnancy, and especially towards the end of pregnancy for hormone production and function.
Vitamin D and Vitamin K play a crucial role in Labor and Delivery. Vitamin D helps to regulate reproductive hormones. They also work together for many functions and aid in the absorption of one another.
One study showed that 82% of pregnant women were Vitamin D deficient. Women who are Vitamin D deficiency are more likely to request an epidural than women who had sufficient vitamin D levels. Why? Vitamin D helps to regulate pain nerve sensitivity.
Vitamin K deficiency is an epidemic. Not enough K2 is being consumed, and not enough K1 is being consumed to be converted. Vitamin K is famous for it's funcitons in blood clotting. There is an epidemic of postpartum hemorrhaging starting creep up, that may be partially to do with not enough Vitamin K2, specifically, in the diet.
Let's be honest, no one is eating enough liver these days, and it is the best nutrient dense meat source for all reproductive health (prenatal, labor and postpartum).
Liver is full of easy to absorb Iron, ALL of the B Vitamins (super high in B12 and Folate), Vitamins A, D, E, K, and CoEnzyme Q10.
B Vitamins are important for the production of red blood cells, which have a high turn over rate in pregnancy, specifically the heme portion that holds and transports oxygen. In combination with Iron, Magnesium and Zinc, Liver is a great blood building and oxygenation food. Making sure your stores are up leading into labor and delivery, will also heap with postpartum recovery. Also, if you are planning on using NO (Nitrous Oxide) as a pain management technique, make sure to consume extra B12 leading up to labor, as the gas depletes the body of B12.
Maintaining hydration is important toward the end of pregnancy. Hydration is already difficult because you are not only needing to consume enough H2O for your daily body needs, but also for that of your baby and the constantly replenishing amniotic fluid your baby lives in. As the placenta begins to age, its ability to make efficient amounts of amniotic fluid begins to decline. Staying hydrated will decrease your risk of low amniotic fluid levels.
Our modern tap water is nutritionally deplete and chemically rich, which doesn't make for a super absorbable and usable form of H2O (the Flouride and Chlorine actually deplete your body of nutrients as well).
Melons are my trick for increasing amniotic fluid levels. Melons like Cucumber and Watermelon, specifically, contain high amounts of electrolyte trace minerals. These mineral can increase the amount of H20 absorbed by double the same volume of water. Watermelons not only contain 92% water, and the same electrolyte minerals, but also plant chemicals that further increase H20 absorption.
When I have clients that seem to be having a decrease in amniotic fluid, or multiple dehydration symptoms, I will recommend 1 cucumber or 1/4 a baby watermelon per day.
10. Cultured Foods
Not only are the probiotics that are created in the natural fermentation process important for balancing the overall flora of the body, but they help to breakdown vitamins, such as Vitamin K, into a more usable form. This decreases the work your own body needs to put forth to absorb and assimilate them, and increases the amount that can enter the body.
Yogurt, kefir, and other cultured dairy products can provide a good amount of probiotics that help regulate vaginal flora (lactobacillus). Always buy and eat full fat and grass-fed yogurts.
Traditional fermented veggies are super easy to make. Once you get the hang of it, you'll have fun trying new veggie and flavor combinations...my kids love beets/kale/cabbage with juniper berries. The fermented veggies offer K2 in an easy to absorb form, as well as the probiotics.
Fermented Soy in the form of Natto, Tempeh, and Miso are also important to add into the last weeks of pregnancy. They are rich in phytoestrogens that work to support the normally high estrogen functions that lead to labor and delivery. Fermented soy also provide K2 in very usable forms, as well as B12.
Miss a Part in the Series?
Planning Nutritionally for Labor and Delivery Part 1 - Biology of Labor
Planning Nutritionally for Labor and Delivery Part 2 - Oxytocin "the Love Hormone"
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