Favorite Pregnancy Books and Resources

pregnancybooks

In many traditional cultures, the village or tribe supports women in pregnancy, childbirth, and caring for babies.  This allows children and young women to witness these life stages and all of the work and joy that comes with them.  If you’re like me, however, you were raised as part of a nuclear family and never witnessed labor or delivery.   I was clueless as I started down the path of becoming a mother.  Between books, podcasts, the internet, family, and friends, there is a TON of advice and information for future mamas to sift through.  How do you know where to start?  Whose advice should you follow?

I started by asking for advice from friends who were new parents.  What were their favorite books and resources?  What did they wish they knew when they were pregnant or in labor?  Here’s how I’d answer that question if I were asked today:

 

Pre-Conception:

More and more research is showing that the well-being of parents before conception impacts the health of the baby.  Taking stock of your (and your partner’s) physical, mental, and social well-being before pregnancy and parenthood can really pay off. The resources below can be helpful both before and during pregnancy!

Nutrition:

Both Real Food for Pregnancy and The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care offer information that will allow you to properly nourish yourself leading up to and during pregnancy.  Though it is hard to prove, I do think that my diet contributed to easy conception, a comfortable pregnancy, labor and delivery without complication, and a strong healthy baby.  This one-pager gives you a quick idea of what a “real food” “nourishing” diet looks like for a pregnant woman.  I didn’t end up following this list to a T (I found it to be too much food…I ate to fullness, following my own body’s cues), but I did make sure to have liver and sardines (with bones and skin) once a week; soaked or sprouted my grains, beans, and nuts; and ate grass-fed butter, pastured meat, raw milk, bone broth, eggs, fermented foods, and organic produce pretty much every day.

Movement:

Labor is an intense physical effort, and caring for a baby takes a lot of strength as well.  Though it is common in our culture for pregnant women to become more and more sedentary, I would highly recommend using your nine months to train for your impending “marathon” in an informed and healthy way.  For me, my walk through the forest up Mt. Philo in addition to long swims in Lake Champlain helped me maintain  good physical as well as mental health.

Spinning Babies is a great resource for preparing your body for an easier birth. Check out the “In Pregnancy” tab on their website’s menu for some great movements to incorporate into your daily and weekly rhythm. Birthfit is another amazing resource that can inform efforts to prepare for a smooth labor and transition to motherhood.  Their model emphasizes the importance of fitness, nutrition, chiropractic, and mindset for pregnant women and new mothers.  This blog post gives you a sneak peak into the science-based “real talk” that can be found on the Birthfit blog and podcast.  If you don’t want to spend hours sifting through blog posts or listening to podcasts, the post on the “Top 5 Movements to Do During Pregnancy” gives you some good movements to incorporate into your day.

The Experience of Pregnancy:

There is a huge list of things that pregnant women shouldn’t do, shouldn’t eat, and shouldn’t drink. Some of them made sense to me, and many of them didn’t.  The book Expecting Better helped me sift through the advice and use scientific findings to decide what things I would avoid while pregnant.  The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth was also helpful as I navigated the adventure of pregnancy.  It provided information about the physical changes my body was undergoing in addition to facts that helped inform decisions during my prenatal check-ups.  The Evidence Based Birth website also helped answer many of the questions I had while pregnant.

Gearing up for Birth:

As I entered my third trimester, I wanted to learn more about labor and childbirth.  I found it incredibly helpful to hear birth stories from a diversity of women.  Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and many of the Birthfit podcasts helped me build a positive grounded mindset as my due date approached.  I focused on preparing for and visualizing a smooth unmedicated home-birth.  I also felt that it was important to be ready to accept whatever path my labor took, even if it didn’t go according to plan.  Listening to other women’s stories helped me understand the range of possibilities and learn from their experiences.  Taking a birth class was also a great way for me and my partner to feel prepared.

As my due date approached, I had to make more and more decisions at my prenatal appointments.  It was important that my midwife and I were on the same page as we prepared for labor and delivery.  The Evidence Based Birth website helped inform many of these decisions.  The website does a great job of presenting the facts in an unbiased evidence-based  way.

