Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Nutrient-Dense Diet During Pregnancy Saved My Daughter's Life

I wanted to share a story that shows the power of a nourishing, traditional diet during pregnancy. When I got pregnant during the summer of 2006, I had spent the previous few months following the pregnancy dietary recommendations on the Weston A. Price Foundation website, including plenty of grassfed beef, pastured chicken and eggs, butter, raw milk and cheese, fish eggs, homemade chicken stock, sprouted and/or soaked whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and of course the daily dose of cod liver oil. I planned to have a homebirth with midwives, and one of the focuses of midwifery is the diet of the pregnant mother. Throughout the pregnancy, my midwives were amazed and pleased with my diet that was so outside the norm.

Towards the end of the pregnancy, there was some concern because my baby seemed small and my blood pressure was getting quite high. Nonetheless, my husband and I decided that homebirth was still our most prudent course of action. After an enjoyable labor, Alina was born at home on March 17, 2007 at full term. She was 18 inches long, but we were all surprised to see just how skinny she was, weighing in at just 4 pounds. The cause of her low weight soon became apparent as the placenta was only half of normal size with large portions that were not properly formed. Alina was so small because nutrient flow through the placenta was severely limited. The placenta was unlike any ever seen by the senior midwife, who had attended over 2,000 births.

My midwives told me that told me that I was able to maintain the pregnancy only because of my exceptional diet during pregnancy, and that such a compromised placenta would generally lead to miscarriage. Besides being skinny, Alina was born perfectly healthy, and was able to gain weight faster than any low-weight baby the midwives had ever seen (which is saying a lot considering they had both worked in neonatal wards). With lots of nursing, Alina doubled her birth weight by the time she was 8 weeks old.

Why the placenta was malformed remains a mystery. My theory is that it is related to over ten years of birth control pills prior to pregnancy in combination with the fact that, according to my fertility awareness charts, my hormone levels were abnormal when Alina was conceived (even though I had been off the Pill for 7 months). Regardless, I owe the life of my daughter to the nourishing, traditional diet recommended by WAPF. I am so thankful to have learned about the research of Weston Price early enough to save my daughter's life.

This post is part of Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade, Real Food Wednesday with Kelly the Kitchen Kop and Monday Mania at The Healthy Home Economist!


The Voogts said...

What a beautiful story and great evidence that real food is so important...especially during pregnancy. Thanks for sharing.

Megan said...

I could post almost the exact same sentiments (good labor, healthy birth, small baby!) except in my case I wasn't eating a fully nourishing diet like you were! I am not sure what saved my little one (who was 4#6oz), but I pretty much believe it is the grace of God. I was eating "healthier" (by my uninformed standards) before she was conceived, and had recently made the switch to more organic foods, but during pregnancy I cannot guarantee my diet was perfect. My blood pressure also rose throughout the pregnancy and I never got "super huge" or uncomfortable like so many full-term pregnant report.

Also interesting though -- thanks to breastmilk (and breastmilk alone!) she gained tons of weight her first two months. She was really caught up by 4-6 months. It was so amazing and I was so thankful! Little girl was hungry! :)

Megan said...

Also, your thoughts about the placenta are interesting. We have never fully discovered why ours was the way it was ... but I too had been on the pill (for only about a year total), and was off of it for 7 months before she was conceived too (surprise!). I had been on antibiotics for years though :-\

I had a blood clot after she was born, and some recent blood tests suggest it was an autoimmune response based on one higher level I had on a panel. Still not sure if those are related at all.

Mrs. Ed said...

I am always so amazed at the miracles nutritious food can do. Thanks for sharing your story.

Taryn Kae Wilson said...

Thank you for writing this!! It is so good to spread the word about how important a nutrient dense diet is during pregnancy.
The pictures of your daughter are so beautiful. I love those shiny eyes.

Danielle said...

This is so inspiring! It is amazing how important nutrient-dense food is, especially during pregnancy.
I have to ask, though... was your labor really enjoyable, or just not unenjoyable?

