How to Boost Your Fertility and Have a Healthy Raw Food Pregnancy
New Mom, Raw Food Coach and Author, Joanna Steven, teaches us how we can boost fertility and have a healthy pregnancy, naturally.
Hello and welcome to another interview presentation with Raw Food Magazine. My name is Sara Grove and today I have the great pleasure of learning from Joanna Steven, who is a nutrition coach and author and a mother to one little boy, and currently with another one on the way. I’m excited to talk to you about her books: her first called Well Rounded – The Guide to a Healthy Raw Food Pregnancy and the more recent The Milky Way – The Ultimate Guide to Breastfeeding on the Raw Food Diet. And we’re going to get to hear a little bit about Joanna’s story and some of the things that she’s learned in her research and putting together these books – anything from boosting your fertility naturally to the challenges that new mothers face during pregnancy and after. And how to take the best care of yourself and your newborn during the pregnancy phase and after. So we’re excited to get to talk to you today. Joanna, welcome!
Joanna: Thank you, Sara, it’s a pleasure.
Sara: For me as well! Why don’t you just jump right in and introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do and what compelled you to writing those books?
Joanna: Well, I have been eating a moderate Raw Diet since about 2004. This was the year that I moved to the United States because I’m French and my husband is American. And when I moved to the States, all of a sudden my health issues, which were not very strong at the time, became so much more present and I really wanted to find a way to heal myself. I had anxiety, acne, depression, and yeast infections, all kinds of things. And I felt I was eating so well. I’m a vegetarian, why am I not healthy? But first I tried to address my anxiety and depression and I started to take yoga classes for the first time ever. And that really helped and that led me to try weightlifting and exercise classes and that’s when I made the connection with food. I thought, okay, I want to build more muscles, I want to have more endurance. What should I be eating? And I started reading all about vegetarian athletes and one interview in particular to me was so striking. It was an interview with Tonya Kay. I don’t know if you know her: she’s a raw vegan athlete and actress.
Sara: Yes, she’s done amazing things.
Joanna: She is so healthy-looking and I saw her and she just stood out above everyone else. And I said, okay, raw foods, I guess. Let’s try that. I had never heard about it before but it sounded good. I mean, fruits and vegetables and all that, why not. It made sense to me. And so at first I made the usual mistakes of not eating enough and feeling like I was always hungry but little by little, I learned so much more. Then I contacted Tonya Kay and I said, “Look, I want to know what you eat and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Let’s write books together.” And we actually wrote about three books together and they are no longer in print because her diet changes all the time so she found they were outdated, but we reported everything she ate. I broke down everything into vitamins and minerals, protein, all of that. And I learned so much. And then, my diet became just so much greater than it ever was and I wasn’t eating exactly like her because I also learned to trust my body, see what’s worked for me like; for example, she doesn’t choose household appliances, such as juicers and all that. She’s actually very green. For me, the green juices and stuff like that, smoothies all the time. So it’s a little different but still a raw diet. So I did that for many years. And every year my diet changes but the raw food, the basics, the green juices, the protein shakes, the green smoothies, they’re all definitely the foundation of my diet where I get the most nutrition. So, around 2010, I decided, okay, I want to get pregnant. And I looked into my diet to see, would it be good for pregnancy or not. I did a little research and I realized there is nothing out there on raw pregnancy and breastfeeding. There are a few things: a good chapter here and there in books. But it’s not really enough; I mean, I didn’t feel it was enough. I wrote my books and they are both over a 100 pages long. There is so much about eating a raw diet or even just vegan and vegetarian. And so I wrote the books because I thought if I need them, somebody else is going to need them too and from this the people could learn as the research is there and the studies are there. It’s possible to do it right so, let’s just do it.
Sara: And so going into your first pregnancy. Well, let me back up even further because I know a lot of people, it seems like more and more, and maybe you know a little bit more about this, but fertility issues are really huge right now. And so, there’s a lot of couples that would really love to become pregnant and just aren’t being successful. And so is there anything when you decided four years ago that you were ready to have a baby and kind of embarked on that exciting journey, what are some other things that you learned or did to kind of naturally make yourself more fertile or what are some things that other people could do to kind of boost their fertility if they’re really trying to become pregnant?
Joanna: Yes, okay, so there’s a lot of things you can do. The problem is that sometimes people feel they’re eating a well-rounded diet. And they are really missing out on key nutrients. First, you have a lot of herbs out there that will help your body be ready to carry a child. Herbs like nettles and raspberry leaf, they’re very nourishing for the body and they’re very good for your reproductive system. And you can drink them before you get pregnant, while you’re pregnant and when you are breastfeeding. When you are pregnant, they will help your body stay nourished, they will help your uterus be strong and they will help with having an easier childbirth; they will help with milk production as well.
