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Pregnancy takes a toll on the body, and you need to be able to replenish the nutrients you’re using up for your baby. That all starts with prenatal nutrition. In this episode, Corinna Bellizzi and Integrative nutrition health coach/holistic nutritionist Tia Walden share tips and tricks for people early in their pregnancy journey. Listen in to learn about the different ways you can supplement your nutritional needs and optimize your diet to stay healthy throughout your pregnancy.
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I'm joined by Tia Morell Walden, a fellow podcaster who you've met before. She is sometimes the co-host and collaborator of the show. In this episode, we're going to dig into prenatal nutrition as Tia has just entered her third trimester. Tia, welcome.
Thank you, Corinna. It's crazy to believe that we are here now at the beginning of the third trimester.
It’s the homestretch. Before you know it, you'll have that little baby bundle in your arms. It’s a healthy young boy. That's my prediction.
Thank you. Yes.
As it stands now, I wanted to start by talking a little bit about the tips or tricks that you might have for people early in their pregnancy journey, and perhaps even when they're thinking about becoming pregnant. What would you advise that individual to do from a nutrition perspective so that they can be on track and keep their best energy levels throughout the pregnancy?
Not all pregnancies are planned, but I firmly believe in starting ahead of time if possible. Start taking your prenatal a year or at least a couple of months prior to becoming pregnant if you can, and also focus on your water intake because that is something that is going to increase. Even if you are an active water drinker, you're going to increase that during pregnancy. Also, knowing and reminding yourself to go back to those basics of what nature intends us to eat. Start eating those again because pregnancy and your body growing another human is a very natural process if you are setting it up in proper ways.
Often, women worry about getting adequate nutrition because they have so much nausea, especially in that first trimester. I was in that camp. I learned I was pregnant with my first boy. It was a somewhat unplanned accident. We've been married for several years and I discovered I was pregnant based on the symptoms I was having. Thankfully, I had been a consumer of omega-3 supplements and also a daily multivitamin for a long time. I was a little less worried about being deficient in certain key nutrients that would be needed to make a baby. During that first trimester, I had a hard time eating pretty much anything.
I found that the foods I was able to consume without as much trouble were very simple like a bagel with cream cheese. Perhaps that wasn't what my ideal breakfast would be. I might want to eat something that was more protein-based, but my body was just saying no. What did you do in that early phase to make sure you're getting adequate nutrition or at least enough to not be falling flat?
I can relate to your struggle with that too. Especially in that first trimester, I was shocked because I love vegetables but during that time, I couldn't even look at one without feeling my mouth starting to water. I had to listen to my body because I know I needed to take in some fuel. We can't eat anything. I was in the same boat. I loved a lot of those carbs versus the protein or the vegetables themselves. Also, allowing your body to do its thing by trying to keep the food in and focusing on what can I consume right now. What does sound good and how can I maybe sneak in some extra protein or some extra greens, and do so in a way that doesn't feel like you're forcing yourself to eat something that is an aversion to what you want.
What I did was when I was craving something like smoothies or something sweet, I would throw in the extra handful of spinach. I would throw in some collagen in places where you're not going to feel like you're forcing down a steak or forcing down this big salad that you aren't hungry for. I struggled with that in my first trimester too. Remind yourself that this is just one trimester out of the three. You are going to have different changes in your taste and what you can stomach throughout the next couple of weeks. Make it one decision at a time versus feeling like you're falling flat and that you can't make up for it.
Start taking your prenatals a year, or at least a couple of months, prior to getting pregnant.
Also, remind yourself that you are taking a prenatal, whether you've started that prior to or started that once you did find out. That it is going to help you if you pick the right prenatal. Make sure that you do take that prenatal DHA and omega-3s because you're going to get in a lot more nutrients that way even if your diet is mostly bagels and cream cheese.
One of the things I did to sneak in protein during that time was protein shakes. I could throw some fruits into a protein shake. I could throw in even some greens to make sure I was getting enough of that stuff. I also found that during my first pregnancy, I almost had an allergic reaction to bell peppers. It was a very strange thing because my body did not want to eat bell peppers. If I did consume bell peppers, I would feel very sick. My older son still doesn't like bell peppers. It’s such a strange connection. I wondered if I had somehow imprinted that on him, but I have served him bell peppers a number of times throughout his life and he still won't eat them.
It is weird how that happens.
Somehow his body was informing mine that this was not something that he wanted. Now, I can consume bell peppers again. My younger son will eat a bell pepper like an apple. It's like a snack. There are key differences between children. I do think there's something to the child informing you about the nutrition that they need as well during that pregnancy time. We get all sorts of interesting cravings.
