the pros of protein in pregnancy

While I love my job as a domestic engineer, I also feel blessed beyond measure to have a part-time job that I find both rewarding and fulfilling. Teaching childbirth classes for the past seven years has been a real gift and has caused me to learn so much while meeting great people and helping–even in some small way–their journey to parenthood.

One of the things I learned when I was first pregnant (more than 13 years ago now….but that’s for a different post altogether) was that pregnant women need to consume protein–usually 75 to 100g per day. I knew that protein is needed to construct a new person and the tissue that goes along with him or her and that protein deficiency can at times lead to the leading known cause of premature births: pre-eclampsia. But even with reading and studying, I could never seem to make the connection as to why the two went together. When pre-eclampsia came up in students, and even students who seemed to have an excellent overall diet, it baffled me. I came to understand that some women have pre-existing conditions or underlying medical issues that are either exacerbated or revealed during pregnancy, but even then, if their diet is better than just good, they can delay the onset of symptoms of pre-eclampsia.   And delaying the onset, resulting in allowing a baby to grow in utero for 36 or 37 weeks as opposed to 32, 33, or even 34 weeks makes a tremendous difference in those first days–and weeks–of life.

It wasn’t until earlier this class seires, however, that certain pieces of the puzzle seemed to fall into place. I get it. FINALLY.

When a woman is pregnant, her body’s main job is to protect the pregnancy and nourish the baby. In order to do that, her blood volume needs to increase by about 50%.  To achieve this extra blood volume, the liver makes a substance called albumin that has the job of pulling extra fluid out of the tissues of the body and into the bloodstream. Salt also helps to move the fluid from tissue to bloodstream through osmotic pressure. The key to this whole equation: albumin can only be manufactured through protein intake by mom. If a pregnant mom has either inadequate salt or protein intake, her blood volume begins to decrease in as little as two weeks. When blood volume drops, a condition called hypovolemia, the body goes into “protect mode” and changes begin to happen in ways similar (but not usually to the same degree) to when someone is hemorrhaging because basically, the body can’t discern the cause for the drop in blood volume, i.e., a true problem or just as a result of the mother eating less.  This process goes something like this:  the body must preserve the internal organs–at the expense of the limbs, if necessary, so the kidneys begin to produce renin, an enzyme which causes blood vessels to constrict.  Obviously, if the mother were actually hemorrhaging, this would be crucial in preserving the internal organs and the mother as a whole while waiting for assistance in halting the hemorrhage.   When hemorrhaging isn’t actually occurring in the pregnancy, however, these measures of constricting blood vessels result in an increase in mom’s blood pressure.  The usual treatment of salt restriction, weight restriction, or activity restriction only worsens the problem by causing the blood volume to drop even more….which continues the cycle of increased renin production and constriction.  Consequently, blood pressure numbers will continue to climb.

While this is happening, the kidneys are still working to increase blood volume by reabsorbing as much of the water and salt from the fluid that has already been filtered out of the blood, and returning it to circulating blood.  But since albumin is responsible for 75 – 80 % of osmotic pressure, and albumin and salt levels are dismally low, much of this reaborbsed can’t help but seep back into the tissues.  Thus begins the vicious cycle of the kidneys trying to keep (and reabsorb) what it has already filtered, and the fluid seeping out at the capillary level.  This is why the mother sees rapid swelling in her ankles, hands, and or face, and unusual weight gain.  When bedrest and the other measures are not successful, many times induction is attempted, often resulting in either a prematurely born baby, and hosts of other problems that come along with a baby being born before its time.

