Is It Healthy to Live a Primal Lifestyle While Pregnant?

Sandra Rose

Sandra Rose

Hello everyone! The following is a guest post by Sondra Rose who knows a little bit (ok, a lot) about living a primal lifestyle while being pregnant. Listen up ladies! Gentlemen… point your significant other to this post! I’ll let Sondra take it from here.

Hi there!  I’ve been asked to write a guest blog post about Primal Pregnancy for Primal Toad (aka Todd Dosenberry.)  Given that the Primal lifestyle and Pregnancy are both passions of mine, it was a match made in heaven!

Many newly-pregnant mothers wonder if it is appropriate to stay Primal during pregnancy and I hope to answer some of their questions and offer some tips to make a Primal Pregnancy easier and more fun!

Who are you?

My name is Sondra Rose.  I have been a nutrition consultant, personal trainer and life coach for over 10 years and in the the last four years have been supporting pregnant moms emotionally and nutritionally as a Pregnancy Coach and EFT Practitioner.  I’ve been Primal for nine months (isn’t that interesting!) and eating WAP style for two years prior.  I was also a vegetarian/pescaterian for 14 years, so I have lots of experience with those diets as well.

What are the benefits of eating a Primal diet during pregnancy?

Eating a nutrient dense, high fat, moderate protein diet while your baby is growing will give your baby all the building blocks they need to create healthy, strong neural connections and a resilient body.  You will benefit from better sleep, more energy, less nausea and a body that bounces back quickly!

Eating a variety of whole foods, preferably from organic/free-range/grass-fed/wild-caught sources will minimize pesticide, antibiotic and synthetic hormone exposure to your baby, so that they will grow up with a strong immune system, normal hormonal profile and good fertility.

Adding bone broths, gelatin and organ meats from free-range animals will provide essential micronutrients that are often missing in the SAD and ensure that your babe has strong bones and teeth.

Is it safe?

Eating Primal (no vegetable oils, low sugar, no grains or legumes) is perfectly safe.  Avoiding PUFAS, gluten and excessive lectins will help decrease inflammation. Reducing sugar intake by avoiding processed food will decrease bloating, avoid excessive weight gain, help prevent gestational diabetes and eliminate candida/yeast infections.

How much fat should I eat?

In general, I avoid recommending specific macros, since I trust that women who listen to their bodies will know what they need.  Of course, some women can use a few guidelines to help them transition from a conventional diet.

Eating 50-70% fat is great!  Just make sure it is predominantly healthy fat from free-range animals and wild-caught fish.  If you must eat conventional meat then get most of your fat from pastured butter and cream and/or coconut oil and eat lean cuts of meat.  Avocados are great, too.  Minimize nuts to avoid excess PUFAs.

How much protein do I need?

I suggest aiming for 15-20% of your calories from protein–but not stressing if you have some low protein days and then want to eat nothing but meat or eggs for awhile.  The big picture is more important than adhering to a specific daily amount.  Stressing about your diet is not helpful for momma or baby!  Remember that grass-fed/finished ruminants and wild-caught salmon will have the best Omega 3 profile–really important for baby’s brain growth and your hormonal balance.

Some moms I have worked with ended up eating a slightly lower protein diet for their first trimester, but they more than made up for it in the latter stages of their pregnancy.   Our bodies will accommodate quite a range of food sources/availability and still ensure that our babies get what they need.  Making sure we are eating adequate protein and exercising ensures that we don’t lose muscle mass during pregnancy.

What supplements should I take?

If you are very careful in sourcing your food, get lots of sun and eat a 100% Primal diet, you may choose to take no supplements at all.  That said, few of us are perfect and sometimes we can find it challenging to eat the very best food, so here are my recommendations, just in case!
Omega 3:  I recommend 1000 mg/day of Neptune Krill Oil for the best mercury-free Omega 3 source.  Essential for the production of prostagladins; Omega 3 essential fatty acids have been linked to reductions in pre-term birth, pre-eclampsia, as well as post-partum depression.  They are required for baby’s healthy brain development.

