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Tag Archives: maternal health

  • Friendly Tips for your Pregnancy Journey

    Melissa Rycroft PregnancyIf it’s your first time to be pregnant, you may feel surprised by the enormous change and rate of change that your body, mind and hormones are going through. Maybe you have been trying to get pregnant for years of maybe it happened by surprise or all of a sudden. Either way, it’s an enormous change to life as you have known it, even though it may be thrilling and exciting at the same time. Fortunately we have a good eight months (from the time we find out) to get used to the idea that we are adding a member to our household and to do all we can to make the necessary practical and emotional preparations to add a baby to the family.

    As a mom of three children in the maternity clothes business, I have talked to hundreds of moms over the years. There were a number of things that I wish someone told me when I was pregnant (each time!). Here are my learnings that are not meant to be judgmental or preachy, because you get enough of that when you are pregnant and as a mom, but just meant to help you along your path and to put in your back pocket for when you need the encouragement:

    First, don’t worry about everything being perfect. It’s admirable to strive high and create the perfect nursery and have your complete six months of clothing and gear ready to go for your child before it’s born. But apart from the bare necessities of a safe sleep area, diapers, blankets, sleepers and some onesies, you are going to be just fine. Remember there is online shopping when you do need that new nursing bra because the ones you bought during pregnancy don’t fit and you are too tired to leave the house. There is also diaper services if you opt for cloth diapers but don’t want to deal with cleaning them.  Fortunately for these hectic times in life we do live in a day and age when answers can be at our fingertips. However, don’t forget to let real live people help you too. Call on your neighbors, friends and any nearby family if you need them. Now is the time to cash in on any goodwill that people are willing to offer you, you do need it and deserve any help you can get and most people are happy to help out.

    Do make sure you do have a childcare arrangement in place before you hit the nine month mark. Fill out all the necessary paperwork for FMLA/maternity leave and inform managers and coworkers of your leave. Have a plan in place at work to cover for your absence and let people know your timeframe for leave, even if it is subject to change.  Whether it be an extended maternity leave or grandparents pitching in when you return to work, it does give you some peace of mind to have at least have a plan in place for the first few months for your baby’s care. It’s also stress relieving for yourself and those around you to have a clearly communicated leave plan so you don’t leave tasks hanging or yourself and others panicking the minute. This brings me to my next point and one that many women struggle with:

    There is no right or wrong answer to what you decide on with the BIG decisions of returning to work or staying at home with your child fulltime. It is a difficult decision and if you are not sure, then maybe opt for something in between – look to have a longer maternity leave if you can negotiate that or return part-time or set up a work at home arrangement or flexible work hours. Even with large corporations it often boils down to what you can work out with your manager and generally if you can bring it up a number of months in advance you will get a more favorable response than to spring it on them a few weeks before your maternity leave. Choosing a longer leave or a more flexible hour work week is often a good stepping stone before making a more definite fulltime work or fulltime stay at home decision. You may find something in between that is just perfect for you for a period of time. Although many people will have a lot of ideas on this subject, and it may be helpful to hear their ideas and personal experiences, it is ultimately your choice to make in harmony with your partner and your financial goals. Many fathers also take FMLA and extended leave for their newborns. Some Dads decide to stay at home or work out a more flexible work schedule. Explore your options fully and just go with the best decision for you and your family (and don’t worry about making the perfect decision). Do not let anyone guilt you about your decision to stay home or not stay home. They are both equally valid choices.

    There are many solutions to caring for your newborn from a fulltime nanny, daycare, grandparents pitching in or some combination of everything. If you are looking at caregivers it is a good idea to start interviewing in advance of your due date. If you are looking at daycare arrangement then embark on your tours of these facilities well in advance and go with your gut if you are not comfortable with a particular place or caregiver. Many daycare businesses have a waiting list, so it may be a good idea to get on the waiting list early, even if you find a better plan later an and drop off the list.  Remember you are allowed to change course at any time. No one is holding you to your decision and if they are, then they should not be as this decision is yours and your partner’s alone. You can be a good mother and work at the office, you can be a good mother and work at home, and you can be a good mother and stay at home with your child. There are good nannies and not so good nannies and some grandparents are excellent fulltime caretakers for their grandchildren while some do not have the energy, abilities or desire to take on this more involved role. You can navigate these steps and arrive at the best solution. Life is not perfect and it's not supposed to be - how boring would that be?!! We all do our best and our best is typically more than enough for the health and wellbeing of our baby, selves and family, even if it is not perfectly perfect. Children have turned out well with all varieties of paths for early caregiving.

