Women are taking control of their health as they seek naturals ways to have a healthy pregnancy.
Expectant mothers, and their partners, are taking an active role in managing their own health care. With the availability of health websites and forums, many couples are doing their own research to answer their questions and concerns. According to Suzanne Munson, MS (Nutrition), with Washington-based Fairhaven Health, this is a well-documented trend. “We see couples conducting extensive research online and participating in internet-based discussion groups relevant to their health situation,” she said.
Through their research, couples may gather knowledge and tips, as well as a long list of worries, related to their pregnancy. But they also seem to be navigating their way to natural approaches to a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby. “This information gathering stage often leads to the purchase of natural pregnancy-related products specific to their issue,” Munson said.
Couples today are more knowledgeable than ever, and this is reflected in the size of the market for natural pregnancy/fertilityrelated products, which is substantial and continues to grow year after year. “Fairhaven Health has witnessed firsthand a significant increase in public acceptance of natural methods of optimizing reproductive and Pregnancy/post-pregnancy well-being, and we fully expect this to continue,” she added. “Over-the-counter pregnancy-related products like ours play a key role in that.”
Expecting women are also seeking out professionals that can provide counseling on nutritional health such as nutritionists, naturopaths, chiropractors, acupuncturists and midwives, according to Rebecca Bush, ND, from Natural Medicine of Stillwater (Stillwater, MN), who has been in practice for 12 years. This offers the perfect opportunity for practitioners to work with expectant mothers and their partners to build on the knowledge they already have, answer any questions, and to formulate a plan for a healthy pregnancy.
Most women know the importance of eating well during pregnancy, but many still fall short of the necessary nutrients required for their health, and the health of their babies. This is caused, in part, by prenatal vitamins that lack bioavailability, said Dr. Bush. So the best place to start off a healthy pregnancy is by laying the groundwork with a well-balanced diet.
Dr. Bush strongly recommends that her patients learn how to cook nutritious meals from scratch. “All parents need to learn how to cook healthy foods by themselves to Ensure a healthy household,” she said. “Relying on store-made and processed foods will eventually lead to poor health and reduce a child’s life potential.”
Supplementation is also helpful during pregnancy, but only if the vitamins are quality and contain bioavailable ingredients. Proper folate support will reduce neural tube defects and enable proper development, according to Dr. Bush. A simple fiber and a probiotic with more than five billion live bacteria can help reduce constipation and support intestinal immune system health. And a mixed bioflavonoid supplement can help strengthen the arches of a woman’s feet and prevent hemorrhoids, she added.
Dr. Bush also recommends quality omega fatty acids for brain development. Study after study has proven the benefits of omega fatty acids for fetal development, and the health of newborns. For example, a 2004 study found that higher maternal fish consumption during pregnancy resulted in higher novelty preference on visual recognition memory and higher scores of verbal intelligence.1
Another study compared developmental outcomes in newborns from almost 9,000 mothers consuming different amounts of fish and seafood. The women completed seafood consumption surveys and answered Questions about the development and behavior of their children at 6, 18, 30, 42 and 81 months. It was found that children born to mothers who reported no seafood intake had the greatest risk of averse or suboptimal outcomes, defined as testing in the lowest quartile for verbal and performance IQ at age 8, behavioral problems at age 7, and poor scores on early development tests evaluating fine motor skills, social skills and communication skills.2
Omega consumption is considered so important for the health of babies that the E. U. requires the nutrient to be included in all baby formulas. But that isn’t the case in the U.S. “In the U.S., especially today, women consume far too little omega-3 essential fatty acids,” said Gretchen Vannice, MS, RDN, author of Omega-3 Handbook. “This is due, in part, to concern about mercury in fish and it’s also cultural; with the advent of processed foods, Americans prepare food at home less often and we consume less fish.”
Vannice, who has been in practice for more than 10 years, recommends that women eat good fish, such as salmon, tuna and sardines, which are rich in DHA omega-3, instead of fried fish and fish sticks, which are low in omega-3. “DHA omega-3 is essential for normal development of the brain, eyes, and nervous system in infants,” she said. “DHA is involved both with structural development of the cell, as well as regulating metabolic activity in cells.”
