Nora Gedgaudas

Paleo pregnancy and nursing

Paleo pregnancy and nursing

First, it's important to point out that the 10-week Paleo Way program was originally designed for average adults under average circumstances. The diet is not remotely bad or unhealthy for anyone else—far from it!  No matter who you are, you’ve come to the right place!  But The Paleo Way 10-week program may logically require a bit of tweaking to better accommodate the special needs of those who are pregnant/lactating, babies, children, teens and elite athletes.

First, it’s important to point out that the 10-week Paleo Way program was originally designed for average adults under average circumstances. The diet is not remotely bad or unhealthy for […]

Every so often, the question comes along as to whether it’s okay to be Paleo during pregnancy and breast-feeding.  Of course, one obvious answer to that question is the fact that humans ate a diet based on principles not dissimilar to what The Paleo Way 10-week (and maintenance) program is promoting for literally our entire evolutionary history– right up until no more than a mere 10,000 years ago. In short, nothing could be more natural.  But there are some caveats and additional guidelines that anyone pregnant (or looking to get pregnant) and/or nursing should probably keep in mind.

At no time is the quality and composition of a woman’s diet more important than when she is pregnant (or preparing to become pregnant).  A woman’s state of health going into her pregnancy and the quality of a woman’s nutrition will literally help determine what critical nutrients are available for the construction and development of her baby’s body, organs, endocrine system, and immune system—not to mention a human baby’s uniquely demanding brain and nervous system.   It’s also critical not to neglect the increased stress and nutritional demands being placed upon the mother, as well.  It’s a tall order getting through a pregnancy in a state of optimal health for both mother and baby and quite a bit needs to be considered toward the best possible outcomes for all.

Famed nutritional Pioneer and anthropologic researcher, Dr. Weston A. Price spend more than 10-years studying traditional and indigenous societies throughout the world in the 1930’s and studied in depth the impact of traditional/primitive foods on the health of countless people.  His amazing and now famous book chronicling this research in depth, titled Nutrition and Physical Degeneration was required reading in Harvard anthropology classes for many years.  Among the most startling of the findings he made was that primitive and traditional people groups with the healthiest babies and the lowest incidence of both physical and mental disease ate diets that were highest in animal-source fat-soluble nutrients (particularly vitamins’ A/retinol, D3, and K2). In fact, these disease-free societies consumed at least four times the mineral content and 10-times the fat-soluble nutrient content of the diets being consumed in mainstream Western society during his time. It stands to reason that the disparity in nutrient density would be even greater today as our soils become ever further depleted.  This should not be too surprising in light of findings that suggest we humans are literally BORN to rely upon fat (and not carbohydrates) as our primary source of fuel and brain development![1]  In fact, nothing can be more important to the healthy development of an developing infant in the womb than dietary fat, its essential fatty acids and fat-soluble nutrients.  These are central to who we are and what has made us the most human.

“Without this metabolic adaptation, H. sapiens could not have evolved such a large brain.”[2]

Therefore, it makes perfect sense that primitive/indigenous societies would have tapped into this need and allowed for fat’s central importance before, during and following pregnancy.

Weston Price additionally discovered that each indigenous and/or traditional culture had its own very specific set of guidelines for promoting fertility and healthy pregnancies.  Fascinatingly, although the specific types of actual foods available decidedly varied from place to place, certain prescriptive dietary principles remained surprisingly consistent.  There were always very similar types of what were termed “sacred foods” sought out for this purpose at these times.  What was consistent in all of them was their fat and fat-soluble nutrient-rich profile.  And all of this invariably came from animal source foods (including sometimes fish).  Price also discovered that these “fat soluble activators,” as he called them, were critical for the absorption and utilization of minerals in the diet.  In a passage from his extraordinary and now classic textbook, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, he states,

“A question arises as to the efficiency of the human body in removing all of the minerals from the ingested foods. Extensive laboratory determinations have shown that most people cannot absorb more than half of the calcium and phosphorus from the foods eaten. The amounts utilized depend directly on the presence of other substances, particularly fat-soluble vitamins. It is probably at this point that the greatest breakdown in our modern diet takes place, namely, in the ingestion and utilization of adequate amounts of the special activating substances, including the vitamins [A/retinol, D3 and K2] needed for rendering the minerals in the food available to the human system. It is possible to starve for minerals that are abundant in the foods eaten because they cannot be utilized without an adequate quantity of the fat-soluble activators.”[3]

These fat-rich foods were profoundly revered and consistently implemented for pregnant (or those seeking to become pregnant), and nursing women for at least a year before and after pregnancy.  Among the most consistently revered “sacred” foods was liver.  Egg yolks and fish eggs/roe, small fatty fish (such as anchovies, herring and sardines) and bone marrow from various anumals were also considered extremely important foods supplying critical nutrients such as brain-building fats, iron, B12, B6, vitamins’ A (retinol and its isomers) D3, K2, choline, zinc, iodine, and critical dietary cholesterol.  A few other pastoral, post agricultural, more recent “traditional” societies also focused on raw grass-fed butter and raw cream/full fat milk (which may or may not be tolerated by many today and has extremely limited legal availability).