Sara: Do you take this as a supplement or a tea or how do you prepare these herbs?
Joanna: With my first pregnancy, I did infusions. You take a cup of nettle or raspberry leaf or both together: half cup and half cup. And you put them in a mason jar. Cover them with four cups of water, the water is hot. And let it steep and get cool. Now some people do it with water that is not hot. I remember one time, Kate Magic came to my house and I asked her, okay, how do you make your tea, and she said she uses water that’s warm, raw warm but not boiling. So you can do it this way too if you like. So that’s what I did with my first pregnancy. Now I do infusions but also I’m busy because I have a three-year-old. So what I did is I made tinctures and with the tinctures that was still raw. You just take two cups of whatever herb you choose, cover that with vodka and then steep for four to six weeks and the alcohol will extract the benefits of the herbs and then you just take a little bit. And that’s really, really concentrated. These tinctures are in Chinese medicine, so that’s another way to do that and also, just one thing is that, if you find those things raw, fresh, you can juice them. I used to juice nettles a lot back when I lived in Iowa because I could just go to the forest and pick them. In Oregon it’s more difficult but definitely, you can make juices with them.
Sara: And would you notice the effects of these right away or is it gradual, like what specifically are they good for?
Joanna: Well, these are really nutritious so they will provide you with a lot of minerals. It’s like a concentrated green juice. You will notice you have more energy and all that but mostly, you will see this in your appearance. Your hair will be stronger, your nails will be harder, your skin will glow, it’s pretty obvious to me when I take it and people see that too. These herbs are really high in silicon, which is another foundation of your hair and skin. So you’ll see that in your appearance more than anything else. Also for fertility, fat is really important. I have had my clients come to me and say that they want to eat a low-fat raw vegan diet. The thing is even if you ask people like Douglas Wan who wrote The Easy Test in Diets, about low fats high pro diet. Even he will tell you that when you’re pregnant and when you’re a small child, your fat needs are different. You do need more fat. So I would recommend not being afraid of fats or using the raw coconut oil – it’s really amazing. Make nut milk, the sprouted nut meal, eating avocados, fat is really important for fertility. And for the brain development of the baby. Also you really need your immune system to be strong; if you’re sick all the time it’s so much harder to be pregnant and to carry a pregnancy to term. So paying attention to the health of your gut is really important. One really great raw vegan food for that is cultured food like sour rout, kimchi, things like that. They are so rich in probiotics and that’s what really helps you to be stronger and your body needs to know it is healthy enough as it is to carry a pregnancy and feed the baby. If you can’t feed yourself, it’s harder to also feed something else inside of you. Another raw food that is great for fertility which will help with your hormones is maca root.
Sara: Not to mention it’s delicious, you need to have …
Joanna: And it tastes good, and then you can both like it and they don’t eat it.
Sara: Oh, it’s so good.
Joanna: It smells good and it tastes good.
I had maca when I was pregnant both times. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that says it is safe. But it’s not based on studies so you will have to go with your gut on that one. With me I felt it should be very nourishing and delicious and I really missed it when I didn’t have it at first. So maca root is a really good one.
Sara: And did you have any trouble and, this might be a personal question, did you have any trouble becoming pregnant?
Joanna: Well, actually that’s a really good question. So with the first pregnancy it took me about four months which isn’t a huge amount of time but when you don’t get pregnant four times in a row, you’re like: “Something is wrong”. But the thing is before, for about eight years, I was on the contraceptive pill and I would definitely, if people plan on being pregnant, definitely stop the pill and even if you don’t there are so many other ways to avoid being pregnant that won’t destroy your body. The pill is really hard on you. You have with the reproductive system the cervical prep and it produces a fluid that will help semen get to your eggs and to get you pregnant. The problem with the pill is that it drives them out. So even when you stop the pill it can be really difficult to get pregnant even if you are healthy because the fertilization is not happening.
So I did notice that with the first. It took years for me to get back to normal. Now with the second pregnancy, I had gone through with the first pregnancy, the pill was totally a thing of the past. And I got pregnant on the first try, actually with this one, even when I was kind of surprised. I don’t know if it was luck but I would definitely recommend stopping the pills and stuff like that.
Sara: Yeah. What’s the way that you would support someone who wants to have a family eventually but might not be ready right now? What are some of those safer, healthier ways to avoid the pregnancy?
