Everything Expectant Parents Need for a Natural Pregnancy
By Allison Evans |
If you’re reading this article and you (or your partner) are pregnant, congratulations!! When we (Kelly and Allison) found out we were expecting our first babies, we were super excited, a little nervous, but mainly full of questions...like: What type of birth do we want? (A homebirth? Hospital? Birthing center? Freebirth?) What should we eat? (Because there are a thousand opinions out there)! What types of foods, products, and other things should we avoid (beyond the typical standards)? What to do for nausea or other common pregnancy-related ailments? How do we protect our babies from things like EMFs, radiation, and other potential exposures? What method or resources should we look into for easing labor pains and speed up postpartum healing? And most importantly, who are the most qualified, like-minded experts to help answer all these questions?
I’m sure you have thought about all these things (and many others), and that’s what inspired this article. Does this make us the end-all-be-all experts in natural pregnancy? No! And we’re not doctors or midwives either, so please do not use this information as a substitute for advice or recommendations from your prenatal team. That said, we have done extensive research (and mainly have first-hand experience during our four combined pregnancies) on what it takes to have a natural pregnancy and childbirth. We’re honored to share what we’ve learned with you and genuinely hope that some of this information can bring you encouragement and direction during this exciting time!
We do want to add, before diving in, that if something arises that throws a wrench in your birth vision, or you have a condition that requires unexpected/unwanted medical intervention (or you just can’t shake anxiety!), give yourself permission to address whatever you feel. Don’t think you’re being dramatic if you need to grieve or work through emotions with professional guidance. Dr. Caroline Leaf is one of our favorite resources for mental health and she has information and additional resources for pregnancy and postpartum.
How to Find the Right Prenatal Care Team
We are so fortunate to live in a time where a woman has a choice as to where she wants to give birth and whom she wants to care for her. The right choice for you depends on your health, location, and your vision for your childbirth. Let’s weigh the options.
Hospital birth—if you’re interested in a hospital birth, or circumstances require it, do your best to find an OBGYN/Nurse Midwife who is either integrative, functional, or at least open to honoring your requests for a natural pregnancy and/or birth. You’ll also want to check out the hospital associated with the practice to see what options they offer for increasing comfort during labor, beyond medication. Many hospitals these days have wonderful birthing suites - or entire birth centers - separate from the main building, and may offer water birth and a variety of other options. If you’re not sure where to start, ask around in your local holistic mom’s group, search “Integrative OBGYN near me,” or check the Institute for Functional Medicine’s practitioner finder. Calling a local midwifery or doula practice and asking their opinion on more natural-minded/integrative doctors/hospitals is also a great option, because they often have relationships with these hospitals in case of emergency during a home or birthing center birth.
Homebirth—We both had home births, attended by certified midwives, with our babies (Allison for both her girls and Kelly for her second) and had the most wonderful experiences. (For a detailed and informative convo on why Allison chose a homebirth, check out her Frolic and Flow podcast!) The great thing about home birth is you’re in ultimate control of your environment, and do not have to justify or explain why you’re making certain choices (ie. unmedicated, eating during labor, delayed cord clamping, no eye ointment or Vit K shot, etc.), which makes the experience much more relaxing and natural. Allison’s first natural water birth only took 3 hours...which is unusual for first babies, and she partly contributes its speed to how comfortable she was in her home setting (sans unfamiliar people, fluorescent lights, sterile setting, hustle and bustle, etc.). Besides the all-natural component, home birth can be a great choice if you wish to attempt a VBAC (as not all hospitals will allow that), want to move freely, have a family-centered birth, and want to avoid most hospital interventions. To find a homebirth midwife in your area, you can either ask around on social media, use an online locator, or consult a local doula and/or childbirth class provider. If it’s your first baby, you may also wish to include a doula in your home birth team. To learn more about why Allison chose homebirths and why she avoided typical birth-related interventions, check out: Allison’s 3-Hour Home Water Birth.
