By Dr. Gary Kracoff and Steve Bernardi
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The time spent preparing for pregnancy should be filled with joy, love and healthy decision-making. Itís important to embrace healthy lifestyle changes before becoming pregnant, beginning with a nutritious diet, prenatal vitamins and exercise. But there is another critical component that women often overlook - their gastrointestinal tract.
Populated with pounds of healthy bacteria, a womanís GI tract is directly linked to the health of her baby. The natural flora found in the gut works to help digest food, synthesize vitamins, support normal bowel contractions and provide immunity to protect the body against illness and disease.
Supporting a healthy digestive tract is crucial because it helps the mother effectively digest and absorb essential nutrients for herself and the infant. During a vaginal birth, the motherís healthy bacteria is present in vaginal mucus, which is absorbed by the babyís mouth during delivery. Babies are born with a sterile GI tract and acquire their beneficial bacteria from their environment, diet and the motherís vaginal tract if born vaginally. Whether youíre planning to deliver vaginally or via caesarean section, itís important to take a good quality probiotic with lactobacillus and bifidobacteria. The probiotic should contain 12 to 14 different strains of beneficial bacteria and should be purchased refrigerated and kept that way.
Probiotics are also found naturally in fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and kimchi, a Korean dish of fermented vegetables, which may include cabbage, radishes or cucumbers. Kefir, a fermented milk product that produces live cultures of probiotics is another great natural source of healthy bacteria.
Breast milk is also instrumental in fostering the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.After delivery, a mother produces colostrum, which is the first stage of breast milk. Colostrum usually looks yellow and creamy and is rich in vitamins, minerals, protein and the motherís immunoglobulins, which are antibodies that provide immunity for the baby.
If a mother decides to use formula, there are formulas available with prebiotics and probiotics to support a healthy digestive tract. Prebiotics help create a friendly environment in which probiotics can flourish.
Before, during and after pregnancy, itís also important to take a fish oil supplement, which contains the necessary EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) to support the development of a healthy nervous system for the infant. While in utero, the baby requires a lot of EPA and DHA, and will take what it needs from the mother, which is why itís important for expectant moms to replenish both EPA and DHA.
Folic acid should also be taken before, during and after pregnancy to prevent defects of the brain and spinal cord, called neural tube defects. Itís recommended that a woman take folic acid before and during pregnancy, according to the March of Dimes Foundation. The proper amount of folic acid can be found in a prenatal vitamin, and itís best to take an organic food-based brand. Women who take the birth control pill should have their folic acid level checked before becoming pregnant, since birth control pills often deplete folic acid in the body. Natural food sources of folic acid include beans, green leafy vegetables, asparagus, broccoli, citrus fruit and peanuts.
A nutritious diet directly impacts a healthy pregnancy and itís important to avoid white sugar, white flour, artificial sweeteners and other processed food.
For proper nutrition, choose from a rainbow of fruits and vegetables rich in dark hues of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. Select organic whole grains and lean protein, such as chicken, beef and edamame. Also, sip water throughout the day to stay hydrated.
Some women may be concerned about gaining weight, but remember that being underweight is just as dangerous as being overweight. If youíre concerned about your weight during pregnancy, talk to your health care provider to develop a healthy eating plan.
While pregnancy often results in heartburn, nausea and constipation, there are many natural remedies to alleviate these symptoms that are safe for both mother and baby.
Ipecacuanha (homeopathic ipecac) is a remedy that can help reduce nausea. This is not to be confused with syrup of ipecac, which causes violent vomiting and is not to be taken during pregnancy. If the nausea is specifically triggered by the sight and smell of food, another homeopathic remedy, nux vomica can help reduce symptoms.
Ginger is also helpful in reducing nausea. Take a fresh piece of ginger root and slice it thinly, then pour hot water on it to make fresh ginger tea.
When it comes to constipation, grandma may have the answer with an old-fashioned remedy. Drinking prune juice will often clear up cases of constipation depending on the symptoms, as well as water and fiber.
Make sure to increase water and fiber together, otherwise additional fiber will enhance bloating if sufficient water isnít present. Start adding more fiber slowly to the diet to see how the body responds.
If youíre straining to have a bowel movement, the homeopathic remedy alumina can help elimination, and for constipation with no urge to eliminate, the homeopathic remedy hydrastis canadensiscan helps trigger a bowel movement.
It is also important to make sure there is enough magnesium in your prenatal vitamin, since the iron found in prenatal and multivitamins can be binding and lead to constipation.
For heartburn there are many homeopathic remedies that can help depending on the symptoms.
When experiencing heartburn that becomes worse when drinking water, there is the homeopathic remedy cantharis.
Steve Bernardi is a compounding pharmacist and Dr. Gary Kracoff is a registered pharmacist and a naturopathic doctor at Johnson Compounding and Wellness Center in Waltham, Massachusetts (www.naturalcompounder.com). Readers with questions about natural or homeopathic medicine, compounded medications, or health in general can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 781-893-3870.
Over the Counter: Maintain a healthy digestive tract during pregnancy
By Dr. Gary Kracoff and Steve Bernardi