Our Pregnancy at 38 Weeks: Porridge, Pill Cases, and Placenta

I had intended for this to be a series of posts but my other attempts didn’t make it beyond draft form.  In my defense, I’ve been busier than ever with clients and nourishing a pregnant wife and unborn child is pricey, at least the way I insist on doing it.  Without further ado, here are some third trimester highlights:

SIBLING CLASS AND A TYPICAL BREAKFAST

Our delivery hospital provided an opportunity for older siblings to learn about the process of welcoming their younger brother or sister into the world.  I wasn’t able to attend but my wife recounted something both humorous and irritating. During introductions, the instructor asked the kids what their moms had eaten for breakfast that morning. The responses were sad, though not all that surprising:

“Cereal.”

“Cereal.”

“Bagel.”

“Cereal.” “

“Pop Tart.”

So basically, sugar, sugar, and more sugar (grain converts to glucose in the body, folks, even the “whole” variety!).

And then it was my son’s turn to share what his ma-ma had eaten that morning:

“Banana porridge and eggs.” Ya, we’re those weirdos.

In our case, porridge means a healthier, Paleo version of the traditional oat breakfast.  It’s grain-free and loaded with nuts and seeds.  Here’s a recipe from Elana’s Pantry if you’re interested.  And here’s a more elaborate cinnamon apple option from the Nourishing Home.

Tough love time, moms: It might make you feel better to dismiss the prospect of healthy eating as a time-consuming endeavor but that’s a bogus excuse. In the time you’re waiting for your bagel to toast – or sitting in the drive-thru while the Dunkin Donuts employee does it for you – you can throw together some ingredients that have actual nutritional value. I get it, you’re busy. We’re all busy. But how long does it really take to scramble some eggs or stir some berries and stevia into a bowl of plain, unsweetened yogurt?

Eggs are a year-round staple in our home but we’ve increased my wife’s intake during her pregnancy. The yolks in particular should be considered a pregnancy superfood.  They are one of nature’s best sources of choline, a nutrient that helps prevent neural tube defects. Choline also assists in brain development. It’s been estimated that nearly 85% of pregnant moms aren’t getting enough, a deficiency that’s been linked with a four-fold increased risk of spinal cord and brain defects.

I understand that pregnancy for some women is a license to eat junk and get fat but developing babies need nutrients, not refined, processed carbs.  I don’t care if it’s Kashi, Puffins, or Cap’n Crunch.  It doesn’t matter if it was once in whole form before being pulverized into a flour and pressed into a flake.  And it doesn’t make a difference if those flakes were kissed with the natural sweetness of honey (one of dozens of names for sugar). Ever notice the word fortified on your box of cereal? That means the manufacturer had to add back in SYNTHETIC forms of vitamins and minerals just so they can call it food. The naturally-occurring nutrients were stripped away during processing.

Nourishing a baby starts in the womb and even before.  And there’s growing evidence that the mother’s diet helps determine not only the child’s risk of certain diseases but also that of his or her offspring. Pregnancy is not the time to be irresponsible in this regard.  It’s the time to learn everything you can about how your diet can alter your baby’s DNA, set taste preferences, and make your child a less picky eater. If you need extra motivation to change your bad eating habits, learn as much as you can tolerate about epigenetics. Start here, here, and here.  I think you’ll find it fascinating just how much influence we have over what gets passed down to future generations.

There’s a way to indulge your cravings while still ensuring adequate nutrition during this critical time.  Plenty of moms have done it.  There are books and other resources available if you need help. Think Halo Top rather than Ben & Jerry’s. A high-quality dark chocolate bar that’s actually dark rather than the sugar-laden, low cacao candy processed with alkali.  In other words, real food.

CORD BLOOD AND PLACENTA TISSUE BANKING

That’s placenta banking NOT placenta encapsulation, a centuries-old practice purported by some to help with postpartum depression and breast milk production. While placenta consumption has become somewhat trendy in recent years, far fewer couples are aware of the benefits of placental banking. That’s understandable, as the technology is a newer one and the service is only offered by a handful of companies.

The procedure significantly increases the number of prenatal stem cells that are collected and preserved. This is especially important with delayed cord clamping (waiting one minute or more resulted in a decrease of up to 21% in the total volume of cord blood collected, according to one study).  More stem cells means the success rate of a future stem cell transplant is higher.

