Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

Big Love, Low Risk: Your Guide to the Healthiest Pregnancy December 16, 2007

This previously published story (San Diego Family magazine) is now available for FREE reprint.
Simply include my byline and drop me a note indicating when and where it will appear.

At no other time of a woman’s life is she more concerned about good nutrition and health than during pregnancy. To celebrate this sometimes scary yet exhilarating new chapter of your life, your first loving act of parenting can be to protect your developing baby by caring for yourself.

When you’re expecting, it’s natural to be concerned about your health and that of your unborn baby. Maintaining a healthful diet, lowering stress and getting appropriate exercise and rest are all important for the health of a pregnant mother and her baby. Food safety is also very important. The following will help you make safe decisions when selecting and preparing food for yourself and your family, as well as helpful tips on reducing stress and keeping fit.

The Big Three

Scientific research continues to expand our knowledge of nutrition in pregnancy. Let’s begin with the Big Three: protein, calcium and folate. Use the Big Three as building blocks for all your meals. Be sure to include them with every meal to meet recommended daily requirements.

Protein is essential to your baby’s cell growth and blood production. In general, a pregnant woman requires 80-100 grams of protein daily. The best choices for pregnant women include lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans, peanut butter and tofu.The National Institute of Health states that folate, or folic acid, protects against neural tube defects including malformations of the spine (spina bifida), skull and brain (anencephaly).

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends a daily intake of 400-600 micrograms of folic acid per day from fortified foods and/or dietary supplements. The 2000 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest pregnant mothers enjoy green leafy vegetables, dark yellow fruits and vegetables, beans, peas and nuts. Also, check the cereal aisle at the grocery store to find ready-to-eat cereals fortified with 100 percent of the RDA for folate.

Most women are aware of calcium’s role in building and maintaining healthy bones. During pregnancy, in addition to forming your baby’s bones, the mineral helps to conduct nerve impulses and aids in the proper function of your baby’s heart and other muscles. The recommended amount of calcium for a pregnant woman is 1,200 milligrams a day–just four cups of milk a day. Other dairy products like yogurt and hard cheese make excellent choices, or you can get your calcium through nondairy products such as collards, spinach, broccoli, okra, chickpeas, lentils, sweet potatoes and tofu. Also, choose foods that are fortified with calcium: orange juice, cereal, bread and cereal bars, to name a few. Check food labels for calcium levels of 30 percent RDA to get the same amount as you would from a cup of milk.

Now that you have your building blocks for each meal, you can ensure the healthy development of your growing baby with the following nutritional powerhouses. These nutrients have undergone worldwide scientific studies and have been found to be indispensable for human growth and development.

Brainies R Us

Give your little one a jumpstart at school! Omega-3 fatty acids have proven a critical component for both neurological and early visual development of infants. Recently published research has confirmed that adding omega-3 fatty acids to the diet of a pregnant woman can positively affect her baby’s visual and cognitive function–with effects measurable up to the age of four! Omega-3 fatty acids may also have positive effects on the pregnancy itself. According to Dr. Steve Hasley, a practicing obstetrician at West Penn Hospital, women with lower intakes of omega-3 fatty acids have a much greater risk of developing pre-eclampsia (also known as toxemia), a complication affecting approximately 5-10% of all pregnancies and a leading contributor to maternal mortality, preterm delivery, fetal growth retardation and perinatal mortality. Dr. Hasley adds that an even more important benefit is the role of omega-3 fatty acids in preventing pre-term labor and delivery. Women with lower amounts of omega-3 have a higher risk of preterm labor, and supplementation with this vital nutrient has been shown to decrease the risk. Omega-3 fatty acids may also lower the risk of post-partum depression. A pregnant woman should get at least 250 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per day using vitamin supplements, fish oil capsules, ground flax seeds, flax oil or fortified cereals.

Will your baby be President one day?

By adding choline to your diet now, you improve your chances of delivering a genius! The Journal of Neurophysiology (vol 91, April issue) reported study results indicating that taking choline during pregnancy could “super-charge” children’s brains for life. Scott Swartzwelder and colleagues at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina, US, discovered that pregnant women who took choline, a member of the vitamin B family, gave birth to faster learners with better memories. Results of the study prompted the US Institute of Medicine to add choline to its 2003 list of essential nutrients, particularly for pregnant women. Daily requirements for pregnant and lactating women are 550 milligrams, or 2 egg yolks. While choline and omega-3 fatty acids are also found in liver, swordfish and tuna, those foods should be avoided during pregnancy. Liver is high in retinal, which can cause birth defects; swordfish and tuna fish have a high mercury content, which is harmful to fetuses.

