Oh I remember it like it was yesterday… “ I want something sweet, no salty, no fatty. Oh yeah, French fries with chocolate sauce…Oh yuck, did I just eat that? That’s disgusting I feel sick!!!”
Morning sickness is your hormones playing tricks on you so whatever you know, thought you knew, or may be doing before you fell pregnant … forget it for now; it’s irrelevant until you are feeling better. You can worry about following a “real” healthy lifestyle once you’re over this stage, for now let’s get you eating in a way that is going to be good for your baby and not make you feel awful.
In this blog I’d like to share a simple method of eating that may just work for you. It is not a way of eating that many of us would want to adopt permanently, but it is a way that will help your body receive the essential energy and nutrients it needs to do everything that is has to do during this extremely busy time.
What I did…
Firstly, I started by getting up and having a small but healthy breakfast; a slice of toast, some muesli, or a banana. I found that if I ate too much it also made me feel sick, so I kept my portion sizes very small. This also helped if I did happen to eat something that I regretted a few minutes later, it would be gone quickly and I could just feel morning sick, not “disgusting” sick!
After a short while I found that if I ate a healthy ‘snack’ every hour or so, I could almost stave off the morning sick feeling. If I went for more than an hour without food though, I would certainly start to feel awful and that is when I would begin ‘food visualization’. “What can I eat that will make me feel better? Hmmm…Sweet, salty, fatty…”. The answer was always “you should have eaten something half an hour ago and you wouldn’t be thinking about it!” So I tried to make a bit of a meal plan, not just to stop me eating rubbish, but to make sure I was getting as many nutrientsas I could naturally in the food I was eating.
Probably the hardest thing for me was to stop ‘visualizing’ what I wanted to eat. Every time I thought of food it was almost always something unhealthy…this is not what your body needs at this most crucial of times.
The trick – Eating to avoid morning sickness, and why I think it works
Small portions – If I didn’t eat enough or if I ate too much I would feel sick. I found that about a palm-sized serve of whatever I decided to eat was enough to stave off hunger, but not too much that my body was struggling to get through it. If food is left in the stomach for too long it can begin to rot or ferment. You certainly don’t want to be adding that to the already long list of “Things that make me feel sick during pregnancy”!
Simple foods – Another thing I found invaluable was instead of eating complex meals trying to get everything in at once, I tried to eat just 1 type of food at a time. So if I was really hungry I would want something that was going to fill me up, so I would eat meat, but JUST meat. If my energy was low but I wasn’t starving, I might eat pasta, but JUST pasta, with maybe just enough infused oil or pesto to give it some flavour. I mean it’s not like you’re going to be waiting long for your next meal so you can line yourself up a bit of a banquet for the day!
The reason I think this works so well is because there are only so many things your body can do at one time. Digesting big, mixed meals is not a challenge to set yourself if you suffer morning sickness! Small, simple meals move through the digestive tract relatively quickly without using too much energy. I’ve explained in more detail in another blog post: Protein, carbohydrates and your body so take a look if you have some time.
Eat VERY regularly - You will be the best judge of how often and how much you eat, and this may change day to day, but I found that if I ate about every hour it worked really well for me. Your body is busy during pregnancy, that’s why you’re tired. You’re sending blood to your uterus, 24/7. Then there is more blood and tissue to be made, hormones to be produced, not to mention another life to support. You need lots of energy and there is no time to digest a huge meal and this is why, I think, small quantities of food all day long works so well.
I’ll give you an example. Remember when your mum used to tell you that you couldn’t go swimming for half an hour after you had eaten. Well she probably had no idea why, but it works roughly the same as pregnancy. When you eat, your blood is redirected away from other bodily activities and sent to concentrate on digesting and collecting nutrients that have been absorbed by the intestines. So if you want to use your muscles to swim then the food in your stomach is just going to sit there until your muscles are done. Actually it takes at least 3-4 hours to digest a meal, so sorry mum, your half an hour wait is futile; but I digress…
When you eat small, regular meals there is no surging of blood needed to digest a big meal and collect a huge amount of nutrients all in one go. When you’re eating every hour or so it’s like the body is able to allocate a small amount of blood to just “swing past” the stomach and intestines to collect nurtients on its way round the body, without really interfering with all the other duties it must do. And because there is a small but consistent production line going on, your cells are constantly receiving what they need, so everyone is happy.
I’m not sure that this method will work for everyone, but those I’ve spoken to that have tried it certainly agree that it does. Even if you still feel mildly morning sick, it’s better than having to get off the bus on the way to work to throw up! For those of you who feel morning sickness for the entire pregnancy, I feel for you, but please try this method. I’m sure after several months of feeling disgusting you would try just about anything, but I assure you this WILL make you feel better.
Look forward to some exciting (exhausting) times ahead and I wish you the best with your pregnancy.
Written by Helen La Fontaine
Founder – Top Secret Maternity
Bachelor of Applied Science – Food Science and Nutrition | Master of Public Health