“We often put more thought into growing a garden than into growing a baby” (unknown)
Before I had children, I attempted a backyard garden. I did everything possible I could think of to prepare it. I researched it tirelessly, I prepared the soil, I bought the “right” nutrients, I bought heirloom seeds, I tended to the seedlings, I watered, I fertilized, I plucked off the bugs, and my husband says I cursed. A lot. All of my hard work payed off and that summer we had a bountiful garden full of ripe tomatoes, purple eggplants, sweet squash, and wonderful herbs. Food became tasty again and I looked forward to making my garden a yearly endeavor. Later that year, however, I found out that I was pregnant with my first child and all of my priorities shifted. Like my garden, I began to research everything pregnancy, baby, labor, and birth related. I became curious about nutrition and its effects on my growing baby’s health. All of a sudden, it was scary knowing that I was solely responsible for growing a well nourished, truly healthy, hopefully happy human being. I WAS GROWING ANOTHER HUMAN BEING! Yikes. Unfortunately, I got very little information from my doctors and what I believed to be lots of “mis”-information from friends and strangers. People told me that there were certain things I could eat, certain things that I should stay away from, and certain foods that were sure to make me miserable. I wasn’t particularly satisfied with any of the information I was getting, so I asked my doctor what specifically I should be eating for the health of myself and my baby. Her answer? “Just make sure you are eating healthy!”
Healthy. A bit of a vague term. I thought that my family had always been “healthy”. I grew up with a mother who used natural peanut butter, frequented the health food store, and never let sugar cereal touch my lips. She always packed my school lunches, making sandwiches with whole grain “bark bread” (as it tasted like I imagined tree bark to taste like!). All the while, my friends were eating white Wonder Bread with their Jif PB&J’s, and washing it down with red Kool Aid. As a child, I hated it. As a mother, I realize that she made good choices for us, and she knew those choices would turn into a lifestyle would keep us in good function and give us an edge. She understood intuitively that the best medicine, preventative and otherwise, was the food that nourished us. When I became pregnant, I realized that there were very few things more important than giving birth to a healthy child, and that if I could do anything to help that process happen, I would.
I knew that the presence of a well balanced, “healthy” diet had been widely researched and found to be important for the normal development, growth, and functioning of my baby in utero. Loads of research concluded that folic acid was needed to help prevent birth defects, mercury in fish was bad, and un-pasteurized cheese and deli meats were laden with a life threatening bacteria. What I failed to realize initially was that good nutrition was also a crucial component of keeping myself low risk throughout my pregnancy. I found the work of Dr. Thomas Brewer, who advocated that a simple, nutritious, well-balanced diet could prevent (and sometimes even reverse) a whole host of complications to mother and baby during pregnancy and birth. Through his research, he found that mothers who followed a healthy regimen of high protein, lots of fruits and veggies, whole grains, healthy fats and oils, salt, and lots of water were less likely to suffer from pre-eclampsia, HELLP syndrome, low blood volume, anemia, infection, placental malfunction, and other complications that made a mother “high risk”. In addition to moderate exercise and avoiding harmful, unnecessary drugs, these mothers often also had easier labors and less need for serious medical interventions during birth (Brewer, Blueribbonbaby.org). Who knew that what I put into my mouth might help keep me from being termed “high risk”? My doctor sure didn’t…
Of course, there is so much conflicting and confusing information out there about what constitutes a “healthy diet”, it can be overwhelming to sort out the good from the bad from the downright ugly. What I will call “ugly” food is pretty easy to spot, as most of us know that fast food restaurant menus are full of sodium, sugar, trans fat, and questionable ingredients. They are laden with toxic chemical preservatives, the ones that cause their burgers to look the same on the day they are made as they do three years later. “Bad” food is less transparent. We hear news reports on the dangers of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, antibiotic laden meats, and genetically modified crops. Chemically bleached foods and artificial coloring make our food “look” more appealing, but may have dangerous consequences in the long run. Recall after recall of processed foods and infant formula have become a regular occurrence. As the science experiments go on, it seems to become increasingly difficult to navigate the waters of what is good for you versus what is not. I know that I am not alone in wondering why food doesn’t taste like it did when my grandmother made it, or why the fruits and veggies from the grocery store are often bland, generic, and tasteless.
The good news is that more people are becoming aware of what is going on in our food supply and demanding changes. Locally grown organic produce is more widely available and affordable, as are organic, grass-fed meats and eggs. Communities are welcoming local farmers markets, companies are labeling non-GMO packaged foods, and discussions abound on social media about the benefits of backyard gardens. However, the responsibility to make simple nutritional choices that will support healthier pregnancies, babies, families and communities continues to be ours and ours alone. No one can make that choice for us. We have to be prepared that there may be consequences if we choose to nourish ourselves poorly, especially in pregnancy. For me, becoming “healthy” in pregnancy kickstarted a lifestyle change that has meant getting back to basics for me and my family. Simple whole foods sourced as close to home as possible and prepared in my own kitchen, daily exercise, fresh air, fewer chemicals, plenty of rest, more intentional decision making, and regular doses of laughter have all helped to nourish my family as my journey into motherhood unfolds. As a result, I have found that my children are rarely sick, we sleep better, and we have more energy. Who couldn’t use more of that? Especially since this year, as I am not planning on growing another baby, I have decided to take advantage of all my pint sized energetic help and tend my backyard veggie garden once again.
- Brewer T. H. “Annotated Bibliography of Scientific Studies”.www.blueribbonbaby.org