According to ancient, proven, tried-and-true principles throughout the ages and given the increasingly challenged and compromising world we live in today, the most useful guidelines supporting the healthiest possible fertility, pregnancy and nursing might generally include the following:

  • Strict attention to food quality— consuming only certified organic, non-GMO vegetables and greens, and meats/organs exclusively from 100% pasture fed and finished sources. This goes a long way toward supplying critical fat-soluble nutrients while minimizing exposure to potentially toxic and even teratogenic (i.e., birth-defect inducing) pesticides, herbicides, chemicals, industrial fats, sugar, refined salt, processed foods and genetically modified “Franken-food” substances.
  • Eggs (and especially egg yolks) from fowl and also fish roe can be extremely nourishing during pregnancy and nursing, as long as a woman doesn’t experience an immune reactivity to these foods (mainly referring to poultry eggs). If a woman happens to be prone to chronic inflammatory issues while consuming them (assuming an already gluten and dairy-free diet), then at the very least eggs from poultry sources might be best limited until such time that a more accurate measure of immune reactivity may be determined.
  • Full fat 100% grass fed/finished beef and lamb supply excellent blood-building nutrients, beneficial fatty acids (including quality omega-3’s balanced with others) and healthy minerals.
  • Be sure to consume a good 3 to 4 ounces once or twice a week of quality, pastured liver of some kind. This can be enjoyed pan-seared, broiled, grilled (with quality sugar/nitrate-free bacon!), in liverwurst or added in small amounts to ground beef (as a way of sneaking it in for those that might not like the taste) or as a delicious easily made homemade pâté.  Traditional and indigenous people groups universally revered organ meats and in particular, liver for the nutrient dense and healthful properties supportive of healthy pregnancy and healthy babies. In fact, the first solid food commonly offered babies in indigenous societies is liver![4]  If you have any trepidation about vitamin A toxicity, I recommend that you carefully read my extended and well referenced report on the subject: http://www.primalbody-primalmind.com/vitamin-a-under-attack-down-under/.  Cod liver oil from a high quality Nordic source in very small quantities can be OK as a substitute (no more than a teaspoon a day from a quality, non-fishy tasting brand), but extra vitamin D3 found in pastured lard (pig fat), sunlight exposure and/or careful supplementation should also be considered in order to maintain critical A and D balance.  Other organ meats should also be considered for their important balancing vitamin K2 content.  Also, be sure to regularly test your serum 25,hydroxyvitamin D3  to make sure it is at an appropriate level!

WARNING:  Please avoid all cod liver oil and other products sold by Green Pasture brand, found through recent independent testing labs to contain high levels of rancidity and trans fats.  Baaad juju.

