Reducing Anxiety Around Pregnancy Weight Gain and Nutrition

Genevieve Howland (a.k.a. Mama Natural) talks with Adriana about ways you can navigate the emotions that come with gaining weight during pregnancy, identify possible triggers, and explore seeing it as an opportunity to connect with and appreciate your body in a new way. They also discuss how nutrition plays a role in lessening birth interventions, the folic acid vs. folate debate, ferments, bitters, cravings, mindful eating habits, and more.

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Reducing Anxiety Around Pregnancy Weight Gain and Nutrition

Adriana Lozada: Hello Mighty Parent or Parent-to-Be. Welcome to Birthful. I’m Adriana Lozada, and we are moving right along in our Nutrition and Nourishment series.

Today, we are tackling weight gain and nutrition during pregnancy, and my guest is Genevieve Howland, who you may know as “Mama Natural” from her YouTube channel and blog. Genevieve is also a childbirth educator, doula, a lactation advocate, and the author of the bestselling book The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth.

And I know that for a lot of people, the idea of gaining weight— even if for such a fabulous cause as pregnancy— can bring up a lot of emotions, so I do want to hold this while acknowledging the difficulties brought upon living in a culture that perpetuates oppressive standards of beauty and diet culture, that then further complicate our relationship to food.

In the episode, Genevieve will share some ways to tackle food and weight anxiety, and give suggestions on how to lean into nutrition to hopefully help reframe this time of life as an opportunity to establish new nutrition habits that can serve you past pregnancy and postpartum, and also help you connect to and appreciate your body in a new way that may even provide a space for healing and self-acceptance.

You’re listening to Birthful. Here to inform your intuition.

Adriana: Genevieve! Welcome to the show. I’m so happy to have you here.

Genevieve Howland: Thank you so much Adriana for having me here. I’m thrilled.

Adriana: There’s so many topics we could talk about, but I figured that— something that seemed to be dear to your heart— if we talked about weight gain and nutrition. In the end of the book, you share a little bit about your background and how you have dealt with ED (eating disorders) in the past. Can you just walk us through that a little bit, and why nutrition is so important to you?

Genevieve: Sure. So yeah, food has been a big thing in my life. When I was, like, a little kid, I remember just gravitating towards food more than my peers did. Do you know what I mean? I remember going to a friend’s house after school and the mom would be like, “Okay, do you guys want an afternoon snack?” And we’d say ‘Sure!'” And then she would give us something and I would just notice my friends would seem to be satisfied and full or whatever and didn’t want any more, but I always did.

So I always felt, like, a little bit of shame around my relationship with food or like that I was different, or there was— something, I don’t know— wrong there. So fast-forward: throughout my high school and college years, I dabbled with, y’know, kind of in anorexia, where I was really into dieting and over-exercising and really afraid of eating fat.

So I ate, like, fat-free everything and got really skinny and stuff like that. So I did that for a couple of years and then I went the other extreme into binge eating and that’s… it’s been more of my experience. So, y’know, I went off to college and you know, a lot of women can gain the fr-, y’know, “Freshman 15,” I think they call it? Well, I gained the Freshman 40. And, y’know, college was just… there’s junk food everywhere, there’s takeout, there’s all night eating. The cafeterias are just loaded with really starchy, sugary foods. And, so I was very overweight. I was probably like 60 pounds overweight, very unhappy. And, I just really couldn’t stop eating, y’know?

And so, when I was about 23, I finally figured out that for me, it was sugar was my trigger. And, y’know, people could have one cookie or two cookies… I wanted, like, the whole box. So I realized, okay, y’know, I really need to give up sugar because for me, it’s almost like alcohol for the alcoholic.

It just triggers cravings. And I want more, more, more. And, I just caused a ton of misery. So on January 1st of— what was that night?— 1999, I was like, “Okay, today’s the day. I can’t do this anymore.” And I stopped eating refined sugar and just slowly, y’know, taking it one day at a time. And I got support.

I’ve been free of refined sugar ever since then. So it, like, blows my mind because I could not get past, like, 10:00 a.m. without candy and sugar and y’know, all that type of stuff. So… but I found once I got rid of that sugar, then I didn’t have the cravings, y’know?

And when I tell people, y’know, I haven’t had sugar in that many years, they always are like, “How do you do that?” And I’m like, “Okay, first of all, it’s the grace of God.” But second of all, once you remove— for me, at least— that really refined sugar, that addictive type food, it kinda… it lifts, you know what I mean?

The cravings go away if you, y’know, stay away from it long enough. So, yeah, so that was kind of my experience. And then we can talk about how that looked in pregnancy too, but, y’know, by the time I got pregnant, it had been, gosh, I was clean of the sugar for a good 12 years.

So it just became a lifestyle. When I got pregnant with my first child at 34, I didn’t have a lot of anxiety, frankly, about gaining weight, because at that time I just felt like it was such a beautiful purpose and it was such a natural process. And I knew that. You know about sustaining this new life, that it wasn’t that big of an issue for me— but I know for some women it really is, and I do talk about that in the book.

Adriana: Mhm. That comment of the sort of relationship that we have with food and what are our triggers relating to food. Because food is not just nutrition, right?