Similar to cord tissue, placenta tissue is rich in mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). These stem cells are multipotent, which means that they can differentiate into many different types of cells, including organ and muscle tissue, skin, bone, cartilage, and fat cells. There are more than 50 clinical trials currently underway investigating the use of MSCs for various therapeutic applications and there are 80 blood or immune-related disorders have been treated with stem cell transplants.  MSCs are the fastest growing area of stem cell research.

There’s an added benefit to banking placenta tissue.  It’s got a high concentration of CD34+ cells, which are considered the most important in ensuring a successful stem cell transplant. Having more cells available also offers the potential for a close family member to benefit should they need it. We didn’t bank our older son’s cord blood but plan to preserve his dental pulp stem cells once he loses his baby teeth.  We’re living in exciting times!

Our decision to bank the placenta came about very recently. I was already familiar with cord blood banking as a means of cryogenically preserving a child’s stem cells for future use. But after listening to a podcast with my favorite new blogger, aging and nutrition researcher Dr. Rhonda Patrick, I learned about the benefits and of her experience with Lifebank USA. My wife and I decided that it was worth it to us to pay the $3,000 collection fee and $400 annual storage charge for an otherwise painless procedure that could one day save our child’s life.

VITAMIN K SHOT

We’ll likely be thrown into the “anti-vax” camp for this one but here goes anyway:  In our family, we don’t blindly accept the standard of care even if it comes from a Harvard-educated doctor. We do our due diligence. Some of our practitioners probably think we read too much.  Well, I think they don’t read enough. While most parents would see no reason to question the practice of administering a vitamin K shot to their newborn, if you did, you’d probably get a robotic, script like response about how it prevents bleeding diseases in newborns. Here’s what you won’t get, either because it’s not taught in medical school, not shared at drug company-sponsored conferences, and isn’t sanctioned the CDC:

  • Bleeding is extremely rare – roughly 1 in 10,000 live births – and really, really, really rare in uncomplicated births.
  • Several peer-reviewed papers have questioned the practice of routine vitamin K injections, going back as far as 1977 in the journal Lancet challenged the necessity of vitamin K injections: “We conclude that healthy babies, contrary to current beliefs, are not likely to have a vitamin K deficiency… the administration of vitamin K is not supported by our findings.”
  • The vitamin K given by hospital staff is in a synthetic form, which is not well-utilized by the body.
  • After the shot, a baby’s vitamin K level is nearly 9,000 times the normal adult level! We have no idea what the long-term consequences of that are.
  • The vitamin K injections contain several questionable ingredients such as phenol, which comes from coal tar and propolene glycol, which is derived from petroleum and used as an antifreeze in hydraulic brake fluid.
  • Vitamin K injections have not been thoroughly tested for safety. The inserts of the Merck, Roche & Abbot vitamin K packets state: “Studies of carcinogenicity, mutagenesis or impairment of fertility have not been conducted with Vitamin K1 Injection (Phytonadione Injection, USP).”
  • Shots are not administered in European countries and an oral delivery protocol is recommended by pediatricians in the functional and integrative realm.

For all of these reasons we considered declining the shot but ultimately decided to consent. The primary concern among those who oppose vitamin K shots is an increased risk of cancer, specifically leukemia, as demonstrated in a handful of studies from Britain. My calculation is this: we have – both before conception and all throughout pregnancy – and will continue to do many, many things that are known to reduce cancer risk. Breastfeeding, for example, can prevent 19% of childhood leukemia cases, according to one study.  Citrus fruits and turmeric are two foods that have been shown to fight the disease, as has the avoidance of certain chemicals, an area we are obsessive about. After months of research,  I feel there is stronger evidence against certain vaccines than there is against the vitamin K shot.  Plus, the hospital won’t circumcise our son otherwise.