Joanna: Oh yes, there’s a really wonderful book that you can read called Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler. It teaches us a method called Fertility Awareness Method. It’s really, really easy to do but you do need to remember to do it everyday. Basically you wake up in the morning, first thing you take your temperature and then you chart it and you have free programs online; there’s a website called fertilityfriend.com. You just enter your temperature there and that’s like the most basic thing you can do. And this program will detect when you ovulate because basically your temperatures will be fairly low until ovulation day then they will go up in three steps and then they will stay high. So there’s really like no risk of being pregnant here because they recommend being extra careful before ovulation is exactly detected. Once it’s detected and you know it, ovulation is gone. So you really can’t get pregnant at all, it’s been three days since you had your ovulation. So that’s one way to do it. To make it even safer, the author of that book recommends checking your cervical fluids and you can’t really tell it’s really different. Yes, you have to learn how your body works but the fluid gets stretchier and more dense and that’s what going to help sperm get to your egg. So then you get in, I’m not at all fertile right now or I can see, ovulation is trying to arrive because it’s changing and then it won’t go back to the beginning of the month and you’ll know it’s gone. So there’s this as well. It’s really, really inexpensive. You need a special thermometer to take your temperature in the morning, it’s called the basal temperature thermometer and it’s about $20, really inexpensive. So that’s a good way to avoid pregnancy; that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been married for ten years and I only got pregnant when I wanted to. So it works for me.
Sara: Yeah, there you go. And when you were starting this research, did you find in going into your first pregnancy, because obviously every mother wants to be the healthiest they can be and to pass that on to their children, did you find in your research that you had to change very much of what you were doing or that your needs, your dietary needs, your exercise needs change after becoming pregnant?
Joanna: Not terribly. Just in the first trimester, making sure that you’re getting enough protein is important. And I know everybody talks about protein, I have experience like you can’t get enough.
Sara: Yeah. I know, I was going to ask you about that. So I’m glad, we’re here already. So what about the protein: that is what everyone always wants to know?
Joanna: Yeah, the thing is like when you’re not pregnant it’s totally easy. When you get to the first trimester you need more and even raw vegan doctors like Gabriel Cousens will tell you, you need 70 grams. And 70 grams, 80 grams, that’s very big. I mean it’s not really a number you can easily reach if you’re just eating like normally. So what I found really helpful was to make smoothies with hemp seed because you get a ton in hemp seed; I think a quarter cup is like 20 grams already, so that’s huge. It’s a huge amount of protein.
Joanna: So I used to make smoothies with a quarter cup or like a half cup I don’t remember, that was with the first pregnancy. You can afford to run a half cup of hemp seeds with two fourth bananas, some water and a small handful of dates, three dates, four dates. And blend that. And that definitely covers my needs in protein because that’s not all I ate obviously.
Joanna: And it also provided zinc, which can be hard to get on a plant-based diet in a reasonable quality, omega 3, all that. They are really, really nutritious smoothies. So, you can do that. I know the raw protein powders, the Warrior Blends, is one that I really like and my husband likes it too. So I make it for both of us. If you know what you’re supposed to be eating and what’s nutritious, it’s really easy. You just have to know what to use.
Sara: And as far as socially, when people ask you and now as well, with your second child. But when people find out about your diet and how you’re raising your kids, how do you handle their questions when they’re like: “Wow, you’re not getting enough protein, how are you doing this? You’re making a mistake.” Or do you get that kind of feedback? Have you been told those kinds of things?
Joanna: No, you know, I think it really depends how confident you are with your diet. I think people could really tell if you’re not confident and they’ll take advantage of it, they will like attack you any way they can. But when people talk to me, they can really see that I know my stuff. I tell them when they need to know and then I tell them more than that. They can see that I know more than they do and if anything, it’s their diet that is deficient. So I’ve had people sometimes ask questions but they stop really quickly because they can see I know my stuff, I know what I’m doing. And now I have a lot of mainstream people like friends of my husband who come to me for advice to feed themselves and their family and even if they’re not vegetarian or vegan. So no, I have not really had any problems like that. And for my children, well, my son is really, really healthy looking. I mean he’s always been in the 90th percentile for his height and his weight. He’s really sociable, he comes up to people and talks to them. Talks about his life, tells them about wild edibles and whatever.
Sara: Oh, that’s so cool.
Joanna: They’re only very impressed by him. We are vegetarian, not vegan. So maybe that might help people feel more comfortable. I don’t know, I mean, they don’t see it as extreme, maybe. I don’t know, but no, I have not had criticism at all. I’ve had questions but they stop very quickly.
Sara: That’s really wonderful. And how much did your son weigh when he was born?
Joanna: He was eight pounds.
Sara: Oh wow.
Joanna: Yeah, I’m hoping for a smaller one this time around.
Sara: Yeah. How far along are you by the way?
Joanna: Tomorrow, it’ll be 37th week. I’m due, maybe, in three weeks.
Sara: Oh wow, and how are you feeling?
Joanna: Oh, I’m feeling great! If there’s anything, you know, it’s when you go to bed it’s kinda awkward with your big belly to find a position that’s good. They tell you not to sleep on your back, which is hard cause you really want to sleep on your back.
Other than that it’s fine.
Sara: And so we’re again going back to the pregnancy nutrition; are there specific things like did your calorie needs increase a lot as your baby was growing or your food intake, did that change very much?