I do want to give another tip, specifically in dealing with nausea during the early phase of pregnancy. People will tell you things like, “Ginger or teas containing ginger.” I personally never found that to help, but what I did find to help was that if I kept at least some food in my stomach at most times, I would have less nausea. One of the key foods that I kept on hand was simply almonds. I could consume a small handful of almonds and keep something in my stomach at most times. I also would turn towards baby carrots because, for some reason, those seem to work for me. Find a couple of healthy foods that work for you and snack a little bit throughout the day. That's another key tip. I've heard that from a lot of moms too. Having a little bit of something in their stomach helped to battle at least a little bit of that.
I can attest to that too. I was the same way. As long as I was snacking or had something small, nothing substantial. I could not eat big meals at that time either. I was reworking my schedule of eating to recognize that I'm not going to have my big three main meals that I typically did. It's going to change and that's okay. Allowing that change in your body is so key without trying to judge it or manipulate it in what you think should be happening.
Let’s talk for a moment about the supplements that you take and when you take them. This is something that you mentioned. Getting them before you intend to get pregnant is ideal, and then maintaining them after you begin nursing or after you deliver the baby to ensure that you're replenishing your stores. Some of the science is very interesting as it relates to pregnancy and healthy babies.
One of them is that if you get enough DHA during your pregnancy, it's positively correlated. I say correlated because a causal direction hasn’t necessarily been determined. It's positively correlated with better birth weights, which means that your baby is born at a fuller term and a little bit bigger. Bigger babies tend to have the ability to handle early sicknesses a little bit better. They tend to be more mobile earlier and a little bit healthier.
One key thing that will help them do that is DHA. It is that important fat. There's a good reason for this too. It literally makes up half of the fat in our brain and our eyes. It's directly tied to the development of a healthy brain and healthy eyes in addition to being involved in every cellular process that we might have. The key nutrients to get in. he Örlö Prenatal DHA packs exactly what you need in a daily dose, which is over 300 milligrams of DHA, along with some supportive EPA as well. That's in the polar lipid form, which means it will be better absorbed by your body. It’s also less likely to cause any nausea or anything like that. Because of that, it gets absorbed more quickly. Also, it's in these super small pills that are so easy to swallow.
I mentioned this because, during the early phase of pregnancy, one of the symptoms that helped me discover that I was pregnant was that I went to take my morning vitamin, which was a tablet. As people who take tablet vitamins might know, they tend to have this B vitamin smell and taste. I got it about halfway down my throat and it came right back up. Along with the water, it was unpleasant because of the odor and it was also just big. Smaller pills that don't have any odor, flavor, taste or any of that are much easier to handle especially during that first trimester. The Örlö product fits the bill there 100%.
Make it one decision at a time versus feeling like you’re falling flat and that you can’t make up for it.
Another positive vitamin specifically for better birth weights and fuller term babies is vitamin D. Make sure that you're getting enough vitamin D in your day-to-day. You can get a simple blood test at your doctor's or you can even buy that blood test from a pharmacy if you want to. Checking those levels is important. Something else to consider is you're building a lot more blood during pregnancy. Your level of blood increases by half as much as you would typically have in your body because you're creating all of these blood vessels to feed that baby.
Because of this, your iron levels need to be considered. Even though you're not bleeding each month, you're creating so much more blood than you typically would that some pregnant women will get a little anemic. That impacts your energy levels. It impacts how you feel. It also impacts your health overall. Get to that simple ferritin test. See where your levels are on iron and you can go to many foods to get higher levels of that specific food-based iron, the ferritin if you need to. Do you have any other tips on the supplement space? What are you thinking?
First of all, you've hit three of the ones that I'm taking. I'm doing that prenatal since the day I found out I was pregnant. If I would have been more planned out, I would have taken that prior. With that, I'm taking the Örlö Prenatal DHA. I love that because of everything you said. It's small. It's easy to take. It does not make my stomach upset even if I don't eat something prior, which is not very common for vitamins, in my opinion. I'm also taking vitamin D because my levels were low, and an iron supplement because my red blood cell count was low as well and I was feeling extremely fatigued.
This is something people don’t talk about. Your blood levels are so high. It makes sense because you're building a baby. You're building another human and you've got all of these blood vessels that you're building in your uterus too. Your volume of blood increases so much. I wish I had known that earlier too.
Remind yourself too that the fatigue, tiredness or exhaustion that you feel may be common in pregnancy, but it doesn't have to be normal to that extent. I could tell that I was more tired or more exhausted than I felt that I should have been. I did go and ask my midwife to test my levels. I got the results back and it said even that everything is considered normal in pregnancy. I dove down and I looked at it, and my red blood cell count was on the low end.