There’s the “feel-good” effect. There’s hormonal effects. There’s even studies now that say the microbiomes… that it’s sometimes the microorganisms that are, like, in your gut asking you for a certain type of food, ’cause they need it. It will make you feel a certain way: so for some people it’ll be sugar, for others it’ll be caffeine, for others it’s fat.

I think what you mentioned of stepping back and looking at what it is that is your trigger. That’s not just sustenance, but it goes a bit more than just your quote-unquote “will.” Then that’s, I find, a great first stop to sort of grasp the opportunity that is pregnancy, right? ‘Cause I always see it as an opportunity to— if in the past, if growing up— you weren’t able to, say, tackle that… your relationship with sugar or your relationship with caffeine, having that extra incentive of you’re growing this baby that needs to be super healthy, can be sometimes that extra—

Genevieve: —kick in the ….

Adriana: Yeah. Yeah.

Genevieve: Yeah.

Adriana: —to just push you over and commit.

Genevieve: Yes. Yeah. I remember listening to one of your podcasts about the coffee thing, and how you gave it up when you were pregnant. And then you’re like, “Why am I even going to go back to this?” y’know, “‘Cause I don’t really miss it or need it.” So that is so true. Y’know, I felt really lucky because when I did get pregnant, I really didn’t have to give up much.

You know what I mean? I didn’t drink alcohol. I didn’t do caffeine. but I know a lot of women that do drink caffeine and wine, and different things like that. Or sushi— that was probably my hardest thing, giving up was sushi— but I know that they have to make changes and yeah, it could be extra motivation just to get cleaner with your diet.

I know several of my friends who were more kind of, like, junk foodie, y’know, or fast food-type gals. And then once they got pregnant, they’re like, “Okay, I really want to clean up and eat more salads. And just, really think about what I’m putting into my body.” Ideally, you’re thinking about this six months before you get pregnant, but hey, anytime it’s better than no time, so.

Adriana: Yes, you can start today!

Genevieve: Exactly.

Adriana: Yeah, and it’s because pregnancy lasts as long as it does, oh, y’know, if you do start right before you got pregnant or six months, or right at the beginning, you’re going to do at least nine months or something close to it, at the least more than six months, of not having that food or we’re figuring in moderation, or whatever it is you do, but that is enough more than enough to sort of eliminate any addictions or habits.

Genevieve: Yeah. I mean, I think they say it’s like 30 days or 21 days— I mean, there’s different theories about how long it takes for, like, the substance to get out of the system and for the cravings to kind of go away. But it is amazing once you just kind of step away from it for a while, like, it really does go away because like you said, if you’re doing something for six months or eight months or whatever, it does become your new normal.

Adriana: Absolutely. So it’s a great opportunity, if you look at it that way. And you had your experience with the eating disorder that happened earlier in life. So by the time you got pregnant, you were in a different relationship with that… but what would you say for people that, for them, it’s a little bit more recent in terms of what they’re going through, and then got pregnant?

Genevieve: Yes.

Adriana: What are some helpful ways to deal with the anxiety of gaining weight or triggering events that might happen during pregnancy?

Genevieve: Yeah, so that’s a great question. I would say, y’know, kind of similar to what I did when I first gave it up, just getting some good support. So whether it’s talking to your midwife or even seeing a counselor or there’s different support groups you can go to, just so you’re not alone with it. Y’know, the anxiety, the fear, the obsession, or what… however it looks for you, y’know, just getting support. Some moms like to see a nutritionist and sometimes it’s just as simple as, like, keeping a food diary and then just sharing it once a month or something, or once a week, with a nutritionist and just making sure you’re staying honest and connected and, y’know, are nourishing your body.

I think too, doing a lot of, like, mental and spiritual work. So, I’m a huge believer in birth affirmations— so much so that we, like, created birth affirmation cards, we’ve got an app, we’ve got recordings— because to me, they made such a big difference in my second birth. But we have ones for pregnancy that are really helpful, just reframing of what is actually going on in your body and how it really is such a sacred experience and process, and that you’re really nourishing life.

And so I think flooding your brain with these positive messages about— the bigger picture— about the growth of this child, about just how you’re establishing their, y’know, wellbeing, you want to be sure that you’re flooding your body with these awesome nutrients. So, I would focus… have some component where you’re focusing on the mental game and your thoughts, because that’s where so much of this starts. And then if you have, y’know, a connection to higher power— to God or faith— that’s also an awesome resource. That’s really what got me through a ton of it. So those are all things and tools that can help.

In terms of triggers, I found even when I was pregnant, I didn’t look at the scale— so I would always turn my back. I think the nurses thought I was nuts, but I’m like, “I don’t care. I don’t want to know the number because it could trigger me.” So I would just check in, like, once a month, like, “Hey, so, you know, weight gain looking good? And, “It looks great,” y’know? And so I just didn’t get too much into the numbers.

But I guess I’m a big believer— it’s like, if you’re nurturing your body, you’re eating well-balanced meals, occasionally if you have a treat or whatever, that’s fine. Of course, I don’t really worry too much about weight because that’s just my perspective with pregnancy, because the body just takes care of itself and it gains what it needs to gain. And I don’t think it needs to be micromanaged. So I found just not looking at the number was helpful.

