Monday, 1 April 2013

Pregnancy: Changing Nutritional Needs

I have never thought more about food than when I was pregnant.  And that is saying something.  A friend once told me that either I am thinking about what I am about to eat, or what I have just eaten.  This time, though, it was not down to appetite (or lack of) but due to pregnancy issues.  Everyone’s 9 months are different, of course, but here are a few of the hurdles I had to waddle over...

The joys of morning sickness (or noon, or night sickness)! As soon as my pregnancy test pinged positive, I was nauseous.  And it was not just a mildly sick feeling but an all-the-time salivate in the mouth sensation.  I was sure my taste buds had been replaced by an alien’s.  Going to the supermarket was a torturous routine. If I was not left cold by the tomatoes, or retching at the sight of eggs, I was gagging in the raw meat aisle.  Cooking was another form of hell.  I could no longer handle uncooked chicken and the smell of beef frying was absolute no-no. 

My answer: to delegate.  You are pregnant for goodness sake and snacking on rich tea biscuits is not going to get the nutrients you need into your baby.  Mr Sainsbury’s now arrived in a van with weekly supplies.  Hubbie was roped in to preparing and cooking the meat.  Finances permitting, I popped into a deli or cafe a few times a week and ordered something I could stomach.  Often I did not know what mystery foodstuff that would be until I scanned the menu.  And I snacked on oranges – citrus being one of the few flavours that was a friend to my body.

A couple of weeks into my second trimester and hey presto, no more morning sickness.  I was one of the lucky ones – I have friends who felt ill their entire pregnancy.  But now I had a different food problem to tackle.  The midwives told me I was deficient in iron, key for the growing foetus’ health and really important for mum too, due to blood loss at birth. 

Most pregnant women would reach for iron tablets, but these “clog” me up.  Instead, I discovered liquid iron made from fruit extract (Vital F by Hubner), which tastes great and is non-constipating.  I also researched a few dietary changes – Vitamin C helps you to absorb iron, but this can be cancelled out if you drink caffeine at the same time.  So breakfast now consisted of herbal tea instead of builder’s brew, fruit salad, and cereal sprinkled with sunflower seeds that are rich in iron.  I upped my intake of red meat, greens and even baked beans. Within a month or so, my midwives were happy with my iron levels and I was given the all clear (ta da!) 

My thoughts were now turning to the main event.  It was also Christmas and I was happily gorging myself on festive treats (“Eating for two!”).  But around this time, I started itching all over the top half of my body.  I would wake up clawing at my skin for some relief – much the same as having chicken pox.  Severe itching in pregnancy can be related to a condition called obstetric cholestasis or O.C, which affects fewer than one in a hundred women.  Pregnancy hormones can affect your liver function and bile salts, which are normally flushed away, get deposited under the skin.  And while O.C is not harmful to mum, it can be very harmful to unborn infants. 

I had to have weekly blood tests and hospital visits to monitor the bump.  Fortunately, the tests results were all clear; but this did not mean the condition could not still develop – I had many of the symptoms.  As a preventative measure, I did everything I could to improve my liver function.  I reduced my fat intake, ate less sugar (which converts to fat) and less salt.  And at the very time in your pregnancy when you want eat comfort food.

So, I baked meat and fish, which I’d normally fry in the pan, and cooked onions with the tiniest amount of oil and a dash of water (this works surprisingly well).  Crisps were banned from the snack cupboard and bags of raw almonds took their place. Still needing my sweet fix, I substituted anything with added sugar for treats with natural sugars, like honey and liquorice. In fact, I was amazed how easy it was to eat healthier.

Thankfully my hospital tests remained in the clear and the suspected condition did not develop.  Much to my relief, in February, I gave birth to a very healthy and happy little girl.

Pregnancy can raise all sorts of food issues.  If you’ve got concerns about getting the nutrients you need and live in South London, contact the Mini Cooking Club, which is doing classes for pregnant women from May 2013.

By Paula

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