Joanna: You mean like after I gave birth or …
Sara: No, while you were pregnant. Did you find that your cravings or your food intake, your calorie needs were much higher?
Joanna: Not much higher. I think the mainstream idea is that when you’re pregnant you need 500 more calories and when you’re breastfeeding, 2000. And I think for me it’s pretty accurate. I didn’t really have cravings at all. I didn’t really have morning sickness either. The one thing I craved with both pregnancies was oranges. Oranges have folic acid and vitamin C and all that and they are really important for the baby. So maybe that’s why. I hear women tell me all the time about crazy cravings they had and they gain 50 pounds or something.
It never happened to me at all.
Sara: How much, if you don’t mind me asking, did you gain?
Joanna: The first pregnancy I gained 25 pounds and this one, actually I did not go to the midwife for a good three months, I would say. So I didn’t know how much I weighed initially. But I think it’s about the same.
Sara: That’s so interesting. And so no morning sickness with either pregnancy either?
Joanna: Well, not really. The only thing is that, it’s kinda weird. I’m not a good napper. I hate napping. When I wake up from napping, I feel kinda nauseous. I was like that before I even had children or was pregnant or anything. So with this pregnancy, I would fall asleep and I would wake up tired in the first trimester. It’s a common thing. I would wake up feeling nauseous but I don’t think it was the pregnancy. And it’s nothing, it went away.
Sara: That’s so interesting.
Joanna: People start not wanting greens and all that, not with me. I really love greens, I kept eating them.
Sara: And would you attribute a lot of the ease of your pregnancies to your diet and your nutrition?
Joanna: I think a part of it is my nutrition. When you’re really well-nourished then your body doesn’t really crave anything because it has everything it needs. Some women start craving meat. I think it’s kind of linked to a diet that may not be very perfect for you.
But also I think it can be just the genetic; my mom never had morning sickness either. So it’s good to be both.
Sara: And as far as your energy levels, did you find that you’re able to continue exercising throughout your pregnancy? Or did your energy level, was it consistent, crazy … what was your experience of that?
Joanna: With both pregnancies, in the first trimester, I did feel more tired. Apparently, it’s pretty normal. I mean with this pregnancy, I looked it up online to see and know what other moms would say. And I remember reading by the woman who is still driving and stuff. I was like, well okay, I’m not that tired. Just a little more tired, in the afternoon around two, I was taking a nap and I have a three-year-old who is really, really active. You know, it took him a year to sleep through the night. Even now. Last night, he woke up twice. So, I haven’t slept in four years really consistently. So that’s also why probably I was a little tired in the first trimester but once that was over, and the baby is very well formed and on its way to becoming a real baby. Second trimester was great. The third, I’m still pretty energetic. It’s just I’m much bigger so maybe walking a little more slowly and all that. But, everything is fine.
Sara: That’s great. And are there any recommendations or anything you found in your research to help new moms and people that are pregnant to just care for themselves and really take care of their needs both nutritionally and physically? Like what are some things you can do to really ease yourself and the stress during pregnancy?
Joanna: Well, I think it’s really important to learn to have some me time, which is time for yourself to just relax, like taking a bath or going for a walk or something. The problem is that, if this is your first baby or your first time, you really don’t know how intense raising a baby is. I mean you probably have an idea but it’s just so easy to get carried away once you have your baby and just completely ignore your own needs. So I think when you’re pregnant, if you can practice telling people, “You know what, right now I need some time for myself and I know it may sound selfish but it’s not, it’s something I need.” Then it’s going to be easier when you have the baby to do the same thing. If you can’t say no to people and you just say yes to everyone to whatever they ask of you, then when you have a baby, there’s a big risk you’re going to be burned out. Because you’re going to be on call all the time, all day all night for months.
So definitely, you have to build some self-confidence, be assertive and say, “You know what, I need to rest now. I’m going to do it” and that’s it. Doing things like yoga really helps. It helps with relaxing your mind and also stretching your body. I did it a lot with the first pregnancy and not at all with this one because I care for my son pretty much full time. And he is not the kind to play on his own. So I did other things. For example, he really likes to be outside so I’ll take him for a walk in the forest or in the park or whatever. And that was my way of exercising. I switch to walking.
Sara: That’s really great. And as far as supplementation, I know a lot of people are curious. Are there supplements that you took and are taking during pregnancy that you think are absolutely necessary?