Adriana: Which can be a big jump and a change of habit for some people who, like, weigh themselves, y’know— what, at least every day or something like that. So I think that requires a little bit of work ahead of time to get to that point where you can be like, “It doesn’t matter what I weigh. I’m not going to know the number.” But I can see how helpful it can be not focusing on that. Especially if you know that looking at the number would be triggering for you.

Genevieve: Yes. Yeah. And I think pregnancy is just such an act of surrender. And so just to remind yourself of that, it’s like there are certain things that we can do, like I said— eating well, not engaging in high-risk activities, y’know, stuff like that— but at the end of the day, like, you can’t control the way the heart is or the brain is developing or, y’know. And it’s… so it’s such an act of surrender and trust. And so, yes, not looking at the scale is an act of surrender is an act of letting go, but it goes hand-in-hand with just the process.

Adriana: And I think it would be also helpful too, if you have had issues in the past or things that are still happening to you, y’know, that you’re dealing with, to let your care providers know like your, your midwife, your doctor, let them know that that’s or even the, nurse, that weighs you in, like let them know that that’s an issue.

Genevieve: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

Adriana: For me, something that was also very helpful was knowing that, or just reminding myself that, all that weight was not me— that it was tons of water weight and blood volume and placenta and the uterus and baby— like, if you broke it down, then it’s like, “Okay, it’s not my thighs gaining 20 pounds.”

Genevieve: No, no, no, no. Yeah, it’s like under 10 pounds, like, you have a little bit of weight gain and that’s really for breastfeeding, you know? And… but the rest of the stuff, like you said, is the increased fluids, the blood volume, all those things you mentioned. I actually felt beautiful during my pregnancy.

I mean, even the way the weight came on, I could really tell, like, this is just for the baby. And it’s interesting ’cause I’ve known a couple other women who had struggled with eating disorders or who were even currently struggling with an eating disorder when they got pregnant, and it actually became a very healing process for them and journey for them, where they really recovered and healed through the process. And they actually felt very confident in their pregnant body and they actually liked the changes.

And so, y’know, it can be— it’s always an opportunity to heal and to be, y’know, more whole and to be more free, and pregnancy could be that opportunity for us, if we say “yes” to it, you know what I mean? And we surrender to it.

Adriana: Now, to take it to the next step— where we’ve been talking about the weight gain in the body issues— the importance of nutrition in all of this. And in your book, you say, if you’re aiming for a natural birth, free from interventions, eating well is one of the most important things you can do. Tell me more about that.

Genevieve: Yeah. I mean, we do know, for example, like, preeclampsia and gestational diabetes has been tied to, like, more weight gain. You don’t… I mean, if you gain more weight, you can be at higher risks for those two things, which can put you in a higher-risk pregnancy bracket, which then can complicate if you want to have a natural childbirth. It doesn’t mean it’s not possible, but it does make it maybe a little bit harder.

So I’m a huge advocate of just nourishing your body, nourishing your baby. Eating well, eating well-balanced. I found protein was huge, y’know. The first time I got pregnant, I went to a natural childbirth course and it was over the course of 12 weeks, and we kept hearing, “Eat enough protein,” “Eat lots of protein,” “Eat at least 80 grams of protein.”

And I thought “That seems like way too much. I don’t need to eat that much protein.” Like I’m not going to sit there and count protein grams. I’m just going to listen to my body and trust it. And everything worked out great. But I have to say the last six weeks of my pregnancy, I, y’know— and it wasn’t the summer, but still— I started swelling a little bit in my ankles, and every morning I’d get up and be like, “Oh, it’s kind of puffy there.”

And then I would go for a walk and it would go away. But there was definitely some, y’know, swollen ankles going on. So anyways, fast forward, three years later, I got pregnant with my second child and I craved protein something fierce. Like I was… I joked that in the first trimester I was kind of on the Atkins diet, not even intentionally, but that was like what my body was craving.

And we can talk about “cravings,” ’cause I’m a huge advocate of following your cravings for the most part. But I had no swelling, like not one ounce of swelling and I definitely was eating 80 grams or more. So I think being sure you have enough protein… protein is, like, the building block of matter and you are building this child. And so, just ensuring that you have enough throughout your day. And it’s really great to just for keeping your blood sugar balanced. It helps with satiety, so that’s really important. And then, in the book, we break down various nutrients, various foods that are high in those nutrients. And then every week in the book I was— this was something I have, like, “I want to do this, I don’t know if I can do this, but I really want to”— we started looking at each week and how baby was developing.

And then I would think, “Okay, well what nutrients can we be giving the mom that would support that stage of the baby’s development?” So, for example, when a baby’s tooth buds are forming, can we be sure that the mom was eating enough calcium and vitamin K and things like that, that helps strengthen bone and tooth formation?

So each week there’s a very specific recipe that’s nutrient-dense, that really is perfectly aligned with what’s going on with the baby, you know what I mean? So each week there’s a recipe that supports your baby’s development. So we talk a lot about (obviously) nutrition in this book, but I am such a believer in it, because I think it can really make a difference.

