Day by Day

As a Registered Dietitian and a working first time mom-to-be, I have always had very specific ideas of what my nutrition and exercise regimens would be like during pregnancy. While both my sisters and my mother experienced severe morning sickness and hyperemesis for most of their pregnancies, I was determined to be the exception in my family. I created goals for myself illustrating how much weight I should gain and at what stages in my pregnancy, as well as which vitamins and minerals I should be sure to consume for the optimal health of my baby. My personal trainer and I discussed which exercises were appropriate for each trimester, and which exercises I should avoid altogether. I was determined to be a walking example of how a dietitian should behave during pregnancy. Well, I didn’t know what I was in for!

For the first seven weeks of my pregnancy, I felt great. I exercised five days a week, ate a diet of high fiber fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, and got seven to eight hours of sleep per night. But as week eight approached, I was in for a big surprise. I don’t require so much sleep in general, so the new feeling of constant lethargy didn’t bother me so much. But the nonstop nausea and vomiting kept me couch-bound for the next two months. My breakfast of Greek yogurt with berries and high fiber cereal turned into the driest saltine or toasted bagel (with butter!) I could stomach, and my bright colored chopped salads filled with cruciferous vegetables and lean proteins were replaced by small bites of nutrient-free bagels. I was in full-on survival mode, and eating only what I thought could tame the inevitable nausea-vomit-repeat routine. This was not the pregnancy lifestyle I had envisioned. My husband was supportive, but I know he was secretly shocked to see the influx of refined grains in our kitchen.

After a month of this sedentary and nutrient-scarce lifestyle, I began to realize that morning (or all day) sickness is different from a stomach virus or the flu. I discovered that no matter what I ate or how much I rested, the nausea and vomiting weren’t going away until the surge of hormones that accompanies the first trimester tapered off. I decided that if I was going to feel this way either way, then I should start eating healthier food again. I forced myself to incorporate some fruits and vegetables into my diet – citrus fruits were easiest for me – and I changed my white bread bagels to toasted multi grain English muffins for an increase in fiber (in addition to helping with satiety, I wanted to increase my fiber intake to prevent the legendary constipation stories associated with pregnancy that flood the internet). I kept a food log, similar to one I imagine I will keep when introducing new foods to a baby, to track which foods I tolerated better than others. I slowly started drinking more water (which also helped with debilitating headaches, a symptom that accompanied week 10). In addition to taking my daily prenatal vitamin (right before bed, when it was least likely to make me sick), I focused on eating foods that contained folic acid, calcium, vitamin D, protein, and iron. Foods high in folic acid for prevention of neural tube defects include leafy greens, citrus fruits like oranges, beans and fortified cereals. Calcium rich foods for strong bones and teeth include salmon, nonfat milk, yogurt and spinach. Foods high in iron to prevent anemia, preterm delivery and low birth weight include lean red meats, fish, poultry and beans. I also began to move. In the beginning, I did not have the energy to do my regular workouts, but I bought a pair of Lululemon Wunder Under Roll down pants (not maternity, but much better in my opinion) and began to walk (from a short twenty minutes to an hour) several times a week and to practice prenatal yoga once a week.

For me, walking has been an analogy for my entire pregnancy thus far. As feelings of sickness, exhaustion and anxiety arise, I have found that the best way to approach this special new chapter in my life is to put one foot in front of the other, take one day at a time, and tackle each new symptom that comes my way as it arises (hello, leg cramps and shortness of breath). By being sensitive to my body’s unique and dynamic experience while also drawing from principles of nutrition, I have managed to make great strides in my eating habits, physical activity and overall mental health.

Image via Flickr User ilyoungko