Number one on the hitlist of trouble-foods, high-mercury fish is a prenatal no-no. Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and is also released into the air through industrial pollution. It accumulates in streams and oceans where fish absorb it. Eating fish and shellfish containing higher levels of mercury may harm an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system. In a 2004 report, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advised pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children to avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel`and tilefish. For fish and seafood lovers, they suggest only 12 ounces a week of low-mercury fish and shellfish, such as cooked shrimp, canned light tuna and salmon. Be advised, albacore (“white”) tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna.

Not The Usual Suspects

As a pregnant woman, you’ve never been hungrier. Since you’re spending more time in the kitchen, here are some helpful hints on food safety.

If you’ve always nibbled the uncooked cookie dough, savored Caesar salads with raw egg in the dressing or prepared your burgers medium rare, experts say pregnancy is a time to rethink these practices.

Hormonal changes during pregnancy have an effect on the mother’s immune system that lead to an increased susceptibility to listeriosis, a type of bacteria in contaminated food. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), pregnant women are about 20 times more likely than other healthy adults to get listeriosis. In fact, about one-third of listeriosis cases happen during pregnancy. Listeriosis can be transmitted to the fetus through the placenta even if the mother is not showing signs of illness. This can lead to premature delivery, miscarriage, stillbirth or serious health problems for her newborn.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the FDA advise pregnant women to steer clear of hot dogs and luncheon or deli meats unless they are reheated until steaming hot. And, until the baby is born, wave bye-bye to soft cheeses such as feta, brie, camembert, blue-veined cheeses and Mexican-style cheeses such as queso blanco fresco. Anything labeled “unpasteurized” should be avoided, including beverages.More goodies that should never top your (whole grain, low-sodium) cracker: refrigerated pâté or meat spreads or refrigerated smoked seafood including those labeled as “nova-style,” “lox,” “kippered,” “smoked,” or “jerky.” Opt instead for hard cheeses and semi-soft cheeses such as mozzarella, pasteurized processed cheese slices and spreads. Cream cheese and cottage cheese and canned or shelf-stable pâté and meat spreads can be safely eaten.  

Take A Load Off

Pregnancy is a stressful time for many women. You may be feeling happy, sad and scared–all at the same time. As a new mommy, you are commencing a new life of love and concern for your child’s well-being. Now is the ideal time to learn how to cope with stress, while building energy and stamina through appropriate exercise. Any woman, pregnant or not, can cope better with stress if she is healthy and fit.

Speak with your doctor about which types of exercise would most benefit your unique pregnancy. Exercise keeps pregnant women fit, can prevent some common discomforts of pregnancy (e.g.: backache, fatigue and constipation) and relieves stress. Popular, safe choices for most mothers include prenatal-specific yoga, walking and swimming. A group prenatal exercise class creates a relaxed setting for meeting and talking with other expectant moms and allows temporary separation from a hectic workplace or the demands of maintaining a home.

Allow sufficient time to relax for the health of your baby and yourself. Maternal stress can affect your developing baby. Simple yet effective stress reducers include slipping into a warm (but not hot) bath, listening to quiet music or positive visualization tapes while lying on your left side, meditation, deep breathing or writing in a journal. Hormonal changes may be partly responsible for the mood swings experienced during pregnancy. These mood swings are common and normal. When possible, permit yourself to simply laugh about them. Often, after the baby is born, parents share a giggle over stumbling through mommy’s hormone-induced highs and lows together. Most importantly, attending all your prenatal care appointments will give you the reassurance that your baby is doing well and allow you to ask questions and share your feelings.

If stress is taking its toll on you, talk about your feelings with your partner, friends, relatives and health care practitioner. If you feel overwhelmed, talk with a trained counselor. New motherhood is a life-changing event. Fortunately, for today’s expectant moms, quality health information is available so that you can offer your child the best possible start in life. Change is indeed scary, but without change you wouldn’t be pregnant! Begin adjusting to your wonderful new life as mommy by making simple dietary and lifestyle adjustments that encourage a healthy, low-risk pregnancy.

Pregnancy Superfoods!

You’ll meet your recommended daily allowances in no time with these nutrient-rich food choices!

  • 2 whole eggs offer 17 grams of protein and an entire day’s choline requirement.
  • 1 4-ounce glass of vitamin D-fortified milk offers 8 grams of protein and 300 milligrams of calcium with vitamin D to help absorb it.
  • 2 Tbsp peanut butter offers 8 grams of protein, 15 milligrams of calcium and folate.
  • Green leafy veggies offer folate, fiber (to relieve constipation) and calcium.
  • Read the cereal box: Many whole or multigrain cereals are fortified with omega-3-rich flax and offer up to 100 percent of the RDA for folate, not to mention protein and fiber. Pour a cup of milk over it, add a piece of fruit and you’ve made an ideal start to your day!  

