Birthing Ayurveda: Week 23—Building the Baby with Proper Pregnancy Nutrition
Welcome to Birthing Ayurveda, where we follow one woman's pregnancy experience week by week—from a positive home pregnancy test all the way to delivery.
The fifth month is not only when the baby begins to develop its consciousness but the baby is also physically starting to build the muscle tissue layer (mamsa dhatu). While proper nutrition has been important all along, it is now more important than ever. Luckily, most women have recovered from their nausea or digestive issues by now.
Personally, my digestion now feels more normal than at any other time in my pregnancy. But what has been really challenging for my digestive fire is going beyond a well-balanced meal to incorporate a lot of herbs or supplements. Either I feel sick to my stomach from taking the herbs and supplements, or I feel a bit overwhelmed by all the potential things I “should” be taking. So I’ve gone back to the basics—my diet.
I often hear patients or their families encourage eating, in general, with the thought that the mother is “eating for two!” That does not mean just eat twice as much. For every fetus, the mother should increase her caloric intake only by about 300 kcal/day (and if you are starting at a normal BMI, you can increase that number to about 500 kcal/day in the third trimester). These are nutrient-rich calories.
Where should those extra calories come from? Given that this month is about the muscle tissue layer, protein is to be emphasized (at least 10 g of protein more than outside of pregnancy to a total of 60 g of protein daily). Quality protein is important—though most Americans have ample amounts of protein in their diet, it is often from animal sources high in saturated fat. Consider (especially if vegetarian) beans, mung dal, tofu, nuts, eggs, and dairy.1
Ayurveda also highly recommends fats throughout pregnancy in general. The classics emphasize various sources of healthy fats, such as milk, ghee, and butter for healthy pregnancy because the fatty tissue (or meda dhatu) is the foundation of nourishment and lubrication. These foods build the water and earth elements, which is largely the composition of the fetus and its environment of the amniotic fluid. Also consider polyunsaturated fatty acids1 found in fish, nuts, vegetable oils, avocado oil, or hemp seed oil (think 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids!2).
Outside of that, it is important to consider how balanced your diet is for additional nutrients. Follow the general food pyramid (eat your veggies and fruits!). Here are a few additional considerations.
- If you are vegetarian, you will need vitamin B12 (consider kelp, seaweeds, soy products like tempeh, miso, and soy sauce).1 Even so, you will likely do well to add a B12 supplement. Also make sure that you are getting plenty of vitamin D (at least 400 IU).
- Your baby will literally pull from your bones to get enough calcium if it does not get enough calcium through your diet. You need a minimum of 1000 mg daily. Dairy is always a great source, as are leafy greens, whole grains, and nuts and seeds.2
- Iron is always important as your body continues to build blood. Leafy greens and iron fortified foods are always a good choice. But consider a supplement (try chelated iron) particularly if you are vegetarian. You should get enough zinc in many of the foods that are high in iron, which is important for immunity. 2
- Folic acid needs are increased to 800 to 1000 mcg daily. They are found in many green vegetables, whole grains, and fortified foods. This is an easy supplement to take which is very important for the development of the baby’s nervous system. 2
- Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoice acid (DHA), are becoming more and more emphasized (remember the importance of meda dhatu!). Scientists have found that it is an important structural component of nervous tissue, reproductive tissue, and the skin. The recommended value is 300 mg/day.3
- Your baby is also going to need other important minerals, like iodine, magnesium, and sodium (be careful to especially keep this last one in moderation). 2
- Eat a diet high in fiber! The bacteria that makes your gut flora grows off of fiber. It will help keep your intestines free of toxins and prevent the occasional constipation that often accompanies pregnancy. Another great source of food for your gut flora’s bacteria is ghee!
- This is a great go-to list for high-nutrient foods:2
- Leafy green vegetables
- Milk products
- Nuts and seeds
- Sea vegetables
- Wheat germ
- Whole grains
Depending on your dietary constraints and medical history, your diet may need to be modified, which is why I always recommend working with a nutritionist if you have any particular conditions. Otherwise, keep your plate colorful, eat plenty of dal and wholesome sources of dairy and fat, and you should be good!