Certainly, since I’m not medically trained, I don’t know everything (or pretend to know everything) related to the subject.  The intricacies of the disease are still being studied, though I am slightly disappointed and disturbed at how the medical community seems to repeatedly ignore these facts and still recommend restricted salt and caloric intake when the problem arises.  When my  mom was pregnant with her first child (although that was over 40 years ago and things have changed tremendously since then), she was told to cut out salt completely from her diet!  It’s a wonder any of us made it (though it does explain a lot about my older brother now, ha ha).   So what is the lesson in all of this? In my humble opinion, since there are no known side effects to consciously trying to consume 75-100g of protein a day, why wouldn’t you?  In my classes, I gather different types of food to show how easy it is to ensure that the pregnant mama reaches her daily goal.  There are some instances that make this more difficult, such as allergies and preferences, but under most circumstances it is not difficult to achieve that number; many times moms are already eating that much and just haven’t paid attention. 

An added benefit of consuming protein is that during pregnancy, the body creates a strong amniotic sac, the two-layered membrane that surrounds the baby in the uterus.  Keeping this sac intact throughout the pregnancy (obviously) and even throughout the labor has numerous benefits to both mom and baby.  In labor, mom has more time to labor if the water hasn’t broken, more options available to her, and is usually more comfortable overall.   Contrary to movies and television, the water does not break at the onset of labor, but if left alone stays intact until around 8cm or beyond.  There are many benefits of allowing that sac to break on its own that I won’t go into here.  (Anecdotally, over the years, my students have independently reported back to me that if they had to have their water broken that the OB or midwife commented on how strong it was.   We refer to them as “Bradley bags of steel”!)  The longer I teach, the more I see that having little or no  time restrictions placed on a mother in labor allows them to navigate her unique birthing experience.  Once the sac is ruptured, some sort of time limit is automatically placed over the remainder of the labor. 

My best advice to pregnant moms is that they strive to eat between 75-100g of protein every day through a variety of whole food choices, including milk, eggs, meat, fish, beans, dairy, nuts and veggies.  In addition to other important elements of a healthy diet, it will help in growing a healthy baby and nourishing a pregnancy.  Studies suggest that adequate protein intake also helps in brain growth, so you could have a future scholarship recipient on your hands!  And who wouldn’t want a brainiac baby? 

Please pass the cheesy eggs.

**Important medical disclaimer** I wish you to know that I do not possess any medical qualifications in the subjects presented here. The information results from my own experience, or experiences I have studied. The reader is therefore personally responsible for ensuring the safe application of anything described herein.  This should not be substituted for the knowledge and/or advice of your medical caregiver.  Underlying medical conditions may make these suggestions contrary to your situation and as such should be seen in light of that.  In other words,  having six babies does not automatically make me an expert in your pregnancy!


A Recipe for Disaster of Cosmic Proportions

Usually my recipes are for a tasty treat. Not so for this one. In our homeschool group today, we did a fun project for science and created a model of the solar system. Let me set the scene….

I tutor a class of 8 5-6 year old boys, which in itself may scare some people away, but thankfully God gives me grace for each week. I *love* boys and know that they are growing on me; I hope I am growing on them as well. regardless, if you have a 5 or 6 year old boy, know someone who has one, or have ever been in the same room with one for more than five minutes, these characteristics should be known to you:

1. They don’t like to sit still. God has designed them (in both His infinite wisdom and certain sense of humor) to require constant movement, and asking them to sit in a chair for any length of time will frustrate them and irritate you.

2. They don’t like to keep their thoughts to themselves. Hey, some of us like to share our thoughts and feelings. When you’re 5 and 6, you MUST share your thoughts and feelings, even if it means that when a class is having a discussion about William the Conqueror, you may have to shout out “I LIKE CAKE!!!”

3. Personal space is a foreign concept to them. I used to think that every boy this age needed glasses on account of how closely they sat or huddled next to anyone or thing, but I have come to believe that they just like to be where the action is. If the action is nothing more than breathing…that’s where they’ll be. God has taught me a lot about personal space (and that I should kiss it goodbye) with my own several kids. At this point, if I can successfully sneak off to go pee by myself, I count it a major victory.

