Congratulations – you’re pregnant!  Now, what to do about those couple extra cheese burgers over the past few weeks, or what about your fetish for diet soft drinks?  When you finally read the stick, you automatically start thinking of your diet.  But prenatal nutrition really needs to begin before conception, as by the time you find out you’re even pregnant, many, many things have already developed in that tiny life hiding inside.

By just 4 weeks, roughly about when women will even realize they are pregnant, amazing developments have already taken place.  The brain, spinal cord and nerves have begun to form, and the heart is already beginning to pump the blood throughout a microscopic body – a tiny heartbeat is now present.  Organs like the liver and kidneys have already begun to grow and by the 5th week, facial features are beginning to take shape.  Seems pretty advanced for something no bigger than a the tip of your baby finger.

Over the next 8 months, the baby will continue to grow and develop, with different systems advancing at different stages. Discovering that you are pregnant is often when a dietary change is considered, but for fetal development, women need to consider their overall health even up to a year before conceiving. While that is not always possible, for those wishing and planning pregnancy, it’s best to lay a nutritional foundation in Mom before conception. 

Let’s use an analogy.  Before one plants a garden, the soil is turned and tilled, fertilized and nutrients are added to make the soil a suitable place for planting. We prepare the bed before we plant the seeds.  The body is much the same.  Preparing for pregnancy with good nutrition is as important as a healthy diet during pregnancy.    A diet full of wholesome and nutritious foods will enhance both the chances of fertility as well as a healthy environment for the embryo to begin it’s journey to birth.  

Millions of women are treated each year for problems with fertility and the problem is increasing.   Almost half of these infertile cases can be attributed to fathers – another ever increasing problem within the fertility pool.  The actual causes of infertility can be numerous and exhausting both physically and emotionally.  Malnutrition is often a cause and yes, even in Western cultures, we can be malnourished.  A diet high in fat, processed foods, food additives, combined with the use of alcohol, caffeine, smoking and drugs can all be culprits.    Maintaining healthy weight and managing stress are two key factors in preparing for pregnancy. 
Deficiency in B vitamins in women has been reported as a possible cause of infertility as well.  Fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, wholesome grains, adequate amounts of lean protein, limiting the overuse of dairy products and supplementing the diet with a quality vitamin and mineral supplement will help normalize hormones in both women and men – whereby increasing the chances of fertility.  Herbs like raspberry, nettle and chaste tree, dandelion, milk thistle and cramp bark can be helpful for women seeking to conceive.  It’s best to consult with an herbalist or naturopath before taking herbs as some can have side effects that could be unpleasant.  

If you find yourself struggling to get pregnant, don’t give up hope.  Begin with the most simple of lifestyle changes – your diet.  And even if you’re just thinking of beginning your own family – remember the garden – make the bed fertile long before you begin planting the seed.

Erin  Bell

Not many foods would be able to bear the name “perfect food”, but breast milk proudly wears the label.  Anxious as a new mom only a few years ago, I opted to breastfeed my daughter.  Nothing could have prepared me for the challenge.  I thought childbirth would be challenging, but it was a cakewalk compared to breastfeeding.  At first, I envied new moms with glowing smiles – abundant with milk while their satisfied babies cooed and cuddled.    The breast just came naturally for their babies.  

However, for me at first, it was exhausting, frustrating and seemingly impossible. I think I ended up crying more for the first few weeks than my new baby.   What I had to do was learn to breastfeed my new little princess, and this took a great deal of patience and effort.  I often wanted to quit… just throw in the towel and run for the formula, but my determination paid off and I proudly gave her nature’s most perfect food for 18 months.  The challenges in the beginning became soothing, comforting, pleasant and bonding.  I soon got over the irritation of sore nipples and engorgement and learned to master the art - and it is an art -of breastfeeding.

Why is breast the best?

Breast milk compares very differently to other forms of milk, say - like cow’s milk.  In nutritional comparison, cow’s milk contains 3 times more protein than human milk, and is substantially lower in complex carbohydrates – of which is the largest component of human milk.  We tend to think that protein is best, but for baby, complex carbohydrates are required for development and growth, not heavy protein.  Human milk does have a little more fat in it than in cow’s milk, but the type of fat here is “good fats” – specifically what babies need for brain growth and development.   

Human milk contains a smaller ratio of calcium, phosphorus and sodium compared to cow’s milk, but again, these ratios are much more adapted to a new infant, whereas the higher levels of these micronutrients in cow’s milk can lead to excesses of these elements.  This can be hard on kidneys and other organs.  Often infants do not digest cow’s milk very well.  It was explained to me once using this analogy:  molecularly speaking, cow’s milk is a much larger “molecule” – something like trying to push a basketball through a garden hose, whereas human milk has a much smaller molecular size – like pushing a marble through a garden hose.  

Human milk “fits” through babies’ digestive tracts much better than cow’s milk.  It’s the protein content and type in cow’s milk that makes it so hard for babies to digest - the protein ratio is too high and consists mostly of casein, whereas breast milk is mostly whey protein.  Consequently, many children develop intolerances to cow’s milk and mostly to the protein casein.

Breastfeeding benefits both baby and mom

In addition to being low to no cost, it’s always available and extremely convenient.  A study in the journal New Scientist indicates that breastfeeding was shown to reduce the risk of heart attack in women as well as help the mothers regain their metabolism after pregnancy – something most moms look forward to.   Breast milk is easily absorbed by baby’s delicate intestinal tract and delivers millions of immune boosting factors with each feed.

To increase and maintain milk supply, drink at least 1.5 -2 litres of pure water per day and use herbs like fenugreek to increase production.  Eating a diet rich in:
  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • lean protein
  • and complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, 
will ensure your milk supply as well as deliver the best quality milk to your baby. Moms should supplement with a quality multi-vitamin and mineral supplement suitable for nursing mothers and make sure it has vitamin D in it. Or take a separate vitamin D supplement – as cow’s milk is fortified with vitamin D, but human milk has less vitamin D, simply because the D in cow’s milk is added at production.  

Nothing brings you closer to the joys of new life than providing that life with perfect nourishment.   Breast really is best.

Erin Bell