When I was pregnant with my oldest son, What to Expect When You are Expecting was the main guide for pregnant women. I dutifully read it, but found the nutrition information impossible to live up to. That was just too much food to eat daily. I was a single mom working at Taco Bell at the time. My staples were Taco Bell food and cereal. I made very little effort to cook on my own.
Dr. Brewer’s Pregnancy Diet
A year and a half later, I learned about Dr. Thomas Brewer and his diet for pregnant women when I took Bradley Childbirth classes with a friend who was pregnant. For more information on my experience in those classes, check out my post on Why I Became a Midwife. Through that class, I also discovered how important good nutrition is for pregnancy, something my obstetrician never mentioned during my pregnancy. His only concern was my sodium intake which was pretty high considering the amount of Taco Bell that I was eating.
Dr. Brewer wrote the book Metabolic Toxemia of Late Pregnancy. He believed that many of the complications in later pregnancy such as gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, anemia, and premature labor were in part the result of women being malnourished. He started incorporating his diet around 50 years ago. At that time, many obstetricians were encouraging women to restrict their calories and to gain only 10-25 lbs their whole pregnancy. Some doctors were even still encouraging women to smoke during their pregnancy to maintain a lower weight gain.
While we now know that women should be gaining closer to 25-40 lbs during pregnancy and should not smoke during pregnancy, obstetricians are still offering little to no nutritional advice. Some still advise calorie and/or sodium restricted diets. Dr. Brewer’s diet is based on the knowledge that during pregnancy we need adequate nutrition for the development of the placenta, the expansion of blood volume that increases by 40-60% during pregnancy, the increased demands on liver function, and the development of the baby’s brain.
Dr. Brewer focused on nutrition not how many pounds were gained. The focus of his diet is on adequate calories, protein, and salt. It is said that he never had a woman diagnosed with pre-eclampia the whole time that he practiced. You can read more about his philosophies, the science behind it, and his exact diet here and here. Both sites have checklists for following his diet. They have separate checklists for vegans and also mention when you might have additional nutritional needs such as living in hotter climates where you experience salt loss from sweating, morning sickness, or carrying twins. Dr. Brewer found that if women were intentional about their diets and logged what they ate, it was easier for them to hit their daily goals. The diet sheets on these websites are a great tool for that. Or some people prefer an app on their phones like My Fitness Pal.
With my first two pregnancies, I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia. I can tell you that I was definitely malnourished during them. In part, it was due to the extreme morning sickness that I had. The links above also cover some of that. At that time, I was eating the recommended saltine crackers and puking my guts out. Once I could eat, I would just eat whatever would get down and was not really intentional about it.
When I did my training to be a midwife, I learned that I was probably hypoglycemic which partly caused the morning sickness. Not eating when sick just compounded the problem. I learned more about the importance of nutrition and protein during pregnancy. With my next two pregnancies, I was a lot more intentional about eating more frequently and trying to get my protein in. They were not perfect pregnancies, but I was a lot healthier and was not diagnosed with pre-eclampsia with them.
The midwife that trained me had a great handout about nutrition. It covered which nutrients were the most needed during each trimester, which foods to avoid, etc. It was 7 or 8 pages long. When I first became a midwife, I gave out that same handout. But you know what I found? No one was reading it. They were missing out on the most important information, because they were getting bogged down by the sheer quantity of pages.
I was wanting to make a handout that was more user friendly when I attended a midwifery conference in October of 2016 where I took a class on nutrition for pregnancy. After that class, I updated my nutrition handout to 13 main points about nutrition. If you would like my Pregnancy Nutrition Made Simple tips, go here to get your free download.
What about you? Do you find it easy or hard to have a good diet while pregnant? What helped you the most?