Sarah Smith said...

Danielle - yes, my labor was very enjoyable! It was about 16 hours long. I sang along to music for hours and bounced on my exercise ball, and really just enjoyed the whole process. Tiring, yes, a little bit painful, yes, but still enjoyable! My second labor was enjoyable too, but much shorter and much more intense (only 2 hours and 15 minutes).

Medifast Coupons said...

Wonderful story, good information.

Laura said...

What an amazing story Sarah!! Just think of all the other stories that could be like yours if more people would catch on to a more healthy, traditional diet! It's so awesome you are spreading the word :)

Laurie Neverman, The Common Sense Woman said...

What a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing.

Rebekah Daphne said...

That is really neat. My sister had a compromised placenta with her last daughter, who was consequently very very very small! She's two and a half now and healthy as anything, but I know how scary it is to find out that what you thought was keeping the baby alive, wasn't doing such a great job after all.

Sara said...

Very interesting! My daughter was smaller than I was expecting at 40 weeks- 6 lbs 13 oz. I was eating a mostly organic diet, but not nearly as traditional as I do now. I never have been into processed foods much. My placenta showed significant infarctions- areas where the blood flow had stopped. I had a very fast, generally enjoyable labor (5 hours total), most of which I denied I was IN labor at all.
I am wondering if this baby will be bigger since I am eating a much more nourishing diet than before.
I also developed a very antitypical case of postpartum thyroiditis after she was born- thyroid went hyperactive (instead of hypoactive) and I lost a lot of weight very fast, but everything resolved itself within 5 or 6 months. I attribute that to my discovery of WAP and NaPD. I'm never going back, that's for sure. Now as a doula I try to inform all of my clients about a truly healthy pregnancy diet.

Sara said...

Question- how did you know that your hormone levels were abnormal?

Sarah Smith said...

Hi Sara - I knew my hormone levels were abnormal because of my fertility charts. I use the method in The Garden of Fertility (by Katie Singer), whereby I chart my waking temperatures, cervical changes, and cervical fluid throughout each month. There is a normal progression for each of these throughout each monthly fertility cycle. I could tell that my progesterone levels were low because my temperatures would drop off after ovulation instead of remaining higher. I could also tell that my thyroid is out of whack because my temperatures tend to be very low. If you are interested, I highly recommend that you check out the book. It is fascinating! You can see more info here:

leah funk said...

Hello Sara ,
I have enjoyed your blog for about 5 months on Gaps diet. I also am now pregnant with my 6th child and entering 29 weeks . I had a problem yesterday at the Drs office i have never encountered with any of my other pregnancies. I went in for gestational diabetes test which routine around this time of pregnancy . I have always passed and was either eating way bad or a raw vegan diet . I failed this test and was told i also had low iron . I was very puzzled hoping Gaps would improve my gut and health . Also to make matters worse I was losing a little weight since being about 15lbs over weight from the start of this pregnancy . Well when i went it i had jumped 24lbs on their scales in 6 weeks ... making this a huge deal ... even though i am still wearing the same size and not even wearing maternity tops yet and my bottoms are all the same fit . Just wondering if i could be retaining water from afternoon tiredness and maybe to much salty foods like bacon and sausage . Would love to get advice on this one

thannk you

Sarah Smith said...

Hi Leah,
I had some problems with blood sugar during my first pregnancy, but not during my second. Both pregnancies were way before we did GAPS, though, so I can't speak to that specifically. I did have good success with managing my blood sugar by cutting carbs, although I doubt that would be an issue on GAPS as it is easy to go low carb on it even without meaning to. I remember reading on the GAPS site, though, that potatoes and whole-grain sourdough bread are recommended for pregnant ladies on GAPS, so it seems like that would help in making sure you get enough carbs (but not necessarily help with your high sugar numbers). Oh, one other thing that really helped with my blood sugar was making sure to eat LOTS of protein.

