Monday, 27 November 2017

The Importance of Folic Acid in Pregnancy

We hear a lot about folic acid and its vital role during pregnancy. But do you actually know why it’s so important? 

Let's have a look at why you should pay attention to these important nutrients both before and during your pregnancy.

What is folic acid, or folate? What's its role?

You may be most familiar with 'folic acid'.  Folic acid is the synthetic version of folate.  Folate is naturally occuring in foods we consume, and you can also get it is a natural supplement.  Folic acid that is a synthetic version of folate.  Whether you chose folate or folic acid, they are both part of the B complex of vitamins, specifically B9. You can explore the differences between folate and folic acid here.

In pregnancy, folate is essential to the development of the baby's spinal cord and nervous system. It helps to prevent neural tube defects (NTDs). Since the spinal cord and nervous system are amongst the first things to develop in the baby, it's important that women take a daily supplement of folate or folic acid both while trying to conceive and during the first 12 weeks of the pregnancy. It's difficult to get enough folate just from your diet so a supplement is needed, either as folate or folic acid. The human body does not store folate, and because of this, we need to consume it every day to ensure that we have enough in our system.

Deficiency in Folate

A deficiency in folate can increase the likelihood of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.
Women who have an increased risk of carrying a baby with a neural tube defect are usually advised to take a higher dose of 5 milligrams (5mg) of folate or folic acid each day until they are 12 weeks pregnant. You may have an increased risk if:

·        you or your partner have a neural tube defect 
·        you previously had a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect
·        you or your partner have a family history of neural tube defects
·        you have diabetes
In addition, you should consult your GP for advice if you're taking anti-epileptic medication, as you may also need to take a higher dose of folate or folic acid. Your GP or midwife may also recommend additional screening tests during your pregnancy.

Daily recommended dosage

Women are advised to take a daily supplement of 400 micrograms of folate or folic acid while they are trying to conceive and should continue taking this dose for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, when the baby's spine is developing. However, it is safe to continue taking folate supplements after 12 weeks.

On rare occasions some people find that supplements give them an upset stomach. If you take more than the recommended amount of folate or folic acid by accident it shouldn't cause any problems. Because it is a water-soluble vitamin your body will just naturally excrete any it doesn't need.

Having a good diet helps

As well as your daily supplement, you can also find high amounts of naturally-occuring folate in broccoli, Brussel sprouts, asparagus, peas, chickpeas, brown rice and  green leafy vegetables. Other useful sources of folic acid include fortified breakfast cereals, some bread and some fruit, such as oranges and bananas.

Stay healthy, stay happy!
Zakia Mance
Naturopath and Hypnobirthing Practitioner


Monday, 16 October 2017

The Power of Smoothies

How often do we hear about the benefits of eating more fruit and veg? And do we do it? Probably not, most of the time. Of course, we mean to.  But life is a juggle and we often don't make time for the things we know are good for us.

This week on the blog, Zakia helps us to make getting healthier both easy and delicious.

Fruits and vegetables are essential to our well-being, especially if you are pregnant or have recently had a baby or are breastfeeding. Mothers really need to replenish their stores of nutrients as growing a whole little human being and nourshing them takes a significant amount from you.  One of the easiest ways to increase your daily consumption of fruit and veg is to make your own smoothies. And this can also be really great for the rest of the family too.  

How to make smoothies?

You don’t need any fancy equipment, all you need is a hand blender or standard blender.  If you have anything fancier, that's great. But it's not essential.  

You will also need a selection of fruit and veg that you can easily blend. These can be fresh or frozen.  Use good quality ingredients, including seasonal and/or organic if possible.  Consuming fruit and veg in a liquidised form means most of the nutrients are absorbed directly into your blood stream.  So the better-quality stuff you use, the more you are maximising the nutrients you are consuming with each smoothy.

I would avoid putting more than 5 different fruits or vegetables in one smoothie because we don’t want the body to have too many different things to process at once. Simply put your selection of fruits and vegetables in the blender, add a bit of water or almond milk and whizz it in the blender.

When to consume them?

To get the greatest benefits from your smoothies, avoid eating solid food an hour before and after having your smoothie. This is to allow the body to absorb all the vitamins and minerals.

You can make batches and freeze smoothies too.  So when you are busy you can easily defrost and have a quick daily dose of vitamins and minerals when you are on the go. 