I mean, just even herbs to— again, in my first pregnancy, y’know, I just didn’t listen that well, I think, with my first pregnancy— because I remember I went to my midwife and she told me she had three children and she’s like, “I rocked all my births,” and “I really attributed it red raspberry leaf tea that I drank.”

And so that was my first appointment, and I heard her say that, so I was like, “Okay, well, I’m going to get that tea ’cause I want to rock my birth.” So it was… I was 10 weeks pregnant and I brought one home. I got the tea, I started drinking it and I started having a little bit of uterine cramping because it is a uterine tonic.

And it’s a strengthener of when… your whole, like, pelvic floor and so it freaked me out, y’know, ’cause I don’t want any cramping going on anywhere down there that early. And so I stopped drinking it and I never touched a glass again. Well, I had a very hard birth, that first birth.

So fast forward to my second time around, I’m like, “You know what? I think I’m going to listen to that woman. I’m going to drink the red raspberry leaf tea.” But I waited till after the first trimester, which a lot of midwives will recommend because it can trigger a little bit of that cramping.

And so starting, like, at 13 weeks, I started drinking it. I drank two cups a day. And then the week before, like, my due date week, I drank double-strength red raspberry leaf tea. And I had such an awesome birth. I almost did not make it to the birth center in time! I was like fully dilated plus two or plus three when I was, y’know, in triage.

So it was night and day! And really the biggest difference: my uterus, I could feel it was like a machine. Like, I don’t know, the contractions were so effective and I really could feel that uterine support that that red raspberry leaf tea gave me. So that’s another thing we talk about in the book. So food can make a big difference, really!

Adriana: So I think we took the same childbirth education classes, because it was also 12 weeks and it was also, like, my favorite part about those childbirth education classes, was their emphasis on nutrition and protein.

But aside from the benefits of eating protein, it’s great for building blocks and you’re building a baby. But also, protein is easier to get rid of afterwards; like, gained weight, gain from protein is so much easier to deal with, than from eating junk food. So your body also is having better cells, right? And then I found that focusing on 80-100 grams of protein was so intense that it didn’t quite leave room for junk. Like, had to, I had to… I had my breakfast and my mid-morning snack and my lunch and the snack and the dinner, y’know, dinner and after snack. But those snacks? I made sure I got eggs. I had cheese. I, y’know— at that time I was eating dairy, and so it really helped lessen the sort of temptation to do other things, because I was focused that, “I need to get these 80 grams of protein.”

Genevieve: That’s, yeah… that’s an excellent point, y’know, and it’s so surprising— a lot of diets, like if you look at a lot of the diets out there— most of them contain, y’know, talk a ton about protein and there’s been studies that talk about protein, that it is… it’s a… very satiating and it really does help with appetite kind of suppression in the sense of (like you said) not wanting to eat sweets and this and that. You’re really keeping your blood sugar so, so stable that you just don’t have the same type of cravings.

Adriana: And in terms of other building blocks, when I was reading through the back, I was like, “Huh, that’s right, I forget that that is this case,” that you’ve got carbohydrates, fats, and protein. In carbohydrates you’re including fruits and vegetables, because that’s what they break down to— the benefit of root vegetables, can you go more into that?

Genevieve: Sure, yeah. Well, I know, y’know, a lot of women are… feel better on a lower-carbohydrate diet or maybe a Paleo diet or a Primal diet. There’s lots of different diets out there, but, yeah. Some women don’t really— y’know, maybe they have inflammatory bowel issues or different things like that— they don’t really feel great on grains.

So that’s, y’know… we’ve got a ton of awesome root vegetables— from, y’know, beets, carrots, onions, sweet potatoes, yams, rutabagas, of course there’s plantains, which isn’t a root vegetable, but it’s another starchy vegetable, then you’ve got all your winter squashes— so you could very easily get plenty of your carbohydrate needs just from that. And then the fruits obviously!

But I love all those things because of the color, all the phytonutrients. There’s that whole thing, “Eat the rainbow.” But there is some wisdom in that, because you want to pick food from all the different colors, because they have different phytonutrients and different minerals and vitamins and stuff like that. So, y’know, I eat a lot of pomegranates and tomatoes and sweet potatoes and carrots, and you can get blue yams and blue potatoes. And, y’know, just trying to get into, of course, leafy greens. Leafy greens are really great— one of the greatest sources of folate (and natural form of folate) that you can get, and we know how important folate is, y’know, when you’re pregnant.

I even like juicing now! I know juicing, y’know, if you’re new to it, it might not be the best idea because they can sometimes have a little bit of a detoxifying effect, but even if you just make a pint of juice— and you can mix celery and romaine lettuce and carrots and maybe a little lemon or a little ginger— that’s so… such a great source of nutrition. It’s really concentrated. You can have it with a handful of pumpkin seeds or nuts, And plus I just feel really good on it too.