Birthing Center— For many expecting parents, a birth center is a happy-medium between a homebirth and a hospital. The midwives are all nurse midwives, the setting is relaxed and home-like, they welcome doulas and support partners, and they specialize in medication-free birthing with loads of great natural birthing options. Plus, most of them are located very near a hospital, so transfer is quick and easy, if needed. Kelly’s first birth was at a birthing center and it was an amazing experience with a wonderful team. She labored the majority of the time in her bathtub at home with her husband and doula before transporting to the birthing center for the final stages (she was in active labor for about 3 hours as well). Her husband, a medical doctor, was a little skeptical at first, but ended up being very impressed with the whole experience. He found the professionalism and expertise to be top notch, so much so that it has changed his perspective on birth! If you're interested in this option, check out Austin Area Birthing Center (where Kelly delivered) and The Tourmaline Collective, based in San Diego, for great examples and resources!
Doulas—in our opinion, doulas are a must for navigating natural childbirth...especially the first time. A doula's job is not to take the place of your partner, but to focus on taking care of and supporting the mother, especially in efforts to ease unmedicated labor. But doulas can also provide childbirth classes, coaching, offer massages, give advice on things like flipping a breech baby before labor (or tips for a c-section if it’s necessary), relaxation techniques, herbal recommendations, postpartum support...it varies doula to doula, but the right one is worth her weight in gold!
Check out: dona.org for all the amazing benefits and research behind hiring a doula, plus how to find one in your area. There are a number of organizations supporting women and families through fertility, pregnancy and postpartum as well, including Latham Thomas founder of Glow Maven and The Chicago Birthworks Collective.
Optimizing Your Nutrition During and After Pregnancy
Given what we know now about the critical role nutrition plays in pregnancy, vs. 30 years ago, it's amazing many doctors are still giving the same advice: “Eat 300 more calories a day. Take a prenatal with DHA. Get your iron levels checked.” If you’re thinking, “There’s got to be more to it than that!” you are right on. Thankfully, there are some forward-thinking doctors, nutritionists, moms, and practitioners who have better advice on what to eat for a healthy pregnancy. Here are some of our favorites:
Wellnessmama.com, our friend and mama of 6! Katie Wells is a tried and true resource for everything to do with nutrition, health, pregnancy and motherhood. Just search “pregnancy” for a wealth of articles, podcasts, and more on nutrition, supplements, exercise, birth options, and much more from a variety of experts. P.S. Her article: Top 10 Pregnancy Books, is a must-read!
Heymami.com is a really cool, science-based resource for all-things nutrition related to preconception, pregnancy, postpartum, etc. It was started last year by two integrative functional medicine doctors who have 3 babies each, and they know their stuff! There is a ton to explore, but we recommend starting with: The Hey Mami Guide to Healthy Eating. The articles on choline in pregnancy and morning sickness remedies are must-reads too.
Mamanatural.com, is another helpful resource for nutrition, natural pregnancy, and beyond. Genevieve’s even created a natural pregnancy week-by-week series and has a wonderful on-demand natural birth course, fully updated for the COVID era...so many great tools here!
And we have some awesome articles on nutrition in the “Food” section, which will help you boost nutrients while avoiding common food toxins. Some favorites include: Ditch Refined Sugar and Reap the Benefits, The Bizarre Truth About Natural Flavors, The Hard Truth About Refined Oils, Healthy Swaps for your Favorite Comfort Foods, and The Ultimate Healthy Snacks Guide.
Tossing the Toxins During Pregnancy
Your baby needs a safe place to grow and develop--inside and outside the womb. And while we cannot protect them from ALL types of pesticides, chemicals, EMFs, etc. we have the power to create safer, healthier homes by eliminating common household toxins. You’ll find everything you need to know to create a safe space for your family in our #TossTheToxins online course. This free program (a work in progress), taught by our co-founder Marilee Nelson, teaches you how to get rid of all household chemicals, toxins, harmful foods, personal care products, EMFs, etc. room-by-room, and what to replace them with.
The only “tweak” we recommend during pregnancy is to have someone else physically handle the toxins for you (especially pesticides, herbicides, harsh chemical cleaners, and highly-fragranced products), or at the very least wear gloves and a mask. In addition, be sure to check out How to Create a Non-Toxic Baby Nursery, Our Non-Toxic Baby Registry, and our upcoming article on safe building materials, should you be planning any redecorating and/or renovations during your pregnancy. This is super important!