That was affecting me and I took it into my own hands to research a good iron supplement to make up for that, but also reminding myself that I still need to consume those leafy greens. If you're increasing your red meat intake of quality meats, make sure that you do not think that the supplements are going to make up for having a very highly processed diet at the same time. I'm also taking an oral probiotic in the third trimester just to reduce the chances of GBS.
What is GBS? Let’s talk about that.
It’s Group B Strep. I want to reduce that because I don't want to have to take antibiotics during my labor and birth. I hope to do this naturally. I want my baby to get all of the good bacteria during vaginal birth. If I can reduce my chances, I'm going to take everything I can to do that. I'm taking that oral probiotic. I'm also taking a magnesium supplement because I did struggle with having constipation throughout pregnancy even with a healthy diet. It also helps contribute to a good night's sleep by getting that extra magnesium, which also has been a problem for me during this pregnancy. Having that hit two birds with one stone is perfect in my opinion.
Let's talk about the magnesium for a moment. Just so everyone here is clear. There are also a couple of other things that happen during pregnancy with a greater frequency. Women are prone to calf cramping or Charley horses in the middle of the night. Magnesium helps your muscles relax. This is part of how it enables you to relax because your muscles are physically releasing. Calcium on the other hand helps your muscles to contract. Each of these things works in a different way for some of the same kinds of functions within the body. They're almost opposing. You need these things in balance, but if you're not getting enough magnesium, you also won't build healthy bones.
It's an interesting nutrient that your body needs. It's a mineral you must get from your diet. It does happen to be high in certain foods that also have calcium, but if you're not eating enough of them, you're not getting enough. Especially when I was in later pregnancy both times, I started to have little constipation in the third trimester but didn't have it earlier. What I started to do is I would create a concoction with Peter Gillham's Calm or the Calm supplement from Natural Vitality.
We need to take these supplements but that doesn’t replace the healthy eating.
I would put a scoop of that in a cup of chamomile tea and drink it at night. It would be my relaxing way into the evening of going about my day. I didn't have the calf cramping anymore at night. I also was more regular. Everything worked naturally to help even things out. There are great food sources of iron that are not animal-based. I want to talk for a moment about one of my favorite vegetables, which is the beet. This is something that I cut into matchsticks size pieces and add to every salad I make. I also love pickled beets, and pickled foods are high in probiotics.
These are both natural sources of things that your body is going to need to keep a healthy flora, to help do some of what Tia is doing right now, by making sure that she takes a probiotic each day. You can do some of that through food too. If you happen to like sauerkraut, pickled beets or pickled foods of other sorts, you're going to be positively impacting your gut microbiome with these foods. With beets, in particular, you're going to be increasing your levels of that iron.
I'm participating in a course right now with Dr. William Li. The Eat To Beat Disease course. One of the things he talks about is the importance of getting beets into your diet and how they are health-promoting. He says specifically that you've got to chew them or juice them. If you're chewing your beets well, you're getting all the phytonutrients from them that you need or you can even drink beet juice. One of the problems of getting these high iron foods is sometimes they can lead to constipation, which is the problem Tia and I were talking about. Balancing that by getting enough magnesium can also help you out.
What you hit was important too. It's reminding us that we need to take these supplements, but that doesn't replace healthy eating for me. Also, focusing on other nutrients in my diet, protein being one of them, vegetables at every meal, and even things like beets. I've done tart cherry juice to help with sleeping as well because it's high in magnesium. That's giving me some heartburn at night so I've had to switch it up.
The juice might be great too, but it might also cause some of that, especially in the late trimester. With my second child, I started to get more reflux. With the first one, it didn't happen. The second one, it did. I would try to sleep in my recliner because of all the pressure and the organs. Basically, your stomach is way up under your rib cage and pushed up at that point. Your esophagus can tend to have a little of that creep. It can be very uncomfortable.
Even moving some of those things into the different parts every day, I've had success with them. I've made gelatin out of tart cherry juice now because then you also get a lot of magnesium. That's helped me too. I'm getting that magnesium at some point and I haven't had any issues with cramping yet.
You probably won't because you're taking the magnesium.
Having that extra gelatin in my body has helped me stretch, grow and promote healthy skin in that way too. Knowing how itchy you can get and stuff like that has reduced it. I thought I would be itchier in my third trimester and so far I haven't been. It was extra itchy in the first trimester, which also could play with the time of the year and the weather where I live.
Before we wrap, let's talk for a minute about those particular foods that you're working to bring in to increase your levels of folic acid or folate, get your iron levels right, and support that magnesium. Are there any others that you're leaning on?
I have also been leaning on my nuts and my seeds, making sure that I consume my hemp seeds and my green leafy vegetables especially. Those have been important. Whether I am wanting a salad that day, I will either make a nice green leafy salad or I will throw in a couple of handfuls in a smoothie. That hits a lot of categories in my book because you can get in that protein. You can get in seeds and leafy vegetables. You can add beets to those.