It was kind of… I always joke that like juice for me was like my caffeine, you know? So it just made me feel really great. Or you can also of course do smoothies, y’know; I’m not a big fan of, like, kale or spinach smoothies because there’s some oxalates and different things that can be a little bit irritating to the gut, affect some of your digestion, but I think like romaine lettuce and carrots and celery and avocados, apples, all those things you can put in a smoothie, blend it up. Then you get the fiber too, which is nice! So there’s so many ways to get great nutrition. And again, then I find women just instinctively are drawn to this anyways, because they want to, y’know, take good care of their body and they want to just nourish it. So those are all great choices.

Adriana: Now, I’m glad you mentioned folate—

Genevieve: Yes.

Adriana: —because that’s starting to be more controversial, in the difference between folate and folic acid. Can you go deeper into that?

Genevieve: Yes. We talk about this in the book, about there’s… MTHFR, which I’m sure you’ve probably heard of, but there can be genetic mutations that cause, in, some say, up to, like, 50% of the population to have problems with breaking down folic acid. And so it can be problematic and, y’know, a lot of prenatals contain that.

So, they make now prenatal pills that have the methylfolate version, which is more broken down, which is easier for those types of people to assimilate. And it’s a lot safer. So you’ll want to talk to your midwife about that. Some people do better on, like, a food-based folate in the food-based prenatals, and that seems to work okay, and some women just choose to go on a methylated folate, just to be preventative, just in case they do have it— ’cause it certainly won’t hurt you.

And then, like I said, leafy greens— it could be kale that you cook, y’know, it could be juiced romaine lettuce, it could be a big salad— I mean, however you get it in. But I feel like there’s such a wisdom in nature obviously, and just in the way everything fits together as a whole food. So I think if I can get it from… I like it the best, y’know, even with, like, omega-3s, y’know, people talk about, “Oh, you should take it, the omega-3s, blah, blah, blah.” To me, I’m like, “Okay… I’m gonna eat my salmon. I’m gonna eat my sardines.” And get, y’know, certain eggs (usually pastured eggs or, some farmers will actually even supplement with a little bit of omega-3 so that the eggs are rich in omega-3). I would prefer to get it from food, but that’s just me.

So, yeah. So that’s just an important thing to consider, and talk to your midwife or doctor about.

Adriana: Yeah, And I agree: if you can get your supplements, your… or your nutrition, supplements… your nutrition from real food instead of supplements, then your body will be more discerning on how to be able to take that in and its bioavailability.

Genevieve: Absolutely. Sometimes just focusing on real good nutrition— fresh food, nutrient-dense— is going to be your best bet. Food-based prenatals are very gentle. And then, of course, working with your healthcare provider, because this gets pretty nuanced in terms of depending on the person and stuff like that.

Adriana: Yes, do talk to your care provider to make sure this is being customized specifically for your needs and your particular situation, for sure. We’re just painting broad strokes.

Genevieve: Yes. Yes. But we haven’t talked about my favorite, probably— which is fat. Y’know, we’ve talked about carbs! So fat is also really important, y’know, especially when you’re pregnant and that’s why it drives me crazy. I think I was reading online— like, I don’t want to say what it is about in case I was wrong— but it was just, like, a mainstream medical website that was saying that you should limit your fats when you’re pregnant.

And I was like, “Oh my gosh, well, why would you want to do that?!” Because they’re super important for just enhancing mineral absorption. So they say… they’ve done studies now, and y’know, when you eat your vegetables, it’s important to have it with a healthy fat, because it actually helps you assimilate and absorb the minerals more effectively.

So it’s really important for that. It’s really important, obviously, for baby’s brain, gut, eye development. It’s nourishing. It helps the mom, and her hormonal profile is going to help the child. In fact, I learned this actually— I never knew about this until I actually had this experience— but did you know that, like, women, when they’re pregnant, their cholesterol is, like, sky high?!

Adriana: I did not know that!

Genevieve: Yeah. And again, this is nature’s design, because cholesterol is such a precursor for all the sex hormones for all of the development, right, that’s going to be happening for the baby. For the mom, I mean, talk about the mom’s hormone levels are going through the roof! So she needs that cholesterol to support her and her body changes and for the development of the baby.

And I learned this actually because after I’d given birth, I think it was to my daughter— yeah, it was to my daughter— and my husband and I wanted to get health insurance. So they came to my house, I think I was, like, three weeks postpartum. And I’m thinking, “Why am I getting this test done now? Because I haven’t lost the baby weight.” You know what I mean?

I’m like, this is probably ’cause they test all these things like your blood pressure and your weight and your blood sugar and different things like that, to be sure that you don’t have any, like, risk factors for various diseases. But anyways, I did it, it was just the timing, and Michael wanted to get it done before the end of the year.

So I got the whole test done. Well, my cholesterol came back at, like, 291 and I was like, “Whew!” It’s because I’m more of, like, a 180-190 kind of cholesterol (for total cholesterol), and it was like almost 300 when I got the test back! I’m like, “What is going on?” Sure enough. I did some research and that’s why… I don’t know if you know that or if you remember this, but when you’re pregnant, they do not test your cholesterol.