  • Seafood has traditionally been one of our planet’s healthiest and most nutritious, nutrient dense foods. But in recent decades, massive contamination of our oceans with everything from petroleum products (and toxic chemicals used to supposedly neutralize/conceal spilled petroleum products), PCB’s, mercury, vast and growing radioactive oceanic plumes from nuclear disasters such as Fukushima, and questionable (highly questionable) fish farming practices throughout the world have led to major concerns about the safety of much of our global seafood supply. I am currently recommending that pregnant women stick to wild caught fish from either cleaner Nordic waters, inland landlocked lakes and streams, or more pristine sources from the southern hemisphere (New Zealand, Tasmania, Chile, etc.).  Keep in mind that even the North Pacific/Alaskan waters are highly questionable nowadays and critical available data concerning radionuclide contamination are lacking (and the FDA—in bed with multinational interests– clearly states it has no plans to test for this[5]).  Radioactively contaminated fish in Japan is even being routinely sold to Western markets having more relaxed limits on acceptable nuclide contamination levels.[6]  Let’s just say it’s a dirty business all the way around.  It can be very hard to know who and what to believe.  KNOW YOUR SEAFOOD SOURCES WELL.  Fish species lower on the food chain (such as sardines, anchovies and herring for instance) are vastly preferable to those larger species (like sharks, swordfish, etc.).  I generally recommend avoiding tuna altogether, as it is extremely high on the food chain (therefore especially prone to bioaccumulation and (worse) biomagnification of various heavy metals and toxins, including radioactive nuclides[7]).  Shrimp (frequently bred in extremely contaminated Asian farms or from the hopelessly contaminated Gulf of Mexico from which NO seafood should be eaten) should be avoided unless a truly clean and uncontaminated source can be ascertained.  Oysters from Tasmania (I have been especially impressed by Bluff oysters unique to this region) and clean waters near New Zealand can be highly nutritious, but try to be sure of what you’re getting.  It’s a sad reality that we are just not living in the uncontaminated world of our ancestors anymore. Contamination of our oceans is rampant and there is little that the seafood industry can do to ensure total safety.  It pays to be extra fussy when it comes to your seafood selection in today’s world—especially if you happen to be pregnant!
  • Cultured vegetables and easily prepared homemade coconut yogurt/kefir and other cultured beverages like beet kvass can all provide excellent sources of healthy probiotics, enzymes and important nutrients. There are more vitamins and nutrients in cultured vegetables than the raw vegetables it is made from.
  • Bone broth (homemade) provides excellent, easily digestible, soothing nourishment that can also offer a great deal of versatility at mealtime. It can be enjoyed plain, or with various seasonings, spices, coconut milk, meat, vegetables and greens added to taste as desired. It can also be added to sauces and pates. It’s a marvelous and healthy staple.  Gelatin contained in homemade bone broth can additionally supply gut, cartilage and connective tissue supportive/healing nutrients, along with a wonderful complement of utilizable minerals.
  • Eat a large variety of healthy, natural, 100% pasture-fed/wild caught fats and sources of fat-soluble nutrients. Adding seasoned, roasted bone marrow to your diet (an affordable delicacy by any standard) can help add some especially beneficial (and brain building) fats to the diet.  According to Weston A. Price in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, “An important part of the nutrition of the children [of Native Americans] consisted in various preparations of bone marrow, both as a substitute for milk and as a special dietary ration.” [8] Lab tests show that 100 grams, approximately six and a half tablespoons, of bone marrow contains 677 IU vitamin A, 29 mcg vitamin K2, and high levels of nourishing fats. Bone marrow is rich in sphingolipids, which are specialized fats that protect cell membranes against environmental insults and that are critical components of the brain and nervous system.[9] Roasted bone marrow, pastured beef tallow, pastured lard, duck fat, goose fat, chicken fat, organic virgin coconut oil, extra virgin organic olive oil extra virgin organic avocado oil, organic sesame oil (just a touch), and (only) Cultured Ghee made by Pure Indian Foods are all great sources of healthy fats and fat-soluble nutrients!

A list of many of the important “sacred” foods used in indigenous societies the world over for healthy pregnancy identified by Weston A. Price included:

SEAFOOD: whole small fish, fish livers, fish liver oil, fish heads and shellfish
EGGS: especially egg yolks, from poultry; eggs of insects and fish
ORGAN MEATS: liver, brain, tongue, marrow, kidney, lungs, stomach lining, intestines and reproductive organs
ANIMAL FAT: from wild game, sea mammals (for us best gotten from cows, lamb, game, pork, and poultry)
INSECTS: Worms, caterpillars, larvae, grasshoppers, etc.  (I know…yum)

A common question is: Don’t I need whole grains, legumes and carbs while I am pregnant?

In short, no…but there is a slight caveat.  Since there is literally a zero human dietary requirement for grains, legumes, dairy products, sugar or starch of any kind– a grain-free/dairy-free/low sugar/starch diet during pregnancy is not inherently at all problematic. In fact, it can be highly beneficial.  I would, however work closely with a qualified healthcare provider to take more gradual steps toward any changes you are making if you happen to be pregnant.  SUDDEN major shifts of any kind that require your body to adjust to significant changes are seldom recommended during pregnancy—Even the most positive change has the potential to be discombobulating if a person is unprepared for it—but the dietary recommendations we offer are ultimately the healthiest approach you could possibly take for yourself and your baby.  You may simply want to take a little longer than the average subscriber getting there– adjusting your dietary changes more gradually, just to be safe.

