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Your Pregnancy Diet: How Did You Do?

Some women go overboard during pregnancy, eating as much as they like of whatever they like. These are the women who say, "It's fine for me to eat this entire jumbo-sized chocolate bar – I'm craving it, so my body must need it!" If this were really true, we would all have intense cravings for broccoli or Brussels sprouts or kale rather than for cake, potato chips, or ice cream. When you crave sugary or fatty junk food, it is usually because your body is lacking an important nutrient. For some people, eating junk food is also a way to numb the emotions.

Of course, some women do crave healthy foods during pregnancy. Sour apples or lemons, red meat, and peaches are a few examples of common cravings that probably indicate a need for the nutrients these foods contain. Acidic, vitamin C-rich fruits help your body to absorb iron; red meat is an excellent source of iron and essential amino acids and is often craved by even avowed vegetarians during pregnancy; and peaches are a very rich source of beta-carotene.

While women who eat with abandon during pregnancy have a better chance of getting everything they and their babies need simply because they are taking in larger servings of a wider variety of foods, they often get too many antinutrients ("bad" fats, additives, and sugar) and not enough of the nutrients their bodies really need to build a baby. They may end up overweight yet undernourished.

Other women go to the opposite extreme, eating exactly what they believe to be the ideal pregnancy diet, restricting calories to control their weight gain, and valiantly fighting off their worst cravings or finding "acceptable" substitutes (which, according to many sources, means finding low-fat or nonfat versions of fatty foods). If women follow the typical guidelines, they will probably get good enough nutrition to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby, but chances are good that they will have some sort of significant deficit postpartum. The ideal pregnancy diet falls somewhere between these two extremes.

What about pregnancy weight gain? How much is too much? This varies from person to person. A woman who is very thin when she becomes pregnant might gain more than a woman who is heavier to begin with, and she may need that extra fat for breastfeeding. Your doctor or midwife should be able to tell whether your weight gain is excessive. It is highly unlikely, however, that you will gain too much weight as long as you eat according to the guidelines – they can be used prenatally as well as postpartum.

Mothers who opt for a low-fat diet – 20 percent or less of calories from fat – in an effort to stave off excessive weight gain or to be healthier at any point during pregnancy are risking toxemia, growth problems, behavioral or neurological problems, and prematurity in their babies. Why? Because a diet low in fat is also low in the essential fatty acids that support the development of the baby's nervous system and the continued health of the mother's nervous system. As you will see later, essential fats also support a healthy pregnancy and a timely birth in more ways than you might expect. The typical low-fat diet is also lacking in the amino acids your body needs to build your baby's tissues, and tends to include too many processed foods made from sugar and flour.

The "Food Tree" Plan
Ideally, new parents should have a "food tree" in place before the birth of their child. A few weeks before your due date, ask a friend or family member to enlist several people to provide your family with home-cooked evening meals every day during the first postpartum weeks. Have this individual friend emphasize that the food tree is not about socializing – those who bring the meal should stay for only a few minutes, and then quietly slip off so that you and your partner don't feel obliged to entertain them. Also, let your friend or relative know what kinds of food you want to eat in those first postpartum weeks – or give him or her a copy of this book with the diet guidelines marked! Then the food tree participants will be more likely to bring you the foods your body really needs to replenish itself.

Immediately Postpartum
From what we have heard, there is very little to compare to the first meal that comes after a long, hard labor and birth. Have whatever you like. Drink plenty of water and (preferably fresh-squeezed) juices to begin replenishing your body. Try to incorporate the fish soup with seaweed that Chinese women use. It is loaded with minerals and vitamins.

One woman we know requested and devoured a huge platter of sushi soon after she gave birth to her daughter. Fresh, raw salmon, mackerel, and yellowtail are excellent sources of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – a good start for a new mother and her baby! If sushi is the type of meal you choose, make sure to eat the pickled ginger and wasabi horseradish that come with it. They will help to kill any bacteria that the raw fish may contain.

From A Natural Guide to Pregnancy and Postpartum Health by Dean Raffelock, Robert Rountree, and Virginia Hopkins with Melissa Block. Copyright © 2002 by Dr. Dean Raffelock. Used by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit www.penguin.com. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.

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