TCM Perspective: Nutrition During Pregnancy
TCM believes that every person is endowed from birth with an essence that lasts throughout the person’s life and provides the body with energy. This essence flows from the mother during pregnancy. Healthy lifestyle and good nutrition increases the amount and quality of this essential essence.
To build up this life giving essence and guarantee the best health for the newborn, the soon-to-be mom is advised to eat a balanced diet that is high in nutrients and fiber, and low in bad fats and cholesterol. TCM nutritional recommendations align with three stages (each 3 month period) of the pregnancy to correspond to the changing needs of mother and baby.
In the first 3 months, the baby is just forming in the mother’s body. It is a time of adjusting to hormonal and physical changes. Nausea and vomiting are common in this stage. This is the stage to eat neutral and warming foods (e.g. soups and stews with pumpkin, cabbage, potatoes, carrots; chicken, and salmon). Ginger is an excellent complementary food that warms the spleen and stomach and helps with morning sickness.
In TCM, pregnancy is thought of as a ‘hot’ condition. In the second stage, the blood circulation in the “penetrating channel” increases as the baby grows fast. The pregnant woman experiences a yin blood deficiency and excess heat (which can lead to excessive thirst, flushing, insomnia, night sweats, heartburn and constipation). Cooling foods can counterbalance the heat in the body. Cooling foods include vegetables (e.g. broccoli, artichoke, eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, asparagus, tomatoes), salads and fresh fruits (e.g. apples, banana, pear, strawberry, pineapple, melon, cherries, mango). Limit the consumption of red meat, soy-based food, fried food, and sugar, especially during this period. It is strongly advised to avoid caffeine and alcohol throughout the pregnancy.
This is also the time to eat reinforcement foods and a nutrient-rich diet to help the baby with this rapid period of growth and development. Reinforcement foods include spring cabbage, spinach, sesame, white fungus, coconut and beans.
In the last trimester, the mother doesn’t need as much reinforcement food since the period of rapid growth is done, but cooling foods can continue to be eaten mixed with some warm foods (but hot foods such as listed above should be avoided).
Besides nutrition, expectant mothers should keep fit by doing light exercise (walking, yoga, swimming) including outdoor exercise where possible. Herbal medicine and acupuncture are safe, natural remedies for discomfort during pregnancy.
The Chinese practice of zuo yuezi (sitting out a month) provides guidance on behavior and nutrition to help the new mother regain strength and transition into motherhood. We’ll share more about this in a future article so make sure to sign up for our WeChat notifications!