Joanna: Oh yes. I really don’t think, no I don’t think it means that a raw diet is deficient. I really can’t imagine a diet that doesn’t need any supplementation at all just because we are so removed from our food supply. You don’t know when your food was picked, you don’t know how they grew it. You know, there are different ways to keep food more nutritious. They say that within 24 hours of picking, broccoli loses a ton of nutrition. And, who is able to get broccoli the day it was just picked? You should live in California and have access to farmer’s market and you eat the food the same day. You know, that could work but I think overall our food is less nutritious. So since we don’t really know, it’s better to be on the safe side and do some supplementation. For example, for vegans and vegetarians and everybody actually, I think taking vitamin D is important. And people who aren’t sure that they need it can just get the very simple blood test; it’s called the 25 hydroxy test. And, for example, even if they supplement right now, like with my son. I gave birth to him, and I supplemented for nine months with 10 times the recommended daily amount. The recommended amount is 400 international units a day; I took almost 6000 every single day. And I don’t know if it all went to my breast milk or what but when I tested myself after nine months, I was actually deficient. The lower limit is 30, and I was at 28 or 27. So very close to normal, but still, though, and I was taking a lot. So definitely I would recommend testing for that, and I think it’s easy to be deficient in vitamins because people aren’t really outside a lot getting sunshine. And even if we do, we have clothes on and then we shower and soap is said to remove the vitamin D from your skin if you just expose yourself to the sun. So, you know, there are many ways to just use your vitamin D and I had all my family actually test themselves and they said, “We live in a very sunny place, we don’t need this” and they were all deficient as well. So, it doesn’t hurt to just test it and if you don’t really go to a doctor, you can get tested online. I actually did the test recently just before I got pregnant. I just did the one that I would do it online and yeah I was, made that and sure great I was at 48. So that’s really good.
Joanna: So yeah, vitamin D and there is one vitamin that I recommend that goes with it and it’s vitamin K2. And that’s a vitamin that you can find in an orthodox and also in fermented food like natto. I’ve never had natto in my life. It’s like fermented soybean and people tell me it’s the most disgusting thing. Some people like it and it’s really hard to find. So I just supplement with it. I take drops and I gave some drops to my son as well. You can get drops with vitamin K2 and vitamin B together. My husband takes a tablet, which is available, because he doesn’t like the drop. So that’s what he takes. So it’s a very important one. Also, I mentioned probiotics. It’s not the most important, but it’s something to pay attention to. If you never eat fermented food or anything. Give them a try, they’re really, really good for you, good for your gut and when you give birth and you breastfeed, you transfer those probiotics to your child, which helps with immunity. That’s one of the reasons why children who are breastfed are so much healthier because they’re getting the probiotics from their moms. So that’s another one.
Also there’s one that’s not really talked about; people say that you can get your vitamin A on a vegan diet just from beta-carotene conversion, and, that’s kind of true but people are different in how they convert it. Some people convert it pretty well and some people don’t. So I took the figure they give you, they tell you that the conversion is about 3% in the general population. So only 3% of your beta-carotene is going to turn into vitamin A. If you do a green juice every day with a head of lettuce, or whatever, you will get your vitamin A from my numbers. From my numbers, green juice is a great way to get enough beta-carotene to convert into enough vitamin A. So, I recommend green juices. I think they’re amazing and when you look at the people that look the healthiest in the raw movement, very often they will eat a lot of greens. You would think that even if you look at low-fat raw vegans who aren’t into juicing very much. They eat a lot of greens like the book recommends, like a pound of greens a day. That’s like a huge amount.
Sara: Wow, some leafy greens. So for people that have not tested themselves and because these things are great, I think just for all of us, from man, woman, pregnant, non-pregnant, what are some things you might notice if you are deficient in vitamin D or vitamin A or vitamin K2, like are there physical symptoms of things you might notice to kind of cue you in and like, hey, you might be missing something?
Joanna: Yeah. With the vitamin A, you’re going to see it. So, if you look at skincare products, you know, for wrinkles and all that, they will often tell you that they are fortified with retinol and stuff like that. That’s really vitamin A. So, if you feel like your skin is not that great, maybe you’re aging a little too fast, your skin cell is not great. That could be a vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A is really good for your eyesight as well. So if your prescription keeps getting worse for your eyeglasses, then it could be vitamin A as well. Vitamin D and K2 are really important for your bones. And teeth are related. So if you’re getting cavities or your children are getting cavities, that could very well be a vitamin D or K2 deficiency. There was also the probiotics. If your immune system is low or your digestion is not that great, probiotic will help you. And I also want to mention, I didn’t mention the omega 3 fatty acids. So these, I definitely supplement with a product called Omega Zen. And I take that every day, twice a day and you will notice if you are deficient in omega 3 fatty acids, you will notice probably increased anxiety or depression, things like that. There has been many studies published on the benefits of omega 3 fatty acids for depression like my old depression. People don’t even need to take antidepressants when they take higher doses of that. So you should eat a lot of nuts for example. You’re getting a lot of omega 6 fatty acids, which interfere with omega 3. So you may need to balance them out. And even people who eat fish; I mean, omega 3s are said to be abundant in fish. But it really depends on the fish you’re eating. So, yes, those are some of the physical symptoms you can see.
