As you may have heard through my newsletter, I am now 15 weeks pregnant. I surpassed my first trimester and am well and truly into my second. This is my first pregnancy, and I am not writing about it here for my own enjoyment, which would be easy to do, but more because I thought that discussing my own experiences might help some of you currently in your first trimester, or those who are trying to become pregnant. This post will discuss two common experiences, unique to the first trimester; cravings and morning sickness.
You can never anticipate how your first trimester will go. For at least one and a half months, you feel completely out of control of your own body, and in many ways, you just have to run with the punches. Those who read this blog will know that I usually eat a nutrient-dense diet most of the time, even though I may enjoy foods that I wouldn't advertise on here as 'treats' every now and again. As a side note, the longer I work in nutrition, the more I am coming around to the 80/20 rule, even if just to allow yourself to socialise and have a normal life - more on this later. But back to diet... Before I became pregnant it was incredibly uncommon for me to desire hot chips, a burger, a bag of lollies, or [insert junk food here]. In fact, I can not remember a time in the last four years when I actually had a craving for one of those foods. However, low and behold, the first trimester had me pinning after a burger and fries, jelly candy (which I would never go for, even if I had a refined sugar free treat (bring on the ice cream!)), and anything that classified as junk food. It was the strangest sensation. I can not imagine what it would be like for women for consume these foods on a weekly basis.
What did I do with these cravings?
To be quite honest, which is the point of this post, there were a few times when I decided to just go for it and give in. And although I have come a long way in how I think about food, it took me a while to get over how this kind of food would impact my unborn baby. For a few weeks I was racked with guilt, until my wonderfully supportive husband reminded that I needed to sort out my mental health, own my decisions, and stopping stressing about a one-off burger. I decided that if the 80/20 rule can apply to a healthy and happy un-pregnant life, then it should be ok for a pregnant life as well. After 4 weeks or so, the cravings subsided, and those couple burgers and fries, and occasional ice cream, became a matter of the past. Although I wouldn't mind enjoying them a few more times during my pregnancy if the occasion arose...
I recently heard a health guru of mine discuss the 80/20 rule on a podcast. He explained that for those who already have a good handle on their health, who have balanced hormones, a healthy weight, and optimal digestion, for those people, sometimes the 80/20 rule can be healthier than the 100 rule, which means you never eat anything but nutrient-dense food, ever. He explained how research shows that people who socialise around food and community often live longer than those who follow a strict healthy diet for the majority of their lives. Why is this? Because humans are more than just a body that needs healthy food to function. We are also community-driven creatures who require relationships for a healthy body and mind. There is no way we want to end up as hermits who can't go to a friend's house for dinner in fear that they will be served refined-flour pasta and refined-sugar chocolate mousse for dessert. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and enjoy the taste (unless you are gluten-intolerant of course). In saying this, if you actually do have health concerns, i.e. diabetes, insulin-resistance, poor gut health, and extremely unbalanced hormones, then I suggest seeking help with these issues before committing to the 80/20 rule, as this rule applies more to people who have already been following a healthy diet for a number of years.
Anyway, bottomline when it comes to your cravings; if you have a hankering for something you deem 'unhealthy' during your first trimester, and that craving doesn't go away, instead of driving yourself crazy thinking about it, just enjoy it, and be careful to make it an infrequent thing. Why infrequent? Because our health still relies on what we eat most of the time, and therefore the health of our baby also relies on what we eat most of the time. Of course this does not apply to smoking and alcohol, as these things can adversely effect the development of the fetus.
Considering this is my first pregnancy, it is difficult to tell whether I am someone who was never going to experience morning sickness, or if I didn't experience it because I prepared my body so I wouldn't have to deal with it. The only time I felt nauseous during my entire first trimester was when I was reading on the tube and got motion sickness. I stopped reading, the nausea went away, and I never felt it again.
As I said above, it is difficult to know for sure why I personally didn't experience morning sickness, but I can share what I did do in advance of becoming pregnant in hopes of avoiding it. Six months before we decided to become pregnant, I focussed on preparing my body for a healthy baby, which is explained in this series and this post. Also, nine months before we became pregnant I went through a liver cleanse to get rid of toxins from my body and support optimal liver function. I believe these two scenarios may have prepared my body to avoid morning sickness. I am not only making these suggestions based on my own experiences. I have a couple friends who underwent the same preparation as I, and didn't experience morning sickness. Furthermore, some health practitioners I know did the same thing and avoided the awful three months of nausea. This is not to say my suggestions work for everyone - I write them here only to help those who may want to try.
The interesting thing to note about morning sickness is that although it is significantly common across the developed world, it is significantly uncommon in developing countries. This leads me to believe it must have something to do with our diet or the environmental chemicals we are exposed to.
What are the proposed causes of morning sickness?
One theory behind morning sickness is that the body is trying very hard to steer all toxins in the mother's body away from the fetus. Our bodies are extremely smart. Over years of poor diet, excess caffeine and alcohol, processed foods, environmental toxins, and eating / drinking out of plastic containers, commercial chemicals and other toxins build up in our livers and adipose tissue. Although these toxins generally stay put, they can travel throughout the body, which is not ideal if you have a developing fetus in your uterus. The result of this may be that the body creates a response to either vomit these toxins away from the child, or at least impose nausea, in hope of moving toxins away from the uterus. This is just one theory that I thought I would share with you. There is little scientific evidence at this point to support this theory, but I took it on board as I believed it was worth a try. The liver cleanse I did aimed to remove toxins and support the liver to function efficiently - it can be found here. It is a practice I want to incorporate annually throughout my life to support optimal health.
Another theory behind morning sickness is that it is due to the new high levels of oestrogen in the body that support fetal development. This is interesting considering so many modern Western women are oestrogen-dominant due to poor diet, excess alcohol and caffeine, cosmetics, and environmental toxins. The most common symptoms of oestrogen dominance are painful periods, tender breasts around menstruation, as well as unbalanced moods and emotions, and an inability to lose weight. From what I've read, women who experience symptoms of oestrogen-dominance also experience morning sickness, which would explain the even higher abnormal levels of oestrogen in the body during pregnancy. If you think this may be you going into pregnancy, I suggest you follow the same liver cleansing diet mentioned above, as a clogged liver will recycle oestrogen, causing abnormally high levels of oestrogen to raise in the body.
I would love to hear your thoughts on morning sickness - please leave comments below.
I hope my ramblings have been helpful and perhaps even inspiring. Please remember, if you experience extreme morning sickness, or always give into your cravings, it is important that you understand that no one is perfect, and I urge you to seek help outside of yourself so you don't have to go through this alone. Pregnancy is a wonderful time that can be dulled by unnecessary guilt and shame - don't let that be your experience.
I wish you all the best with your pregnancy or future pregnancies. Please keep me updated on how they go :)
Feed, nourish, value yourself.