Vitamin DDeficiency is widespread and I recommend to all of my pregnant clients that they get their Vitamin D levels tested right away and if they suspect a deficiency, that they start supplementing  4,000 IUs of oil-based D3 immediately and/or increase their sun exposure (depending on their latitude.)  Sufficient Vitamin D has been shown to reduce the chance of pre-term labor, decrease the incidence of pre-eclampsia, prevent rickets and is essential in creating a healthy immune system and healthy teeth.

Magnesium:  Many women are deficient in magnesium and it can be difficult, if not impossible to get it from food sources.  I suggest 400-600 mg from Magnesium Citrate (if tolerated) or Magnesium oil applied to the skin.  Appolinaris is a great high magnesium mineral water.  Magnesium is great for preventing constipation and essential for optimum Vitamin D utilization and calcium absorption.

Folic Acid:  Current recommendations are to take 400 mcg of folic acid daily before pregnancy and 600 mcg during pregnancy to avoid neural tube defects like spina bifida.  Most women eating a varied Primal diet including liver can easily meet or exceed this amount, but because it is so cheap and readily available, I suggest supplementing it for peace of mind.

Calcium, Vitamin K:  Most women can get these from their Primal diet.  However, if you are dairy-free, hate leafy greens and are avoiding organ meats and seafood, then you may want to supplement 500 mg of Calcium Citrate and 90 mcg of Vitamin K.

Iron:  If you are eating plenty of red meat, some liver and/or dark leafy greens regularly then you are less likely to be deficient.  If you test low, then supplementation with chlorophyll or Floradix/Floravital works for most women and avoids the constipation caused by standard pre-natal iron supplements.

Vitamin A:  If you are eating plenty of eggs, dairy, liver, and occasional fish then it’s very likely you are sufficient.  In my opinion, it’s not necessary to supplement for most women and may even be dangerous.  We didn’t evolve eating huge amounts of high vitamin cod liver oil!  However, the Weston A. Price foundation has a different opinion.  In the end, it is up to you to do your own research and decide what’s best for you and your baby.

What about morning sickness?

Many women who eat 100% Primal during pregnancy experience NO nausea at all.  Often, keeping some food in your stomach most of the time is all that’s needed to prevent nausea.

A few moms cannot stomach meat or eggs early in pregnancy and may find their body is craving carbs.  Primal carbs such as sweet or white potato mashed with butter  (if tolerated) are great alternatives to adding gluten grains back in.

If you must add grains, then white rice is a great, gluten-free, low-lectin alternative.  Many moms seem to crave creamy foods during their first trimester, so rice or tapioca pudding (a low sugar version) and/or cottage cheese can be helpful to have around.

Sufficient Vitamin B6 has been shown to reduce morning sickness.

EFT is also a powerful tool for eliminating morning sickness!

How much weight do I need to gain?

This can be a loaded subject.  The current Institute of Medicine recommendation is to gain 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy if already at a normal weight and 15-25 pounds if overweight.  However, the recommendation was recently changed–so that tells me that the science may not be settled in this area.

One Primal mama I know gained only six pounds during her pregnancy and she was at a normal weight for her height pre-pregnancy.  She gave birth to an exceedingly healthy baby girl.  Another mama gained only 13 pounds.

If you aren’t carrying excess water weight from eating excess carbs, then it makes sense to me that you don’t need to gain as much as is recommended by medical authorities.  Trust how you feel over the scale!  If you are eating Primally and keeping your carbs under 150 gm/day, then it is unlikely that you will over- or under-eat.

What about stretch marks?

Skin health and elasticity/integrity are a direct function of diet.   Make sure you are getting sufficient (but not excessive) Vitamin A, zinc, and antioxidants.  Gain pregnancy weight slowly.  Drink plenty of water.

What about exercise?

For those new to exercise, I recommend the Primal Blueprint Fitness program (free pdf here.)  It’s well-rounded, easily adaptable and sustainable after your child is born.

Walking is fabulous for pregnant women.  And if you have a favorite activity pre-pregnancy, it’s likely fine to continue it as long as you track your energy levels.  You may decide to forgo sky-diving for awhile, though!