If your iron is low, you might want to try eating much more liver. It is a really good source of iron (among many other nutrients as well). The liver should be as good as possible, preferably from pastured animals or organic. I also had good luck taking dessicated liver pills to help with iron (I buy them from Dr. Ron, and still take them since I am nursing and only eat liver about once/week).

As for the weight gain, I remember reading on the GAPS site that people sometimes gain weight initially because their bodies are rebuilding. Even your bone density could be increasing (which might explain the fact that your clothes still fit).

I hope this helps. If you haven't already, it might be worth asking your Dr to let you do the 3-hour glucose test instead of just the 1-hour version. Sometimes people fail the 1-hour, but then do fine on the 3-hour. Just a thought.

Leah Funk said...

Thank you so much . It is very odd what is happening since i was at first losing quit a bit .. now i just started gaining ... so i will look into what you said . I know i do not get enough liver and i do not eat lots of beans ... just starting adding lentils back and thought maybe i would give quinoa a try since its not Gaps legal , but a seed. I was feeling like a failer after mmy last visit , but like you said my body is rebuilding and healing so this might be a way to help it .
thank you again! Oh yes i am do for a three hour scan ... also just wondering what do you think a good amount of honey is to consume on Gaps diet . We go through a few jars a month , but i do not consume much .. just wondering if i should cut it down even more.

Sarah Smith said...

Hi Leah,
I personally wouldn't try to reduce your carbs or honey until you get the results of the 3-hour glucose test. My impression is that the growing baby really needs plenty of glucose, especially for brain development.

Amanda said...

Sarah, So glad the diet helped! I do have a question though - did you not have a sonogram or did a sonogram not catch the placenta problem?

Also, how many carbs am I supposed to have? I haven't been having many at all (16 weeks on Tuesday)...should I be concerned? I'm trying the gaps diet (not intro) and been trying to eat an apple a day. But other than that I don't get much. Do you have any recommendations?

Sarah Smith said...

Hi Amanda,
I did have two ultrasounds while pregnant with her, and they could not tell there was anything wrong with the placenta. The last one was 3 days before she was born, the first was in the second trimester.

I was not on GAPS while pregnant, so I don't have any firsthand experience with that. Of course your doctor or midwife should advise you, but I would think you probably need more carbs than just an apple a day. In my experience, pregnancy is pretty hard on the adrenal glands, and eating low carb can make that even worse. I also read on Natasha Campbell McBride's site that she recommends pregnant women on GAPS should eat potatoes and sourdough bread, so it seems she thinks that more carbs are necessary during pregnancy as well. I hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah, I have 4 1/2 year old that has PDD; and I was planning to do start my family on the GAPS diet, mainly to heal my son's gut, who in the past had Clostridia and leaky gut syndrome. I am 44 years old, and I think I might be pregnant? Do you think doing the GAPS may help me have a healthier child; with hopefully less PDD symptoms; now at 44yrs of age? I know the odds are totally against me; and my regular Dr's don't understand the health benefits that the GAPS diet has. Any advise you or anyone on this blog can give me? I plan to also e-mail and ask Dr. Natasha McBride the same question. Thank you in advance, Irma

Sarah Smith said...

From everything I've read, it does seem like the GAPS diet would help your son and your future children as well. I don't think the odds are against you! I know plenty of people who've had healthy kids at your age. One thing: make sure you don't do the GAPS Intro Diet (it's not for pregnant women), and Natasha Campbell McBride has lots of recommendations for pregnant mothers on GAPS here:

You may also want to read this article.

K.Chong said...

I have been cautious about drinking milk (raw or vat-pasteurized only, depending on what I can find) during pregnancy...did you drink milk consistently while you were pregnant? I know it's part of the Weston A. Price fertility/pregnancy diet and I have been reading up on raw and low pasteurized milk but haven't heard of many people yet who followed all the recommendations including drinking milk. I am not pregnant but just planning ahead :-)

Sarah Smith said...

