Holistic Mama Guide Part 1: Pregnancy & Prep
Fortunately, many women are taking their pregnancy as opportunity to re-evaluate their toxin exposure to ensure the health of their baby. Others may take it a step (or five) further and review options for a holistic pregnancy and birth. While I would have categorized myself in the latter category, there were a few tricks and approaches I was unaware of and wished I’d known years ago!
Obviously, I’m not a doctor, so take proper precautions, do additional research and discuss findings with a licensed medical provider willing to work with your wishes to ensure the your safety and that of your baby during pregnancy and delivery.
Diet is crucial during pregnancy. Women should be consuming nutrient dense foods and avoiding processed foods, refined sugar, trans fatty acids, caffeine, alcohol, “junk” food, white flour and fried foods.
Here are a few sources for recommended foods to eat during pregnancy:
- Diet for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers
- Top 10 Foods to Eat While Pregnant
- Here's my post on filtered water and why you should have a filter for your drinking and shower/bath water
Skincare and Beauty Products
As our largest organ, our skin defends the body against many dangers, but also absorbs tiny molecules that can pass right over into the placenta, including ingredients within skincare and beauty products. When those products contain endocrine disrupting, skin irritating, carcinogenic and/or other contraindicated ingredients, bits of those toxins are seeping into your blood stream (and that of your little one) and/or lungs over time.
Studies are showing "pregnant women’s exposure to chemicals—particularly endocrine-disrupting compounds—can increase their children’s risk for breast and other cancers later in life."
The goal is try to use the safest products and limit exposure to these ingredients where we have control. My Skincare and Beauty recommendations page has several nontoxic or far-less-toxic alternatives to popular products and brands.
Essential Oil Use
Some products and remedies call for essential oil use. In Robert Tisserand’s Essential Oil Safety book, he states “Essential oil constituents in general are likely to cross the placenta efficiently because of their favorable lipophilicity and low molecular weight. This does not indicate a hazard per se which, for any substance is determined by plasma concentration and toxicity.”
According to Tisserand, these essential oils should be avoided during pregnancy:
- Oak Moss
- Lavandula Stoechas
- Parsley Seed
- Clary Sage
- It is also wise to avoid internal or undiluted application of essential oils throughout pregnancy
Essential oils that appear to be safe include:
- German and Roman Chamomile
- Read more here
Midwives and Doulas
Here are descriptions of their roles and why you might want them during your pregnancy and birth:
- Midwives are the traditional care providers for mothers and infants. They are trained professionals with expertise and skills in supporting women to maintain healthy pregnancies and have optimal birth and recoveries during the postpartum period.
- Midwives provide women with individualized care uniquely suited to their physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and cultural needs. Midwifery is a woman-centered empowering model of maternity care that is utilized in all countries of the world with the best maternal and infant outcomes such as The Netherlands, United Kingdom and Canada
- I found midwives to be more in-tune with my body and gave undivided attention at each appointment without feeling rushed. Midwives are typically present during a large portion of the labor (as opposed to arriving when the baby is crowning) and allows you to push when ready (as opposed to waiting for the doctor to arrive)
- Here are some great Midwife interview questions
- A labor and delivery helpmate who has generally attended hundreds of births and acts as an advocate for you, your baby and your preferences. Doula’s help with natural labor techniques and can interpret medical jargon and help suggest alternatives, if possible. Since birth can be unpredictable, chances are, something you’re unfamiliar with will arise and they can help take worry and research off your plate.
- I wanted my husband’s involvement with the labor and birth to be a positive one. I didn’t want to be angry at him for anything, so I’d rather have a paid professional taking care of any needs that may arise. As you may know, I ended up having a c-section, but my doula’s presence was invaluable during the labor and decision process. She also stayed with me in the OR while my husband stayed with our daughter after birth.
- Here's a great Doula hiring guide with interview questions
I recommend building your Birth Plan before selecting your OB, Midwife and/or Doula to ensure they are willing to work with your wishes, which will be covered in Part 2 of the Guide.
Many holistic-minded mamas have an at-home birth, provided they are not a high-risk pregnancy and/or a c-section is not required. People choose home births for more control over their environment and decisions, avoiding unnecessary medical intervention while trusting in birth as a natural, safe process and more.
At-home birth can come with its own risks too, so please research and discuss all these options thoroughly. This article gives a good overview of what to expect from a home birth.
Pediatrician and Chiropractor
The pediatrician should be chosen prior to birth since they generally arrive the day of or the day after birth to evaluate the baby. From a holistic perspective, parents generally want wellness-driven physicians over those who may be pharmaceutically-driven. An interview should take place during your pregnancy to evaluate the doctors. Always remember, even after you choose, the doctor works for you; you hire them and you can fire them.