Eliminating highly antigenic foods such as grains and dairy have additional implications for pregnancy that needs to be considered today, more than any other time in human history.  What I am referring to is the exploding epidemic of autoimmune conditions worldwide. Readers here may want to refer back to the article I wrote about autoimmunity for The Paleo Way member website. Although poorly recognized and screened for in mainstream medicine, the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) in the US both estimate that approximately 53 million Americans suffer from some form of autoimmunity. Contrast this with 22 million Americans estimated to have cardiovascular disease and another 9 million estimated to have cancer, and autoimmunity outnumbers both of these top killers put together. Autoimmunity is currently recognized as the number three cause of morbidity and mortality in the industrialized world– right behind cancer and heart disease; but it is clear that this statistic maybe vastly underestimated.  Dietary antigens (in particular gluten and dairy, but also certain legumes—particularly soy and other modern post-agricultural foods to which humans are poorly adapted genetically) meaningfully contribute universally to the initiation and exacerbation of these conditions.

An undiagnosed autoimmune condition has additionally profound implications for pregnancy. Immunologists now recognize a powerful link between maternal autoimmunity (diagnosed or undiagnosed) and the skyrocketing prevalence of autism. [10],[11]  It is deeply troubling. It is imperative that any pregnant woman knowingly having and autoimmune condition stabilize that condition is much as humanly possible and manage it carefully throughout pregnancy.  A dietary approach in alignment with that to which humans are the most genetically well adapted is going to offer the least potential risk of antigenicity and additional unintended complications for the fetus.  It is no guarantee— but offers much greater support for immune health for both mother and baby of any other dietary approach in existence.  Minimizing exposure to toxic agricultural chemicals such as glyphosate (also known commercially as “RoundUp Herbicide”) and genetically modified foods GMO’s), along with innumerable other pollutants, contaminants, industrial and artificial “nasties” further supports a healthy trajectory for both any mother and baby.  Given the exceedingly contaminated and compromised world we all live in today, there is precious little wiggle room for what is popularly referred to as “moderation” and/or “occasional indulgence.”  Nowhere is this more true than with pregnancy.  One 2010 study identified more than 232 toxic chemicals in newborn babies,[12] and in another, older study over 200 toxic chemicals screened for were found in 100% of pregnant women tested.[13]

It’s a whole new world we all face.  And future generations are paying the biggest price for it.

Additional Considerations

Another important consideration for you if you’re pregnant is that your dietary protein requirements are going to be higher than what we typically recommend for average adult on this 10-week program. In general, I don’t recommend overly restricting protein intake during efforts at getting pregnant and during pregnancy, itself.  Consuming protein in excess of your regular basic rebuilding and regeneration needs accomplishes something uniquely valuable toward pregnancy and fertility.   Anything over about 25 g of actual protein in a single meal will tend to up-regulate a particular metabolic pathway known as mTOR. It turns out that this is a special protein-sensing pathway that is designed to recognize the presence of “extra” nutrients (in particular, amino acids).  What this subsequently stimulates is reproductive mechanisms that generates new cellular proliferation. If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, that’s exactly what you want. The excesses of dietary protein tell your body that “hey–hunting is extra good—now’s a great time for babies” and suggests that there is more than enough nutrient availability to support the creation of new life. In those of us not attempting to reproduce who are done physically growing and developing (as in childhood), it is more advantageous to in fact suppress this mTOR pathway, as it is additionally a potential vector for the proliferation of damaged/mutated cells and the development of cancer.  Excess protein also readily feeds cancer, secondarily to sugar/starch. This is where the general recommendation toward protein moderation for average adults in this program comes in.  I discuss this subject in greater depth in my book, Primal Body, Primal Mind. The excess protein will also significantly convert to sugar and get used the same way. There is still no requirement for dietary carbohydrate (i.e., sugar and starch) in this equation if you are pregnant, and any further need for glucose will be readily met through gluconeogenesis and whatever the excess protein can provide toward stimulating appropriate cellular-proliferative insulin.  What is important, however is that any blood sugar issues you may have are carefully managed through this dietary transition, so that everything can adjust smoothly and safely with a minimum of discomfort.  For those having hypoglycemia/reactive hypoglycemia, supplemental L-glutamine powder (a natural and normally abundant amino acid commonly used by the body and brain) may be helpful toward minimizing low blood sugar symptoms during this time while transitioning to a more even burning and reliable, fat-based metabolism.  Please consult with your trusted health care provider to be sure this is right for you.

Fats, essential fatty acids (especially animal-derived EPA/DHA) and fat-soluble nutrients (A/retinol, D3, E-complex—once referred to as the “fertility vitamin[14] and vitamin K2) are especially important for you if you are pregnant. You also will want to really put a focus on the best quality (organic, pastured) dietary proteins/fats and organic produce you can get your hands on. Minimizing exposure to pesticides, herbicides and GMO’s–not to mention processed garbage passing as “food” can only benefit you and your baby in the long run.

What About Pre-Natal Vitamins?