If you find some greens too bitter, add an extra banana or mango. For mamas that are breastfeeding, this is a wonderful way for baby to get all the goodness directly. And, don’t forget, Vitamin K is present in most leafy green vegetables.

Some Yummy Recipes

Super green: 3 small bananas, 2 handfuls of spinach leaves, 1 apple and water

Raspberry dream: 2 pears, raspberries, 4 or 5 leaves of kale and water

Kiwi delight: 4 very ripe kiwis, 1 banana, 3 stalks of celery and water 

Stay healthy, stay happy!

Zakia Mance, Naturopath and Hypnobirthing Practitioner

Monday, 9 October 2017

Aqua Fitness for Pregnancy

We all know that keeping fit during pregnacy can be really beneficial.  So, today on the blog, Mara, our resident fitness guru, shares with us the benefits of aqua fitness for pregnant women.

Yesterday, I was teaching my regular aqua fitness class at the local leisure centre and I was delighted to see one my regular ladies who is pregnant.  She has been coming to my class for a few months now, and she really enjoys and understands the benefits of water fitness. The following are the many benefits that aqua fitness can provide:

  • Being in the water can be fun.  Having a good splash around can reduce stress and tension and offer therapeutic benefits. Plus water fitness can increase one of your most beneficial hormones during pregnancy, your endorphins;
  • When you are in water, your body is buoyant reducing pressure on the joints, legs and back. So, water fitness can reduce aches and pains, and therefore help you feel more comfortable;
  • You can enjoy a fat-burning, endurance-building workout without the impact of bouncing up and down on the ground or gym machines;
  • Water is denser than air, so requires increased muscular effort to move. So, you get an even better work out;
  • Thanks to the hydrostatic pressure, water exercise can help reduce swelling in the limbs;
  • Water fitness is also the perfect for those who are introducing fitness into their lifestyle during their pregnancy.  It is a gentle, yet highly-beneficial form of exercise; and
  • It is excellent for muscle toning, and for the cardio-vascular system.

The multiple benefits of water fitness means that is it amongst the best forms of exercise for pregnant women.  And, as long as you're having a healthy, low-risk pregnancy, you can keep being active in the water all the way to the end the pregnancy.

As with all exercise and fitness activites, always consult your midwife or GP before you start.  And, remember, that you still sweat in the water - even you do not feel it - so make sure you have plenty of water before, during and after the exercise. Plus, you can treat yourself at the the end of your workout to a bit of gentle relaxing time in the water. I guarantee you it will feel wonderful.

See you in the big blue!

With love
Mara x

Aqua Natal Teacher, Fitness Instructor, Hypnobirthing Practitioner 

'Mara is absolutely the best!  I am so excited for our birthing experience! I am amazed and delighted at how confident I feel.'

Monday, 2 October 2017

Healthy Vegetarian and Vegan Pregnancy

Being pregnant brings a plethora of questions regarding what women should eat or how much they should eat. In today's blog, Zakia helps us understand how to get a nutritionally-balanced diet as a vegetarian or vegan during pregnancy.  

So you're pregnant and thinking about how to best nourish youself and your growing baby bump.  There are many guidelines on nutrition during pregnancy and it can be quite overwhelming for women to know what’s best for them. It’s even more true for vegetarians and vegans.  Even the most committed and knowledgeable may face doubts when pregnant. Let’s have a look at what each group needs to be aware in order to enjoy a healthy pregnancy. 

A healthy vegetarian diet during pregnancy

If you eat a variety of healthy vegetarian foods, you should be able to get all the vitamins, minerals, protein and other nutrients that you and your baby need. Have something from each of these four main food groups every day:

·        Fruit and vegetables - a combination of fresh and frozen vegetable is fine, and try to have five portions a day. A glass of fresh fruit or vegetable juice counts as one portion.

·        Carbohydrates - these starchy, filling foods include wholegrain bread, pasta, rice and potatoes. Wholemeal and wholegrain options are healthier, will fill you up and help to prevent constipation.

·        Protein - eggs, beans, pulses and nuts are also a good sources of iron.

·        Dairy - these milk, cheese and yoghurt, if you are not lactose intolerant

It's especially important to include enough vegetarian protein, iron and calcium in your diet. Try to eat one or more of these sources of iron every day: green vegetables and pulses.
Avoid having tea and coffee with your meals, as these drinks contain tannins and polyphenols, which make it harder for your body to absorb iron from vegetables. However, if you have food or drink that is rich in vitamin C with your meals, such as orange juice or broccoli, it helps your body to absorb iron.