Any other suggestions?

Get as much sleep as possible!  Drink plenty of water and take naps, if needed.  Move slowly/often and spend time in Nature.  Nurture yourself with whatever helps you to feel relaxed and happy.  Focus on the positive and surround yourself with a loving tribe.

Remember that you are feeding your baby with more than just food–they are experiencing your emotions throughout your pregnancy–a happy momma = a happy baby.

Links to Primal/Paleo Pregnancy blog posts:

The Primal Parent
Paleo Baby

For more info about Sondra:

SondraRose.com

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Comments

  1. Jeremy says

    I just wanted to comment on this because it has been a recent topic of discussion in our house. This is definitely good information. One of the big things that most doctors will tell you is that they don’t think a prolonged state of ketosis is safe during pregnancy. Do you have any specific thoughts on this?

    I also wanted to ask about Folic Acid. According to Chris Kresser (http://www.thehealthyskeptic.org) the actual requirement is for folate, but folic acid is generally accepted as being the same as or converted into folate by our bodies. The problem is that the conversion is not so straight forward and that active folate obtained from folic acid is minimal. The easiest solution is to eat enough dark leafy greens to get the active folate you need. The alternative is to find a quality suplement that includes active folate instead of the standard folic acid, folate, or folicin. Any thoughts?

    • says

      Jeremy~
      While I have not researched ketosis during pregnancy extensively, my thoughts have been influenced by this article:
      http://www.ketotic.org/2011/01/kb-are-important-for-fetal-development.html

      Practically, many women may be in ketosis during the night, unless they are eating constantly. And the many women who have suffered hyperemesis gravidarum during pregnancy and who have birthed perfectly healthy babies shows me that the mother’s body will do its best to provide the fetus with what it needs, even when nutrition is suboptimal during the first trimester. I can only speculate about Paleolithic women being in ketosis!

      As far as folate, Primal moms should get enough folate with their folic acid supplement combined with their food intake. For those who would prefer a folate supplement, here is a source:
      http://hsfighters.bioactivhealth.com/folate_not_folicacid.htm?gclid=CMWj45XHs6oCFQZCgwodI1sE9g

      • cavegirl says

        Just thought I would “weigh in,” my first pregnancy (and only child) I was incredibly over weight and unhealthy. I had a sever case of hypermesis gravidarum, and was hospitalized once to be put on IV. My nutrition was was so far past sub-optimal it was scary. That being said I had a perfectly healthy baby girl, it’s amazing what our bodies will do! I am now 100% strict paleo, having lost over 100 lbs (with 30lbs more to go) and will continue to be for the rest of my life. Should I be lucky enough to get pregnant again, I look forward to all the benefits of being paleo:)
        On a side note with 30 lbs to lose if I should become pregnant would it be possible that I continue to lose weight (let me clarify here; it’s not that I would try to, just that it might happen)?

    • says

      I think, there are good folate vitamins in other drugstores that is specially for primal moms. Aside from vitamins and supplements, primal moms can also take organic and natural fruits and vegetables.

  2. says

    Very nice guest post!! I began eating Primal (didn’t know I was) during my second pregnancy because of Gestational Diabetes! The last half of that pregnancy was awesome, I felt great and gained very little weight compared to the beginning. And my second son is super healthy, he has had one cold and one ear infection in his short 18mo of life. He is a little machine too, super high metabolism and eats about as much as his 4 yr old brother!! Lean little man too!

    I am now pregnant with my third and eating Primal too! We really focus on eating clean whole foods. During my first trimester I was very ill, and meat looked horrible to me, I focused on plain veggies, potatoes and a little rice. But have quickly recovered and back to eating my normal way now!

    I even took and early gestational diabetes test last week and crushed it!! My blood glucose numbers were super low and awesome!!

    Primal eating during pregnancy is great!!!

    • says

      Hey Jonathan~
      I already linked to your blog post, in the links at the end of my article (GREAT story, BTW!) and I see now the link isn’t working–I will have Todd fix it!

