The information included in this post is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for your own situation, or if you have any questions regarding conception, pregnancy, or your prenatal treatment plan.
Dear Stephanie: I’m currently pregnant and am considering doing a Whole30. What are the benefits of doing the program while pregnant?
Congrats on your pregnancy! If you’re familiar with the Whole30 program, I’m sure you understand how much the food you eat affects your health. When you’re pregnant, the quality of the food you eat not only affects your health, but the health of your baby, AND as we’re starting to understand, the health of future generations.
In fact, the developmental origins theory proposes that the nine months of pregnancy are the most consequential period of our lives! The food you consume and behaviors you exhibit during your pregnancy can permanently influence the wiring of your baby’s brain, the functioning of his/her organs, appetite, metabolism, intelligence, and temperament.
Your nutrition and health behaviors during pregnancy are extremely important, so let’s explore five ways that following the Whole30 guidelines can optimize your pregnancy.
- It’s nutrient-dense
- It helps you understand your response to foods
- It can reduce common pregnancy complaints
- It can improve confidence and self-esteem
- It can set you up for a smoother transition to motherhood
The Whole30 is Nutrient Dense
Whole30 is one of the most nutrient-dense nutritional plans you can follow. During a Whole30, you’ll focus on eating quality vegetables, fruits, proteins, and healthy fats, all of which are jam-packed with the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals that help your body and your baby thrive.
During pregnancy, your baby places additional nutrient demands on your body. Not only do your calorie needs increase (by about 340 calories in the second trimester and 450 calories in the third trimester), but you require more nutrients such as folate (from leafy greens), iron (from meat, chicken, and fish), choline (from eggs and liver), DHA (from fatty fish), and vitamin C (from citrus, strawberries, leafy greens, bell peppers, and sweet potatoes).
Since the Whole30 template emphasizes vegetables, fruits, protein, and healthy fats, you’ll be consuming food rich in the nutrients you and your baby need for optimal development and overall health.
Understand Your Response to Certain Foods
Many people aren’t aware that they’re sensitive to or intolerant of certain foods. Imagine if you had a piece of sandpaper constantly rubbing on your skin. After awhile, you wouldn’t even notice it. It wouldn’t feel good, but you would get used to that feeling. Once you remove the sandpaper, you’d notice how much better your skin felt despite years of it rubbing on your skin. This is similar to the experience some individuals have when they remove irritating foods from their diet. You might feel like a new and improved version of yourself. This is beneficial anytime of your life, but with all of the additional discomforts that can accompany pregnancy, why not give yourself some extra relief?
This information may also be invaluable to the health of your baby in utero, while nursing or formula feeding, and when you include solid food in your baby’s diet. If you have an allergy or intolerance to a certain food, there’s a chance your baby may also be allergic or sensitive to that food. The Whole30 program cuts many common allergens from the diet (such as dairy, wheat, soy, and corn) so it’s use as an elimination diet can prove to be extremely beneficial for your growing family.
Reduce Common Pregnancy Complaints
Common pregnancy complaints such as headaches, nausea, fatigue, and pain can be reduced or eliminated with smart dietary strategies, such as adopting a whole foods based diet. Hundreds of thousands of people have completed the Whole30 program with life-changing results, including relief from migraines, fatigue, gastrointestinal complaints, and painful inflammatory conditions. Other commonly reported benefits include better sleep, mental clarity, and a sunnier disposition. All of which are welcomed benefits to pregnant women across the board.
You may even reduce your risk of pregnancy complications, such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, by focusing on the healthy eating principles outlined in the Whole30.
Improves Confidence and Self-esteem
Many women, if not most, struggle with body image during and after their pregnancy. You may find it tough to see your body changing. You may wonder if you’ll ever look like “yourself” again. And while you’re struggling with body image, you may also be beating yourself up over your vanity. Tricky, right?
If you find yourself struggling with body image issues, one of the best things you can do is fill your plate with good food.
Choosing healthy food is not only important for the physical growth of your baby, but also his or her mental health. Your thoughts affect your growing baby, so choosing foods that promote your mental health should be a primary focus.
We all know how we feel when we overindulge in something super sweet or processed. It may have been delicious for the 10.2 seconds you were devouring it, but afterwards you deal with the sugar-shame-spiral. If you’re already struggling with body image issues, this is a horrible place to be.
Conversely, filling your plate with whole, nutrient-dense foods as much as possible (again, this is not about perfection) will help you feel confident in your choices and in your skin.
Melissa Hartwig Urban wrote a great blog post that goes over the importance of eating good food, moving your body, getting clothes that fit, avoiding fashion magazines, venting, and keeping things in perspective to help you overcome pregnancy-related body image issues.
And if you REALLY need an additional push, know that a whole-foods based diet will also help you gain weight at a healthy pace so that it will be easier to return back to or close to your pre-pregnant weight, not that it really matters when you’re busy holding a squishy baby.
A Smoother Transition to Motherhood
Motherhood is no joke. It’s the best gift, but the most demanding job you’ll ever have. While I prepared myself as best as I could with freezer meals, and support from my midwives and mom, I had no idea how taxing motherhood could be. Your body has created and carried another human for nine months, you’re exhausted, and now you have to essentially run a marathon to get the baby out. After the baby is out, it may be a LONG time until you get a full night’s sleep. Talk about taxing!
The good news is that your diet during pregnancy can help you through this intense transition. A nutrient-dense diet will not only help your body heal and return to its pre-pregnant state faster, but will help prevent postpartum depression, mood, and anxiety disorders. These are conditions that aren’t often discussed and are more common than you would expect. Since this can significantly impact your health and connection to your baby, we want to make sure we’re doing everything possible during pregnancy to reduce your risk.
A nutrient-dense diet will also ensure that you have enough stores (especially if breastfeeding) to keep you feeling as vibrant and resilient as possible. Moms with another child, you know how important this is!
Essentially, what’s healthiest for mom is going to be healthiest for baby. It’s hard to debate a diet that’s focused on whole, real foods and food quality, so following the principles of the Whole30 is a great option for pregnant mamas. Of course, there’s no need to follow the Whole30 guidelines exactly as prescribed or to Whole30 throughout your entire pregnancy.
Just use the good food principles outlined in the book to get you started and you’re on your way to a healthy, happy pregnancy!
Stephanie Greunke is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition who specializes in women’s health. She is a certified personal trainer and prenatal and postnatal corrective exercise specialist. Stephanie guides and supports women locally and globally through her web-based private practice