Saturday 26 June 2021

TTC // Working with a nutritionist

littlepackofvegans peony

I've honestly been meaning to write this post for MONTHS considering I'm now 33 weeks pregnant, but better late than never! Trying to conceive is a significantly more emotional process than I ever realised. Eden was a surprise pregnancy (the best surprise ever, as it turns out) so the complexities of actually trying to have another baby were unexpected to me. As women, for much of our lives we often focus on trying not to conceive as the matter of contraception tends to fall to us. So one could be forgiven for thinking that as soon as you started trying to have a baby, surely you'd get pregnant straight away. And that does happen! - for a lucky few. For the rest of us it takes a little more time, patience, and for me, getting in tune with my body.

We started trying to conceive when Eden was around a year old, but not taking it too seriously. (Funnily enough it can be hard to find time with a one year old running around, and she was still breastfeeding very regularly - I wasn't sure if this would impact my fertility as my period had just returned but breastfeeding would have been using a lot of my body's energy.) I wasn't nervous about having another vegan pregnancy, having had a very healthy pregnancy with Eden. But admittedly, I was feeling a little off. After a few months of "trying" I was shocked at how emotional I felt when my period came or others announced a pregnancy. That broodiness, that craving for another pregnancy and child is a fierce desire that can be very consuming, and once you've experienced that feeling it can be quite a shock to the system that isn't easy to wave away despite the best intentions and rationale.

In retrospect, part of me was probably aware of feeling that I needed some kind of balance in my body that I was lacking. We ate very healthily already so I was struggling to understand what was going on - I knew I was feeling very emotional and very tired at times, but that's just being a parent - right?! I happen to follow many different parenting and vegan accounts on Instagram, and one of my favourites became Huban Health, where nutritionist Rachel Huban covers all aspects of having a healthy plant based pregnancy and postpartum. Having watched one of her stories about supplements, I asked her a question and our conversation began from there. I then became one of Rach's clients and I'm so incredibly grateful for this opportunity as I honestly credit her for helping us to conceive Sprout which I think would have taken us a lot longer without her insight and advice. I also genuinely have found some of the things I've learned through Rach's guidance have been life changing, not only for pregnancy but for my long-term health, too. As somebody who prides themself on being committed to taking care of my nutrition and health, I still learned so much, and a lot of that has to do with handing the reins over to somebody else and getting an outside perspective as sometimes you simply can't see where the smallest changes could make the biggest difference.

When it came to working with Rach, I filled in a questionnaire which covered all aspects of my physical health - the good, the bad and the ugly. I noticed that my recurring answers were exhaustion and struggling to concentrate/focus - but again, rationalised this away as that's just being a tired toddler mama, right?! I also got my blood levels checked at the doctors for various things including vitamin D, iron and vitamin B12. This was all before we had our first Zoom call together, so she would have time to look at my results and we could discuss my answers and blood levels, and make a plan for improvement from there. On the questionnaire I'd filled in my goals (which were trying to conceive, and also hormone balance in general as I suspected mine were a little all over the place - my body was giving me various signs including slightly irregular periods and hormonal spots.)

We had our first Zoom call together which I actually found quite emotional to think about afterwards, especially when discussing some of the insights Rach had already had from the information I'd given her. I remember her being quite shocked at how tired I was feeling and my realising that maybe that wasn't the default state of all parents after all. After all, we're so used to our own version of "normal" that sometimes we may not realise that things can change or improve. We didn't only discuss diet, lifestyle came into it too, and actually it was through unpicking lifestyle and routines where most of the revelations took place that I wasn't looking after myself as well as I thought I was! Afterwards, Rach sent me a detailed plan, containing goals to work on for the next couple of weeks, until our next Zoom call where we would discuss how I'd found the changes I'd made and how I was feeling in general.

My first plan was probably full of the most significant changes that I would make - and keep going forwards. I was given advice on supplements - to stop taking unnecessary or poor quality ones, recommending what to keep, and what to change to where necessary. I changed my prenatals to a better quality, more absorbable version, and kept on with my B12, vitamin D and omega-3 supplements (these are three supplements I feel are very important no matter how nutritious your diet is and whether you're plant-based or not - I'm glad that Rach agreed on this!) I also bought a good quality magnesium supplement to help with my energy levels and clarity, as I'd noticed I was getting a lot of brain fog. I still take this because I find it makes a big difference - although theoretically many of the foods in my diet are very rich in magnesium the soils are actually becoming very depleted in it which means we're all getting less through food than we might think.

In terms of nutrition, an absolute game changer for me was upping the frequency of my food. I hadn't realised how long I'd been going between meals or snacks which is difficult enough when breastfeeding, but also can really play havoc with hormones. By committing to eat something nutritious every 3 hours I noticed a huge, immediate difference to my energy levels and when I committed to this long term, over a few months I noticed that my periods were coming closer together which is brilliant when you're trying to conceive and is a general sign of better health than the longer cycles I'd been having before. Rach gave me lots of ideas and recipes for healthy snacks which I found invaluable, especially when trying to plan around a toddler.

There was also a big focus in the plans on mindfulness - the very first advice on my plan was to "make this week about taking time for yourself - you need to rest!" For me it was a big thing to "allow" myself to rest and not keep on constantly, even though I could feel I was burning myself out. I tried some techniques including meditation and tapping, which were great for my headspace.

After this, I felt hugely different from even a very early stage after making these changes. My following plans were more about tweaking what I was already doing, trying different recipes and batch cooking, and trying out different things including reducing gluten in my diet and focusing on positive mantras, and trying to make space in my day to incorporate some meditation or fertility yoga.

I don't think it's a coincidence that at the end of my third session I discovered I was pregnant. Taking care of my body and taking time for myself was the best tool I could have given myself to feel in the absolute best place I could to conceive, both mentally and physically. I can only thank Rach for working with me and giving me some truly life changing advice and support (in more ways than one!) Her guidance not only put me in a position to achieve this goal for our family, but also gave me a sense of being in tune with my body and some tools for looking after myself (and my family) that I will always try and remember going forwards. After all, creating these healthy habits is an opportunity for life, not just for conception and pregnancy!

Have you ever worked with a nutritionist? For parents, or those trying to conceive, did you have an "easy" journey or did it take a little more for you too?

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