What to be aware of when vegan and pregnant

One of the most common questions asked if you are vegan is how do to get enough proteins in your diet.  During pregnancy, you should you get around 75g of protein daily. Proteins are essential to the growth of your cells, so it’s no wonder they are an important part of your pregnancy diet. Getting enough protein is vital to your baby’s growth. 

The third trimester of your pregnancy is when your baby’s brain will be developing. Proteins high in omega-3 fatty acids like DHA provide the nutrients necessary for proper cognitive activity and growth. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to get an adequate amount of protein during those last few months of pregnancy. Good sources include chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds and walnuts, and try to use rapeseed oil for cooking.

The other question vegans get asked often is about calcium and vitamin D. Most people think the only good source of calcium are dairy products but the best bioavailable forms of calcium are from dark leafy vegetables like kale, as well as from almonds and sesame seeds. Calcium also works with other vitamins like vitamin D, so make sure you are also benefitting from some sun exposure and eat vitamin D rich foods (fortified unsweetened soya, rice and oat drinks, sesame seeds and tahini, pulses) brown and white bread (in the UK, calcium is added to white and brown flour by law) dried fruit, such as raisins, prunes, figs and dried apricots
The regular use of vitamin B12 supplements or fortified foods is recommended for all pregnant vegans as vitamin B12  is found primarily in foods of animal origin and plays an important role in the developing foetus. Fortified cereals are a good source and of course you can take specially formulated food supplements for vegans.

A vegetarian or vegan diet doesn’t mean your health or your baby’s health is at a higher risk of being depleted of essentials nutrients. If you choose carefully, your sources of proteins and have a diet rich in dark leafy vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds, fresh fruits and good oils you are set to give  your baby and yourself a very healthy start.
Stay healthy, stay happy!
Zakia Mance
Naturopath and Hypnobirthing Practitioner


Monday, 25 September 2017

Your story. Your voice. Your truth.

Today on the blog, Gina reflects on birth experiences may people have, the importance of being able to speak about these experiences, and being truly heard and supported. 

As an antenatal educator, I've been teaching pregnant couples for over six years now and I've taught nearly 400 couples. I also ran a Positive Birth Movement (PBM) group in London for three years, and I've been running another PBM group in Kent for the last two years. So I've had many, many birth stories shared with me over the years, both in a professional capacity, and also in passing when acquaintances (like mums at my kids' school) discover what I do for work. It is both my job and my passion not only to listen to these stories, but to truly hear the feelings and emotions behind what each parent has to say when they share their story.

In this blog, I want to reflect on the importance of both speaking your truth, whether you had a positive or negative experience, as well as the importance of being heard with compassion and without judgement.

Why share your birth story?

Many parents can benefit from sharing their birth experiences.  

The most obvious reason to talk about birth is if you had a traumatic experience. Talking about it can help you with coming to terms with upsetting memories and emotions. Sadly, I've heard people share many negative birth experiences, including some truly heart-breaking stories.  The one common factor for all of these individuals is the need to speak their truth in their words when they feel ready and safe. Speaking helps healing. A wonderful father that I met has spoken widely about his family's experience of losing their baby girl. And his sharing of their story has helped other families as well as his own. 

Maybe you feel disappointed with how your birth went, but it wasn't particularly 'traumatic'. It's possible that you have negative feelings about your birth experience, and your baby is now here safe and well. You may have been told, 'well, baby is here safely, that's the most important thing'. Of course, every parent wants their baby to arrive safe and well, and that is everyone's top priority. But you, your experience and your feelings also matter.  

Having a negative experience of childbirth can leave you with unresolved feelings for many years. Mothers sometimes feel guilty for having negative feelings, perhaps having trouble bonding with baby or struggling to settle into the role of mum. Dads or birth partners sometimes feel guilty and upset because they looked on helplessly whilst mum endured a difficult delivery.

Infant loss, still birth, birth trauma, negative birth experiences - these can leave an indelible mark a family, and simply taking that step to speak about it with a trusted individual can be hugely transformative.  For some parents, it can make all the difference, by releasing that pain and those fears, feeling able to enjoy one's life and family as it is now, and perhaps even feeling ok about trying for another baby again. It can feel empowering to begin the healing process and allow your life to move forward. 

Do you have a positive birth story to share? 

