The First Trimester – What I’ve Been Doing Differently
I’m absolutely delighted to be pregnant again even though the past few months have been far from easy dealing with morning ‘all-day’ sickness and having to make and think about toddler meals! Not to mention the overwhelming fatigue necessitating daytime naps and 8pm bedtimes rendering me without any time to do anything! Whilst I haven’t felt like I was able to do anything, there are actually things that I have been doing differently because I am now pregnant – aside from avoiding sushi and soft cheeses!
For me, early pregnancy is such a mix of anticipation, uncertainty, hope, hormones and feeling unwell! There’s just so much going on! – And literally there is! There is a baby and placenta growing rapidly inside you… by the time 13 weeks come, different hemispheres of the brain and the quadrants of the heart can be seen on ultrasound! It’s mind boggling! All I want is to make sure that I am doing all I can to give my baby the best chance in life…
Studies are finding that genes can get switched on or off during foetal development, making a lifelong impact on health and function. This means that a stimulus at a critical period of foetal development can induce permanent alterations in the structure and function of the baby’s vital organs with lasting effects for health and disease. This area of research is called Epigenetics. I find it exceedingly daunting thinking that not only do I have such an amazingly complex miracle growing inside me, but that what I do in the next 9 months will impact on their health and wellbeing for the rest of their lives!
To avoid feeling overwhelmed, I have to break it down in my head… To give baby the best environment, I need to give them adequate nutrition, a healthy body to grow in (mine) and decrease negative stimulus to the baby from both myself- such as reducing my own stress and also making sure my environment is as safe and toxin free as possible.
This has been really hard for me as I was feeling so so nauseous, there were some days where white bread and apple juice was all I could stomach! (Admittedly, I did make sure it was organic apple juice!) I had a much easier first pregnancy, whereas this one has been tough to stay on track with nutrition. Firstly, for the tough days, I think it’s about surviving and just making sure you eat enough calories in general. The nausea doesn’t last forever and if eating anything is the best you can do at first, then I think that’s fine. It’s more important not to stress as that is harmful in itself… and still doesn’t help you be able to stomach a plate of green veggies!
For me, I keep to organics for the ‘dirty dozen’ fruits and vegetables and I also eat organic meat and dairy – except if I’m out and someone else is cooking! (Which is fairly infrequent for us.) I try to be as flexible as possible outside the home whilst making sure that the majority of what I eat is good food.
I’ve written about the ‘dirty dozen and clean fifteen’ here, but a brief summary of them is the dirty dozen is the top twelve fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residues and the clean fifteen are the fifteen fruits and vegetables with the least pesticide residues. I tend to buy the clean fifteen fruits and vegetables non-organic as a way of budgeting.
With dairy, I try to choose low fat dairy. When a cow is milked, PVC pipes are used to get the milk from the pumps to the holding tanks etc. PVC has phthalates in the plastic to make it flexible. Phthalates leach out into the fats in the milk and are found in higher amounts in high fat dairy. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors which have been linked to a whole host of negative health effects. (Read more about phthalates here.) I’m not feeling able to completely cut dairy at the moment and natural organic yogurt is a daily part of mine and Isabella’s diet. However, I do try to be aware of not overloading with too much hard cheese and to have low fat milk.
I take a really good prenatal multivitamin. I took this a few months before starting to try to fall pregnant to ensure if I had any deficiencies that these were as best met as possible. (I also had a blood test to make sure there were no obvious deficiencies.)
The prenatal supplement I use is Thorne Research Basic Prenatal. What’s different about this multivitamin is that the vitamins and minerals are present in their most active or absorbable forms and so they are the most bio-available and easy to utilise for the body. The capsules also don’t have any of the filler additives which are in some mainstream tablets.
More than folate, there are many different nutrient requirements during pregnancy and for me, this is just a peace of mind that I know will make me hit those targets. There’s also new research which has been published about the importance of having Vitamin B3 which acts to reduce miscarriages and birth defects. I know that this multivitamin has even more than the daily minimum B3 recommendation and in the most absorbable form. I’m still breastfeeding Isabella to sleep so my goodness, there’s a lot of need for nutrients in my body at the moment and my nausea hasn’t helped me get the well-rounded food intake I’d like!
A Healthy Environment:
My last pregnancy was a classic ‘fit’ pregnancy and I did body pump at the gym until 32weeks and went on 8km walks regularly. Despite that, I still ended up with high blood pressure (I now know that an increase in blood pressure during pregnancy has nothing to do with healthy eating and exercise!)