    The next point of advice is the one that is often most ignored by both new and experienced moms. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. This advice extends to pregnancy. Now is a time when your body is under tremendous change. Every day you will probably notice something different about some part of your anatomy whether it be a tighter bra, a bigger belly, snugger shoes or a new food aversion or craving. The body you used to know so well is evolving into something totally alien that you are trying to understand anew each day, let alone dress! It’s difficult to even know what to eat! You may find your energy is a bit lower but then you may also find you have bursts of energy in your second trimester. Get used to tuning into your body and listening to what it tells you. What used to be normal is no longer normal when you are pregnant and that’s ok. Be kind to yourself and cut yourself a little slack. Go ahead and get that pregnancy massage and let your partner rub your feet at the end of the day. Buy some maternity clothes that are comfortable and make you feel pretty. Try to find time to take small naps when you are tired, even if it’s just on the weekend if you work. Do something nice for yourself each day, even if it’s something small.

    Although it is important to get your rest and scale back on activities when you feel tired, it is also helpful to take some form of physical exercise, even if it’s just walking around the block. It’s necessary to keep up your strength up during pregnancy and to maintain your health, blood sugar and to help with delivery (unless you are on bed rest of course).  Maintaining fitness will also help you bounce back that much easier after pregnancy and give you the energy to care for your baby (which can be a bit of marathon in the early weeks particularly if you are nursing around the clock).  In addition to the added benefit of helping you look good, exercise will help balance your serotonin levels and allow you to achieve a more positive mental outlook so that you feel happier, more joyful and peaceful as well as sleep better at night. Do be careful not to engage in any risky physical activities (remember your balance and stamina are not the same) and listen to your body at all times when you exercise so that you don’t overextend yourself or get dehydrated. Remember you are pregnant, so don’t try to break any records running marathons or playing tennis tournaments!

    Finally try and take some time out and smell the roses. This is a special time in life that you will always remember. Get some pretty photographs done while you enjoy your shape (sometimes we are so enormous in the last few months of pregnancy that we don’t want a camera anywhere around us!) Spend some time to bond with your partner and indulge in some date nights or a Babymoon if you can find the time, even if it’s something special nearby. You will always remember this special time together before you had your baby and the memories you created.

  • Is Seafood Safe to Eat During Pregnancy?

    Once you’re pregnant, everything you do in your life that affects your health needs to be examined closer to ensure the healthy development of your baby. Nutritional needs top the charts with increased attention to your diet which may be further complicated by morning sickness which, for some women, can last the entire nine months of pregnancy.

    It comes as no surprise that lean protein is an optimal source of nutrition for anyone’s diet, but especially an expecting mom. In terms of calories per portion, seafood such as fish, particularly of the salmon variety which packs in those important fatty acids with low calories per portion can be a great choice. However, many pregnant women steer clear from seafood altogether with all the news we hear about mercury levels being dangerously high and a risk for the health of a developing fetus.

    While some seafood may be best to avoid during pregnancy, it is not a great idea to cut out seafood altogether as they contain many nutrients that are vital to our baby’s health and development. As the saying goes don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. In the same notion don’t throw all the fish out of your diet with the worries of mercury and contamination, but do choose wisely. There are plenty of great seafood choices that are very beneficial to your developing fetus' health as well as our own.

    For starters, omega-3 fatty acids aid in brain development and provide high levels of lean protein. Fish can serve as a powerful weapon against birth defects when choosing the low mercury varieties such as salmon, sardines, haddock and cod. Seafood which is high in mercury that you should avoid during pregnancy include shark, king mackerel, swordfish and tilefish. In moderation, tuna is not a problem as long as you steer clear of the albacore and blufin varieties. It is also a good idea to abstain from fish caught in contaminated lakes or rivers that can carry high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs which could travel to the placenta and affect the development of the fetus. So do be cautious when eating fish from local lakes and rivers.

    Raw shellfish and uncooked sushi are also seafood choices you should postpone during pregnancy.  Also, make sure that cooked mussels, clams and oysters are actually cooked all the way through so that salmonella is not a threat. Pathogens such as salmonella are destroyed through cooking, otherwise they can cause severe food poisoning in pregnancy and may cross the placenta to the fetus as well.

