Nutrition is complicated. Being vegan for more than 20 years, I’ve had my share of lessons in how to eat healthy. It’s not as simple as just cutting out meat, eggs and dairy, although that certainly helps. And now, 40 and pregnant, nutrition takes on an entirely new meaning. Enter the universe of prenatal vitamins.
Generally speaking, I’m not a vitamin person. I believe in the power of foods to provide us our nutritional needs. Like many seekers on the healthy path, it has taken years to figure out what exactly that means for me. Every body is different. And always changing. But I know to adhere to some basics if I want to feel my best: fresh, leafy greens every day. Powerful plant proteins like hemp seeds. A regular dose of healthy fats like olive oil, avocadoes and flax (or more hemp), and I function at a pretty optimal level (I’m actually writing this article with my toes!).
Vitamins though, always feel unnatural. Like trying to game the system. In those sci-fi films where future food is always a bland little pill, I feel a twinge of sadness. Not that the novelty of nutritional efficiency that can feed everyone isn’t remarkable, but it’s no heirloom tomato. It’s a bit like swallowing a pill to get pregnant…I much prefer the situation that got me pregnant in the first place to something as anti-climactic as taking a sperm pill.
But my midwife didn’t see much room for negotiating. A pregnant woman needs to support her baby with more than the usual nutritional gleanings foods and herbs offer. A woman, pregnant or not, can only eat so much kale. I had to start taking prenatal vitamins.
A trip to my local health food store’s prenatal section lasted a lot longer than I expected. There were a million, or at least, four shelves worth of vitamins, staring me in the face. When I left the store, I left with Mega Food’s prenatal. They’re a company that uses whole food ingredients, and I like that. But in my first trimester, my belly didn’t like one vitamin pill, let alone four, the required dosage. I switched to Rainbow Light’s Prenatal One, and haven’t switched back. Taking one pill a day works for me, and Rainbow Light is also food-based like Mega-Food. (And a little birdy told me Rainbow Light will come out with a prenatal just for women over age 35 pretty soon, too.)
Early on in the pregnancy I developed a pretty severe case of eczema that stretched across both of my eyes like a red raccoon mask. It lasted weeks. It itched and burned. It swelled. I looked awful. Without upping my dose of essential fatty acids, it might never have gone away. I started taking Flora’s vegetarian DHA capsules. It’s not only good for baby (and breastfeeding), but it’s also great for skin, hair and nails. For salads I use Nutiva’s organic hemp seed oil (in glass) and Flora’s organic flax seed oil. (And I a little bit hope all this oil in my diet will make the baby nice and slippery so she just slides right out!)
About three weeks ago, my energy levels plummeted. I couldn’t focus. I was foggy and almost delirious. Low iron, something common for vegans and more common for pregnant women, hit me like a truck. I’d never had low iron before and I hope never to have it again. But it’s a pretty normal occurrence in pregnancy. Introducing a high quality liquid vegetarian iron has since improved my energy levels significantly. I’ve been taking Gaia Herb’s PlantForce liquid iron. Gaia is an herb company with great integrity and effective products. While I generally avoid vitamins in my diet, I incorporate a lot of herbs. HerbPharm and Gaia are my go-to brands for herbal remedies.
As a vegan, I’ve known my vitamin D levels were low for more than a year. While I spend a good amount of time in the Los Angeles sun, D is hard to find in vegan foods. Some people, like me, have a hard time synthesizing D from the sun even if we’re out in it all day. I need support even when I’m not pregnant. But during the pregnancy, my D levels dipped dangerously low. Country Life makes a vegan vitamin D3 that has helped me keep my D levels up throughout the pregnancy.
I plan to maintain the supplements throughout breastfeeding, and I am curious to see how my energy levels change, if at all, once I stop taking them. When my body is back to just a single resident, I’m hopeful I won’t need much more aside from a kale salad with ripe avocado and hemp seeds to make me strong and healthy enough to keep up with a growing child.
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Image: Super Fantastic