Interview with Marie Pace, ND, C.N.C by Michelle Schnaars, CHBE
During pregnancy an expectant mom begins to consider the foods she eats a little more carefully. Nutrition plays a major part in our health and the health of our children, especially in utero when they are in the formative stages of life. Proper nutrition provides our children the foundation for a healthy life.
Schnaars: I hear all the time of the importance of physical exercise in preparation for pregnancy. During pregnancy exercise is also encouraged to help prepare mom for labor and birth; we are told that exercise promotes general good health for mom before, during, and after pregnancy. Nutrition also plays an important role in maintaining proper health.
Marie, can you tell us what role nutrition plays in preparation for pregnancy, during pregnancy and in postpartum recovery?
Pace: In one word…”EVERYTHING”… Optimum Nutrition can greatly improve your chances of having a healthy baby and a healthy pregnancy. Even the slightest deficiencies before and during pregnancy can have serious effects on the health of the offspring; and the idea that birth defects are often caused by nutritional imbalances in the mother is rapidly gaining wider acceptance, even in the main medical community.
What we know now is that slight deficiencies of vitamins B1, B2, and B6, Folic Acid, Zinc, Iron, Calcium and Magnesium have all been linked to birth abnormalities. A healthy pregnancy will of course depend on a greater supply than normal of all these nutrients, since you are accommodating the needs of a growing fetus as well as the mother.
Schnaars: Folic Acid in the first weeks of pregnancy can help to prevent neural tube defects, like Spina Bifida; however most women do not know they are expecting until they have missed one or even two periods.
When can a woman start taking Folic Acid?
Pace: Immediately; most women do not take enough of this essential B vitamin (also known as “Folate”) to prevent birth defects as Spina Bifida and others; this particular vitamin should be within your system during the first 6 weeks or so after conception, as this is the most crucial early phase in fetal neurological development. Since most women do not know they have conceived until several weeks afterwards, the best advice I can give is to get on it now if you are planning on becoming pregnant; this way you will ensure you have an adequate supply of this nutrient when it is needed the most (within the first few weeks of gestation). Folic Acid should not be taken just by itself; it is vital that a woman take this nutrient along with a well balanced plan that also includes vitamins C and B12.
Schnaars: What are some foods that are rich in Folic Acid?
Pace: Folic Acid (or Folate) is found mainly in dark green leafy vegetables, root vegetables, dates, chicken, brown rice, oranges, tuna, whole grains, barley, beef, salmon, liver, and milk. If a woman is pregnant she should do everything she can to ensure the safety of the food she eats by buying as much organic (especially meats) as possible.
Schnaars: Are there other vitamins and minerals that a woman can start taking in preparation for pregnancy?
Pace: All of those mentioned; but I can’t stress enough the importance of balancing nutrients and eating whole foods before, during and after pregnancy. There are tests now available that can help a “mother-to-be”, as well as the father, determine exactly what their bodies need to be nutritionally balanced. We so many times leave the father’s health out of the picture when we talk about nutrition and pregnancy. You have to remember that the forming fetus’ body is made from the nutrients from both parents, not just the mother; this is key to remember. If during the pre-conceptual months, each partner strives for optimum nutrition, minimizes his or her intake of, what I call, “Anti-Nutrients” (ALCOHOL, SUGARS, ETC.). Then the chances of a healthy conception and gestation are high; eating 7-9 servings a day of fresh raw vegetables and fruits, utilizing as often as possible organic meats, eggs, and milk; staying clear of refined carbohydrates and taking a high quality multivitamin are all a must.
The best supplementation program would minimally include the following: 200-400 mcg of Folic Acid, 20 mcg of B12, 200 mg of B6, 15 mg of Zinc, 500 mg of Calcium, 250 mg of Magnesium, and 12 mg of Iron. Do not take more than 10,000 iu of vitamin A; and I strongly suggest having a hair mineral analysis carried out to check for excesses of copper, lead, mercury and or cadmium, etc.
Schnaars: There are many emotional and physical changes that occur in a woman when she is expecting. I remember when the baby would get into a certain position there was pressure on my stomach and I could not eat as much. Also morning, noon, and night sickness was an issue for me. I noticed that a smaller amount of food was much better.
How many daily meals can we eat when we are expecting?
Pace: You are so right; eating smaller meals, 6 per day is the best. Including protein with each small meal or snack is a must; along with raw vegetables and fruits.
Some women have a tough time eating properly in the early stages of pregnancy due to what has been termed “Morning Sickness”. During pregnancy the need for vitamins B6 and B12, Folic Acid, Iron, and Zinc all increase; supplements of these usually stop even the worst cases of pregnancy sickness. Eating small frequent amounts of fruits or complex carbohydrates like nuts, seeds, or whole grains often helps also.