So….back to the science project. Our goal was to create a model of the solar system to scale using different sized “planets” and measuring how far each planet would be from the Sun. Each boy was a planet and a classroom mom was the Sun (at least I knew she would stay put). Using “planets” that ranged in size from a marble to a basketball, we could see in real life how large and small the 8 planets are and just how far some of them are from the Sun. Let me break it down into steps.

Step 1. Take 8 boys outside to find a wide open area large enough to create the model, with the farthest planet being something like 450 inches away from the Sun mom. Make sure it is a GORGEOUS fall day in Kentucky, complete with blue skies and warm temperatures. Schedule science project to come about 2 hours after the young fellas have had to sit and learn their new memory work and use every ounce of self-control to keep themselves from blowing their Tin Whistles until they turned blue in the face, just to ensure that wide open space + boyness will definitely = RUN AWAY into the field!

Step 2. Assign each boy a planet, i.e. a marble, golf ball, tennis ball, soccer ball, or basketball. Ask them to hold it in their hands and stand still.

Step 3. Chase anywhere from 4-8 boys at any given time back to the lineup so we can measure their distance from the Sun and finish the model.

Step 4. Measure Mercury, Venus, and Earth’s distances and have them stand not only very close to the Sun, but very close to each other. I’m positive that the lesson that the Mercury, Venus, and Earth boys took home today was that those three planets do not like orbiting so close to each other and would just as soon shove another out of orbit and cause him to go hurtling into space.

Step 5. Try to get the golf ball sized planet boy to understand that golf balls, though they may look like they can fit in someone’s mouth, actually cannot.

Step 6. Reset Mercury, Venus, and Earth planets because they have decided to shuffle around.

Step 7. Send 1-2 classroom moms to go get the Soccer ball planet and the boys who think Saturn should be kicked down the hill.

Step 8. Console Saturn when everyone wants to have his ball, but he doesn’t want to give it up.

Step 9. Holler at Mercury, Venus, and Earth because they are once again out of orbit.

Step 10. Realize that Saturn is not ever going to orbit this Sun. Leave Saturn’s place blank.

Step 11. See that Mars is wandering around and looking in the very dry grass because he dropped his marble. (He wasn’t the only one who lost his marbles during this project!!) Try in vain to assure Mars that the lost marble is not that big of a deal and he can still partake in the remainder of the model.

Step 12. Somehow get about 6 out of 8 planets in line at the same time. Talk BRIEFLY about how planets not only rotate but also revolve. Yank golf ball out of Earth’s mouth. Collect all balls (except marble, which has been tragically lost forever). Have boys line up to go back inside after pulling them off of each other in a spontaneous wrestling match.

Somehow we made it back into the room. Maybe someday when these boys are studying the planets at another time, they will recall even one detail from the model we made today in the field. It may even make sense to them when they think about it later on.

Or…maybe they will just ponder whether a golf ball really could fit into their mouths.

I love my job.

Blessed by our kids’ friends

Hannah recently turned 13 (a blog post in itself, no doubt…We are still trying to figure out how those years went by so quickly), and as usual, she likes to celebrate her birthday with a sleepover with some of her friends.  This year, she chose a small core of girls from church, from CC, and from across the street.   If you know me at all, you probably have realized that I’m not really the girly-girl type (I am the one who asks Todd to turn on “the game”…any game, just SOME game!), so the thought of even the relatively small number of 8 tween girls descending on our house for the evening doesn’t rank too high on my list of enjoyable ways to spend time.  Nevertheless, a tradition is a tradition.  Besides, Hannah was born gifted in the area of planning and executing, so to deny her the chance to organize and host this party was something I was not interested in even bringing up.  (Actually, it’s not that bad…and Hannah loves it, so that makes it much easier!) 