      • Jonathan says

        Sorry. Skipped right over it. At least you found the broken link so something good came from my lazy reading.
        Yeah, his story sounds just like my experience. Makes me think all babies in the world could be this great. Too bad there is so much bad information/beliefs out there.

  3. says

    A lot of great information in this article. I am currently 14 weeks pregnant and have had some great days eating Primal/Paleo but there were times in the first trimester where I had to just eat rice pasta or crackers because I just could not keep anything down. I had tried broths but that just made me gag and start the process over, again. I do recommend it is important to listen to your body, I found that after those couple of times of having grains, my body FULL out CRAVED the grains.

    We are back to zero grains and starting enjoying foods that are healthy for mommy and baby.

    I would like to argue just one thing. I do not agree with her comment about weight gain. This being my 3rd pregnancy, there is no way to only gain 6 or 13 pounds. I ate super healthy with pregnancy number two. My midwife requested a high level of protein in my diet. I gained roughly 35 pounds. I did not consume a lot of grains and I did not consume ANY gluten. My baby was born at a healthy 8 pounds and is now 19 months. He has only been sick once, if not twice. He is healthy and happy and he too has always an appetite. Now, 3rd pregnancy, I am 14 weeks, like I said and I have already gained 6 pounds. I could not imagine only gaining 6 – 13 pounds…

    Everything else in the article was great!

    • says

      Hi Lindsey~

      Thanks for your comments!

      I think every woman is unique and by no means did I wish to imply that anyone SHOULD gain less weight while eating Primal. I simply was pointing out that it is possible to gain a lot less than the IOM recommendations (without calorie restriction) and still have a very healthy baby.

  4. says

    Thanks for this post! I am a pregnant, paleo, crossfitting mom (who also blogs about her pregnancy). I have gotten some flak from (well-meaning) family members who are concerned that paleo is dangerous for me and baby, but I think that my health thus far has to speak for itself. I never had a touch of morning sickness, no edema, no excessive fatigue, no stretch marks, no mystery pains, obviously no gestational diabetes, not one of the complaints that seem to plague almost all of today’s pregnant women. I am seven months along and still have plenty of energy to complete my crossfit workouts, with very few modifications. At seven months I have only gained 14 lbs, although my baby boy is measuring a little big for his gestational age. I am planning a midwife-attended home birth – about as primal as I could get – and my midwives say that absolutely every measurement and lab value that they have taken is spot-on, perfectly healthy. By the way, I refused the OGTT – partially because of my own common sense, partially because of the Robb Wolf article on the topic :
    http://robbwolf.com/2010/09/06/gestational-diabetes-what-constitutes-low-blood-sugar/

    I did, however, measure my blood sugars after several high-carb paleo meals, and my levels were incredibly low in all cases. Paleo is serving me and baby well – thanks for sharing the news about how healthy a primal lifestyle can be for pregnant women and babies!

  5. says

    Very interesting article – it is good to see that the low-carb recommendations are gaining more of a foothold. I am still shocked by the all-to-common high-carb recommendations from the ADA, USDA, and doctors of diabetic patients. There are quite a few diabetics in my family, and their doctors suggest that they eat carby snacks every couple of hours! It makes me really sad to see the consequences of such misguided advice. I think if we can spread the word about paleo we will have a lot fewer diabetics, and a lot more healthy, happy, vibrant moms and babies.

  6. says

    Excellent and very informative post! I’m 29+ weeks now and am convinced that the paleo diet is the reason my pregnancy has been so amazing.

  7. Catherine says

    I am doing primal now. Don’t know if I am pregnant yet though. Fingers crossed! I feel so much better eating this way compared to the more refined route. I have had problems with anxiety and depression in the past. All but gone eating a more primal diet. Maybe there is more going on with what we eat then we are lead to believe!