A developing infant will deplete the mother’s stores of omega-3, and if she is not replacing it, she and baby will become deficient, Vannice said. She recommends a prenatal vitamin and mineral to her patients, as well as a minimum intake of 300 mg DHA during the entire pregnancy, and up to 1,000 mg in the last trimester.
After birth, both the mother and infant need at least 300 mg of DHA a day. “If the mother will not eat fatty fish on a regular basis, she needs to consume fish oil supplements,” Vannice added. “If the mother follows a vegetarian or vegan diet, she can rely on DHA omega-3 dietary supplements from non-fish sources. Foods, such as soymilk, are fortified with DHA from algal sources, and vegetarian supplements are available.”
According to Munson, many women move through pregnancy easily, with only slight discomfort. But since fetal growth is so taxing on a woman’s body, occasional complications can occur. For example, anemia Can result when there are not enough healthy blood cells, and supplementing with iron and folic acid is often recommended, Munson said.
Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) can also occur. HG is like morning sickness, but more severe and persistent. Due to the vomiting, women can become dehydrated. “This condition is very serious and sometimes requires hospitalization and IV fluids,” Munson explained. “However, eating a bland diet, drinking ginger tea (or sucking on ginger lozenges), and supplementing with vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 may be helpful.”
Some women may also experience preeclampsia, which develops after the 20th week of pregnancy and is characterized by high blood pressure, swelling of the hands and feet, and problems with kidneys and organs, Munson said. This may require a preterm delivery to protect the health of mom and baby. “It is theorized that low intakes of magnesium and calcium during pregnancy are associated with an increased risk of preeclampsia,” she said.
Another problem that may arise is gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the prevalence of GDM could be as high as 9.2 percent. Women who suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) are at higher risk of developing GDM, which is possibly due to a significant number of those women having underlying insulin resistance issues before pregnancy, said Mark Stewart, national sales manager at Texas-based Chiral Balance.
The company offers D-chiro-inositol (DCI) , which has been shown to dramatically increase insulin sensitivity and lower the accompanying androgen levels in women with PCOS. It has never been tested for safety in pregnant and lactating women, but it is known to be a natural human metabolite and an essential part of the insulin signaling chain. “We cannot recommend to our customers that they continue to take DCI through pregnancy, but we do stress that they definitely consult their physicians, as managing insulin resistance can have a significant effect on the outcome of pregnancy,” Stewart said.
Fairhaven Health offers a variety of natural products that span the stages of pre-conception, pregnancy and nursing. For the pre-conception stage, the company offers the FertilAid line of fertility supplements, including FertilAid for Women and FertilAid for Men. The company also offers OvaBoost, which combines myo-inositol, folic acid and melatonin to improve egg quality. Also available is FertilCM, CountBoost and MotilityBoost.
For a healthy pregnancy, Fairhaven Health offers several products branded under the Pregnancy Plus line, including allnatural prenatal vitamins, a Cal- Mag supplement, and an omega-3 supplement, according to Munson. The company also makes a morning sickness relief product called PregEase.
And for nursing, Fairhaven Health offers Nursing Blend, a combination of herbal galactagogues, vitamins and minerals. “Fairhaven Health’s Nursing Time Tea is quite popular as well, and a staple at many hospital lactation centers across the country,” Munson said.
Fortify and Strengthen
For a healthy pregnancy, Dr. Bush tells her patients to “fortify, strengthen, prevent and address.” Women should fortify their diets with quality prenatal multivitamins that offer maximum absorption, as well as protein powders for healthier babies. And to strengthen their bodies, women should engage in regular exercise to maintain muscle tone, manage weight, and help maintain healthy blood sugars.
“Exercise is one of the most potent ways to maintain good blood sugar levels, keep your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis working properly, and to increase brain levels of the catecholamine norepinephrine, which is associated with depression,” she explained. “And it doesn’t hurt if dad also loses some of his sympathy weight.” Bush said her exercise suggestions include yoga, swimming and water aerobics for soon-tobe- moms.