You probably don’t want to get me started on this one.  What I suggest is that you go and read/re-read the article I wrote for The Paleo Way member site on supplementation.  Here’s a hint:

One example of a prenatal “One-A-Day” formula showed the following ingredient profile:

Calcium Carbonate, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Magnesium Oxide, Ferrous Fumarate, Ascorbic Acid, Maltodextrin, Gelatin, dl-Alpha-Tocopheryl Acetate, Dicalcium Phosphate; Less than 2% of: Beta-Carotene, Biotin, Cholecalciferol, Croscarmellose Sodium, Cupric Oxide, Cyanocobalamin, D-Calcium Pantothenate, FD&C Red #40 Dye, FD&C Red #40 Lake, FD&C Yellow #6 Lake, Folic Acid, Hydroxypropyl Methylcellulose, Niacinamide, Polyethylene Glycol, Polysorbate 80, Potassium Iodide, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Silicon Dioxide, Soybean Oil, Starch, Stearic Acid, Thiamine Mononitrate, Titanium Dioxide (color), Vitamin A Acetate, Zinc Oxide.

In short, filled with synthetic and inorganic, compromising (if not toxic) elements and chemicals…anything but something geared toward healthy women or babies.

Why not get your “prenatal formula” from real food instead?

CALCIUM/MAGNESIUM: bone broths, leafy greens

FOLIC ACID: Liver, egg yolk, fish eggs, green vegetables

VITAMIN B12: Liver, shellfish, fish eggs, meat, poultry eggs

VITAMIN B6 and B complex: Meat (not overly cooked), eggs, liver

VITAMIN C: Fresh vegetables

DHA: 100% pastured meat, fatty cold-water fish, fish eggs, pastured egg yolks, pastured liver

VITAMIN A: Liver, egg yolks, butter

VITAMIN D: Cod liver oil, fish eggs, egg yolks, lard, sunlight exposure (not a food—but a free way of getting this nutrient!)

VITAMIN K2: Poultry liver, pastured animal fats, pastured eggs

CHOLINE:  Pastured egg yolks, liver

ZINC: Red meat, liver, sardines, oysters, fish eggs

IODINE: Fish eggs, pastured poultry eggs, seafood, certain mushrooms and vegetables grown in an iodine-rich medium or soil, Himalayan/Celtic sea salt

PROBIOTICS: Cultured foods

Your general rule of thumb?

If it wouldn’t look like food to someone wandering around 40,000 years ago with a loincloth and a spear (or perhaps a pair of mukluks, as it were), that it isn’t food for you or your baby now.  If in doubt, it’s hard to go wrong with Mother Nature!

[1] Medina, J. M. and Tabernero, A. (2005) J Neurosci Res, 79, 2-10

[2] Cahill GF Jr, Veech RL. “Ketoacids? Good medicine?” Trans Am Clin Climatol Assoc. 2003;114:149-61; discussion 162-3.

[3] Price, Weston A. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, 6th edition, p 269.

[4] Baumslag, Naomi, MD, MPH. Tricks of the Infant Food Industry. Wise Traditions, Fall 2001.

[5] http://www.adn.com/2011/04/16/1813982/fda-claims-no-need-to-test-pacific.html#ixzz1JlrzUS7x#storylink=cpy

[6] http://enenews.com/insane-us-importing-food-from-japan-thats-considered-unfit-to-eat-there-video

[7] “Effects of Tohoku Tsunami and Fukushima Radiation on the U.S. Marine Environment” Eugene H. Buck, Specialist in Natural Resources Policy; Harold F. Upton, Analyst in Natural Resources Policy, August 17, 2012

[8] Price, Weston A. DDS. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, 6th Edition, p 260.

[9] Sphingolipid. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sphingolipid

[10] Stoner R, Chow ML, Boyle MP, et al. “Patches of disorganization in the neocortex of children with autism.”  N Engl J Med 2014; 370:1209-1219. March 27, 2014. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1307491

[11] http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2013/09/23/224387744/how-a-pregnant-womans-choices-could-shape-a-childs-health

[12] http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/06/01/backpack.cord.blood/

[13] Woodruff TJ, Zota AR, Schwartz JM. “Environmental chemicals in pregnant women in the United States: NHANES 2003-2004.” Environ Health Perspect. 2011 June; 119(6): 878–885. Published online 2011 January 14. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1002727

[14] Pfluger P, Kluth D, Landes N, Bumke-Vogt C, Brigelius- Flohe R. Vitamin E: underestimated as an antioxidant. Redox Rep. 2004;9(5):249-54.

By Nora Gedgaudas

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