Sara: That’s great. What you said is so important how we are so removed from where our food actually comes from that sometimes we think we could be eating all the right food and still not getting some important pieces of nutrition that we need. And so, whether or not you’re eating for two, it’s so important to keep in mind.
Joanna: Yes. Oh there was something I must tell you about. Just squeeze it in: Vitamin B12.
Sara: Yes that is – ding, ding, ding.
Joanna: That’s a big one.
Sara: What have you learned about vitamin B12?
Joanna: Well, I remember, Gabriel Cousens saying that he visited a vegan community, I think in Israel, and they do not supplement at all for anything. They had huge, huge rates of vitamin B12 deficiencies and he definitely recommends supplementing. I really don’t know of anyone who never supplemented and then didn’t find out that they were deficient. So definitely vitamin B12, so easy to supplement for. I use a vitamin B12 from a brand called Solgar. And it’s this tiny little pill that you put under your tongue and I just take it once a week, and that’s it. And then you’ll notice problems, neurological problems. You can get brain damage and all that after several years of being deficient. So it’s easy to take and I don’t think there’s any risk taking it, just in case. Yeah, you can test for that as well.
Sara: That is very fascinating. And talk a little bit about the actual childbirth process, are there things that you did to prepare or dietary things that can make childbirth easier or more difficult or painful or less painful?
Joanna: Honestly, I’m probably not the best person to talk about that and with that because the first childbirth was pretty hard and the reason was that I was living in a small town in Iowa. And I really wanted to have a home birth but I didn’t want to do it on my own. I wanted to have a midwife and I could not find a single midwife who wanted to do a home birth. And there was a hospital next to my house so I went and I visited the place and I said I don’t want to have an OB, I just like a midwife and I found a midwife who seemed really nice. And I found a Doula to help me as well. I’m a really private person. I don’t like to take off my clothes in front of strangers and stuff, I don’t know if anyone does So I went there, they said, “Okay, if you want to go ahead and take off your clothes and get in the tub.” And I just stood there and I was like, I don’t want to tell them to get out because that would be rude. But I felt so uncomfortable and my labor was not progressing. The thing is when they would leave, as my husband told them to get out and they did, the labor progressed better. But they want to go in every three minutes to check on my vitals and the vitals of the baby and it was just not a good situation. So the first labor was hard and it took a long time and I’m hoping that this time it will be easier. I’m in Portland right now and, Portland was the best city ever in the US to give birth in. The team I talked to, I also have a midwife this time, and I told her what happened the first time and she said: “Yeah, that’s not how we do things at all. We’ll try to make it just like a homebirth for you.”
Joanna: So, you know, we’ll see. But for anything that makes labor easier, I don’t know, I think what really helps more than food, more than anything, it’s just feeling comfortable and safe. And also, if you can labor at home, if you’re not going to do a homebirth, if you’re going somewhere else, just stay home as long as you can and that’s what they will tell you anyway. You know, the midwife and all that. You don’t need to go to the hospital as soon as you get a contraction. Try to do other things: watch a movie, go for a walk, things like that. Just don’t keep focusing on your labor and how many minutes are in between contractions and all that. Once it’s time to give birth, you’ll know. So before that, just relax and take it easy and make sure that you’re serving your needs and not trying to please other people because that’s just not going to work.
Sara: Right. This is all very interesting. But then, post-childbirth. Is there anything that moms should beware of, nutritionally speaking? Do you keep doing what you were doing while you were pregnant or is there anything else that you need to be aware of to make sure that your breast milk is healthy and nutritionally complete?
Joanna: Oh yeah. So the food isn’t terribly different from pregnancies. You’re just going to need to eat more. You know, breastfeeding takes a lot of calories. So you’re going to be really hungry and maybe thirsty all the time at first. I remember my son with lunch on and I would instantly be super thirsty, that is just like the liquid that’s coming out of you something. And so the food isn’t really that different. What is different is basically that you’re not going to have free hands all the time. If it’s your first baby, it’s going to be a huge change for you. You can’t just say, I feel like having a green juice, let’s just drive to the juice bar or let’s go to the kitchen; we can’t do that anymore because your baby may have a different idea. So I think what’s really important when you’ve just given birth is being organized. And maybe instead of making, say, a quart of nuts milk, make two quarts. Make two and put them in the fridge. That’s why you do all the work in one go and you’re done.
