An Ayurvedic Overview: Beginnings of Pregnancy

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So! To accompany Kerry's posts about her own pregnancy, we are offering this, the first of several "overviews" of what's happening during pregnancy from an Ayurvedic perspective, as well as nutritional and lifestyle advice. What is Happening with Your Baby We wanted to provide a brief overview how Ayurveda views pregnancy and provide some simple and safe recommendations during this precious time.

The great rishis believed that the a fetus is formed by a combination of factors: 1) the mother’s ovum, 2) the father’s sperm, 3) the state of the womb, 4) the timing of conception 5) the diet of the mother, and 6) the accompanying soul which enters into the fetus. In understanding these factors, we learn that it is important to take care of ourselves before (both partners) and during pregnancy, but that a soul brings its own factors as well. This means that it is important to nourish ourselves as much as we can during pregnancy (without driving yourself crazy about it - stress is not helpful).

According to Dr. Lad, Sage Ka?yapa & others, the vital organs begin to form about 5 weeks after conception. By 6 weeks a threadlike spinal cord and spider-like nerves begin to form. The eyes, nose, mouth and ears start forming. Arms & legs start developing and sex organs start to appear. Your baby will grow up to 1" long and weigh about 1/13th oz. This is why it’s so important to start taking care, in a relaxed way, as soon as we find out we are pregnant.

What is Happening in Your Body So much! Too much to list everything here, but many of the things you feel right now, are due to the huge increase in hormones such as Progesterone (which will increase 10-fold), Estrogen (which will increase 1000-fold, "what?!") and hCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotropin). At this point in pregnancy, hormones are increasing quickly while blood volume has not yet increased much. Therefore, the concentration of hormones is high which contributes to feelings of general malaise, nausea and fatigue. You may also already notice breast tenderness and an increased urge to urinate. As the uterus grows, it begins to rise into the abdomen and the increased urge to urinate may (temporarily) ease. Also as blood volume (rasa and rakta dhatu) increases, hormones are diluted some and that sick feeling often subsides.

Ayurvedic Basics We will provide some basic western nutrition guidelines below, but you will see that Ayurveda provides a great more depth about nutrition and lifestyle during pregnancy. We learn what types of foods to eat during each trimesters, and even what types of flavors to emphasize in keeping our body balanced. As always, Ayurveda recognizes that we are all unique. By understanding our unique selves we can flow and adapt in all stages of life, especially pregnancy.

First Trimester Suggestions for Almost Everyone During the first trimester Ayurveda places a strong emphasis on nourishing rasa and rakta dhatu, aka the blood and blood plasma. This means lots of liquid nourishment from foods such as juicy fruits, coconut water, herbal infusions (raspberry leaf, nettle, oatstraw) and sipping good quality organic cow’s milk and rice milk. Sweet, cooling foods should generally be emphasized, and ghee should be included. Ayurveda also suggests to steer clear of anything that could be too agitating (such as spicy or fried food) and too depleting to the system (too much of the bitter and astringent tastes). We would also emphasize the importance of fresh, organic, local foods as much as possible. We won’t go into detail here, but it's easy to find plenty of research to support the importance of eating chemical free foods.

General Ayurvedic Changes During Pregnancy & How this Impacts Diet

From a doshic or elemental perspective a woman’s body undergoes many changes during pregnancy. The more we understand our constitution, the more we can use diet and lifestyle to bring balance. We are providing a brief overview of the doshic changes below, but if the word dosha is new to you, we strongly recommend getting our booklet to learn more about where you fit.

VATA Vata dosha is responsible for the expansion and intense transformation happening inside. This can also mean excess Vata dosha (too much of the dry, light, mobile, cool, or clear qualities), which may lead to constipation, dry skin, nervousness/anxiety, absent mindedness, or difficulty sleeping.

PITTA The changes in metabolism and increased bodily heat are due to Pitta dosha (hot, sharp, light, penetrating, or oily qualities), which may also lead to irritability, anemia, morning sickness, nausea, heartburn, indigestion, bleeding tendencies, or trouble falling asleep.

KAPHA Finally, the increase in bulk (especially later in pregnancy) is due to, and can lead to excess Kapha (slow, heavy, dull, sluggish, cloudy, cool, and oily qualities), this may contribute to excess weight gain, fluid retention, excess congestion, yeast infections, or excess sleep.

This information helps us to understand, at least briefly, what we may be experiencing at a given time, and how to begin finding balance. Yes, food can help us alleviate some of the annoying pregnancy ailments. For those who want more detail about doshic diets during pregnancy, we strongly recommend checking out the pregnancy booklet, which we will make available within a few weeks.

Other Ayurvedic Lifestyle Tips

  • Avoid hard, uncomfortable seats; suppressing your natural urges; too much or too intense exercise; lengthy trips (long periods in the car on an airplane without movement); loud sounds; massage, and sex until the 5th month
  • REST REST REST

Western Nutrition Basics During Pregnancy Western science emphasizes that eating well during pregnancy is important, while not as robust as what ayurveda offers, some can find it reassuring to at least understand the basics. Research shows that poor maternal nutrition contributes to poor infant metabolic health (Aaltonen et al., 2010), a diet high in fat, salt and sugar can lead to obesity in offspring (Bavol et al., 2008), and that eating frequently helps to balance the hormones (Barger, 2010)...we could go on forever. The World Health Organization put together the following good, but also very basic general pregnancy recommendations.

Three meals a day and two snacks to avoid prolonged periods of fasting
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables (five per day) and monounsaturated fats with adequate protein. WHO recommends 5 portions
Fiber-rich carbohydrates and limit carbohydrates with a high glycemic index (e.g., fruit juices and sodas). WHO recommends 6-11 portions
At least two servings of omega-3 rich fish (with low mercury level) a week or use omega-3 supplements. WHO recommends 2 portions of protein
WHO recommends 3 portions of dairy per day.
WHO recommends using sugar, salt, margarine, oils, butter sparingly
+Avoid food born illnesses that can cause maternal or fetal disease by eating:
Well-cooked meat, poultry (including eggs), and fish, only pasteurized dairy & fruit, avoid soft cheeses, processed meat, raw sprouts
*Berger, 2010 & WHO

And finally, we'd like to provide you with one of our most nourishing and balancing (and delicious!) recipes. You can use this throughout your pregnancy: A Nourishing Pregnancy Shake: Ojas Date Shake