Book Review: Real Food for Pregnancy by Lily Nichols RDN, CDE

Pregnancy is just one chapter of a family’s story. How ever we enter this realm of life, its important to remember that there are a whole host of opinions on how to “be healthy.” Standards today don’t stem terribly far from the standards 50 years ago, and Lily Nichols RDN, CDE best selling author of, “Real Food for Gestational Diabetes” and now “Real Food for Pregnancy” has done her due diligence of sweeping study after study and finding some connections. She offers some insight on our current nutritional model for pregnancy, while shedding light on some findings that can benefit our children’s development.

Nichols changed the game with her research of gestational diabetes, and this book is no different. Admittedly I was swept up with the idea of eating up (pun intended!) every bit of information in this book, but I had to take my time to connect the dots, and I still am. She has taken into account both medical studies as well as cultural practices in prenatal diets. In addition to her highly detailed breakdown of nutrition, she utilizes the biological process of fetal development to support the statistics as well as cultural traditions.

She starts with a comprehensive look at nutrition as a whole, such as main sources of protein and how to plate your meals. It was very beneficial information as a non pregnant person, so this can have a huge affect not only on your developing baby, but also on your family as a whole. I will stress that if you are already pregnant and receiving this information it can be pretty overwhelming. That said, this book is great to have on your shelf, as it offers the ability to skim through and find clarification on the fly.

From an individual' perspective, a lot of the studies answered questions I had about my own balance of calories. This information has helped me be more mindful about the food I eat, and even how I eat it. She touches on fats and how essential they are in absorbing nutrients, as well as in the development of the fetal brain. Nichols is a saint for taking all of these incredibly extensive studies and translating them in such a cohesive text. This book is rich with information, but she offers a fluidity that nurtures your learning experience. She shows this through her insight on vegetarian and vegan diets, and how to fill any gaps in the growth and development of baby. It should be noted that a lot of the studies have shown that animal fats within the context of pregnancy and brain development are superior to plant fats. She takes the time to explain the science behind these findings, and offers practices outside of these texts for vegan or vegetarian individuals.

As a doula, I have a fair amount of discussions with my clients around nutrition. The common ones tend to be food aversions, forbidden foods, and nutrition for breastfeeding. Nichols makes a point to get down to the heart of pregnancy. It’s no surprise that the first trimester can be really tough on a pregnant person’s constitution. Some of the most common aspects are nausea, sensitivities to smells , and lack in appetite. In the words of one of my recent clients, “you get nauseous cause you haven’t eaten, but you can’t eat cause you are so nauseous.” In this circumstance, her recommendation is to just eat! You may spend some time on a starch heavy diet in the beginning, but this should let up over time offering a more nutritionally abundant diet. All aspects on growing a family requires grace, and this is no exception. I appreciate that aspect in her writing.

I would recommend this book as “THE” book in understanding the american dietary recommendations in comparison with other cultures. Topics like raw fish, soft cheese, alcohol, etc. are all covered and you’ll be happy to know that we have some more wiggle room than we thought. As a culture Americans have to vet out a lot of junk food, this certainly sets us apart from our neighboring countries. I really appreciated the clarification on these dietary choices and the strength in facts that supports them.

This book has me excited about getting pregnant, and ensures that I will continue to view my nutrition in a much brighter context and understanding. It has also opened a new avenue in which I can navigate with my clients during their pregnancies. I highly recommend this to anyone planning to be pregnant, or even just needing a change of perspective with their own body and nutrition.

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Doulas and their Boundaries

My job as a doula is to help you grasp all of this information as best as you can. When you endure a major life event, it affects your ability to remember previous conversations. A doula chimes in and helps you recall your initial expectations, and then gently helps you shift your perspective to the present moment. This is where boundaries play in a doula’s role.

It should go without saying, that a doula’s opinions should not play into any aspect of their client’s birth. As with any boundary, these lines blur depending on the context. I can attest to growing more opinionated as my experience has broadened. My education allows me the ability to offer unique suggestions, but how do we know when to push for a little more effort, or to step aside and allow for the birthing person to make their choice?

I certainly step aside more often than not. Maybe that is where I’m at in my journey, or maybe that is just how birth should be supported. Birth is many things; Strength, vulnerability, shedding of old ways, and transforming into parenthood. Of all those things, I work hard to be empathetic to my client’s needs. I have had moments in which I felt compelled to push. Some clients follow that guidance, while others push back. Either way they are informed of their options. I have even had clients ask me (and partners) to leave. While it may seem like a slight on my skills, it’s truly just what that birthing person needs. The art of “doulaing” requires a person to set aside their pride, and support individuals where they are.

This is definitely a processing point for me as a doula. Was I enough? Could I have advocated more for this? Should I have advised differently? Is this safe for my clients? Just like everyone else caring for these individuals, I have seen birth many times. Our ability to to draw a line can be compromised. Empathetic roles require a high level of self care. When implementing boundaries that allow me a proper amount of self care, I can continue to grow my knowledge, and still be sensitive to my client’s needs.

Like any fiscal position, I have individuals question my value as a caregiver. These boundaries in particular are the groundwork to maintaining my career. This generally takes place in the interviewing process, but sometimes within the early stages of a professional relationship. Questions arise such as, How are you helpful within a planned c-section? What if you aren't available for our birth? These are valid concerns. This is a place where we sort of web all of our boundaries into a safe space, and through contractual agreements. It’s incredibly important that every person involved in this experience feels heard, so that they feel confident in themselves throughout the whole process. This experience will affect every aspect of their parenting relationship, and doulas are very sensitive to that.

Putting it into words almost feels like a juggling act, which is how I imagine most business owners feel, but most especially us empaths.