Schnaars: Are there certain foods we should be avoiding when we are preparing for pregnancy and when we are expecting?
Pace: As I stated earlier the “Anti-Nutrient” type foods such as alcohol, refined carbohydrates, sugars, and white flour are the main foods to avoid by both partners before and for the mother after conception. It is also imperative to avoid certain drugs, some hormone preparations and many herbs. This list can be quite lengthy and I strongly suggest a woman get in communication with a knowledgeable holistic practitioner for assistance.
Schnaars: I have heard many expectant women talk about food cravings. Most sound normal, however some woman tell me they crave salt, sugar and chalk. It is my understanding that this is the body telling us it has a need for a particular vitamin or mineral.
Is it true our body will crave some strange food or a substance like chalk?
Pace: Absolutely; lack of certain minerals and vitamins and even misbalancing of hormones during this time can cause some very wild, often, disturbing cravings. Lack of vitamin C almost always is the case; whenever you stand in the kitchen and look around and say to yourself, “Gee, I’m hungry, but I just don’t know what I want”, this is lack of vitamin C talking! Eating fruit helps tremendously in handling this.
Other cravings are coming from the depletion of key nutrients and this is why it is so vital to balance your body prior to conception. “Pica”, which is an eating disorder, is noted for abnormal craving for substances other than food. This is caused from lack of Iron in the body
Schnaars: During the many months of pregnancy the baby grows and has needs depending on the particular growth taking place. As we already discussed folic acid is needed early in pregnancy to help the spine form correctly. In the 8th month of pregnancy the baby's brain is growing fast and fat is being deposited under the skin.
Are there certain foods we should eat to help in brain formation and growth?
Pace: You can’t treat an ailment or a deficiency with only one vitamin or only one food; same thing to form the brain and have good growth of the baby’s body. Fortunately, when you feed the brain you are also nourishing the rest of the body; and vice versa. The foods highest in brain nutrients are what most of us think of as ‘Basic” Foods –good breads, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, fish, lean organic beef and chicken, etc. The hard part is finding the “good” in those foods. So many times harmful additives have been added to them which actually destroy the ‘good” in them. A new mother and father have to become “label savvy” and ensure that they are eating truly good food for the sake of their child.
Schnaars: I have heard that expectant women should drink 8-12 cups of water daily. I have also heard it is possible to drink too much water.
What is a good guideline to follow when it comes to drinking water?
Pace: 6-7 glasses per day of spring or distilled water is the best. Not only is this vital for the baby but also for the mother’s health.
Schnaars: Fats and oils are needed to help the body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins.
Some women want to stay away from fatty foods because they do not want to gain a lot of weight. How much is enough, and what types should we eat?
Pace: Too much weight comes from too many calories, not enough movement (lack of exercise to burn the calories), and imbalances of hormones. Too much of any one type of food is never good as true health depends on a variety in our diets. But I believe there is too much attention on “fat” in our diets. “Fat” is actually vital to our health; the key is to eat a well balanced diet, with lots of fresh vegetables and fruits and 30% of each meal should be protein.
Schnaars: What help should a woman get if she is have fertility issues?
Pace: The very best help is found in natural Bio-Identical Hormones and sound nutrition. I have had the joy of helping many of my young clients conceive even though they had been to numerous fertility specialists. Fertility and the speed of conception depend on many factors; some psychological, some physical and some nutritional; conception rate is very high during holiday periods, for example, since stress –a major factor in infertility –is reduced. Knowing how to time intercourse to coincide with ovulation (the release of the female egg to be fertilized by the sperm) greatly increases the chances of conception. Also, your nutrition and especially your vitamin status play a crucial role.
For some young women who are not ovulating properly natural Bio-Identical Progesterone works wonders along with balancing nutrients in the body and using some herbal remedies.
For women who have had difficulty conceiving, we do a battery of tests to determine their hormone levels and then utilize Bio-Identical Hormones and balanced nutrition to help them achieve success.
Schnaars: Can you tell us some general health tips so we can work towards a healthy and low risk pregnancy?
Pace: If you want to have a baby the best thing to start with is balancing your hormones naturally to ensure fertility; along with your partner get onto a good nutritional plan and start eating your fruits and vegetables. Throw away any and all “Anti-Nutrients” in the home; get a standard hair analysis done to help you choose the vitamins and minerals you need to balance your own body chemistry; start moving and breathing –that means exercise daily for at least 20 minutes and keep this up throughout the pregnancy. Formulate a healthy natural birth plan with your husband, midwife, labor doula, and/or doctor; and above all keep a smile on your face!