They do the CBC, they look at all these different things— they don’t look at your cholesterol. And it’s because it’s a known fact that women’s cholesterol goes through the roof. So, yeah. So the thing that’s crazy is I actually passed the health insurance exam because I’m always under 300. I was like nine points away under 300, but it was so elevated and it… ’cause it does continue on, I think, for six weeks postpartum. So I bring up that all to say is that fats are super important.

And so, like, the egg yolks, butter, coconut oil, olive oil, nuts and seeds, olives, all those things, we want to incorporate that with our meals. They not only help us with satiation, but also, like I said, mineral absorption, and just helping to support our bodies and baby’s body.

Adriana: Mhm. And it’s… and I like making the distinction between good fats and not-so-great fats, yeah, ’cause the ones you mentioned— y’know, the coconut butter and the avocado and the virgin olive oil, all those are great— it’s others that aren’t so great for you.

Genevieve: Oh, yeah. So I would say trans fats, you want to steer very, very clear of those. So, and that’s just most women would probably anyway, because that’s usually found in fried foods, fast foods, a lot of packaged foods. There has been some regulation around trans fats, so it’s in a better situation than it used to be.

It used to be used in a lot of packaged goods ’cause it’s very shelf stable, but those are very, very harmful for baby and for moms, so we want to stay away from those. You also want to stay away from a lot of, like, oh, high omega-6, or a lot of, they call them, like, industrial vegetable oils (so like safflower oil or canola oil or cottonseed oil or soybean or grapeseed oil), things like that. And again, most of those foods are, or those oils are, found with chips, processed foods, fast foods, packaged shelf stuff. Y’know, with my kids, I’ve been teaching them lately about earth foods. So I’ll talk to my kids, ’cause sometimes like, “Well, I want this,” or “I want that.” And I’ll say, “You know, we’re trying to have most of our diet be foods from the earth.” So I’ll say, “Okay, are strawberries foods from the earth?” Yes. “Are these pretzels from the earth?” And they’re like, “No.” So trying to take those down and eat more from the earth, more whole foods,

So, and y’know, I do believe that saturated fat is good for us. Of course, I think all the monounsaturated is great for us too. Like the olive oils and some of the seeds and nuts that we can eat, y’know, some coconut oil, which is high in saturated fat, that’s also huge.

Y’know, our brain needs a lot of saturated fat. Our body will actually create saturated fat if we don’t give it enough. So it is an important nutrient. Again, getting high quality sources of it— if you can get organic butter, that would be better, and yeah.

Adriana: Fantastic. There’s one more, like, set of foods— not food group, but food category— that I want to touch on… What about ferments? Fermented foods?

Genevieve: Oh, yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yeah. Yes. Huge advocate of these, if you can tolerate them. Some people are very sensitive; they might have histamine issues. But really the biggest thing, y’know, with whether it’s morning sickness or heartburn or constipation— I mean, that’s really where probably women can suffer the most when they’re pregnant, is digestion, and it can manifest its ways in lots of different ways.

It either comes upward with the acid, it goes outward with either not going or going too much, burps and gas and all these different things. And y’know, a lot of it is hormonal, of course. Y’know, progesterone slows down our digestion, it slows down our muscles, it loosens and softens or kind of relaxes our muscles.

So the flap that covers— it’s like a little sphincter that covers our… separates our stomach from our esophagus— can remain ajar, which can bring the acid up going northbound. But my point in bringing that up, is if you can incorporate foods that are supportive of digestion, it’s just going to help you.

So ferments are a wonderful way to do that. So whether it’s a little bit of sauerkraut, or pickles or kimchi, like you mentioned, a little kee-fir or kef-ir (however you want to pronounce it), a little bit of yogurt. So, like in a lot of traditional cultures, it’s naturally in the food. So in the German culture, they have the sauerkraut. In, y’know, the Mediterranean, they might have the yogurt dip, y’know, the yogurt or the tahini, stuff like that.

So these foods are digestive aids that we can use to help us. I know some others that struggled with terrible indigestion, morning sickness, things like that, and they just took a little bit of raw apple cider vinegar, about a teaspoon at a time, mixed in about four to eight ounces of water, sipped on that about 20 minutes before their meals and their heartburn went away. Something as simple as that, apple cider vinegar. But you do want to be sure it’s raw because that has those good benefits. Y’know, some women can’t tolerate the ferments.

So even lemon juice— lemon juice can help stimulate your bile, and helps getting the digestive juices going. In fact, if you just hold a lemon or you cut it and you smell it, you will actually start to salivate, okay? Because it does create saliva, and so lemons can be a great tool: making homemade lemonade, putting a little lemon on your food or your salad dressing.

Other things that are helpful are just enzyme-rich foods, like ripe papaya or ripe pineapple. Those are also really good! They’ve got different enzymes in them that help to digest protein. so you can incorporate those into your meals. What else? Some people take digestive enzymes— and, again, you’d want to talk to your doctor/your midwife about that, but some women have really been helped by just taking an HCL, which is a “hydrochloric acid” supplement, with their meals.

But yeah, I really, really believe it. In fact, there’s a company— I think it’s called Urban Moonshine— and they actually now create a bitter… okay, so bitters are something that are… is a concoction of different herbs, bitter herbs, and they used to be hugely popular. In fact, you can find old posters from, like, the twenties, of people advertising, y’know, take the bitters, it’s going to help your liver and your kidneys and this and that.