- Here is a list of incredible potential interview questions for the doctor
- The Holistic Pediatric Alliance can help locate a registered physician near you
- Additionally I compiled a list of vaccine friendly doctors who will work with you on delayed or alternative schedules or obtaining medical exemptions where necessary.
Additionally, many women seek out a chiropractor certified for pediatric and prenatal care. Webster certified chiropractors are able to work with pregnant moms and those registered with ICPA are certified for pediatric care.
One of the most convincing theories is magnesium deficiency is responsible for morning sickness. Magnesium has become more and more depleted over time from our current soil and water supply while also being removed by some water filters, such as reverse osmosis.
Pregnancy hormones exasperate this problem because they inhibit magnesium absorption. So the little magnesium pregnant women get may have difficulty being used properly. Since magnesium balances out cortisol, a magnesium deficiency results in an imbalance of cortisol and low blood sugar which causes morning sickness symptoms. Discuss these approaches with your doctor:
- Managing magnesium intake
- Manage magnesium absorption with vitamins
The prenatal I recommend includes methyl-b vitamins (active forms), so it may help with healthy methylation in those of us who need it. Try to avoid as many synthetic vitamins as possible, such as folic acid, for example. Look instead for Folate or Methylfolate.
- Seeking Health Optimal Prenatal Vitamin or Protein Powder (for those who can't take pills or have a gag reflex) also Thorne Research is another good option
- Vitamin D: Helps with magnesium absorption, immunity and fight against gestational diabetes
- Vitamin K Mulsion (to take during the 3rd trimester, more info below)
The Glucose Test
In the United States, women are tested for gestational diabetes by consuming a high-sugar drink called Glucola. This drink contains ingredients not well studied and many of which are banned in other countries, such as food dyes, brominated vegetable oil (BVO), dextrose from GMO corn, citric acid and more.
While screening for gestational diabetes may be very important, your doctor or midwife may very well allow you to consume an alternative to Glucola or opt for blood sugar monitoring/HA1C instead.
There are plenty of alternatives, and below are just a few suggestions to start the conversation with your doctor/midwife. Obviously the grams could vary depending on the type/brand, etc. Depending on the type of test, you may need to ingest 50 or 100 grams of sugar.
- Cup of milk (12g)
- Slice of bread (15g)
- Banana (20g)
- 6 oz grape juice (30g)
- 16 oz orange juice (40g)
- 8 oz apple juice (40g)
Conditions Associated with Heightened Miscarriage Risk
There can be hundreds of reasons contributing to miscarriage risk, however, I want to highlight of few of them. They can be but not limited to:
- Autoimmune disease like Thyroid/Hashimotos
- Type 1 Diabetes and Insulin Resistance
- Endocrine disorders such as PCOS
- Genetic mutations such as MTHFR (2nd source)
These are conditions that should be treated with the help of a specialist familiar with them. While some cannot be diagnosed with a blood test, an at-home kit can give you a wealth of information including MTHFR results. Read more about this here.
The Flu Shot
- Why it’s given: The ACIP recommends the flu vaccine to pregnant women and children over the age of 6 months regardless of medical risk factors, in order to prevent contracting the flu.
- Questioning the reasoning: Randomized studies cannot be done on pregnant women due to ethical reasons, so there is not much information on the reality of the safety claims. The flu shot is one of the most ineffective vaccines on the market since there are various strains to choose from. The CDC takes their best guess at which strain(s) of the flu might affect the population.
- Concerns about the product:
- The ingredient Polysorbate 80 crosses the blood brain barrier
- The ingredient Formaldehyde, a carcinogen, causes reproductive and developmental toxicity
- Some, if not most, flu shots contain Thimerosal (Mercury) which has been linked to several adverse reactions:
- Mercury exposure during the first trimester of pregnancy, at well-established dose/eight ratios produced severe damage to humans including death
- Secondary prenatal human exposure may cause tic disorders, cerebral palsy and autism
- Adult flu shots can contain the equivalent of 25 µg of mercury per dose. The average-sized pregnant woman will be exposed to an excess of the EPA limit of 3.5 and the fetus could potentially receive of dose exceeding the EPA limits by a much larger factor which affects the central nervous system
- Fetal deaths linked to toxicity from administration of H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccination during 2009/2010
- The flu shot is most likely not effective in those most susceptible to flu-related deaths, such as the elderly and very young
- Alternatives: Speak with a trusted healthcare provider about other ways to safely boost your immune system during times of peak illness, such as vitamin infusions, homemade elderberry, vitamin D, vitamin C, etc. Many healthcare workers are mandated to receive the flu-shot, but you can explore if you qualify for a personal, religious or medical exemption, depending on your state.
Products for baby
A collection of favorite items from me and a few other holistic mamas!
Diapering: Cloth diapering is a safer approach to your baby's delicate body and system, however, several mamas will admit using cloth diapers at home and disposables when out of the house might be the best bet. But find what works for you!