Other than this type of tossing toxins, we do not recommend any detoxing during pregnancy. We stayed out of the sauna, avoided hot yoga, and didn’t juice on an empty stomach, for example. A primary reason being to build up, nourish and prevent stored toxins from being mobilized and going to the baby.
Staying fit during pregnancy is a wonderful way to care for yourself while preparing your body for labor. We’ve found the key is not to push it as hard as you would normally and to choose exercises that make you feel good. For us, this was walking, stretching, pilates, and swimming...but other mamas enjoy dancing, tai chi, and other prenatal workouts.
If you like to swim, we’d recommend doing so in a chlorine-free or low-chlorine environment, like a salt water pool (read why here). We also love Spinning Babies, a program to promote comfort in pregnancy and an easier birth. If you want to keep up with your strength training and cardio, Bikini Body Mommy, Briana Christine (another mommy of 6!), has a great Pregnancy Series. We also liked The Perfect Prenatal Workout which you can get on Prime video or good old fashioned (low-EMF) DVD.
Natural Birthing Resources:
A natural pregnancy is one thing, but if you’re interested in taking it a step further by planning a natural, unmedicated birth (highly recommended), here are some insider resources:
- A Heavenly Welcome - We found this to be the most encouraging resource during our pregnancies and would listen to the Birthing in God’s Presence podcast (full of positive birth stories) on walks, in the car, and cooking. While the podcast is Christian-based, the stories and information are applicable to all. We are big believers in staying focused on the positive and prudently avoiding negative birth stories that can incite fear, especially because research shows that the birth canal can physically respond to fear by not opening up easily as it was made to do (a form of “Failure to Progress”).
- Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth - We both loved reading this book during our pregnancies, and Allison even re-read all of the birth stories before her second birth as well to fill herself with empowering testimonials of what our bodies are meant and able to do! Kelly actually focused much more on part two in the book and found it to be much more empowering for her than the birth stories.
- Mind Over Labor - This is an oldie, but goodie! Incredible resource for how we can truly overcome pain with our thoughts and the power we hold over our minds...and thus bodies. Kelly’s husband read the visualizations in this book to her during part of her labor.
- Birth Without Fear: The Judgement-Free Guide to Taking Charge of your Pregnancy, Birth, and Postpartum---this book is the ultimate guide to an empowered pregnancy and childbirth. No matter what you’re planning for your birth, natural, semi-natural, etc...you need to read this book!
- Evidencebasedbirth.com is an incredible resource for anyone interested in reading the real research behind pregnancy, prenatal care, and birthing options. It was started by a nurse PhD who experienced an unnecessarily traumatic birth, and has since made it her mission to provide unbiased information to families.
- Hire a doula! Research has shown they reduce the need for pain medication by nearly 30%.
- Plan a water birth if you’re comfortable with it. (Kelly’s husband couldn’t quite get there ha!) We’ve often likened the experience of water birth to taking a ringing alarm clock and putting it underwater (the alarm clock representing the contractions or “surges”). It really takes the edge off and makes the actual birth process (stretching, crowning, etc.) much more comfortable. And research has proven it can shorten birthing and “significantly reduce” the need for pain medication.
And you still have so much to look forward to!
If we could leave you with one major piece of advice it’s this: pregnancy is not a “disease”...even if it does produce some unwanted symptoms. It’s a natural process and should be honored and treated as such, and YOU and your partner are the ones ultimately in charge of that process. Not your doctor or midwife, not your family or friends, not us, but YOU. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you shouldn’t ask questions or share your desires. Whatever it is, tracking your blood sugar or drinking Fresh Test instead of glucola, for example, or limiting/opting out of ultrasounds - you have a say! So do your research, trust your intuition, choose a supportive birth team, take care of yourself, and enjoy the journey.
Allison has dedicated herself to helping others reap the benefits of clean living. She, along with her husband and two daughters left Houston for the country life as she heals from a recent mold exposure and diagnosis of chronic Lyme disease. Follow her story on our Instagram and read more about her Journey to Fertility.