And it really does target digestion, again. And the thing that I just learned about recently… so we actually have bitter receptors, not just on our tongue, but actually in our intestines and our pancreas and all these digestive areas in our bodies. So it’s really important that we’re getting that bitter taste, which is not very common nowadays because we’re used to the sweet and the salty.

So anyways, usually bitters are not recommended when you’re pregnant because they have some herbs that are not good for pregnant women, but Urban Moonshine has made a formulation that’s chamomile-based, that is safe. So that can be another option for moms, to help stimulate the digestion. But, y’know, they’re a little bit different than a ferment.

Adriana: Mhm. See, I didn’t know about the bitters. We have, like, this great bitter in Venezuela. It’s the Angostura bitters.

Genevieve: Nice. I mean, you could actually, like, drink it. Like, sometimes I’ll have it— ’cause if you’re not a coffee, I’m not a coffee drinker— but sometimes in the morning, like, y’know, coffee is bitter, okay? So there… it’s almost like people crave it, of course, because of the caffeine, y’know, some people are like, “I cannot function without my coffee,” because they’re tired and they’re, y’know… but some of them might be the bitter element because it starts to stimulate the digestion and, y”know, get your system going. It helps for elimination. So anyways, but… I’ve been taking— sometimes I’ll just do, like, a teaspoon of a bitter add warm to hot water. And it tastes like… kind of like a coffee. I mean, it doesn’t really taste like coffee, but it’s similar in the bitterness of it. And yet it doesn’t make you jumpy. There’s no caffeine in it, so you should check them out. They really are cool. And I don’t know, I just feel so good on them, so.

Adriana: Yeah no, I will check them out. Genevieve, you mentioned earlier that you didn’t want us to finish this without talking about cravings, so let’s do that.

Genevieve: Sure. I know, we’ve been blabbing! I know I was a… whatever, when we were talking before this, I’m like, “I don’t know if we’re going to have enough to talk about,” when we’re just talking about, y’know, food, okay? But we definitely did! So, yeah, cravings. So, y’know, a lot of us believe that our cravings are bad or, y’know, not good.

And I really, really believe when we’re pregnant, our bodies have an incredible wisdom— y’know, it’s all about surviving, y’know, keeping that baby alive. So for the most part… a perfect example is— I remember my mom telling me this, when she got pregnant— she loves coffee, she still drinks coffee, but when she was pregnant, she had an aversion to it. She’s like, “I could not get myself to drink it!” And then other women, y’know, there’s certain foods such as… turn them off. And I think it’s really important to listen to that. I remember my first or my… yeah, my first trimester in my second pregnancy, I started craving milk.

Okay, let me just say: I am not a milk drinker. I never have been a milk drinker. And all of a sudden I was drinking a quart of milk a day, okay. I’m like, “Where is this coming from?” Like, this is crazy. But I went with that, because I’m like, “You know what? There’s nothing inherently bad.” Y’know, I got very high quality farm fresh milk. And so I knew it was a good quality and that it had lots of nutrients and for whatever reason, I just… my body craved it.

Interesting to note, as soon as I hit that second trimester, I never wanted it again. So I do think it helped with like that because I was queasier with my second pregnancy… and it did seem to kind of calm my stomach down. So I really believe, y’know, I have another friend, she ate a peanut butter sandwich every single day for lunch and, y’know, peanut butter?

You’re kind of like, “Oh, it’s not a great food,” but it actually is pretty high in folate. So I’m like maybe that’s what her body was craving. So I think, y’know, and other women, they want steak every day. So I think it’s important to listen to those cravings. The one caveat would be if you’re, y’know, craving Froot Loops or Doritos or something like that, that is… has… that are empty calories.

That’s not, y’know, nurturing you and your baby. Again, if you want to occasionally have something like that and you feel okay about that, that’s fine in moderation. But although I would never say that Froot Loops is a great food— try to find a natural fruit loop if that… if you’re craving that.

But, y’know, for the most part, I believe those cravings are good. If it’s just for junk food, then there’s some other things going on and then you want to get support and kind of look into that. But, I do believe in the power of cravings and that is our body’s wisdom for what we really need nutritionally.

Adriana: And I think the craving, if you’re… if it’s true craving from your body, it’s going to go back to being an earth food, like what you were saying earlier, of just one ingredient. It’s not going to be necessarily something really complex, of that banana split sundae, I just need to have that. No.

Genevieve: Yeah. Yeah, exactly, exactly. And, y’know, we live… we’re actually very fortunate, because that’s the other thing, like, when I gave up sugar, you know, 17-18 years ago, there was either total sugar-laden stuff or the artificial sugars, y’know, like the NutraSweet and all that kind of stuff. And then there was a lot of fat-free foods that were really high in sugar, which is… a lot of these dieters were eating lots of sugar and they didn’t even know it.

But anyways, nowadays we are so blessed because they make… you can get dark chocolate with honey, or you can get, y’know, all these natural, y’know, ice creams that are made with coconut milk and, y’know, just better sweeteners and more “natural,” quote-unquote. So if you do want to indulge, there’s tons of those types of things that are going to be healthier. They’re gonna be better choices, for that occasional treat.