When you make green juice, I used to make green juice for two days and it’s not as nutritious obviously, you know, it’s better if you make it and drink it right away, of course. But I think that it’s better to have some than not at all. So, don’t be afraid of making bigger quantities. And, even drink more; instead of having two cups every day, one day have four cups at once. Maybe the next day you won’t be able to make some but that’s okay cause you just got a whole bunch the day before. Also I mentioned the omega 3s and the protein; calcium is going to be really important for your milk. Chia seeds are really high in calcium and omega 3s. So what I would do, I used to make and I’m going to do this again, I used to make like big, big containers of chia seeds and chia pudding and put that in the fridge. So when I wake up in the morning and if my baby is just being fussy or whatever or my husband is sleeping, I don’t want to make noise or now my three-year-old might be sleeping. I can just go to the fridge, pour myself some chia pudding and it stays fresh for four days. So you can just pour yourself a big bowl. And it’s very nutritious and filling and it’s great. And it doesn’t make any noise.
So that’s another good thing for a woman who just gave birth. If you can get people to help you. People will always say, “Oh, can I give you anything?” and I’m usually like, “No thanks, I’m good”; don’t say that. Say, “Do you really …”
Sara: Yeah, absolutely, and this is what you can do.
Joanna: Yeah, and so in my book, In the Milky Way, I actually had a list of things that people can do for you; they can prep food for green smoothies, like wash your greens or whatever. I’ll make you some nut milk. There are so many things people can do. It’s easy, everybody knows how to wash a salad or cut fruits or whatever. It’s not that hard. So they can help you with that. Yeah, what else? What I did the first time and I’m doing it right now is prepare a breastfeeding stash, which is basically a box full of snacks for me to eat from. So when you’re already hungry and really have nobody to help you, you can just go to that box and pick up something. I have almond butter and cashew butter, kale chips, seaweeds. I didn’t talk about it yet, but seaweed is really rich in minerals and really good for you. So that’s something else. What else do I have in there? I have raw chill nuts, I have some raw dried food. I’m not crazy about dried food because they are so sweet, but, when you’re breastfeeding and then you need calories, that’s a good thing to eat.
So I have those a bit now and maybe I’ll add apricot and stuff like that. Those can be everything nice.
Sara: That’s such a great idea and doing as much of that preparation beforehand. And that’s good for any busy person as well, so many of us with work or with kids or with a busy schedule. Having a snack box, healthy snack box can make your break – your day of health. You want to have something on hand for when all of a sudden, you’re so hungry, you need that energy. So that’s such a great idea. I love that.
How long would you recommend to breastfeed a child after they’ve been born?
Joanna: Well, I think it depends on the child. I’ve heard of children weaning themselves after eight months. I think those are pretty rare. I’ve heard of this baby but I’ve not actually met one. My son breastfed for three years straight. He was really, really into nursing all the time.
It was just crazy. I remember the first year, all I did was breastfeed him. All my friends who breastfeed their kids, they also went for three years. But you know, you have to listen to children. Maybe the first one is going to be more attached to you because they’re with you all the time. Maybe the second one will be more distracted. I think, in general, most kids will want to breastfeed for two years, a good two years. And definitely, definitely, I would recommend breastfeeding for the first year, not stopping at six months for something. And that really, before that time they don’t have teeth anyway. They can’t really eat that much so that’s really a complete wonderful food they can have and eat easily. Otherwise, you know, it’s going to be blended food and stuff like that element. Yeah, I think the first two years, I would recommend breastfeeding for the first two years at least.
Sara: And was that taxing on your body? Like how does the mom … how do you cope with breastfeeding for that long?
Joanna: Well, first of all, I think I attitude is really important. Sometimes you feel like: “Oh my God, I’m never going to stop breastfeeding ever.” But you have to think that three years is like 2 – 3% of your entire lifetime. That’s not that much. It’s like a tiny tiny percentage and it’s so huge for your child. It really helps to remember that. And also, it’s a really sweet moment between you and your baby. So that really helps; I mean, when you’re breastfeeding, you’re releasing all kinds of hormones that makes you feel good and makes your baby feel good. So that’s not too hard. What’s harder is when they become toddlers and they want a breastfeed. Then you offer them the breast, and they only drink for like two seconds and then they go run and then they come back and they want some more. And then they run, and then they want some more. You know, I’m not the snack box! I think if you’re well-nourished, it’s going to be easier because it’s going to take a lot of nutrition from your body. So, definitely pay attention to what you’re eating. And relax, and remember it’s not going to be forever.
Sara: And so, in general, is there a point where a child loses his interest in breastfeeding and moves on and starts being more curious about foods? How do you know it’s that right time to wean the baby?