You know your body best. Doctors may have schooling behind them but they haven’t lived a day in your body.
You can add in different things to make this power-packed snack or meal, depending on where you're at in your pregnancy because now I feel like all snacks feel like meals. I get so full so quickly. Also, through other herbal supplements, even through teas. Recognize that listening to your body for which teas are okay and which teas aren’t. Look into that and ask your physician or your midwife, depending on your comfortability level with it.
You also mentioned gelatin or different proteins. You can take collagen that's powdered and dissolve it in a cup of coffee or tea if you wanted to. What I find is when you drink that, its texture might get a little bit different, but you don't notice the flavor. If you're adding it to a warm tea that you enjoy drinking, it's going to dissolve right in very quickly. You can drink that to get some more protein and also collagen to build that healthy skin. It's an innocuous way to get more nutrition packed into your diet whether or not you're pregnant.
Taking these tips outside of pregnancy is important and recognizing that a lot of this stuff I'm going to hang on to especially during postpartum and breastfeeding because they're as important during that time too. Your body is being depleted of a lot of nutrients to give to your baby, so replenishing them on a daily basis as much as you can is important.
There’s one more thing I want to touch on before we wrap and that relates to postpartum. When I was through my first pregnancy, my midwife, who I thought was very well-schooled in nutrition. She seemed to be very primed in that arena. She can be able to critic given my experience. About 3 or 4 months after my pregnancy, she said, “You can stop taking a DHA supplement now unless you're planning on having a second child.” I looked at her and said, “I'm breastfeeding. My baby is getting its DHA from my breast milk. What happens to my levels if I stop supplementing?”
She just looked at me. I said, “That's right. It's not a wise decision to stop supplementing with that DHA while I'm nursing and even beyond that because my body will still replenish its levels.” I think it's critically important. Even though a product might be called prenatal DHA, it's a postnatal product too. You should keep taking your omega as well after the pregnancy has stopped.
What I will say across the board is you're never going to go wrong by getting enough omega-3s and continuing to take them every day of your life. My husband calls me the omega-3 evangelist for this very reason. When I miss taking them and I'm several years past my pregnancies at this point, I notice a difference. If you notice a difference when you stop taking a particular supplement, it generally means it's doing good in your body.
Good for you to speak up to not just to take whatever your midwife is telling you for what it is but listen to your gut. You do have a lot of education on it, but also looking into it after your doctor may recommend something to see if it does align with you is important. Also, advocating for your health because you know your body best. They don't know what’s best for you. They may have a lot of schooling behind them, but they haven't lived one day in your body.
When a doctor or a midwife tells you to stop supplementing with something that you know your body needs to feed the baby that you're feeding with your body, perhaps you should continue supplementing a little bit longer. Perhaps also, doctors should improve their recommendations to include that postnatal life when your body is the primary nutrition source for that baby.
Think about things a little bit more clearly. Make the decisions that are right for you, but do your best to get as informed as possible, especially during this time of your life if you're pregnant or if you're nursing. Tia, where can people connect with you to learn more about nutrition and health as it relates to holistic living? I know you have a book out there as well called Obsessed With Mindful Eating, but where would you advise them to come to you if they want to connect specifically about this?
Thank you, Tia, for all you do. This has been a great informative episode for anyone that is handling the challenges of pregnancy right now. I will be following up in a future episode on the topic of prenatal health with our friend Gretchen Vannice. She is a registered dietitian and expert in omega-3s. We're going to dig deeply into the topic of what it takes to build a healthy baby and how omegas are related to that.
I encourage our readers to be ready for that episode as it comes down the pike. For all of you that are here with me, I would encourage you to follow Tia Walden and everything that she's doing in the social spaces. She is sharing a lot of helpful information about nutrition and health specifically during those pregnancy times. You can find her on Instagram @Tia.Walden and also on TikTok @Tia.Walden. Tia, any closing thoughts before we wrap?
I just want to give all the mamas and future mamas out there the reminder that every pregnancy is different. Listening to your body is key, and making that holistic decision for wellness is a good way to go. You can't go wrong with going back to the basics and focusing on those whole foods.
Thank you everybody for joining us. I'm going to raise a cup and say, “Here's to your health.”
Tia Morell Walden is a holistic nutritionist and an integrative nutrition health coach devoted to empowering others in their discovery of what food choices work for their individual makeup.
She teaches her clients to take responsibility for bridging the gap between where they currently are and where they want to be.
She is passionate about sharing tangible steps that improve both health and the overall quality of life.
She is also a fellow podcaster who co-hosts Obsessed With Humans On The Verge of Change. Her bestselling book, Obsessed With Mindful Eating was released in Spring 2021 and is an Amazon Bestseller.