As for the “prevent and address” portion of Dr. Bush’s protocol, she suggests her patients prevent gut, allergy and constipation issues by supplementing with extra fiber, probiotics and liquid calcium/magnesium. Women can also prevent allergies by rotating foods. “This includes protein powder and milk alternative sources,” Dr. Bush said. “Address any susceptibility that may have been a root cause of troubles in the past; any weak link in your health armor will be exposed during pregnancy or after labor.”
Since the amount of children today with food allergies is staggering, an elimination diet may be helpful to ward off potential problems. “I try and get the entire family to follow a guided elimination diet, based off of IgG food testing,” Dr. Bush said. “Most food and airborne allergies are inherited from one of the parents. It is best to find out what the family is susceptible to and remove before or during pregnancy than to wait for the baby to be born with cradle cap or develops eczema, psoriasis or asthma.”
Expecting mothers should also address any genetic cause of folate deficiency by testing the MTHFR mutation. “Consider supporting with 5-HTP if the patient has a history of depression or their neurotransmitter test shows very low activity,” Bush said. “Address low functioning thyroid by regularly monitoring and adjusting thyroid support.”
And finally, Bush recommends rest. “Enjoy the time and rest because nine months goes by really fast!”
1. Oken E, Bellinger DC. Fish consumption, methylmercury and child neurodevelopment. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2008;20:178–183.
2. Hibbeln JR, Davis JM, Steer C, et al. Maternal seafood consumption in pregnancy and neurodevelopmental outcomes in childhood (ALSPAC study): an observational cohort study. Lancet. 2007;369:578–585.
Post Partum Depression
Postpartum depression (PPD) affects 10 to 15 percent of mothers within the first year of giving birth, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the prevalence of self-reported postpartum depressive symptoms. Many women experience the “baby blues” after giving birth, which can cause mood swings and crying spells, according to the Mayo Clinic. But symptoms of PPD are more severe, last longer, and can eventually interfere with a mother’s ability to care for her baby.
Symptoms of PPD include loss of appetite, insomnia, intense anger, overwhelming fatigue, feelings of inadequacy, severe mood swings, difficulty bonding with the baby, withdrawing from friends and family, and thoughts of selfharm or harming the baby. Rarely, postpartum psychosis can occur, which brings about confusion, disorientation, hallucinations, paranoia and attempts to harm the baby.
PPD can have several causes, all due to the physical, emotional and lifestyle changes that occur when a baby is born. After giving birth, hormones such as estrogen and progesterone drop quickly, leaving a new mother feeling tired and depressed. She can also experience changes in blood volume, blood pressure and metabolism, leading to fatigue and mood swings, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Emotional factors, such as sleep deprivation, anxiety about caring for the baby, and changes in self identity can also contribute to PPD. And lifestyle influences, such as difficulty breastfeeding, financial problems, or lack of support from loved ones can also cause depression.
The best way to avoid PPD is to take steps to prevent it by supplementing and leading a healthy lifestyle. According to Dr. Bush, 5-HTP can be used instead of an antidepressant in certain cases to prevent postpartum depression.
“Postpartum depression and collapses of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis are common after pregnancy,” she said. “Addressing neurotransmitter imbalances with amino acids and closely monitoring thyroid and adrenal hormone levels can prevent postpartum depression issues such as depression, fatigue, weight gain and frequent illness.”
Omegas also help lower risk for PPD. “Women who consume fish or omega-3s during pregnancy and after delivery have a lower risk for post partum depression,” Vannice said.
Healthy Take Aways
Nutritional deficiencies can be caused by poor diet and lack of bioavailability in vitamins.
The importance of omegas for fetal development has been proven in countless studies.
5-HTP can be helpful in preventing postpartum depression
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Chiral Balance, (866) 942-9800, www.chiralbalance.com
Fairhaven Health, (800) 367-2837, www.fairhavenhealth.com
Gretchen Vannice, www.omega3dietician.com
Rebecca Bush, www.stillwaternatural.com
Women are taking control of their health as they seek naturals ways to have a healthy pregnancy.