Adriana: And I think it all comes down to being a little more purposeful about, and mindful about, your food: actually thinking and planning for it. And it’s one of those things that if it’s in the top of your mind, then you’ll be very discerning hopefully, when you go to the supermarket or when you go to the farmer’s market to buy stuff, and then you’ll be very discerning of what comes into your house. And if it’s not in your house, you can’t have it.

Genevieve: Yeah!

Adriana: Barrier right there! If you don’t have the cookie, you can’t eat the cookie.

Genevieve: Yeah. Or if you have to make it— y’know, a lot of people, it takes a long time to make and roll them and cut them. And people are like, “Nah,” don’t even, y’know, forget about it by the time you do all that. The craving’s passed. And I think too, looking at other ways, like, can you take a bubble bath? Can you get your nails done? Or I don’t know. Can you find something else? Y’know, get a really great magazine or a new book? Get your hair cut in a different style or whatever? Y’know, finding other ways to nurture yourself to, y’know, soothe yourself, right? Instead of having to always be food-focused.

Adriana: Absolutely. And do remember that this is a great opportunity, not only for the baby that you are building within you, but also to create habits that then you can carry out so that once your child is born and you’re teaching them how to eat, then if not hard for you to do it, it’ll be easier for them to do it. Your good habits will be taught to them as well.

Genevieve: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. And there’s even studies, again, that show that, y’know, what you eat— especially when you’re breastfeeding— influences your baby’s palate. Y’know, people always remark about my kids, like they’ll eat sushi, they eat, y’know, spicy ginger, they’ll eat… I mean, they just pretty much eat most of what I put in front of them.

But that’s what I ate when I… you know what I mean? Like I eat those foods. I did a lot of different spices. I didn’t eat a lot of sweets. And so thankfully, y’know, they kind of follow suit, but there is… there have been studies that showed, like, the milk will pick up— the breastmilk will pick up— the different flavors in whatever the mom is eating, you know what I mean?

So her diet influences the taste profile of her milk. And so that can actually set the stage for what your baby gravitates toward and your kid, y’know, eventually your child, and so on. So something to think about!

Adriana: Absolutely. And that brings us full circle to the original quote of, y’know, what you eat during pregnancy is going to— if you want a healthy birth and even like healthy postpartum, and have your children be healthier— then what you eat now, and those habits you get into, will make it so much easier and better for them.

Genevieve: Yes.

Adriana: Thank you so, so much for doing the book, for all you do, and for being on the show today.

Genevieve: Oh, thank you, Adriana. It was so great talking to you!

That was Genevieve Howland aka Mama Natural from the blog mamanatural.com. Her bestselling book is called The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth. You can find Genevieve on Instagram @mamanatural and you can connect with us @birthfulpodcast.

In fact, if you are not driving, we would really, really love it if you would take a screenshot of this episode right now and then post it to Instagram sharing your biggest takeaway from this episode. Maybe it was the part where we talked about higher protein needs during pregnancy, or maybe it was the use of ferments and bitters to settle your stomach. Whatever it is, let us know, and make sure to tag @birthfulpodcast and @mamanatural so we can see it and amplify it.

You can find the in-depth show notes and transcript of this episode at birthful.com, where you can also learn more about my birth and postpartum preparation classes and download your free postpartum preparation plan.

Birthful is created and produced by me, Adriana Lozada, with production assistance from Aysia Platte.

Thank you so very much for listening to and sharing Birthful. Be sure to follow us on Goodpods, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, and everywhere you listen.

Come back for more ways to inform your intuition.

 

CITATION:

Lozada, Adriana, host. “Reducing Anxiety Around Pregnancy Weight Gain and Nutrition.” Birthful, Birthful. July 13, 2022. Birthful.com.

 


 

A photograph of Genevieve, who is white-presenting and has long dark brown hair, smiling and holding a baby to her chest, whose little bottom is visible to the camera

Image description: a photograph of Genevieve, who is white-presenting and has long dark brown hair, smiling and holding a baby to her chest, whose little bottom is visible to the camera

About Genevieve Howland

With over sixty million views on her YouTube channel, Genevieve Howland’s funny but informational videos have empowered millions of women to embrace natural pregnancy and parenting. Now Howland is turning to the page, offering up the first ever week-to-week pregnancy book from a natural perspective.

The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy & Childbirth is the modern (and yet ancient) approach to pregnancy and childbirth. “Natural” recognizes that pregnancy and birth are normal, and that having a baby is a wondrous biological process and rite of passage—not a medical condition. Full of week-by-week advice and tips, Howland covers vital pregnancy nutrition, natural remedies for common concerns, as well as the appropriate (and inappropriate) use of medical interventions.

Peppered throughout are positive birth and pregnancy stories from birthing people of all backgrounds (and all stages of their natural journey) along with advice and insights from a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM), plus a Registered Nurse (RN), doula, and lactation consultant.

Learn more at MamaNatural.com and follow Genevieve on Instagram @mamanatural or Facebook at Mama Natural

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