First off, can we just pause and acknowledge how excited we are for you? It’s only a matter of time before you get to meet the little person you’re growing inside of you!
Your body was doing incredible things before you got pregnant, but now? Now it’s doing the most to prepare both you and your baby for that first meeting.
That’s why it’s so important to take care of your health. Being intentional about what and how you eat will help your body as it prepares to usher your baby into the world.
And practicing good health habits is especially important as you navigate giving birth during a Black maternal mortality crisis. Black women are more likely to have many of the health issues that can lead to high-risk pregnancies. A high-risk pregnancy means you either had a chronic condition before you were pregnant, or developed one during your pregnancy, and will require additional monitoring and care.
The main thing that I want birthing folks to do is really, really nourish themselves as much as they possibly can.
“Black women are at higher risk to develop chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, [and] preeclampsia,” explains registered nurse and doula Ebony Harvey. “And those things can be detrimental and pretty problematic during your pregnancy.”
These conditions (or being perceived as being at risk for these issues) may increase your odds of having a complicated birthing experience, like needing to be induced or having an emergency C-section.
Taking control of your health and nutrition is one of the best things you can do to move the needle in your favor. In “Overdue,” our maternal health series made in partnership with Un-ruly and Gerber, Ebony explains some best practices you can follow when you’re walks you through what you can do to manage your health and what you can do if you’re consider the high-risk pregnancy label.
“The main thing that I want [birthing folks] to do is really, really nourish themselves as much as they possibly can,” Ebony says.
But what does that look like? Read on to learn more.
Eating Clean in Your Pregnancy Diet
Eating organic fruits and vegetables is ideal, Ebony adds. Along with having less toxic chemicals, a 2014 study of 28,912 Norwegian women found that those who reported eating organic vegetables “often” or “mostly” had a reduced risk of preeclampsia compared to those who said they “never/rarely/sometimes” did.
That said, she acknowledges, not everyone can afford to go 100% organic or live in areas where there are a ton of organic and green grocers (not to mention grocery stores in general). If that’s the case for you, you can focus your shopping list on what the Environmental Working Group calls the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15. The nonprofit updates their list every year to highlight which fruits and veggies are “the most and least contaminated produce.”
If you’re craving something on the Dirty Dozen list (like strawberries or spinach at the time this article is published), the organic versions are a safer bet. And anything on the Clean 15 list doesn’t have to be organic.
Getting Nourishment Through Your Pregnancy Diet
By now, you’re probably familiar with the list of foods you can’t have during your pregnancy. (So long, sushi and lunch meats!)
But there are also specific types of foods you should try to incorporate into your diet during your pregnancy for your and your baby’s health. If you can, getting these vitamins and nutrients through food is better than getting it through a supplement, Ebony says.
A 2019 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that while eating certain foods that were rich in certain vitamins reduced the risk of cancer and heart diseases, taking supplements of those same vitamins didn’t have the same effect. That’s because food is packed with a complex mix of vitamins, antioxidants, and more that give you a variety of long-lasting benefits.
“It [also] helps replace feeling like, ‘Ok, I have to take another pill or tablet,” she says. “Especially if you’re nauseous during pregnancy.”
The following are just a handful of the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals you’ll need in your pregnancy diet:
Why is protein so important to your pregnancy diet and nutrition? It helps promote the baby’s growth and development, according to the Mayo Clinic. The medical center advises that you get 71 grams of protein a day, which is easy to blow past with something like a boneless, grilled chicken breast (86 grams) or two large hard-boiled eggs (100 grams).
“You don’t always have to eat meat,” Ebony points out. “There are other sources of protein. You have plant protein, you have beans, you have nuts.” Cheese, tofu, and grains like quinoa are also great sources of protein.
Vitamin C is crucial to supporting your immune system, Ebony says. “Yes, you can take vitamin C, but one orange packs way more of a punch than just taking a vitamin C tablet.”
If you’re not a fan of oranges, you can get that kick of vitamin C from other citruses like grapefruit, fruits like cherries and kiwis, and vegetables like kale and broccoli.
Another plus side of vitamin C? It helps with absorbing iron. And your body needs double the amount of iron it usually needs when you’re pregnant to make more blood so your baby gets the oxygen they need, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Getting enough iron in your pregnancy diet (27 milligrams a day, per the Mayo Clinic) can also keep you from feeling tired and developing headaches or anemia.
We can’t always control the system, we can’t always control what happens, but we can control how we treat our bodies.
“A lot of pregnant women are placed on iron supplementation,” Ebony says. “[But] you can eat a lot of green leafy vegetables [instead]. Those are easier to digest.”
You can also get iron from foods like beef and poultry; fortified breakfast cereals like Total, Special K, and Cheerios; and dark chocolate (45% and above).
Something you may not hear a lot about is how important potassium is to your overall health. It works in tandem with sodium, maintaining fluid levels within our cells, while sodium is responsible for managing levels outside cells. This partnership makes the difference between being in good health and having high blood pressure, heart disease, and/or hypertension, according to Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The ideal diet has more potassium than sodium. But most Americans have sodium-rich (a.k.a. salty AF) eating habits, which lead to those aforementioned health issues.
Preeclampsia, or high blood pressure during pregnancy, is a risk factor for interventions, including pre-term labor. So trying to control your blood pressure by reducing your salt intake and increasing the potassium in your pregnancy diet is worth a shot.
“Potassium pills are huge, so people really don’t like to take them,” Ebony says. But you can get potassium through foods like bananas, avocados, salmon, potatoes, and dairy and plant milks.
You may be familiar with folic acid from your prenatal pills. It’s vital to your baby’s brain and spinal cord development, and “has been shown to decrease the risk of premature birth and having a low birth weight baby,” the Mayo Clinic reports.
“Folate is the whole food version of folic acid,” Ebony explains. “It’s a better version for you than folic acid.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, pregnant folks need 600-1,000 micrograms of folate or folic acid a day.
“You can just eat okra, and the best part about okra is that it’s high in folate,” Ebony says. You can also get folate through eating foods including dark leafy greens, eggs, peanuts and sunflower seeds, and whole grains.
Staying Hydrated During Your Pregnancy
You know the saying you’re eating for two? Well, your hydration needs increase during pregnancy, too. Your body is using water to form the amniotic fluid in your baby’s gestational sac, remove toxins from both of your bodies, and create more blood to help the baby breathe among other important functions.
Staying hydrated may also affect your birth outcomes: Being extremely dehydrated can lead to contractions and has been linked to preterm labor, or giving birth before you’re 37 weeks pregnant. (When your baby isn’t fully developed, it can be at risk for health issues such as low birth weight and underdeveloped lungs.)
“The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate daily fluid intake is about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women,” the Mayo Clinic reports. As a pregnant person, you may need more—especially if you’ve been exercising or if the weather is hot and humid. A good way to tell that you’re getting enough water is when your urine is clear or lightly colored, according to the Mayo Clinic.
You can get your hydration needs met through food and beverages other than water, the article continues. Milk, sparkling water, juices, and even caffeinated beverages and sodas can count towards your fluid intake.
There are some beverages you can take to supplement your pregnancy, too, Ebony says.
“Nettle tea is really good for iron supplementation,” she says. “Red raspberry leaf tea is really good for uterine tone after 28 weeks.” (Make sure you talk to your medical provider to see how these teas interact with any medication you’re currently taking.)
By staying nourished and hydrated, you’re doing all that you can to make sure you and your baby are off to a great start!
As Ebony says, “especially now with the Black maternal health crisis… we can’t always control the system, we can’t always control what happens, but we can control how we treat our bodies.”