The appointed day for said sleepover was last Friday night, and after a wee bit of preparation, it seemed that everything was set.   I bought the supplies and brought them home, but Hannah was determined to do most everything else herself, and that suited me just fine.  Todd had read the handwriting on the wall and determined that the estrogen to testosterone level ration was one he could not compete with, so he made plans to take the 4 boys out for the evening, leaving only girls in the house. 

Said girls arrived one by one, and little by little the noise level increased.  At first they were quiet as they talked in the basement room, but it didn’t take long for their giggles and exclamations to carry up the stairs and into the kitchen where I was preparing the “birthday pizza.”  It was cute to hear their girly discussions, and I was relieved (I am a mom, after all) to hear how innocent their topics of choice were.   As they sat around the table eating pizza and laughing, it struck me that the assembled group was one I liked being around.   The girls, though some of them literally hadn’t seen each other since Hannah’s sleepover the year before) all got along and acted like they saw each other regularly.  I felt so thankful that I enjoyed talking with them and found myself laughing with them when Chloe belched precisely like the little sister of four big brothers has been trained to burp.   It sort of dissolved into fits of laughter from then on….

I’ll admit, at one point I wanted to holler “Enough with the silliness!”  when they were goofing around later on, and when Lynsay and her significant other stopped by, they literally attacked him with pillows, but he survived (I think…haven’t checked in lately) and so did we.   There wasn’t much sleeping that night and I’m almost positive that every family had to deal with a tired and g-r-u-m-p-y girl like we did for the rest of Saturday until bedtime mercifully arrived that night.  I think the girls enjoyed themselves.  I know Hannah was in her highest glory.  And for a mama…that’s a good thing to see and realize. 

Let the teen years begin.

Super excellent Chocolate pumpkin bread

One of our “favorite” places in Taejon, South Korea when we lived there was the Super Excellent Night Club.  What a superlative name!  We never actually partied at the club, but even 13 years later, we still refer to things that are wonderful as “super excellent.”  (At least I do… my husband may silently be thinking that I’ve lost my mind when I do.)  In any case, I would defintely refer to this recipe as my Super Excellent Chocolate Pumpkin Bread recipe.  It is a gem among gems and one that I first made when I was pregnant with Benjamin back in 2002.  We had just moved into a new house at the end of September (the house we still live in), and in the course of 6 weeks, we found a house quite unexpectedly, packed, and moved while I was 8 months pregnant and had three other children aged 4, 2, and 15 months.   It was a whirlwind time in our lives, so it’s no wonder I turned to chocolate to help smooth the transition.   I stumbled upon this recipe as I so often do and can still remember the first batch I made.   It was beyond heavenly and I didn’t have any remorse in eating what seemed like my weight in pumpkin bread, because, after all, when one is 36 weeks pregnant, what’s one more piece of bread going to do in the entire scope of humanity really?  I have shared this recipe many times, and happily post it here so that you, too, can share in the wonderfulness that is this fall treat…. As much as I love it, it’s really amazing that I don’t make it year-round.   On second thought, though, like Christmas Crack (a recipe I will post in a few weeks, with a name appropriately coined by my good friend Amy), it’s better to keep some things seasonal.  

 Chocolate Pumpkin Loaf

3.5 c sugar
1.25 c vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 can (29 oz) solidpack pumpkin
3 squares (1 oz each) unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
3.75 c all-purpose flour
1.5 teaspoons salt
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1.25 teaspoons baking soda
1.25 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1.25 teaspoons ground cloves
.5 teaspoon ground nutmeg
(I just use 3 t of pumpkin pie spice)
2 c (12 oz) semisweet chocolate chips

In a large bowl, combine sugar and oil. Add eggs; mix well. Stir in the pumpkin, chocolate, and vanilla; mix well. Combine the dry ingredients; stir into pumpkin mixture just until blended. Stir in chips.

Transfer to 3 greased 9x5x3 loaf pans. Bake at 350 for 55-65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks. Wrap and freeze (YEAH RIGHT) for up to 6 months. Yield: 3 loaves.


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