 

I found these resources helpful as I navigated the unfamiliar territory of pregnancy.  I also, however, had to accept that I would never learn everything I might need to know.   The only predictable thing about pregnancy, labor, and childbirth is that they rarely go according to plan!  In addition to learning facts, it was equally important to nourish my mental health and mindset.  Feeling informed, my community of family and friends, and my balanced positive mindset would allow me to successfully navigate whatever path I found myself on.

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A New Chapter

new-chapter

I’ve been busy in the real world for these past few months, as the lack of recent blog posts suggests.  Our winter was spent cozily snuggled up at home.  Every waking moment, and some less-wakeful moments, were spent getting to know the newest member of our family.  He joined us on a warm sunny morning after the winter’s first snowstorm.  This humbling, energizing, exhausting, amazing life transition certainly gives me a new perspective on the title of this blog: GrowingStories.

Over the course of the last year my interest in food, the environment, and health has become focused in on the topics of pregnancy, birth, and early child development.  Between diaper changes, nursing sessions, and mommy-son naps, I hope to find time to write posts sharing ideas that resonate with me as I explore these topics.  They will make up a new chapter to this GrowingStories blog.

I’ve already learned so much.  Often it seems that my learning happens just after the moment when it would have been SO helpful to have known!  I hope that the posts I write in the coming months are helpful to anyone out there who is (or will soon be) entering the transition into parenthood.  Maybe my discoveries and conclusions can inform you ahead of time and help you in the many decisions that must be made in pregnancy and parenthood.  Coming posts will also provide friends and family a window into the learning and discoveries that are guiding our journey into this new and exciting chapter of our adult lives.

For the prequel to this new chapter, check out this blog post on the health and lifestyle transitions that led up to my healthy pregnancy.

motherhood

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A Perfected Pickle

It was feeling ironic that dill pickles were my least successful naturally fermented vegetable.  Whenever I tried pickling cucumbers, their taste and texture seemed less than ideal.  So I dove into an information rabbit hole.

My technique was perfected thanks to the facebook group called “Wild Fermentation Uncensored.”  It is a information treasure trove and open forum for everything fermentation-related (if you join, be sure to check out the files, specifically the document “fermentation basics”).

naturally fermented dill pickles2

Here’s how I perfected my pickles:

-I aimed for a pickle between a half and full-sour.  To do this, I mixed 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon of sea salt (Real Salt brand) into one quart of water (weigh out 38g of salt if you’re using a different coarseness).

-I cut off the blossom ends of each cucumber (they apparently have softening enzymes in them) and soaked the cucumbers in ice water for about an hour (this is supposed to prevent mold from forming in the fermentation process).

-As I had done in the padt, I put some wild grape leaves in the bottom of my jar (they provide tannins to the ferment which helps keep pickles crispy).

-I used less garlic.  I find that fermented garlic is one of the main sources of “funkiness” in natural ferments.  If trying to appeal to a general audience (and my husband), I’ve found that most of my pickles are received more enthusiastically if I cut back on garlic.

-Our house was below 75 degrees, which is ideal to create good pickles…. above that and things can get quickly out of control.  Below 68 or so and things start to slow down and take a lot longer.

Cucumbers in ice bath

dil pickle jar prep

The process:

Starting with a half gallon mason jar, I packed the bottom with a bunch of dill, one sliced up garlic clove, and several grape leaves.  I then packed in my cucumbers, fresh out of their ice water bath.  I then poured my brine over the top so everything was completely submerged.  I used a half cup mason jar as my weight – it fits perfectly into the wide mouth of the half gallon jar and keeps all the cucumbers below the brine.  I then loosely covered the jar with a cap and placed it in a bowl on my counter in case the brine overflowed.

Every day, I screwed the cap on tight and tipped the jar back and forth so bubbles hiding under pickles and leaves could come to the top.  I then re-loosened the cap.  After about a week, I put the whole jar into the fridge and let it sit there for another week before tasting (in the fridge fermentation is slowed dramatically, any fizziness can work its way out of the pickles, and the flavors can continue to meld together).

The results: 

Yum!  The flavor was mildly garlicky and dilly, sour and salty.  Most importantly, the pickles were crisp and crunchy!  I quickly set off to the garden to pick more cucumbers for a second batch.

naturally fermented dill pickles

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Reflections on Health

I’ve been reflecting more and more about the purpose of this blog as I watch my personal path transition from a career-focused life in the city to growing a family in Vermont.  I am incredibly thankful to have made certain health-specific discoveries in this journey, before we started thinking about having children.  I want to share them with you.  Read on to hear the story.  It’s long but worth reading, especially if you’re thinking about having kids or are working to solve a chronic health issue…

This blog was started to answer questions frequently being asked of me while I was still living in Somerville coordinating school gardening programming.  It was 2010.  I had a thriving porch container garden and had built up considerable experience growing food in the city at my first job after college.  Rather than answering the same question multiple times, I’d write about the topic on my blog and share it with my urban gardening friends.  The blog also served as a journal, allowing me to make note of ideas, projects, and changes that seemed important at the time.

It is now seven years later.

My work transitioned away from kids and gardens.  I live in Vermont.  Many of my interests and hobbies, however, are still related to health, food and nutrition.  These topics have become even more important to me as I experience pregnancy and prepare for a growing family.  I love being outside in nature, managing (and eating from) a big garden, cooking and playing with new flavors, reading articles about nutrition, and listening to podcasts focused on food and health.  Because of all this, I now field a lot of questions about healthy lifestyles.

I rarely, however, am asked about the exact same topic by numerous people all at the same time.  In the past week or two I’ve fielded many questions from friends and family who watched the movie “What the Health.”  The movie promotes a diet free from meat and animal products.   Realizing how many people were watching the movie, I became concerned that these ideas were being promoted with cherry-picked data as a healthy life style.  My deep concern was rooted in my personal journey, which taught me that organic pastured or wild animal products are crucial for my body to be optimally nourished and able to have children.

The back story:

When living in the city ten years ago, there was not good access to pastured organic animal products.  Having grown up with backyard chickens, I thought grocery store eggs tasted disgusting.  I felt similarly about out-of-season produce, conventional meat, and many available dairy products.  And so, without realizing it, I adopted a low-fat nearly vegan diet.  I was always excited to eat “happy” animal products, but that opportunity rarely arose.  I thought I was living healthily and ethically.

And then I started having some health issues.  Most significantly, I lost my period.  Doctors tried to figure out the underlying cause without success, so I was put on some vitamins and the pill.  Prescribing hormonal birth control is a very common “solution” for a wide range of complaints including acne, depression, irregular periods, and PMS.   However, taking the pill didn’t fix my underlying issue, it just patched symptoms.  I would need to figure out the real solution to my missing period later, when coming off the pill, which would likely correspond to the time when I was thinking about having kids.  At the time, however, I accepted my doctor’s advice and moved on with my life. 

About five years ago my boyfriend and I decided to move to Vermont.  The move led to many other transitions in my diet and lifestyle.  We had access to raw dairy, homemade yogurt, garden-grown produce, pastured organic meat and backyard-grown eggs fed organic feed.  We lived around others who felt like all of these local whole foods were an important part of a healthy diet.  Without making a conscious effort, I found myself eating a lot more pastured animal fat but less highly processed vegetable oil.  I learned how to make sauerkraut and other ferments at a free hands-on workshop.  I learned about Weston A. Price’s research, which clearly illustrates the value of nourishing traditional diets for reproduction, growth, and health in all stages of life.  I was struck by the fact that traditional diets studied by Price contained ten times the quantity of fat-soluble vitamins compared to a typical modern American diet.  I ate organ meats I’d never tasted before.  I drank well water.  I spent a lot of time outside: barefoot, breathing clean air, soaking in sun, and swimming in the lake.

These changes marked the start of a transition in my nutrition and health beliefs.  I stopped trusting the recommendations from groups like the USDA and CSPI.  They just weren’t resonating and started to seem contradictory and industry- (rather than data-) driven. I started reading more about the microbiome, traditional diets, truly nutrient-dense foods, the nutrient differences between pastured and conventional animal products, health impacts of various common household chemicals, and more.  A lot of information on the internet is sensationalized and misleading, but there is also a lot that is based on data and science.  I read with a discerning eye about one of the most emotionally-charged topics out there: health and nutrition. I soaked it in.

My new diet, like my old one, was made up of whole foods prepared from scratch.  Now, however, it included a variety of pastured or organic animal parts; raw dairy from grass-fed Jersey cows; soaked, soured, or sprouted nuts, grains, and seeds; bone broths; plenty of fermented foods made at home; eggs with golden-orange yolks; vegetables grown in the backyard without pesticides; local maple syrup and honey; and sun-ripened organic fruits picked nearby.  Besides these wonderful attributes, it all tasted amazing as well.  I minimized vegetable oils that weren’t cold-pressed, white sugar, and all processed foods.

The effect on me after a year was tangible.  I felt more balanced and healthy, so I decided to try going off the pill to see what happened.  It turned out that all those lifestyle changes (or who knows, maybe just one of them) had solved whatever imbalances or inadequacies existed in my body five years earlier.  Everything that was broken before was now functioning normally.

Interestingly, I was still under a lot of stress at work.  This was one of the factors I thought might have caused me to lose my period.  As I was still experiencing considerable stress, I feel quite strongly that it was my higher consumption of fat soluble vitamins via pastured animal products that helped my body decide that I was nourished enough to reproduce.

Time went on, my boyfriend and I got married and we built a house together.  In the building process, when possible, we chose non-toxic options.  We filled our pantry with only organic foods.  We use soap, baking soda, and vinegar for most of our cleaning.  I make my own salve and picked out a new shampoo without any crazy chemicals.  Call me crazy, but we eliminated wi-fi and other sources of electromagnetic radiation from our house.  I transitioned out of a job that was full of joy but also stressful – both mentally and physically.  After doing all these things I felt ready to start a family.

I am writing this post now because I’ve realized how big of an impact small changes can make and that time is often needed before seeing significant health improvements. Looking back, I didn’t have a road map. For that reason I am incredibly grateful that this progression happened gradually and naturally for me.  It was mostly a result of personal interest and happenstance.  Mixed with a lot of luck.  I was lucky to experience near-perfect health over the last several years.  I was lucky to be able to make decisions about my living environment.  I was lucky to be surrounded by friends and family who were adopting similar changes in their diet and lifestyle.  I was lucky to live close enough to farmers that I could get to know them and their agricultural practices personally.  We are all lucky to live in an age where options exist to live a healthful yet modern lifestyle.  We don’t need to run back to caves to eat a balanced diet and live a fulfilling life.  For everyone, but especially those thinking of having kids, today is a good day to implement a small change to improve your well-being.  Similar to planting a tree, the best time to start thinking about your long-term health was 20 years ago.  The second best time is today.

Feeling good and being healthy doesn’t need to be a lesson in sacrifice.  I still enjoy trips to the creemee (a.k.a. soft serve) stand, have slices of birthday cake, and eat out at restaurants that are making dishes from food that is not organic.  But my daily life, which encompasses the huge majority of my time and eating, reflects my new health values and I feel better for it mentally and physically.

I realize that I live in a setting that makes my diet and lifestyle easier to sustain.  I realize how much work it takes to grow my own food and cook from scratch.  If those things don’t increase your inner joy there are still options, like mail-order companies, that make these foods readily available to those without enough free time or interest and those lacking access to the ingredients in their community (links below).   It might cost more in the short term, but everyone can make any number of these transitions without spending too much additional time and effort!

The time and effort I put into my family’s health feels worth it to me.  I bet your wellness is worth it too.

Almost every one of these paragraphs could be it’s own blog post, but I’m stopping here for now.  I hope you gained something from reading through to the end.  I would love to continue this conversation or go into more specific detail with anyone who is curious – just let me know!  Wishing you happiness and good health.

Sustainable Nourishing Sources of Meat Available Online: U. S. Wellness Meats, Vital Choice Seafood

Weston A. Price Dietary Principals: (Not delivered with sleek graphics, but info about dietary guidelines and nutrition that makes the most sense to me).  Characteristics of Traditional Diets, Dietary GuidelinesPrinciples of Healthy Diets, Vegetarianism and Plant Foods

Women’s Health: Learn what nutrient deficiencies are caused by taking oral contraception, and take steps to nourish yourself accordingly.  This book, and the accompanying website, would have been super helpful for me 10 years ago!  If you’re wanting to conceive in the next few years, it will make life way easier to start thinking about your (and your partner’s) fertility and health now!

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Summer Garden Bounty

The end of July and beginning of August are an exciting time for Vermont gardeners.  Finally we enjoy a huge diversity of sun-ripened fruits, berries, and vegetables from our gardens and farms.  We’ve been savoring first raspberries, blueberries, cucumbers, fennel, tomatoes, peppers, green beans, broccoli, onions, garlic, and beets.  Waiting all these months, of course, makes it all much more exciting and delicious.

garden goodies

After several long rainy weeks, we’ve been enjoying a stretch of sunny low-humidity days and cool nights.  Though it’s meant fewer lake swims, it has been perfect weather for daily weeding sessions, keeping up with the ever-growing lush green lawn, and kitchen cooking projects.

End of July Garden

In the kitchen, I excitedly pickled a batch of kohlrabi, fennel, and beets.  They flavors and colors are blending wonderfully, turning bright pink (click here to learn more about natural fermentation).

July Pickles

buckwheat pancakes

I’ve also been LOVING a newly discovered recipe for Sourdough Buckwheat Pancakes.  Buckwheat is a really interesting “grain” and  offers a unique alternative to wheat.  This recipe sprouts and sours the buckwheat, making it even more nutritious and digestible.  The pancakes were nutty and tender with crisp edges (be sure to use plenty of grass-fed butter in your pan), and a perfect vehicle for the delicious fruits and berries that are now in season. 

Happy harvesting, happy feasting!

lake sunset

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July in the Garden and Kitchen

Vermonters are basking in a string of sunny summery days after many many (many) days of rain.  The change in weather means I can finally deal with the grass and weeds that have been happily growing in our lawn and garden.  I’ve also been able to enjoy the best part of summer in VT: after-work swims in Lake Champlain.

Lake in July

Over the past several weeks I realized I’d posted blogs in previous years about many of the seasonal tasks I was busy with in the kitchen and garden.  I’ve included a recap and links below, in addition to a delicious nourishing shortcake recipe we’ve been enjoying with our freshly picked strawberries and whipped cream.  Enjoy!

Nourishing Strawberry Shortcake: This recipe involves soaking the flour in yogurt 24 hours before baking.  To learn more about how this makes flour products more nourishing and digestible, check out this article and video.  (recipe adapted from Nourishing Traditions)

Ingredients: 2 cups white flour, 1.5 cups whole wheat flour, 1 cup yogurt/buttermilk/kefir, 4 tablespoons melted butter, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 3 tablespoons maple syrup.

  1. Mix yogurt and flour.  It will be a very stiff dough, don’t worry.  Cover and leave at room temperature for 12-24 hours.
  2. Melt butter.  Mix butter and maple syrup into dough.  In a small dish, mix baking soda and salt, breaking up any little balls of baking soda.  Sprinkle dry mixture onto dough and mix, just until ingredients are barely combined.
  3. Divide dough into apx. 12 balls and place on baking sheet.  They will spread a bit while baking.
  4. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes, or until bottoms are golden brown.
  5. Enjoy with fresh strawberries and whipped cream!

biscuits

strawberriesStrawberry Season in VT: This year’s strawberry season was admittedly rain-drenched.  Luckily I was able to sneak in a few mornings of before-work picking.  We’ve been enjoying plenty of fresh berries in all our meals, and froze several gallons for the winter.  Check out this blog post to learn how to quickly freeze berries so that they stay delicious and easy to use in the future.

Other Firsts from the Garden: The last several weeks have brought the first crunchy harvests.  We’ve been enjoying kohlrabi and sugar snap peas in addition to plentiful lettuce, spinach, chard, and herbs.  And just a few days ago we picked the first handful of raspberries from our bushes.  It’s really starting to feel like July!

