Nutrition and natural care tips from maternal experts

Top suggestions for pregnant and postpartum women

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Emeline Posner/CIty Bureau

It can be daunting to keep track of nutrition during pregnancy and after delivery. When pregnant mamas are juggling work and caring for other children, eating—let alone buying and preparing—healthy food may not always feel like a top priority.

Even so, eating nourishing food is an important factor to keep mom and baby healthy through pregnancy and "the fourth trimester," the three-month period after delivery—especially for women who have diabetes. That's particularly true for women at risk of developing gestational diabetes, such as women of color over the age of 25 who are overweight or who have a family history of diabetes. If untreated, diabetes can cause a number of pregnancy complications, including preeclampsia, perinatal depression and premature birth.

City Bureau spoke with birthworkers and nutritionists across the city about plant-based remedies and diet advice.

1. Take folic acid and iron

"I am not sure that I could give any better advice than to start taking care of your baby starting from the minute you know you are pregnant, or before, by adding folic acid to your daily routine," says Robbin Uchison, director of Family Birth Place at the West Suburban Hospital in Oak Park.

"During the 'fourth trimester,' moms should increase [intake] of iron-rich foods, keeping in mind that there is usually some blood loss during delivery," she added. "And if she is breastfeeding, she is still eating for two. If not breastfeeding, [she should] still keep in mind that her body has just gone through another transformation during the birth process, and needs to be continued to be fortified."

2. Try teas and herbs to heal and nourish your body

Ginger, mint or lemon essential oil can help with nausea and vomiting, said Gina Marcin, a certified nurse midwife at the PCC Birth Center in Oak Park, who is also a certified herbal counselor. More common grocery items like chamomile or ginger tea can also work, she added.

"I also recommend different kinds of herbs as nourishing tonics. Nettle leaf tea is a really nice herb that is not contraindicated [has potential to cause harm] in pregnancy, that has a lot of mineral vitamin content, and is overall a nice nourishing plant that can help support a pregnancy," she said.

"But be aware that there are a lot of herbs and plants out there," Marcin added. "Just because it's natural doesn't always mean it's safe."

3. For women with gestational diabetes, breakfast is key

"It's highly recommended to break your fast in the morning with protein, whether it's an egg or a handful of seeds or nuts. Protein won't spike up your insulin, and it keeps it [stable] throughout the day," said Nahid Kohistani, a certified birth and postpartum doula with Chicago Family Doulas.

For women struggling with their blood sugar—as well as any woman hoping to eat well during pregnancy—she recommends nuts and seeds, greens like kale and spinach, as well as chia seeds and flax seeds. "Two teaspoons of chia seeds meet your fatty acid and amino acid [needs], and you can just fill your water up and put a spoonful in the morning, a spoonful in the evening," Kohistani said. "[All of this] is packed with calcium, iron and protein, and lots of other minerals and vitamins important for mom and baby."

4. Watch your vitamins while breastfeeding

"The body will choose the baby over the mother and give whatever's in the body to the baby first. So the mother is going to have to eat right to replenish herself so that she has energy and is healthy," said Telika Howard, doula and certified lactation counselor with Chicago Family Doulas and Holy Birth Doula.

Moms who are trying to lose baby weight should wait until six weeks after birth before cutting calories. "But make sure she still receives vital vitamins [so] she can breastfeed," Howard added.

5. Fruits and veggies are essential

Eliza Fournier, program director of Windy City Harvest at the Chicago Botanic Garden, keeps it simple. "Find a vegetable or fruit you like and eat as much of it as you can!" she said.

This story was produced by City Bureau, a civic journalism lab based in Woodlawn. Learn more and get involved at www.citybureau.org.

Read all stories in our special Maternal Health Issue here.

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