Positive birth experiences need space and acknowledgement too.  Why?  Your positive story may be a personal triumph over your fears and anxieties, moving past a previous negative birth, dealing with the loss of a baby or other complex feelings and difficulties.  Your positive birth deserves to be acknowledged and heard in the same way as those who experienced trauma and loss. 

It's hard to believe, but parents often feel guilty about sharing positive stories. Of course, in sharing your own positive story, you don't want to make others feel bad if they had a negative experience.  If you are hearing someone else's story, remember that their story is not a judgement or critique of you or your story.  If you feel that way, it is important that you find a safe space to share and heal from your own experience.  

If you share your story and you feel judged negatively as a result, maybe someone has heard your story as a criticism of their story, even though that wasn't your intention.  Remember that kind of response is about the other person's own unresolved feelings. They need space to heal. Telling one's story is about articulating, accepting, finding peace. And it can also be about celebrating your own journey and experience.  

Sharing positive birth experiences has the power to transform how those around you approach birth. Positive Birth groups are 100% committed to this.  FInd your own wonderful safe place to get support for all of your choices and all of your experiences.  Facilitators of these groups are registered with the PBM and are responsible for creating that confidential, non-judgemental space for the parents that attend the meetings.   

Mindset is a powerful thing.  Going into birth well-informed, prepared and supported can make even the most sudden change of birth plan more manageable. I've had clients unexpectedly need to be induced or have an emergency c-section, but because of good preparation and support they are able to report these births as positive experiences, even though things did not go to the original 'plan'.

'Holding Space' and Feeling Safe 

In the birth professional world, we talk about 'holding space' for our clients.  This means providing a space for you that feels safe, where parents feel 'held' and able to be and express what they need to, in whatever shape or words that comes. For mothers and fathers alike, creating a safe space where they are completely accepted and respected can be the first important step towards healing. 

It's a big responsibility to hold space for those sharing birth trauma and loss, and even positive experiences.  Any good birth professional understands the importance of being able to listen without judgement, without inserting one's own feelings or experience, and always with unconditional love and compassion.  This is what my ZenBirth team and I are committed to, and it's what we put into everything we do to help parents on their journey to meeting their babies.

My experience of hearing and listening to birth stories is that it is incredibly moving and has helped me to grow personally and professionally.  I have observed the process of parents releasing negative emotions around previous birth experiences.  Liberating oneself from these things can help couples acknowledge what went well during the birth and how joyful it was to welcome their child into the world, at the same time as recognising reasons why the delivery did not go as planned and eventually coming to a point of acceptance and peace.  Talking things through helps you to both gain clarity and lift the burden of those negative feelings and emotions. 

Whoever you share your story with, it is important that you feel listened to and that the person is committed to holding space for you that is safe, confidential, non-judgemental and truly focussed on you.  Remember there is always support out there, whether you are a parent or a birth professional, or both.  There are some organisations listed below that provide excellent information and support.  

Wishing you well. Remember that you and your story matter, always.
Gina xx
Gina Potts is Director of ZenBirth – Hypnobirthing UK. She comes from an academic research background, focusing on women's history, writing and feminism. Since 2009 has spent much of her time researching into all aspects of maternity care, pregnancy, birth and women’s postnatal health. In 2011, she founded ZenBirth and has helped hundreds of couples have a positive birth experience. Gina now leads a growing team of ZenBirth instructors who provide antenatal hypnobirthing education courses across London and the South East of the UK.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Birth is a Feminist Issue

Your voice is important. It is right that you should feel informed, in control and call the shots during your pregnancy, during the birth and in your life

Remember that just because you are pregnant, doesn't mean you have to hand over your power to someone else.  Growing a baby and giving birth are amongst the most powerful and empowering things you will ever do.

You and your baby are the most important people during your pregnancy and you have the power within you to learn about what is right for you, to gather good evidence-based information, to make the right choices for yourself and to assert your voice so that you get the care and the birth that you want. 

In this short video Gina explains why, for her, birth is a feminist issue. 

Gina Potts is Director of ZenBirth – Hypnobirthing UK. She comes from an academic research background, focusing on women's history, writing and feminism. Since 2009 has spent much of her time researching into all aspects of maternity care, pregnancy, birth and women’s postnatal health. In 2011, she founded ZenBirth and has helped hundreds of couples have a positive birth experience. Gina now leads a growing team of ZenBirth instructors who provide antenatal hypnobirthing education courses across London and the South East of the UK.