  8. Dara says

    Thank you so much for this post! My husband & I have recently converted to a Primal diet & exercise routine, and are hoping to conceive #2 sometime in the next few months. (fingers crossed!) This information has helped to alleviate some of my concerns – although my gut instincts have been telling me that primal & pregnancy are made for each other, it is good to have those instincts supported by a professional. I followed the WAP guidelines during my first pregnancy (well, mostly – I still ate a lot of refined carbs…) and can attest to an easy pregnancy, easy birth, VERY healthy (8lb8oz) boy born at home, and a body that sprang back into pre-pregnancy form. I can only imagine that eating & moving Primally during the next pregnancy will be even better. Here’s hoping! And thanks again!

  9. says

    Hi Dara~
    So happy the article was helpful!

    Since you are TTC, do make sure you are also getting sufficient Zinc. Oysters are a great food source & low mercury or zinc picolinate is a good supplement.

  10. Mox says

    I hate to be the one voice of dissent, but since going Primal/Paleo I’m kind of used to it. I am now 11 weeks pregnant. After two years of being Primal, I was prepared to have an awesome pregnancy. So far it hasn’t been terrible, but I would like to tell other mothers-to-be that morning sickness and other side-effects (ahem, constipation) is NOT impossible just because your paleo/primal.

    I was great up until week four then BAM. One solid month of 24-hr nausea. Nausea that was, I admit, rather simply controlled with a combination of small, consistent meals (often avocados, nuts or rice cakes, as I could not stomach meat or eggs at all) and the amazing Sea-bands (seriously, they work….traveled in India for two weeks and never yakked once).

    My constipation improved tremendously when I started integrating fruit and rice back in, in spite of the fact that my diet was full of fresh vegetables (cooked and raw) and plenty of healthy fats before. I cannot even describe the horror of having a ‘roid at only a five weeks. I was terrified I was doomed to bad bowels for the whole pregnancy. Well, that little bugger healed up quickly and so far I’m doing better, though not strictly Paleo/Primal.

    The sickness disappeared more or less at week eight and a half, but I do not believe I had morning sickness because I somehow failed nutritionally. I did not integrate fruit or rice back into my diet UNTIL the sickness/constipation started and I basically had no choice but to try something different. Eating provided relief, but if I ate anything too fatty or veggie….eek. I even had some awful, awful days when I forced myself to choke down my normal primal breakfast…uh, big mistake.

    I’m also skeptical of the claim that stretch marks are 100% related to diet, as I am to any claim that is too black and white. I got stretch marks during puberty. So did my sister. Was it because we were on an SAD or because every woman in our family EVER had stretch marks? I am going to have to wait til the end of my pregnancy to find out if I get any new ones ;-P I’m more than willing to be proved wrong on this one, lord knows conventional wisdom has been wrong before. I’m just not comfortable with the way it’s phrased in this article.

    I’m glad for so many other ladies that they’ve had such brilliant pregnancies and of course I’m mightily envious that my first trimester wasn’t quite as glowing. Hopefully the second and third will be better as I get back into my normal eating habits.

    I echo the sentiment of listen to your body. I would add to that don’t have expectations for your unique pregnancy based on solely on ANY list of guidelines – either SAD, Primal or Paleo. Each pregnancy is truly unique.

    • says

      Hi Mox~
      Thank you for sharing your experience! I totally agree that every pregnancy is unique. I also agree that eating Paleo/Primal is not a panacea for all pregnancy-related issues!

      This article was written to inspire and assure pregnant moms that a Paleo/Primal diet was safe and helpful during pregnancy. I’m sorry if I implied in any way that it would solve ALL pregnancy issues!

      It’s important to have a care provider who can support you around these issues, especially someone who is supportive of your dietary choices. Because so many Paleo/Primal women do not have this kind of support, I offer individual nutrition & pregnancy coaching.

      Many women I work with have been vegetarian or vegan for years before going Paleo/Primal and are *still* dealing with nutritional deficiencies. Some have been on loads of antibiotics in the past and still suffer from imbalance in their gut flora. Simply going Paleo or Primal is not enough and they need some personalized support.