- Cloth Diapers: Lalabye Baby and Sloomb
- Disposable: Bamboo Nature (A little cheaper on Thrive Market, if you have an account) and Honest Co.
- Wipes: Jackson Reese
Bath time: Once baby is ready for bathing (more on this in part 2), here are some favorite items:
- Portable Bath/Sink Filter (if you don't already have a shower/house filter, more info on why here) Discount code: jannyorganically
- Zoe Organics Bath Wash/Shampoo
- Aleavia Bath Wash (also used as shampoo, contains coconut) Discount code jannyorganically20
- Land of the Wee Bamboo towel and wash cloth set
- Bamboo washcloths
Zoe Organics has got you covered for most all other topical ointments and aids. I've tried a lot a brands, but their products are pure and clean and cover it all. The first two are must haves and then the others are good to know about in case:
- Dr Shannon's Skin Balm: Use as a daily moisturizer, boo-boo aid, diaper balm, eczema and scars. We go through a full size container every 4 months (with a 3.5 year old) and I always have the travel size on me
- Breathe Balm: Always handy for coughs that arise after 3 months of age. Comes in stick form to easily rub on the chest, neck and soles of the feet
Bottles: While many women will choose to breast feed exclusively, there may be times when a bottle feed with pumped milk or supplementing with formula is necessary. Avoiding plastic bottles and nipples is highly recommended due to the leaching of toxic chemicals (such as BPA and BPS).
- Pura Stainless Bottles with Silicone Nipples (These transition into sippy cups, straws and snack containers when you switch out the nipple)
- Life Factory Glass Bottles with Silicone Nipples
- For those who need it: How to source a safe baby formula and please use filtered water!
Swaddling: Aiden and Anais Organic Cotton Swaddles
Mattress and Sheets: Conventional mattress are treated with dangerous hormone disrupting flame retardants, such as polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) which do not have to be disclosed to the consumer. Spring mattresses are even linked to high Electromagnetic Frequency (EMF) exposure. Babies have extremely delicate systems, so sleeping on a mattress that off-gasses toxic chemicals like this can be incredibly detrimental to their health.
Wool is a great option as it is a natural flame retardant and resistant to mold and bacteria. Other options are organic, chemical free cotton and latex. Note, Latex is a common allergy or irritant and other non-chemically treated mattresses are water-resistant (such as wool) and if there is a big leak, can absorb liquid and potentially cause microbial growth over time.
- Obasan Organic Crib Mattresses
- Naturpedic Organic Crib Mattresses
- The Futon Shop Organic Crib Mattresses
Clothing: As with the mattresses, most clothes are chemically treated (especially pajamas) and should be washed several times before wearing to help remove as much as possible. Other options are buying used clothes, because they have already been through the machine many times, or purchasing clothing with materials not treated with chemicals, like bamboo or organic cotton with a certification from The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), The Organic Trade Association (OTA) or the USDA National Organic Program.
A few clothing brands to be cautious of include: Hannah Anderson, since only half of the clothes are truly organic, you have to read carefully, Carter's, OshKosh B'Gosh, Giggle, Yala, and H&M are brands are sourcing from manufacturers whose organic claims cannot be verified, use genetically modified material and/or treat the clothing with toxic chemicals and dyes.
Toys: As you know, most items will end up right the mouth, so the best bet is to not only avoid plastic (with BPA and/or BPS), but seek out items that do not use toxic-paint and are Lead, PVC, Pthalate, Formaldehyde, etc. - free. This is hard to do because most items don't coming with a warning for all of these ingredients. Search for "Non-Toxic" toys and read what the brand's philosophy is on the product. Here are a few shops/brands that offer great options:
Products for Mama
Dear Kate Leak Resistant Panties: Toward the final days of pregnancy, you may experience some incontinence, but more over, postpartum bleeding is inevitable, and these come in handy the months following birth. You can read my full pregnancy and postpartum experience with them here. The best deals are the "Bunch of 5 and 7" discounts. My favorite is the Ada Hipster Full Lining, particularly for pregnancy and postpartum. Then, you can use them later as period panties!
Dairy Fairy All-in-One Nursing and Hands-free Pumping Bra: The Arden is my favorite as it is wireless, has simultaneous nursing and pumping capability, detachable straps for crisscross support, adjustable cross-over panels to accommodate fluctuating breast size (and can be used as a 'last breast used' reminder) and 4 inches of hook for adjustability. Save 15% with code: JannyOrganically
Read on to Part 2 of this post about developing the Birth Plan. I recommend doing this during the beginning of pregnancy before you select a physician, midwife, doula and/or hospital.
*Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. This post is not advising you to any medical action but rather promotes the reader to educate themselves and to make decisions with a licensed medical professional.