Special note:
Please note that smoking, second-hand smoke and the use of alcohol and/or narcotics are extremely dangerous to your unborn baby. If you haven’t abstained from nicotine, drugs or alcohol, stop now. Get help through a local program or with the assistance of a medical professional. Also, several types of over-the-counter or prescription medications could pose a danger to your developing infant. Discuss the use of any medication with your practitioner.  

Are you selecting baby gear and decorating your nursery? Fisher Price has a chic, gender-neutral new line of baby products, The Zen Collection. Check it out here!

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Noah on the Go December 14, 2007

Filed under: health,Lacko Family Chronicles,pregnancy,travel — rjlacko @ 12:01 am
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Noah on the GoNana took this picture almost 2 months ago–we simply must get our most recent pictures off the camera! However, I will admit that (visually, anyway) our Noahbaby hasn’t changed much. I mean, he was already sporting the 12-month clothes when he was 5 months, and the pants are just now becoming capris as he inches towards the 8-month milestone. He is hanging in at 2 teeth, but is teething almost incessantly now. Last night, we were almost convinced he must have an ear ache, becuase he’s been so miserable the last few days and he’s been tugging at his ears. Several reliable sources  later (Dr.Greene.com, AskDrSears.com, among others), the consensus is that an infant under one year (regardless of his inherent genius!) can’t pinpoint where pain is, so pulling ears is not a clue, and that ear infections usually come right after a cold, while cold symptoms are still in play. Little Noah has not endured a single illness in his young life, so it must just be the teething.

He is now very aware of our comings and goings, and while frustrating, I am rather flattered at his concern over my disappearances when I use the bathroom or leave to get a drink. He is also waving hello to people now, with that little babyish Queen-style wave. (Really, you’d think the Queen would rethink her wave, considering it’s the hallmark of the under-one set around the world.) And speaking of hand gestures, we have been playing a lot of little hand-games (songs set to finger movements) which he can imitate with amazing accuracy. Will be a surgeon one day? Hmmm. Daddy Joseph says he will be a pianist. Well, for the next couple of decades at least, I suppose he’ll become a Wii champion. Sigh.

Noah hasn’t crawled yet, but is quite pleased with himself when he gets on all fours and does the rock-rock-rock motion. And, he loves to hold himself up. I’m so in love with him. I’m also so very thankful that little Joseph loves his brother as much as his Daddy and I do. They have always had a solid bond, but it is getting more and more fun as Joseph “talks” to Noah by imitating his sounds. It thrills Noah and is a game he can play for…minutes! (which is hours in big-people time!) Now that I think of it, I’m going to check out here what little Joseph was like at 8 months.

I do fear, however, that the glory days of breast-feeding might be coming to an end. I’m just not getting the flow I once enjoyed. I’ve been taking Organic Mother’s Milk tea with no success. I remember using a homeopathic tincture with Joseph. Aunt Shell the pharmacist sells it at her pharmacy; I’ll have to ask her. Anyway, this is just not the right time to stop nursing, for so many reasons. First, he is only now realizing separation anxiety. What is more comforting, really, than mama’s warm embrace and familiar milk? Secondly, we will be traveling to Canada over Christmas–a new environment/routine, sick people on the aircraft, a change in weather, new people holding him–he will need breatmilk’s immune-building antibodies, no? And the comfort and security?

He also has his times when he just expects it, primarily directly after his bath. It doesn’t matter if he is filled to the brim with organic strained peas, winter squash and pumpkin pie, he wants to be nursed after his bath, and he makes that clear with no uncertain terms.

But, for me, I wonder what if (sniff, sniff) I never have another baby? What if the exquisite experience of having a newborn on our home doesn’t ever happen again? I can honestly say that I’m not too keen on another pregnancy, and while I’m a huge advocate of natural waterbirth at home, and my own experiences were fast, manageable and nothing short of miraculous, I don’t really want to do it again. (Although I would gladly help any other woman who asked for it.) Yes, we could adopt. That is our plan, should we desire a third baby, but the truth is, after Noah, I may never nurse again. Deep sigh. I know a lot of women have struggle upon struggle with nursing and eventually throw in the towel. I understand that, because it isn’t as easy (or painless) as we are told it will be. But when it works, when mommy and baby connect, and baby absolutely loves it, when it is clearly the baby’s favorite activity, a failproof soothing technique, and a moment that brings a smile to his or her little angelic face, ooh, it’s tough to let go. Hmm, I don’t want to be that mom at the park who’s taken it a little too far (the child nurses, then grabs the mom’s car keys and drives to the mall with his friends) but both neither Noah nor I are ready to sever our bond just yet.