      I’ve found that subtle tweaking/supplementing can make a LOT of difference to some moms. For example, morning sickness for some women seems to be related to an overloaded liver that is having trouble processing the extra estrogen of pregnancy, so some moms need the addition of milk thistle to support the liver. I have another blog post on Preventing Pregnancy Nausea that goes into more detail. Here’s the link: http://www.sondrarose.com/preventing-pregnancy-nausea

      Constipation can be helped with a Magnesium Citrate supplement. Sometimes more water is needed. Sometimes higher carbs help; you found this out yourself!

      As I mentioned in the article, it’s good to gain pregnancy weight slowly to avoid stretch marks. The speed of growth can definitely affect whether or not you get stretch marks, regardless of diet. Many moms I have worked with have stretch marks from puberty, but none from pregnancy (even though their moms & sisters did.) I think growth spurts are the culprit here!

      You are definitely not alone in your experience. I’ve queried moms on two different Paleo/Primal forums and the feedback I have gotten has been really helpful in showing me how essential it is that women get INDIVIDUALIZED care & support.

      I also encourage my clients not to compare their pregnancy to other mom’s. We all come into pregnancy from different backgrounds; our mother’s pregnancy experience and diet shape us, as well as our particular stress levels, relationships and circumstances. It’s truly a rite-of-passage on so many levels.

    • Tabriah says

      Mox,
      You are not alone!!! I was following 100% a Paleo lifestyle and felt great until week 5 and am just now almost 12 weeks and able to lift my head off of the floor with getting sick. I am totally off Paleo and most any food at the moment because like you I could not stand most meat, could not tolerate any fruit of any kind and any veggie that was somewhat sweet sent me over the edge of wretching. The only thing I’ve been able to consistenly eat is eggs and chew mint gum, and drink unsweetened peppermint tea. Water even made me sick for a few weeks. I’ve lost 4 pounds since I’ve become pregnant and have not been able to walk as my doctor wanted or continue my crossfit workouts…I am hoping that I am now making the turn for the better and can get back to eating well, walking and crossfitting…one at a time. This is my 3rd pregnancy, my first one Paleo and so far its been the worst as far as how I feel in the first trimester, but I am almost 12 weeks and already starting to feel better; with my other two I was well into the 2nd trimester before any of this lifted. Good luck!

      • Mox says

        Good luck to YOU….I sincerely hope you start feeling better. It’s so funny how everyone’s tolerances are so different. I could not get enough fruit or sweet vegetables during the height of my nausea. I would scramble eggs and mix them in pureed squash just to be able to choke some protein down. But all in all, I feel like I’ve been pretty lucky, in that my nausea didn’t keep me from eating, it just limited my choices severely. If anything, I had to eat all the time to feel okay. I certainly am glad I’ve been able to be active, but even being active (swimming, weights, hiking) I found out I’d already gained 7lbs at my 12-week check up. I’m hoping now that the nausea has gone and I’m able to go more than two hours without putting something in my gob this will even out through the rest of my pregnancy.

        Anyway, good luck to you. Hope you are feeling better!

      • says

        What were you eating when you were 100% Paleo? We all thrive on different foods. You may have not been eating enough carbs perhaps. This would mean eating a few potatoes per day could help you. Or maybe a little liver each week could have helped. Or fermented foods. Bone broths. Lots of options. Lots of different things you can do.

      • says

        Yikes! That sounds horrendous! I didn’t have such a rough ride as that, but weeks 5 to 11 were pretty green. Paleo went out the window when I found that food made me feel better, hunger made me worse, and I couldn’t see/smell/cook anything “real”. Mg citrate at night seemed to keep the woozies down long enough in the morning to allow me some breakfast. I did discover that my D3 supplement was vastly increasing my need for magnesium.
        I have stretch marks from puberty and weight gain in my 20s, but went WAPF at 30 and have only three stripes over one hip and two over the other from the very end of my first pregnancy. Correlation or causation? I think there’s a lot to be said for the effects of your mother’s diet and your childhood foods – check out Cate Shannahan’s Deep Nutrition. As I recall, her recommendation was, as here, bone broth for gelatine etc, and healthy fats for skin elasticity.

        On a side note, the link on zinc goes to a page about laser treatment that doesn’t mention zinc at all.

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