by Lauren Davies October 11, 2020 5 min read

Every expectant mother has one common goal: a healthy baby.

A healthy baby begins with a healthy mom. And a vital pillar of health is nutrition.

When most people think about pregnancy, they think of the 9 month period that the mother is carrying the child. However, there are actually three phases: pre, pregnancy, and post.

Each phase is equally as important as the other, serves a different purpose -- and also has unique nutritional needs.

Pre-pregnancy: Prepare and Fortify

Six months to a year leading up to conception is the ideal time to prepare and fortify-- a time to get the body as healthy and balanced as possible. Pregnancy requires a substantial amount of energy and nutrients. The baby will get what it needs to grow and develop directly from the mother. If nutrient stores are low, your body will pull nutrients from your bones, blood, and other tissues. To strengthen and prepare your body, you should prioritize building up your reserves of raw materials, such as vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids.

During this phase , your diet should be well balanced and consist primarily of plant-based whole foods, including a variety of fruits (favor low glycemic, antioxidant boosting berries) and plenty of fresh vegetables. When it comes to fresh produce, different colors contain different nutrients. By ensuring that you eat a rainbow of produce, you will reap the widespread benefits of each variety.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, which is essential for the growth and development of tissue, as well as ongoing repair. It is important to consume adequate amounts before pregnancy. The best, and easiest, way to do this is by consuming high-quality sources every day. The recommended guideline is to consume half of your body weight, in pounds, in ounces of protein per day. For example, if you weigh 130 lbs, then your approximate goal should be 65 ounces of protein each day. Protein sources could include quinoa, beans or legumes such as lentils or chickpeas, and black beans, and a serving fresh fish such as wild salmon, mackerel, or trout. A small handful of raw nuts like cashews, walnuts or almonds.

Pregnancy: Nourish and Support

Growing a human requires a tremendous amount of resources. To give your body the nutrients and energy needed for your baby's healthy development, you need to fuel your body with plenty of nutrients daily. This is best done through a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods.

It doesn't need to be complicated. Stress will not support you or your growing baby. Keep it simple; by focusing on clean and nourishing whole foods you are already a great step ahead.

There can be a common misconception that pregnancy is a time to eat for two, over-indulge in sugary, processed food and eat as much as you can. Though it is important that you are eating enough, it is not helpful to you or your baby to overeat. Simplify, slow down, and eat mindfully. Not only will this minimize stress, it will also aid in digestion.

Continue to enjoy a wide variety of produce . As your blood volume increases, your iron needs increase too. Be sure to eat plenty of iron-rich foods, such as spinach and dark leafy greens. If you include animal sources , opt for fish with lower mercury levels, such as mackerel, sardines, trout, and wild salmon. Not only are these high in iron, they are also great sources of essential omega 3 fatty acids, which are important for mom and baby.

Post-pregnancy: Restore and Rebalance

You have grown, and given birth to, a precious human being -- but you aren't done yet. Now, it is time to focus on rebuilding and rebalancing your body, so that you stay healthy and strong moving forward. It may feel challenging to direct your energy away from your baby. However, it is just as important to continue to take the best care of yourself.

Post delivery, your body will go through a cleansing-like process in which it clears out water weight and inflammation accumulated during your pregnancy. You can support this process with hydrating foods and drinks. These could include green juices, carrot juice, herbal teas, and of course plenty of natural spring water.

You want to return to the body weight that is healthy for you fairly quickly, but you should not restrict your calories in an unsafe manner. During this time you will have higher energy requirements , especially while breastfeeding. Reducing your calories or eliminating certain foods, such as complex carbohydrates, can negatively affect your milk supply.

Focus on nourishing your body. Ideally, your post-pregnancy diet will continue to be a wide variety of primarily plant-based wholefoods, high quality protein sources and healthy fats. You should prioritize a variety of nutrient-dense foods, as well as consistent protein intake based on your individual needs. Include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, sweet potatoes, and stick to simple balanced meals that include all nutrient groups.

Supportive Supplementation

Ideally, you would get all of your nutrients from food. However, even the most carefully planned and balanced diet can be lacking in essential nutrients. Keep supplements minimal, especially during pregnancy. Take what is needed to support your nutritional requirements and the added demands associated with each phase.

You should begin to supplement with a high-quality prenatal vitamin that does not contain folic acid to complement your diet and support your body pre-pregnancy.. Though folate is an essential nutrient, your body is not able to use it in the synthetic form (folic acid). Look for a functional medicine product that contains folate in the methylated form. Until you deliver, you will need an additional 300 mg of folate. Continue with your prenatal as long as you are breastfeeding.

A daily probiotic can also be important and beneficial. Not only will this support digestion and your immune system, but it can keep candida (yeast) levels low. A candida overgrowth can be passed from mother to baby both during pregnancy and after.

Another beneficial consideration is adding a functional medicine omega 3 supplement. This has shown to support both mother and baby. Omega 3s are incredibly important for the baby's brain development.

A daily fruit and vegetable blend is a simple addition to include. This will give you a headstart on your produce intake and is full of all the nutrients your body needs daily to function optimally.

EquiLife makes it easy for you to meet your supplement needs with the Prenatal Protocol and Complete Prenatal Protocol. Herbs such as ashwagandha, ginseng, and echinacea are powerful medicine. Like with any other medication, you should always discuss the use of any herbs with your health practitioner first.

Care For Your Baby and Yourself

Pregnancy and childbirth are amazing.

It is also very taxing on the body. The process requires a lot of energy and resources. It can be easy to shift your focus solely on the baby, especially in the first month after delivery.

Each person always has unique needs. Functional medicine labs can assess any nutritional deficiencies and address toxicities that could further support a healthy pregnancy. Testing six months to a year before pregnancy begins will allow time to rebalance the body, if needed, and adjust your diet accordingly. We recommend the Comprehensive Vitamins, Minerals, and Digestion Kit.

It is important that mothers care for themselves as well, physically and mentally. Nourish and strengthen your body. Take time each day for yourself. It is a short-term investment with a long-term return.

For more of Dr. Cabral's recommendations for a healthy, happy pregnancy & baby, listen to the full interview on the Melissa Ambrosini podcast: