Pregnancy Support Diet by Sue Kira

by sue

Pregnancy Support Diet

by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist

Chemicals, toxins, and foods to avoid during pregnancy

Important nutrients for pregnancy and their food source

Pregnancy and progesterone

Case study: Healthy pregnancy support with diet

While it is best to be under the care of a good health provider be it your doctor, obstetrician, gynaecologist, midwife or naturopath, you also need a good clean diet.

At times you may need quality supplements, but might not be able to tolerate them because of morning sickness or other sensitivities, yet you want the best nutritional profile possible to have a healthy pregnancy and of course a healthy baby.

While there can never be any guarantee of a healthy pregnancy or baby with or without supplements, studies have shown that a good clean diet is definitely a good choice.

Chemicals, toxins, and foods to avoid during pregnancy

Sprayed fruits & vegetables
Conventional produce contains residues of harmful herbicides and pesticides which can negatively affect you and your growing baby inside your womb and later affect your baby during breastfeeding.

Conventionally raised grain-fed animals
Conventionally raised grain-fed animals (such as cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens) can contain high levels of added hormones and antibiotics which are not appropriate during pregnancy as you don’t want your hormones to be interfered with. Animals that are grain fed also have a higher Omega 6 pro-inflammatory ratio of fats.

Fish with mercury
This is a tricky area when it comes to pregnancy and breastfeeding because a lot of fish are contaminated by mercury.

Avoid large deep-water fish such as Mahi Mahi (dolphinfish), tuna, swordfish, and Chilean sea bass due to their potential concentrations of mercury.

When choosing salmon, avoid farmed salmon that are fed pellets made from chicken feathers, bones and other substances. Some farmed fish also contain antibodies and food dyes.

Personal care
Items such as facial products, shampoos, conditioners, sunscreens, repellents, toothpaste and perfumes are just some of the personal care items that may contain toxic chemicals that can affect your developing unborn child and later when you are breast-feeding. There are plenty of great alternatives available that are chemical free. You may need to experiment to find what suits you.

Purify your water
Drink plenty of purified water. Non-purified water can contain a host of chemicals including chlorine, fluoride, bromide and heaps of other chemicals used to balance the Ph of the water. Avoid water from plastic bottles as some of these leach estrogen mimicking chemicals into the water.

My son refused to drink water from the purifier as he thought it took too long and didn’t want to wash up his glass after use, so he would drink straight from the tap, believing it to be fine. That was until his first day on the job as an electrician for the water board. When he came home after work I saw him drinking from the filter. When I asked him why he changed his mind, with a horrified look he said, “Do you realise what they put into our water!”? “Yes”, I smiled.

Soy foods
Soy foods have been shown to contain estrogen mimicking properties, so it is best to avoid processed soy foods to avoid a negative impact on your hormonal balance, particularly if you also have an underactive thyroid.

Dairy products
Dairy products can congest the reproductive system and the body in general and is a common cause of colic in babies. There are many healthy alternatives to dairy such as fresh nut milks. You will need to eat plenty of calcium rich foods, or if uncertain take a calcium supplement. Please speak to your practitioner about this.

Refined and artificial sugars and fruit juices
Avoid any processed, refined, and artificial sugars and fruit juices, especially from a bottle, as these generally contain concentrated sugar which can affect your blood sugar levels which negatively affects your immune system and hormones. Some great alternatives are stevia, honey, or maple syrup in small amounts and whole fruits or blended fruit smoothies.

Gluten grains
Gluten can react with your immune system and create potential problems for fertility in some women. Avoid gluten grains such as wheat, rye, and barley.

Studies show that caffeine can affect hormonal balance which may increase your risk of miscarriage, not to mention you don’t really want caffeine running through your baby.

Fat-Free Foods
Foods which have been altered to be reduced in fat or fat-free are usually highly processed and high in sugar. Always choose foods as nature intended. Our bodies need fat to produce hormones.

Important nutrients for pregnancy and their food source

Free-range grass-fed animals
These have higher ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fats in their system, whereas grain fed animals have a higher Omega 6 pro-inflammatory ratio of fats. For healthy stable hormones, it is much better to eat meats richer in Omega 3 fats. Grass-fed meats are also a great source of essential fatty acids, lower in saturated fat, and a great source of protein.

If you find free-range, organic or grass-fed meats and chickens too expensive, consider smaller portions or eat them less often, or alternatively, enjoy other protein options.

Organic fruits and vegetables
Where possible, chose organic or spray free fruits and vegetables. Research demonstrates that organic produce has more nutritional value, so that alone is a good thing, apart from the potential problems associated with chemicals.

Whole grains
Non-gluten whole grains such as red, black and brown rice, quinoa and buckwheat are filled with fibre, important vitamins, and immune supporting properties. These can assist the body to get rid of excess hormones that the body tries to clear, especially during the ‘morning sickness’ phase when you have an elevation of certain hormones.

Seeds and Nuts
Seeds such as sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds (pepitas), sesame seeds, and nuts such as Brazil nuts, almonds, pecans, and walnuts, all contain nutrients to support your body during and after pregnancy.

Fish and Seafood
Fish and seafood contain good levels of healthy Omega 3 fats, proteins, vital minerals, and vitamin A which aid the production of hormones, reduce inflammation, and after the birth will help regulate the menstrual cycle. Avoid the fish mentioned above.

Wild caught fish is preferable to most farmed fish, although farmed fish that are fed pilchards which are more like their normal diet are acceptable.

Nutrients important for a healthy pregnancy
While all nutrients are important for good health, there are some that have been specifically shown to have a direct impact on healthy pregnancy. Below is a list of these nutrients and the foods you can find them in.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D is needed to help the body create sex hormones which support hormonal balance. Yale University School of Medicine conducted a study of 67 infertile women, where it was discovered that only 7% had normal Vitamin D levels and over 90% of adolescents and adults were classified as having suboptimal levels of Vitamin D.

Some researchers have found a link with maternal vitamin D deficiency and autism. You can get your levels checked with a blood test from your GP. You owe it to yourself and your baby to ensure that you have optimal levels of this precious vitamin.

Food sources: Eggs, fatty fish, and cod liver oil. The other option of course is to go out into the sun with at least your arms and legs uncovered for around 15 to 20 minutes per day. Take care not to get burned by the sun.

Vitamin E
Vitamin E is an important antioxidant to help protect DNA integrity and to help the body produce progesterone.

Food sources: Sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, peanut butter, olives, spinach, papaya, dark leafy greens.

L-arginine is an amino acid that helps the body to produce progesterone which plays a very important role in pregnancy.

Food sources: High concentrations of L-arginine can be found in sesame seeds particularly as paste (tahini) or flour, unsweetened gelatine and pumpkin seeds/pepitas.

CoQ10 used by the body for energy production and is also an important antioxidant that helps to protect our cells and DNA from free radical damage and oxidative stress.

Food sources: Found in seafood and organ meats, especially liver. It is quite difficult to obtain through the diet unless you have two serves of liver (think pate or stir fry liver) every week. CoQ10 supplementation is another option.

Vitamin C
Vitamin C helps to reduce the chance of miscarriage and chromosomal problems and is also a great support for the immune system.

Food sources: Abundant in fruits and vegetables such as red peppers/capsicum, broccoli, citrus fruit, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, cranberries, goji berries, blueberries, blackberries, and other red, blue and purple berries.

Lipoic Acid
Lipoic acid is a very important antioxidant during pregnancy.

Food sources: Found in potatoes, spinach, and red meat.

Vitamin B6
Known as a hormone regulator, vitamin B6 helps to regulate blood sugars and can be useful to relieve morning sickness symptoms.

Food sources: Tuna, kale, broccoli, banana, turkey, liver, salmon, cod, asparagus, spinach, bell peppers, turnip greens, collard greens, garlic, cauliflower, mustard greens, celery, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and chard.

Vitamin B12
B12 can decrease the chances of miscarriage and is also good for brain development and energy.

Food sources: Clams, oysters, mussels, liver, caviar (fish eggs), fish, crab, lobster, beef, lamb, eggs, and nutritional yeast.

Folic Acid also known as Folate
This vitamin is well known for its ability to help prevent neural tube defects, congenital heart defects, cleft lips, limb defects, and urinary tract anomalies in developing foetuses. Deficiency in folate may increase the risk of pre-term labour, foetal growth retardation and low birth weight.

Folate deficiency can also lead to increased homocysteine levels in the blood, which can lead to spontaneous abortion and pregnancy complications, such as placental abruption and preeclampsia. Folate is easiest absorbed via the foods we eat. The folate from foods is always more bio-available and there is never a risk of having too much compared to synthetic folic acid.

Most pregnancy support supplements contain synthetic folic acid which is supposed to convert to folate in the body. But if you have an MTHFR defect then you may have trouble converting it to folate (approximately 60% of women have the MTHFR defect).

But whether you have the MTHFR defect or not, some studies suggest that synthetic folic acid may even block the absorption of natural folate. Therefore, if you are taking a folate supplement choose the more ‘active forms’. For further information see the article What is Methylation?.

Food sources of folate: strawberries, asparagus, spinach, collard greens and most other leafy greens, liver, kidney beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, lentils, black beans, and navy beans.

There are plenty of options for high folate source foods such as leafy greens and green smoothies, so try to eat or drink something from these sections daily to ensure plenty of folate.

Low iron can affect your thyroid’s ability to function well. Low thyroid activity has been linked to increased risk of miscarriage. Low iron also means you will feel more tired.

Food sources: beef, chicken legs (red meat), chicken livers, lamb, red fish, spinach, pumpkin seeds (raw), lentils, sesame seeds, kidney beans, venison, garbanzo beans, navy beans, molasses.

Selenium is an antioxidant that helps to protect the eggs and sperm from free radicals. Free radicals can lead to chromosomal damage which is one of the known causes of miscarriages as well as birth defects.

Food sources: Liver, snapper, cod, halibut, salmon, sardines, shrimp/prawns, turkey, Brazil nuts (3 nuts in a day gives you plenty of selenium).

For women, zinc works with more than 300 different enzymes in the body to keep things functioning well. Without adequate zinc your cells can not divide properly, your estrogen and progesterone levels can get out of balance, and your reproductive system may not fully function.

Zinc is needed for all hormonal actions and is super important for a healthy immune system. Low levels of zinc have been directly linked to miscarriage in the early stages of a pregnancy according to The Centres for Disease Control’s Assisted Reproductive Technology Report.

Food sources: liver, oysters, beef, lamb, venison, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, turkey, green peas, shrimp. Zinc can be damaged by cooking, so it is important to eat some zinc rich foods in their raw state.

Essential Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fats contain two acids that are crucial to good health: DHA and EPA. During pregnancy, a lack of DHA may be associated with premature birth, low birth weight and hyperactivity in children. The EPA part of the Omega fats helps to reduce inflammation. Inflammation in the reproductive organs can increase risk of miscarriage.

Food sources: Flax seeds, walnuts, salmon, sardines, halibut, shrimp/prawns, snapper, scallops, chia seeds, and macadamia nuts.

Apart from Omega-3 fats, fats in general are very important for the development of the foetus. Not only are essential fatty acids important, saturated fats and cholesterol are also important. Cholesterol is a precursor to all hormones produced in the body, including progesterone.

Make sure your cholesterol comes from the right foods such as coconut oil, grass-fed meats, fish, nuts and seeds, and avoid hydrogenated oils and vegetable oils cooked at high heat (raw vegetable oil is ok).

Pregnancy and progesterone

One of the first things I look for if a lady wants to fall pregnant or is worried about miscarriage – especially if there has already been history of miscarriage – is progesterone levels. Inadequate progesterone often results in miscarriage, the inability of the body to carry the baby full-term. Progesterone’s main role is to prepare the body for pregnancy prior to conception, and when pregnant, progesterone is made by a cyst on the ovary called the corpus luteum.

The corpus luteum secretes progesterone until about 10 weeks of pregnancy and then the production of progesterone is taken over by the placenta. In the first trimester, levels of progesterone rise exponentially and then they plateau, so it is important to have good levels of progesterone during this time frame.

Progesterone does some very important jobs, such as keeping the uterus muscle relaxed, the uterus wall nice and thick to hold the developing egg, and to support the immune system by helping the body tolerate foreign DNA – in this case the growing baby.

While there are no foods that contain progesterone, there are certain food nutrients that help the body to produce it.

L-arginine (an amino acid) and Vitamin E have been shown in Japanese studies to improve progesterone levels. Good amounts of Vitamin E can be found in sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, and peanut butter. High concentrations of L-arginine can be found in sesame seeds particularly as paste (tahini) or flour, unsweetened gelatine and pumpkin seeds/pepitas. For more info on increasing progesterone naturally, click here.

There are plenty of options for high folate source foods such as leafy greens and green smoothies, so try to eat or drink something from these sections daily to ensure plenty of folate.

Happy baby building!


Before you commence your diet, see your medical or health care professional for qualified guidance about what foods and supplements are best for your body. While on the diet do not stop any medications or supplements previously prescribed unless advised otherwise by your medical or health care professional.

During the early stages of a new diet, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, or body aches, which may occur because your body is detoxifying. However, if you are unsure about a symptom at any time, check immediately with your medical or health care professional.

Case study: Healthy pregnancy support with diet

Client names and identifying information changed

Heather came to me after she had a miscarriage. Her doctor said this was quite common and not to be concerned because all would be well next time around as her body would be more ready, but of course this didn’t stop Heather from worrying.

After a few tests, we found out that Heather’s thyroid was slightly sub-optimal (underactive) and she had one genetic mutation on the MTHFR gene, so she needed to have more natural forms of folate from her diet rather than from the supplements with synthetic folic acid.

Heather’s progesterone level appeared to be lower than normal, so because I was uncertain whether this was an issue during her pregnancy, I advised her to include progesterone supportive foods in her diet and to get her levels checked later when she fell pregnant again.

Interestingly the foods that support a healthy thyroid are the same as those that support healthy hormones (including progesterone) and healthy pregnancy, which makes things easier.

The only addition for Heather’s thyroid was iodine rich foods which are also good for pregnancy, which she could get by eating the occasional sushi roll or some iodised salt. Note: I advise to make sushi fresh at home so you control what goes into it, rather than what is on offer at sushi shops, where there could be a higher potential of food poisoning which you want to avoid during pregnancy.

Tests discovered that Heather’s digestive system needed to improve, so I started her on a gut repair program, then supported her thyroid with nutrients such as zinc (which was very low), B6, B12 (also low in Heather) and selenium (showed very low in Heather’s hair mineral analysis). Heather’s Vitamin D was also quite low, which was needed for hormonal balance, so I encouraged her to have a few minutes in the sun at lunchtime or 20 minutes in mornings or afternoons.

After a few months, Heather’s levels and tests showed her body was in balance. She felt much better and had more vitality, so it was time for her to try again for a healthy pregnancy. She fell pregnant easily and through the first trimester we made sure that she ate plenty of high folate foods, as the first trimester is the most important time to protect against miscarriage and neural tube defects.

First trimester went by quite well, although she had some morning sickness, so we increased her B6 foods and added some fatty foods like coconut and avocado which helped to settle the liver (often the cause of morning sickness because the liver can’t handle the hormonal load). The second trimester onwards went really well and she glowed with love and health.

In the last trimester, we made sure that Heather had healthy fibres and extra probiotic rich foods to feed the good bacteria, ready for a healthy birthing process and good bacteria for the baby to develop its immune system as it slips through the birth canal.

All went well and little Paul was born healthy, slept well, fed easily and was a very contented little boy.


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