This is ultimately a personal decision but it’s a parent’s responsibility to learn all they can.  So read and ask questions. Generally speaking, you should never assume that your one doctor – or even a team of doctors – knows all there is to know about any of these subjects.  We’re seeing more and more lately the limitations and shortcomings of conventional medical training and the standard of care, as medical school curricula has been revealed to be inadequate, dated, and biased.  “Continuing education” serves mostly to reinforce many of these flawed teachings and entrenched practitioners are resistant to opposing ideas, hostile to alternative approaches and slow to adapt in the face of emerging science and contradictory evidence. The growing influence of the pharmaceutical industry further erodes the public’s trust in the medical profession.  The goal, of course, is to have as little to do with doctors as possible.  That’s why we focus so much on prevention.

THE HOSPITAL BAG

Packed and ready to go. This is where you get to see just how crazy I am.

Whenever possible, I choose to prepare our food – including snacks – from scratch so that I can control what goes into them. Obviously, in this situation we will have to rely on some convenience options and there are some good ones out there. (I’ll be using the delivery period as the perfect opportunity for one of my weekly intermittent fasts.)

Overall, we had a great experience at our delivery hospital the first time around but, like most hospitals, the food is God-awful, and more likely to contribute to illness than to wellness.  I hear that the tide is slowly changing but not yet in this part of the country. From what I recall, the “nourishment” pantry at our hospital was stocked with loaves of white bread and bottles of juice.  No thanks. I want this baby to have the best possible start in life.  What mom eats and drinks can obviously pass into breast milk so we’ll be applying the same principles we do at home to avoid toxins in our food. Here’s some of what we’re bringing:

  • Protein bars. I’ve recently replaced Quest bars with Bhu Fit bars.  Better texture. No Splenda.  No corn fiber. We’re going with the vegan (pea) and paleo (egg white) versions to avoid whey and all other forms of dairy while breast feeding. This strategy can protect against future allergies.
  • A variety of nuts and seeds. When possible, I choose soaked and sprouted varieties, which provide more easily digestible vitamins and minerals. They’re pricier for sure. If that’s not in the budget, Trader Joe’s has a great selection or regular nuts.  The best part? They sell “lightly salted” varieties, with 50% less sodium – enough to satisfy without making you want to eat the whole bag.
  • Grain-free crackers (Simple Mills is our go-to) and some Nutzo mixed nut butter for dipping and spreading.
  • I’ll have some store-bought green drinks on hand, ready-to-grab since I won’t have access to my Omega juicer. Not as good as fresh pressed but a convenient way to provide easily-absorbed, easily-assimilated nutrients for boosting immunity.
  • Grass-fed meat sticks.
  • There’s always fresh organic berries in our fridge.  Hopefully, we’ll have the opportunity to grab some on the way out the door.
  • I use an advanced water filtration system at home and we’ll have some bottles of that ready to go but I know we’ll go through it all and I wouldn’t trust hospital water so I’m packing a bottled water brand that is free of both BPA and fluoride and enhanced with electrolytes. It’s amazing that some companies actually add fluoride.  Bad, bad, bad for brain development and a lot of other things.

This list doesn’t differ much from what we’d take on any other type of trip.  The focus is on nutrient content. I know I went overboard but there’s no way to anticipate my wife’s taste preferences, I don’t know exactly how long we’ll be there and if I’ll be able to run home and I’d rather have too much then not enough.

I’ve also filled a pill case (BPA-free, of course) with a week’s worth (just in case) of my wife’s prenatal vitamins:

  • A high-quality multivitamin with science-backed doses of the nutrients most important during this critical period, i.e., not the stuff you find at CVS.I like  Pure Encapsulations Nutrient 950 with Vitamin K. The best multi on the market and the recommendation of Chris Kresser, one of the country’s most respected practitioners of functional medicine. Three of the most important nutrients for favorable gene expression, as well as the baby’s developing brain and immune system – folate, iodine, vitamin K – are all contained in the ideal form and amount, not just to prevent a deficiency but for optimal health.
  • Extra vitamin D. We follow the recommendations of the Vitamin D Council, NOT the government and NOT the medical profession.
  • A high-DHA omega-3 supplement. Science-backed benefits include: higher IQ scores, longer attention spans, enhanced fetal and infant eye development, longer gestation, bigger babies, and fewer preterm births. It also protects against postpartum depression. There is solid evidence that the placenta selectively takes up DHA to ensure a sufficient supply for the growing baby. Roughly 70% of energy during fetal development is devoted to brain development; lipids make up 50 to 60% of the structure of the brain, with DHA comprising 30% of the brain and 50% of the retina’s structure. Since the baby depends on the mother for its supply of DHA, however, omega-3 deficiencies in the mother can lead to increases in DHA deficiency in the infant brain with each successive birth. I trust Nordic Naturals more than any other company.  The right form, the right dose, and certified free of contaminants like lead and mercury.  
  • A potent, multi-strain probiotic.  They’ve been shown to reduce the risk of baby eczema and boost the child’s immune system, in addition to protecting the mother from serious pregnancy complications like preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.  I rotate amongst several brands, including BioKult and Garden of Life.

