Pregnancy can be very difficult, especially if you already have chronic health problems. Personally, I felt very sick starting week three, and until around week 12 – 13. The sickness presented itself in terms of nausea, extreme fatigue, and increased anxiety. Only once I started to feel less nauseous, I was able to go back to my regular diet which limits refined carbs and continue with intermittent fasting again. I did then also start feeling worse in the third trimester, around after week 34. From my experience, these are the actions which have helped me to feel better:
- Start taking folic acid as soon as possible, preferably before conception. Folic acid supplementation has been found to reduce neural tube defects, as well as congenital heart defects. Taking folic acid supplement every day can provide a positive feeling that you are doing the right thing for your baby’s health.
From Health Canada: “Folic acid is vital to the normal growth of your baby’s spine, brain and skull. Taking a daily vitamin supplement that has folic acid can reduce the risk of your baby having a neural tube defect. The benefits of taking folic acid to reduce the risk of NTDs are highest in the very early weeks of pregnancy. At this stage, most women do not know they are pregnant. For this reason, taking folic acid before you become pregnant and in the early weeks of pregnancy is very important.”
Recent studies have shown that high folate intake is associated with a reduced risk of birth defects other than NTDs. Higher maternal folate or periconceptional use of folic acid is associated with a lower risk of congenital heart defects (20-23) and oral clefts (24). A recent meta-analysis of 1 randomized controlled trial, 1 cohort study, and 16 case-control studies has shown that maternal folate supplementation is associated with a lowered CHD risk (RR =0.72, 95% CI: 0.63–0.82) (25). However, the results showed considerable heterogeneity, but after excluding the outliers the risk estimate was almost unchanged: the corresponding pooled RRs were not materially altered (RR =0.78, 95% CI: 0.69–0.89) (25).
- Iron supplements – Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency during pregnancy. It happens most often during the third trimester. The iron in meat, fish and poultry is the easiest for our bodies to absorb and use. Foods rich in vitamin C help you absorb more iron. You can start taking an iron supplement during pregnancy in order to make sure you get enough and to prevent anemia. Low iron can lead to more fatigue, shortness of breath, weakness, headache, dizziness. All these symptoms in turn can make you more depressed. If low iron will lead to anemia, there will not be enough hemoglobin, and less oxygen will get to your cells. Cells won’t be functioning properly, and this can also contribute to depression and anxiety.
- Prenatal vitamins – you can easily buy prenatal vitamins in a pharmacy or online. Nutritional yeast flakes also contain multiple vitamins. I’ve experienced more and more lethargy in the third trimester, and I started adding small doses of nutritional yeast flakes to smoothies. I have the Bob’s Red Mill brand, it is fortified inactive yeast, contains high doses of B vitamins – thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, B6, folate, and B12. It’s very cheap, given that the whole pack was around $8, and I consume less than a teaspoon a day, as the vitamin concentration is very high. I don’t see the need to take more than the needed daily value of B vitamins. I found that actually taking overly high doses of B vitamins for me can lead to panic attacks. Small doses of nutritional yeast do help me with energy during the third trimester, it can get me out of a very lethargic vegetative state to at least being able to wash the dishes, write in my blog, etc.
- Sleep more – pregnancy can cause extreme fatigue. I found that instead of 7 – 8 hours, I currently need to sleep 9 hours. It helped me to start going to bed earlier, before 12am, then I am able to wake up for work before 9am. I also found that staying asleep became more difficult, I would wake up at around 4:30am, unable to fall back asleep. What helped me is eating the last meal four hours before bed, and the meal consisting mostly of non-refined starch, and not a lot of protein. The best sleep occurs for me if I eat short grain brown rice or potatoes (not fries) with something for dinner. Some studies mention that it is the prebiotic foods which can help sleep. “More commonly eaten foods that contain prebiotics include asparagus, onions, garlic, cashews, pistachios, and cooked and cooled grains and potatoes.” On the other hand, I found that eating cheese or red meat in the evening causes nightmares for me during the night, therefore I only eat those foods earlier on in the day.
- Foods for anxiety – even though there is no recommendation to completely avoid coffee during pregnancy, I had to stop drinking any coffee as it would increase my anxiety more than before pregnancy. I also had to figure out which foods exacerbate acid reflux, which got worse. Ongoing acid reflux would make it uncomfortable for me to sit, lie down, sleep, and relax. It’s hard to calm down and do any breathing exercises, or just read a book, if your throat is burning, and you feel acid going up. I had to stop eating chocolate, spicy foods, coffee, black tea, lemon, soups, and meals containing a lot of tomatoes. I found oolong tea to be a good option. I also found helpful choosing complex carbs over refined carbs – making my own oat whole wheat pancakes, eating brown rice, potatoes, lentil pasta, plantains. Eat some protein with each meal.
From the Mayo Clinic: “Carbohydrates are thought to increase the amount of serotonin in your brain, which has a calming effect. Eat foods rich in complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains — for example, oatmeal, quinoa, whole-grain breads and whole-grain cereals. Steer clear of foods that contain simple carbohydrates, such as sugary foods and drinks.“
I also had to stop consuming all dairy products, I noticed they were making my anxiety worse, as well as increasing brain fog. Again, from the Mayo Clinic:
“Pay attention to food sensitivities. In some people, certain foods or food additives can cause unpleasant physical reactions. In certain people, these physical reactions may lead to shifts in mood, including irritability or anxiety.“
- Food sensitivities – if you are avoiding any foods due to food sensitivities, make sure you get enough nutrients from other foods. I used to eat dark chocolate, which contains a lot of magnesium, but had to stop due to acid reflux. I made sure to eat other magnesium containing foods such as peanuts, bananas, and flax seeds. I also had to stop consuming any dairy, as I noticed that it was increasing my anxiety, rumination, and brain fog. I had to start consuming fortified soy milk, tofu, dairy-free yogurts, etc., in order to get calcium. I also took calcium supplements, and made my own supplement from egg shells.
- Exercise – an important step with exercise, as with all pregnancy symptoms/issues in general, for me was acceptance. Acceptance that I could no longer do what I used to do several weeks ago. I used to dance for my mental health, because I enjoy reggaetón, and moving freely, and aerobic exercise is supposed to reduce depressive symptoms. I had to accept that I could no longer do that on most of the days due to nausea, fatigue, migraines. But still when I could, I tried to move – going for a walk near my house, going up and down the stairs (the house where I live has a staircase), doing a physical chose – washing the floor, vacuuming. Some movement is better than no movement at all, and I accepted that is it the situation right now, but it is also temporary.
- Mindfulness – sometimes you cannot solve a problem. I have been feeling pretty lethargic throughout the whole pregnancy, especially in the third trimester. I was also not able to resolve the acid reflux issue and the stuffy nose, only reduce the symptoms somewhat. Mindfulness helps to observe your experiences from the side and accept that these are the current sensations/emotions/symptoms. I think observation can help realize how negative symptoms come in waves, so that you don’t end up generalizing or catastrophizing – “every day is terrible”, “I always feel awful”. I’m also mindful of the fact that I chose to be pregnant, as my goal is to have my own family, therefore this is something I have to go though in order to achieve my goal. I also remind myself that pregnancy is definitely a temporary condition, no one has stayed permanently pregnant.