I did drink liberal amounts of raw milk during both of my pregnancies. I felt safe doing so since I had researched our milk suppliers to make sure the cows were healthy and being fed no grains. My whole family has been drinking raw milk for over 7 years with no problems.

Jozie said...

Hi Sarah,
Is there any chance you could give me a sample daily diet that you followed during pregnancy. I am trying to make sure I have what I need, but nice to have a few examples to make sure I am not leaving things out. I have to be careful with my nutrition as I am carrying twins. Thank you so much :)

Sarah Smith said...

Hi Jozie,
As best I could, I tried to follow these guidelines while pregnant. (These are from the WAPF site here:

Cod Liver Oil to supply 20,000 IU vitamin A and 2000 IU vitamin D per day

1 quart (or 32 ounces) whole milk daily, preferably raw and from pasture-fed cows (learn more about raw milk on our website, A Campaign for Real Milk,

4 tablespoons butter daily, preferably from pasture-fed cows

2 or more eggs daily, preferably from pastured chickens

Additional egg yolks daily, added to smoothies, salad dressings, scrambled eggs, etc.

3-4 ounces fresh liver, once or twice per week (If you have been told to avoid liver for fear of getting “too much Vitamin A,” be sure to read Vitamin A Saga)

Fresh seafood, 2-4 times per week, particularly wild salmon, shellfish and fish eggs

Fresh beef or lamb daily, always consumed with the fat

Oily fish or lard daily, for vitamin D

2 tablespoons coconut oil daily, used in cooking or smoothies, etc.

Lacto-fermented condiments and beverages

Bone broths used in soups, stews and sauces

Soaked whole grains

Fresh vegetables and fruits


Trans fatty acids (e.g., hydrogenated oils)
Junk foods
Commercial fried foods
White flour
Soft drinks
Drugs (even prescription drugs)

IMPORTANT WARNING: Cod liver oil contains substantial levels of omega-3 EPA, which can cause numerous health problems, such as hemorrhaging during the birth process, if not balanced by arachidonic acid (ARA), an omega-6 fatty acid found in liver, egg yolks and meat fats. Please do not add cod liver oil to a diet that is deficient in these important animal foods. It is important to follow our diet for pregnant mothers in its entirety, not just selected parts of it.

Jozie said...

Thank you so much for your reply Sarah :)
I don't drink raw milk, but would yoghurt made from raw milk be an okay substitute here?
How did you manage to use 4 tbsp. butter? That is a lot! What did you add it to? I just use it to cook meat or omelettes etc.
I used to put a slice of frozen raw liver in my smoothie every morning, so will get back into that habit.
If I use the butter I have trouble getting the coconut oil in, because I cook with either one or the other, any tips on getting both in?
At the moment an example of what I might have as follows:
Smoothie including frozen berries, kelp powder, protein powder to flavour (Mercola's one), the raw yoghurt and kale or spinach.
Nuts or pumpkin seeds as snack. Apple or pear as snack.
Dinner - have had some delicious scotch fillet off a homekill recently and been eating plenty of that, nice amount of fat through the meat. cooked in butter or coconut oil. Have with some sauerkraut, veges and cheese.
Guessing I need to try and add more, any ideas on meals greatly appreciated, or how I could alter a little what I'm already doing. (I will go back to adding the slice of frozen liver in my smoothies as can't even taste it, and really helped my iron levels get back up after I had a miscarriage at the start of the year. Thank you :)

Jozie said...

PS Also usually eat at least one hardboiled egg a day aswell.

Sarah Smith said...

For me, the easiest way to get the butter in was to have toast/waffle/etc for breakfast, slathered with lots of butter. If you keep the butter on the counter, it is nice and spreadable. I also used lots in cooking veggies. I didn't obsess about it, though, just did my best and didn't worry too much about being perfect. Being calm and happy during pregnancy is so important for the baby's well-being!