Crunchy first harvest

And Speaking of HerbsI’ve been enjoying going out to the field and garden each morning to gather leaves for my pregnancy tea blend (also gentle and delicious for other people): nettles, raspberry leaf, and mint.  ‘Tis the season to harvest herbs you’d like to freeze or dry.  Harvest most herbs now – they’re best when young and tender.  Check out this blog post to learn about harvesting and preserving herbs.

Tea Leaves

Garden Pests: Many flying garden pests are busy laying eggs at this time of year.  If you monitor your plants closely, squishing mating pairs of insects and any eggs they’ve laid (often on the undersides of leaves), you can prevent their population from booming in your garden.  This post has more information about pest control in the garden.

squash bugs

Granola: In the summer I find myself wanting something cool and fruity for breakfast – a big swing from my savory broth, soaked oats, and egg-based breakfasts of winter.  Unfortunately store-bought cold cereals and pasteurized milk are a pretty tough way to start the day for my digestive system.  Plus, they are often loaded with crazy ingredients and sugar and leave me craving more.  Thank goodness for my favorite nourishing homemade granola, homemade kefir or yogurt, freshly picked berries, and local raw milk!  Note to self – next year make a lot of granola early in the spring when the oven heat is appreciated in the kitchen.

Homemade Granola

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Trellising and Suckers (aka Keeping Tomato Plants Under Control)

Caged Tomato

By the end of June, most gardens are fully planted and have had several weeks to settle in and start to grow.  If your rows were fully weeded when you planted, you’ve probably had a few weeks of vacation from this ongoing garden chore.  Pests can start to be a nuisance, praying on small vulnerable leaves and stems (read more about pest control here).

Right about now is a great time to get ahead of the game and create a plan to sucker, trellis, or stake any plant that will likely grow tall and may become top-heavy with fruit.  In our garden, I tie pepper plants to stakes; make sure beans, peas, and cucumbers have a trellis to climb on; and sucker and cage my tomato plants.  Most of this makes sense to the average person, except: what the heck is suckering?!

tomato sucker

Plants that are naturally bushy and sprawling, like tomatoes and tomatillos, grow new “heads” (or “suckers”) at every point where a leaf grows from the main stem.  When I worked in school gardens, I would tell the kids that suckers grow out of the armpits of the plants.  If you want a huge sprawling bush, that’s great!  BUT, if you want to be able to find all your mature fruits, keep the plant from sprawling all over the row and plant neighbors, and want to keep it off the ground to avoid disease, you’ll need to take action.

caged tomatoes

There are many trellising techniques for tomatoes.  What you choose should be based on the amount of space you have, the number of plants you want to grow, and how many extra supplies you’ll need to invest in.  Feel free to let me know if you want my thoughts on your specific circumstance!  In general, I recommend starting with a large tomato cage, and suckering your plant to keep it airy, growing up, and focused on producing fruit off its main stem.

Now that my tomato plants are over a foot high, they’ve started to grow suckers.  At this age, I can simply pinch them off with my fingers.  If suckers get very large, you’ll want to use snippers or scissors so you don’t rip the main stalk of the plant.  By removing suckers when they are small, I encourage the plant to focus on growing up rather than out.  In August, this will result in a more orderly tomato row with plants that are (mostly) growing within their cages.  This makes for easy harvesting, less spread of disease (which usually happens when rain splashes dirt up onto your plant or when leaves are densely packed together), and less breakage if there are high winds.

Suckering tomato copy

Suckering is an ongoing chore throughout the season, but is quick and easy, and fits into walks through the garden when you can also keep an eye out for maturing fruit, find new pests before they cause much damage, and take a moment to pluck a few weeds.

IMG_6824Want to get creative?  Let a few suckers grow in a strategic way.  Tomato espalier anyone?  Last year in my garden I planted a single plant at the base of a trellis.  I let one sucker grow up each wire, and then removed the rest.  I used string to periodically tie each branch to it’s assigned wire – tomatoes don’t send out tendrils or curl around wires like peas, beans, and cucumbers. My yield per plant was very high because I was essentially growing multiple “trunks” from one plant.

Happy Gardening!

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