 

Banana and Spinach Smoothies December 13, 2007

Filed under: Food & Recipes,health,Lacko Family Chronicles — rjlacko @ 11:15 pm
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No really, I’m serious. I don’t remember where I found the recipe (and I like to give credit where credit is due) but there were literally thousands of comments attached to it regaling the simplicity and surprisingly delicious result of this combination, so I gave it a try.
If you are trying to get more greens into your child’s (or your, or your husband’s) diet, simply add 8 oz. of milk (or soy or almond milk), 1/4 to 1/2 cup of fresh spinach, and a whole banana into your blender and puree until it is a fluffy, frothy green smoothie. (If your child balks at green, call it a “holiday” smoothie.) I promise most heartily: you cannot taste the spinach. If you are really and truly unsure, feel free to add a splash of your favorite vitamin-C fortified juice, but it doesn’t need it.

Special note: If you’d like to spoon-feed this to your infant, try the following: Blend together 4 ounces of formula or whole milk, 1/4 cup spinach, and half a banana, then thicken with organic rice or multi-grain cereal–let me know what your little cherub thinks!

Our little Joseph has always been a fairly adventurous eater. Tonight, he ate the sole stuffed with crab and scallops right off my plate. However, since we’ve had Noah and have introduced the potty he has become more particular, and there are days when he digs his heels in, hollering for yogurt (and only “wogurt”) at every meal. This could be coincidence, or he could just be trying to assert more control over his world, but I love giving him these smoothies on those days when we’ve reached a stalemate over what he’ll agree to eat. He thinks he’s won the battle, but I know I’ve won the war: He’s drinking fresh spinach–and asking for more!! And it’s sugar-free! (well yes, bananas ARE high-glycemic. I’m still happy. And you will be too, when you try this yummy smoothie.)

Food Fact! Bananas contain Vitamin C, potassium and Vitamin B6. The Vitamin C helps the body to defend and heal against infections and aids the synthesis of the connective tissue, absorption of iron and the formation of blood. The mineral potassium helps the building of muscles and protein synthesis. A diet rich in potassium is said to reduce the risk of hypertension and stroke. Vitamin B6 helps in the synthesis of antibodies in the immune system apart from red blood formation, protein metabolism and functioning of the central nervous system. Bananas contain three natural sugars: sucrose, fructose and glucose along with fiber, providing an instant and substantial boost of energy.Looking for more great recipes like this one? Check out my other blog, the Unassuming Foodie!

 

A Very Toddler Christmas December 5, 2007

A Very Toddler ChristmasWhat a difference a year makes. As little Joseph nears his third birthday, Christmas certainly takes on new meaning. He was thrilled with our Christmas tree last year, he never left it alone, but this year his eyes are open to most everything around him and he has the words to exclaim in joy and wonder.

He even asked if he could go to church this morning. It’s a Wednesday.

I’m trying to decide what has topped his list of holiday amazement–he absolutely loves Christmas lights (cheers to Daddy for decorating our house!), he adores the Charlie Brown Christmas movie, he wants his Silent Night and Twas the Night Before Christmas books read over and over, and he quite enjoys the little arrangement I set up of his stuffed animals playing carols on little light-up instruments that we bought at Lowe’s last year. And, when an older gentleman happens to pass with a whitish beard, he points and shouts, “Nick! Nick!” (as in “with a little old driver so lively and quick, I knew in a moment it must be Saint…”)

However, I guess I’ll have to admit that number one on his list of magical Christmas treats is his Advent Calendar. The first few days, he made such a fuss over wanting to open every single window immediately, that my husband said, “let’s just let him get it over with.” Ever the Christmas stickler (and advent-calendar afficionada) I replied, “it will be a month-long lesson in patience.” After a few days, Joseph really got the hang of it and looks forward each morning at breakfast to opening a new window: “pick one, mommy? pick one?” he asks excitedly.

This year we will travel to London, Ontario, Canada for Christmas, and I do hope there will be plenty of snow. There is nothing like bundling up for sledding or ice skating, followed by hot chocolate, of course (or better yet, maple lattes). Oooh, or taking walks at night beneath a starry sky, looking at all the neighborhood Christmas lights while big fluffy snowflakes fall gently from the sky and with each footstep, crunch, crunch, crunch, in the snow. 

(Crappy global warming! Maybe our best present to ourselves and our holiday memories would be to decrease our carbon footprint, but that’s another blog entry.)