This month we’re all about Nutrition at Birthly, so we asked our friend Alex James from Your Downtown Doula to chat with us!
Alex is a postpartum doula and nutritionist based in downtown Toronto. She believes it’s possible for all birthing people and their families to have an amazing postpartum experience, where they are honoured, celebrated, rested, and well fed. She offers postpartum doula care as well as postpartum meal prep, before or after baby is born.
What do you recommend for those who are experiencing a lot of nausea during pregnancy?
Ginger is great for nausea, as many are probably aware! Try using fresh ginger or ginger powder in your cooking as much as you can. Brew up a pot of ginger tea and drink throughout the day. Instead of ginger ale, you might try a wee bit of ginger flavoured kombucha and see how that sits with you. If possible, try and avoid ginger candies which have a lot of sugar.
If you’re not fond of the taste of ginger, you could consider a supplement in the form of a capsule. There are some products available that are specifically for pregnancy nausea and include vitamin B6, which has also been shown to be helpful. (Just discontinue additional B6 in your postpartum period if you’re breastfeeding, as it can dry up milk supply.)
Also, be sure to eat enough protein; this can really help! A breakfast of something like granola or toast alone doesn’t have adequate protein - have some eggs, too. Be sure to include protein sources throughout the rest of your day, too, such as meat, fish, poultry, or beans and legumes. If protein-rich foods are too much to stomach during a bout of nausea in the morning or any other time, you might try opting for a protein powder in a smoothie or other beverage. My personal favourite is an unflavoured collagen protein powder.
What do you recommend for sugar cravings?
This is tricky. I’m a fan of listening to your body - it’s always speaking to you! Do I think you should regularly down a bowl of ice cream if the craving is hitting you every single day, though? No, not really, but I completely understand the struggle. Here’s a question: are you taking good care of yourself, generally speaking? Are you eating well, managing stress, getting in a little daily movement? If not, start prioritizing your health and wellness, and see if that changes anything as far as cravings go. Some suggest that sugar cravings can be a sign of certain nutrient deficiencies, such as magnesium or protein, and there may very well be truth to that. So first and foremost, be sure you’re filling yourself up with whole, unprocessed foods, stay well hydrated, and take a high quality prenatal multivitamin if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
With changes to your overall diet, you might find that your sugar cravings naturally decrease, or perhaps they only appear when you’re not managing stress well. You might also find that your sweet tooth becomes satisfied with healthier, whole food options, such as:
A banana with almond butter
A couple soft Medjool dates stuffed with a walnut (dates are great during pregnancy and postpartum)
Berries with homemade coconut whipped cream (google it)
Chocolate avocado pudding, or chia pudding (google those too!)
Some high quality dark chocolate - look for 70% or higher, with only 3-4 ingredients on the label; there are some great organic and fair trade options available
There is nothing wrong with indulging in whatever it is you really want (a slice of cheesecake, a bag of candy, or a bowl of ice cream) but eat slowly, savour each bite, and pay attention to how you feel. Finally, if you feel you’re “doing everything right” and still really struggling with intense sugar cravings, there may be something else going on, and it’s a good idea to consult with a naturopathic doctor.
Are there special dietary considerations for the postpartum weeks?
Yes, absolutely, and this area is my specialty. Postpartum nutrition is so critical and yet often overlooked!
My biggest recommendation is to eat warm, cooked foods as much as possible. The postpartum weeks are not the time to be having salads, raw veggies, or even smoothies, in most cases. According to traditional cultures, a person that has just given birth needs to be kept warm. There are physiological reasons for this, including the fact that digestion is slower after birth and needs time to get back up to speed. Focus on warm, cooked, nourishing meals such as soups, stews, and curries - really, whatever you enjoy that will warm you up from the inside! Take a break from salads for a little while, always warm up leftovers in the fridge, and skip the ice cubes in your water.
Other than warming foods, I highly recommend including lots of fat in your postpartum diet. I can’t emphasize this enough! It may seem counterintuitive, but trust me, good healthy fat will actually help your metabolism. Fat will also work to keep your blood sugar balanced, encourage good bowel movements, and keep you feeling satiated, especially if you’re breastfeeding and find your hunger has hit an all-time high. Additionally, fat is ever so important for both your brain and your baby’s brain. Be sure to include some healthy sources at every meal and snack: avocadoes, olives and olive oil, organic or pastured butter or ghee, nuts and nut butters, coconut oil/milk/butter, and fish such as salmon and sardines.
What are some good food choices for people working overnight or on call?
If you just work the occasional overnight, I don’t recommend eating much at all if possible, in order to keep your body’s internal clock on track. Try and stick to your normal eating schedule. If you need a little fuel in the middle of the night to keep you going, opt for protein-rich snacks, with some healthy fats too, instead of high sugar or carbohydrate snacks. If you’re going to have a coffee, have it earlier rather than later (i.e. 9pm, not 3am).
If, however, you find yourself working several overnight shifts in a row, you might want to try adjusting your eating schedule, and have your biggest meal in the evening before going to your shift. Avoid eating a large meal in the morning before it’s time to sleep again. I still recommend high protein and fat snacks, and keeping hydrated with plenty of water.
If you’re reading this and you’re a doula, try and pack your doula bag with healthy options: Hard boiled eggs or egg salad, jerky, hummus and carrots, yogurt and berries, chia pudding, guacamole, apple slices and almond butter, mixed nuts, coconut flakes. If you like protein bars, opt for bars with as few ingredients as possible (and all real food ingredients that you can recognize!). There are some decent options available in stores, such as Rx bars, or you can make your own.