This pregnancy, I’m very aware of the importance of moving for pregnancy health – for both my body and mind. However, rather than structured exercise, my movement comes from incidental exercise nowadays. Whilst I struggled with the transition initially, I now realise that this form of exercise is just as valid. Every day I’m chasing after or carrying a 12kg toddler on the beach or in a park and unless Isabella’s asleep, I don’t have a chance to sit down! I may have done a gym class regularly last pregnancy, however I most definitely gave myself a generous amount of time to put my feet up after!
Some stress in pregnancy is totally normal and as long as you can deal with it and move on, your stress hormones will recede and your body will go back into balance. Chronic stress however is toxic. When we are stressed, it releases cortisol and other stress hormones into our bodies. With chronic stress, our bodies begin to over react and it triggers an inflammatory response which can have a serious lasting negative impact on both mother and baby.
In my last pregnancy, to keep mental balance, I went to prenatal yoga classes as well as body balance classes at the gym, combined with home yoga and breathing meditations. This pregnancy, the best I can do is just to make sure I get to bed early! Looking after a toddler definitely keeps you in the present moment and not worrying about the past or the future though. Isabella and I are also outside in nature daily which I find a perfect way to de-stress… Sure, it’s less structured, but I have no doubt that it is more effective for keeping my mind balanced!
A Safe Environment:
Interventions to avoid CMV:
One of the most difficult changes I’ve made is to stop sharing food and drinks with Isabella. I’ve also been careful to only kiss her cheeks and forehead. This is because of the risk of contracting CMV – Cytomegalovirus.
CMV is a common virus in toddlers and often carriers do not express symptoms. Unfortunately, whilst it isn’t dangerous to adults, it is to an unborn baby. CMV is the most frequent infectious cause of newborn disabilities causing deafness, blindness or other physical and mental disabilities. Almost 2000 babies are born in Australia with CMV each year and hundreds of those will have a disability as a result. To put this in perspective, there are about only 7 cases of pregnant women even getting listeriosis in Australia each year… and I know how pedantic I am about avoiding soft cheeses!
Studies have found that interventions such as washing hands well after nappy changes and nose blowing as well as not sharing food, drinks and eating utensils with your toddler and avoiding contact with saliva when kissing a child, reduces your chances of getting CMV by half. Also, it is more dangerous for women to contract the virus in the first half of their pregnancy. Whilst I’ve found it tough to stop sharing food with Isabella, for me, I think the inconvenience for 9 months is worth it.
I’ve started using a special car seat attachment for pregnant women which redirects the seat belt over the thighs and away from the tummy area. I use it for every car trip. It’s basically a cushion covered high tensile 3.5kg steel plate with a hook, which attaches around the back of the car seat with a belt. The hook is between the legs and redirects the seat belt over the thighs, away from the tummy area. It was designed by one of Australia’s leading biomechanical engineers and has been crash tested in Australian and International testing facilities. To read more, I wrote an article about it in my post ‘Driving ‘The Bump’ – Can You Make It Safer?’.
The statistical risk of a woman having a car crash at some point in her pregnancy is apparently 1 in 50. As a seatbelt normally tracks right over the tummy, a car crash can understandably harm an unborn baby. Using it for each car trip gives me great peace of mind.
I already use safe cleaning products, but I thought it was definitely worth a mention. Cleaning products cover all the surfaces of our homes. The conventional cleaning products are often filled with artificial fragrances – and therefore hormone disrupting phthalates which are definitely not what you want to breathe in every day when you are pregnant… or anytime! (I’ll write a post about the products I use soon!)
Chemicals from cleaning products and also from flame retardants (which shed from our furniture and electronics) accumulate in house dust. Whilst vacuuming is the last thing I’ve felt like doing, I do make sure our home is as dust free as I can.
Personal Care Products:
I am already very careful about the ingredients in the personal care products I use- from shampoo and conditioner to facewash, deodorant and make up. I’ll write a proper blog post soon about the products that I do use… but the key things I look for are that they are either fragrance free or otherwise scented with pure essential oils.
I’m looking to avoid endocrine disrupters – phthalates, parabens, phenoxyethanol as well as petrochemicals, harsh preservatives and heavy metals. It is surprising what you find once you look at those ingredient lists!!
So far I’ve been using this organic jojoba oil on my skin as a moisturiser and Skin Food by Weleda on my hands. I’ve found this winter to be so drying! As my belly grows, I’ll try out an oil blend especially for pregnancy – Weleda makes a beautiful one!
I would love to hear any pregnancy product recommendations you have! Going into this pregnancy I have my eyes wide open in relation to avoiding toxic products, however it sure means I have a lot of researching ahead of me!
I hope you find this helpful.
Love Em x