IMPORTANT: Folate and folic acid are usually used interchangeably but there are important differences and don’t count on your doctor to be aware of them. Folate is naturally occurring while folic acid is synthetic. Folate is easily absorbed and utilized by the body. Folic acid, however, requires the presence of a specific enzyme named dihydrofolate reductase, which is relatively rare in the body. Many women cannot metabolize folic acid well and high levels of unmetabolized folic acid can enter and remain in the bloodstream. This can cause changes in sex hormones and side effects, such as poor concentration, trouble sleeping, mood issues, and deficiencies in certain nutrients like vitamin B12. Worse, however, is that high levels of folic acid in the blood has been tied to cancer development.

Also in our bag are liquid vitamins to deliver to the baby directly soon after delivery:

  • A vitamin D3/vitamin K2 combination formula to take advantage of the synergy between the two. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends a daily vitamin D supplement of 400IU for all breast-fed infants, starting immediately after birth. Raise Them Well and Thorne make good products.
  • A probiotic supplement with age-appropriate strains, like Probonix. Populating a baby’s gut with beneficial bacteria can help prevent gas, colic, reflux, and constipation. 
  • A baby DHA supplement for brain development and visual acuity. A baby’s brain undergoes its most rapid and complex growth during the last trimester of pregnancy and the first two years after birth.  Nordic Naturals is the cleanest, highest quality.

IMPORTANT: A conventionally-trained doctor will be absolutely clueless about all of the above.  It would be refreshing if they’d at least admit that and then refrain from weighing in further but some will actually try to dissuade you from using supplements with a canned line about the lack of FDA regulation…to which you can remind them that FDA-approved drugs kill an American every 19 seconds – when used as directed – making them the fourth leading cause of death in America. The safety record for vitamins? Seven deaths.  Total.  Purportedly.  In the past 25 years!!!

STILL SQUATTING

Along with the bogus recommendation about “eating for two,” telling pregnant women they must take it easy is the reason so many find themselves with an extra 40 pounds to lose after the baby comes. If your pregnancy is normal, it’s both safe and healthy to exercise as you did before the pregnancy. And that includes core work.  Tapping into those muscles allows women to maintain strength and stability in the abdomen as it grows larger.  That translates into fewer low back and pelvic related aches and pains. Keeping those core muscles strong can also help prevent abdominal separation, allow for more effective pushing during labor, and faster healing postpartum.

Having a fit pregnancy was a priority for my wife and we feel her efforts have allowed her to avoid some of the physical discomforts most women experience during this time. She incorporates weekly prenatal yoga sessions to help her body adjust to the demands of pregnancy and to help prepare for labor. She balances that with a sensible weight training program, adapted during each trimester to accommodate her changing hormones and growing belly.

THE TAKEWAY

Information overload can be stressful and too much of that is harmful to a baby. Despite how it may sound, our pregnancy protocol did not feel overwhelming, mostly because we already had healthy routines in place prior to conception.  More importantly, though, the growing research in this area gave us a sense of empowerment and we became increasingly excited as we continued to learn just how much control we have.

If there’s one thing to focus on above all else, it’s the incredibly powerful influence of a mother’s nutritional status on her child’s lifelong health. Some researchers are convinced that the nine months spent in the womb are the most consequential period in our lives; that the choices moms make can permanently influence the function of the heart, brain, liver, and pancreas; and that what we are exposed to in utero determines not only our disease risk but also our appetite and metabolism, IQ and temperament.

We’ve tried to let science – and common sense – guide us in this journey. We enjoy the ride (most days) and have chosen to record it both here and in more detail in a separate journal that my wife keeps. We plan to read it someday with the kids.

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