    It is easy to be overwhelmed with all the mercury and food poisoning cautions and simply avoid seafood altogether during pregnancy, but this would be a disservice to your developing baby and yourself as there are so many benefits to safe seafood choices, such as wild salmon for dinner. Seafood during pregnancy can be a very healthy choice, just choose wisely and space out your seafood meals and portion sizes for moderation in your diet.

  • Make-ahead Healthy Muffins

    made ahead muffinWe all have those times when we find ourselves opening and reopening the fridge trying to find that little something to snack on. We get busy and want something that’s quick and delicious. But sometimes we don’t make the best choice. It’s common to make unhealthy choices when we haven’t planned out meals or prepared snacks for the day. You can make these healthy muffins on a Sunday and have a healthy choice waiting for you every day of the week. They are a quick on-the-go snack that is also a fun treat. These muffins are sweetened only with fruit and have just 5 grams of sugar each. The addition of walnuts also gives a fun crunch and a great energy boost.

    Almost everybody has noticed the boom in “Gluten Free” products. As you might know, this does not automatically make the product healthy. Most gluten free items are based off of white rice flour and potato starch--both of which do not do much for your health. These muffins are gluten free, but instead of using the standard blend of white rice and potato starch, they contain  amaranth, oat and brown rice flour.

    Amaranth has the most protein, iron, magnesium, and fiber of all the gluten free grains. It is also a good source of calcium, Vitamin E, Vitamin B-6 and lower in carbs than most grains. It seems like the number one flour to use--so why even bother with oats and brown rice, right? Well, for gluten free baking, if you only use one flour, the flavor can sometimes be overpowering and the texture too dense.  You also miss out on the benefits of other grains. Quinoa is a grain similar to amaranth that also packs quite a nutritional punch, but it is about twice the price of amaranth.

    With all of these wonderful health benefits, you are sure to feel good about eating this treat.  If you want more of a dessert, you can reheat one and drizzle honey on top and enjoy with a cup of herbal tea.


    Banana Nut Strawberry Muffins (makes approximately 11 medium muffins)

    3 small overripe bananas

    Juice of half a lemon

    1 tsp vanilla

    1 tsp cinnamon

    1 tsp baking soda

    ½ cup amaranth flour

    ½ cup brown rice flour

    ½ cup oat flour

    ¼ tsp salt

    ¾ cup chopped walnuts

    2 egg whites

    1 cup chopped fresh or frozen strawberries

    Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F on convection. Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

    Peel the bananas and mash them in a medium bowl. I recommend using the head of a  whisk to mash quickly. Add in the lemon juice, vanilla, and egg whites. You can also put all these ingredients in a blender to speed up the process.

    In a medium bowl, whisk together the cinnamon, salt, baking soda, amaranth or quinoa flour, and brown rice flour.

    Fold the dry ingredients into the wet. Add the chopped strawberries and walnuts. Fill the paper liners with batter almost to the top. You can also gently push in more strawberry slices if you see any bald spots. Bake for 25-30 minutes, depending on how big the muffins are.

    Let them cool completely before removing paper liner, and store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

    Nutrition Information: (per muffin)

    Calories: 154

    Carbs: 23 grams

    Fat: 6 grams

    Protein: 4 grams

    Sugar: 5 grams

    All Original Content. Copyright Athena Byers 2015, All Rights Reserved.

  • Are you Tired or Iron Deficent?

    As summer steams up, many of us start feeling a little lethargic. If you are living in a hot and humid area, it is easy to get the pregnancy doldrums that make our maternity weight feel like it is double, even if you aren’t expecting twins. For many women the hot weather is not the only cause of pregnancy fatigue, it may also stem from a lack of sufficient iron in your diet.

    Research shows that only one in five women begin their pregnancy with sufficient iron levels. No matter the geography, iron is the most common and widespread deficiency in women around the world and the leading cause of fatigue in women. Other symptoms from low iron are poor concentration and quick mental fatigue as well as a low tolerance for exercise and physical exertion.

    During pregnancy women’s iron requirements double and without the proper diet and supplementation iron reserves can continue to deplete with each subsequent pregnancy. Studies show that as many as 50% of pregnant women are iron deficient and 20% of non-pregnant women. Clearly we all need to be getting more iron in our diet or at least supplementing more.

    If your diet has 15mg of iron and 30mg of iron supplementation you are probably meeting your iron requirement during pregnancy. If you are not meeting your iron requirement, an easy way to add more iron to your diet is to eat more iron-enriched cereals and grains (read the labels) as well as snacking on dried fruits such as raisins and prunes. Also, foods in the bean family such as lentils, chick peas and soybeans are all high in iron as well. We all know that dark leafy greens like Popeye recommends such as spinach and collards are rich in iron and very good for you.

    Other foods high in iron are red meat and egg yolks. But even if you are a vegetarian or a vegan there are still plenty of iron rich food options for you. Talk to your doctor about a supplement (or have a blood test) if you suspect you may be low on iron in your diet, particularly if you are pregnant.

  • Is your Baby getting enough Vitamin D?

    Breastfeeding your baby is a great way to not only bond with your baby but to give them the very best customized nutrition and antibodies that they need to be healthy.  However the one vitamin that you may be lacking in providing through your breast milk is vitamin D. Vitamin D is an important part of both your pregnancy diet while your baby’s bones are developing and your breastfeeding diet as your baby continues to grow and develop.

    If you do not get enough Vitamin D in your diet when you are pregnant your baby may develop a condition called rickets from soft bones. Also by getting enough Vitamin D while you are pregnant you increase your chances of having a healthy, uncomplicated pregnancy.

    While breastfeeding it is important that you eat a healthy diet as your nutrient intake is what feeds your baby the vitamins and minerals they need to be healthy as well. Depending on how much vitamin D you are getting with your diet and sun exposure, you may or may not be providing enough vitamin D for your baby. If you do not have enough vitamin D in your diet, you will need to give your baby a vitamin D supplement (and you should probably a supplement for yourself too).

    Vitamin D deficiency is linked to a number of factors including:

    Not enough sun exposure outside.

    Having dark skin

    Being overweight or obese

    General recommendations for Vitamin D for pregnant women by the Vitamin D Council are 4,000-6,000 IU/day. Researchers found that moms that took at least 4,000 IU a day where more likely to have uncomplicated births and their newborns were likely to have enough vitamin D when he or she was born. Women without enough Vitamin D in their diets were more likely to have premature births, develop gestational diabetes, have preeclampsia and more likely to have a C-Section.

    The Vitamin D Council’s recommended intake of vitamin D for babies is 1,000 IU/day.  If you are getting enough vitamin D as a breastfeeding mother, then your baby is also getting enough vitamin D and does not need a supplement. If you baby does need a supplement you can give them prescription vitamin D drops directly or add them to food or drink for your baby.

    If you as a breastfeeding mother are taking a supplement of 6,000 IU of vitamin D each day, then your baby does not need a vitamin D supplement as your breast milk will have enough. If you are not taking a supplement (or you are taking less than 5,000 IU/day of vitamin D) and not getting a good amount if sun exposure, then you need to give your baby a vitamin D supplement.

    If you are getting a good amount of skin exposure to the sun each day, then you are probably getting enough vitamin D to make your breast milk rich with vitamin D. However most mothers are not able to get enough skin exposure every day to meet this requirement and do need a supplement 5-6 days a week. When you are not getting enough sun exposure for a number of days your breast milk will quickly clear itself of vitamin D unless you are taking a supplement.

    The upper limits for Vitamin D intake is 2,000 IU/day for babies and 10,000 IU/day for pregnant women. So, unless you are over supplementing, it is hard to exceed these limits. Formula milk varies with how much vitamin D in the formula. Most formula milk has between 40-100 IUs of vitamin D per 100 calories. You will need to figure out how much formula your child has a day to add up the vitamin D IUs they are getting. Based on this result you can figure out if you need to supplement your baby with vitamin D or not and how much to supplement. Remember to adjust your supplements as your baby’s intake of formula may increase over time.

    Although exposing your skin to the sun is a great way for pregnant and breastfeeding women to increase their vitamin D supply for both themselves and their babies, you also want to be careful not to burn. Although skin exposure for your baby will increase their vitamin D directly, your baby’s skin is extra sensitive and should not be exposed directly to the sun for at least the first six months, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Even after 6 months you will need to be careful of your baby’s sun exposure, especially in the hot summer months as burns can happen quickly to your baby’s sensitive skin.

    Vitamin D supplements are a good subject to bring up with your pediatrician. However it is also good to educate yourself on this subject as well so you can have a very informed conversation with your doctor on how to best supplement your baby if needed.

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