Joanna: With my son I wanted to just wait until he was ready. He’s a really, really good eater, like he will eat anything. You know, dandelion at the park and then he will offer it to the kids at the park. He’s really not a picky eater, but at the same time he loves breastfeeding so much. When I got pregnant, he was about three years old. He was just three years and two months, something like that. And I was like, okay, maybe I’ll wait and see if the phase of the breast milk changes and he stops nursing. And, he did not care at all. And I was like, okay, now I’m pregnant. My breasts are more sensitive and all that. I don’t want to do it anymore. I felt like, I breastfed him for three years and I have pretty much no more milk. So I think he’s good. He was just nursing for a napping and before bed to help him sleep. And I was like: “That’s it. We’re done.” So I stopped, you know, I don’t know if he was completely ready for it but I was and I felt he got all the benefits that he could get. And he could still get the affection and all that from other ways. Cuddling, hugging and kissing. He didn’t really need breastfeeding anymore. So yeah, we cut the napping first and we cut bedtime and then I stopped bedtime and now he’s done. But he’s still so, you know. One time he said, when the baby comes and you get more milk, can I get some milk again? I told him, I can definitely put some in the cup and you can drink some, no problem. But, not from the boobs. And I think he’s trying to see what I’m going to say.
Sara: He starts testing you. Such an early age, that’s so funny. Wow. And then, let’s see, there’s something else I want to ask you. I know a lot of women and it’s a really common problem during pregnancy and post-childbirth to become anemic and low iron levels are really common and I didn’t know if that’s something you ran into or that you ran into in your research on how to kind of look out for that and ways to address your dropping iron level?
Joanna: Yeah, I didn’t drop my iron level and they tested my son when he was a year old and his iron level was fine. But we eat a lot of hemp seed, which are really high in iron. And also, the nettle infusions I told you about, they are really high in iron as well. Also chlorella, chlorella is an algae that is also high in minerals including iron and I know a lot of children who just like to chew on them, so he would eat them and I would, not eat them, I would swallow them like pills because I don’t like how they taste. I know we’re both fine. Now, definitely you can get enough from food but you do need to get it. You can’t just say, you can get enough from vegan or vegetarian diet and then expect it to just appear with your diet.
Sara: And did you know, like is there any connection between children’s allergies and their mother’s diet, like during breastfeeding? Could you see different ways of your changing diet affecting your son?
Joanna: I don’t know, because he doesn’t have allergy and he was always a good eater. We never have any problem like that, so …
Sara: And so how are you feeling at this stage of your pregnancy? Has this pregnancy been easier or harder than the first one?
Joanna: This time around, the beginning was a little bit more painful. I asked my midwife about that and she said that it’s normal because basically the first pregnancy would stretch your muscle and they heal after childbirth. And then when you get pregnant again, they’re stretching a muscle that has healed for like a ligament. So it’ll hurt a little bit more. Other than that, nope, it’s pretty much the same.
Sara: That’s really interesting. Is there anything else that you would like to share or that you found important that might be especially helpful to a new mom-to-be?
Joanna: If it’s your first baby, I would say, really try to find people around you who can help you out, because you’re going to be really overwhelmed at first. Babies, they really take all of your time. So if you can find people to help you out, that’s great. If people ask you what you need for the baby, do not let them buy you twenty-five onesies for a three-month-old because your baby is not going to wear them and it’s a total waste of money. And have them instead just use the money to get you a housekeeper or something once a week or something like that. It’s the same price as all those cutesy clothes they’re going to buy you. But it’s so much more helpful.
If they can, you know, come over and help you with your food preparation, that’s great as well. If they want to play with the baby and you’re comfortable with them and treat them just like a family member or something, ask them if they would be okay like holding the baby and then you shower or something like that rather than just sitting there and making conversations with you.
Sara: You are so right.
Joanna: Because you’re going to have so many things that you’re going to want to do. Yeah, stuff like that. People really like to just offer their help and we turn them down often because it’s a cultural thing. No, no, I can do everything on my own.
Don’t do that, it’s just not worth it because it’s just so much work. You are already feeding, making food for your baby and waking up at night and all that. Try to find people who can help you out.
Sara: That’s so great. Thank you. It’s an important piece of advice. Joanna, I really appreciate you being here with us today and I definitely learnt a lot and I would encourage anyone that is listening to this, whether you are planning on having a baby or getting pregnant or maybe you know someone that is, or have a son or daughter that is, you might want to look into one of Joanna Steven’s books, both Well-rounded and The Milky Way. And, Joanna, where could they find these books? Where’s the best place for them to get a hold of them?
Joanna: The books, you can find them on my website in PDF format. So it’s JoannaSteven.com/eBooks. Or you can also find them in Kindle format on Amazon. Just go on Amazon and type Joanna Steven or the titles of the eBooks and you’ll find them there. And if you’re a new mom, I also have a community online for new moms where I share food, menu planners and supports for moms and all that. It’s called the Nourished Village. So you can go there and join the community and you also have a ton of recipes there and any time you have questions that you need to ask me or anything, you can do it there; I check the community every day, several times of day even.
Sara: That’s so wonderful. So the Nourish Village, I love that, community support is so important for life in general but especially starting a family.
Joanna: That’s why I created it and it’s just in time before my second one.
Sara: Oh yeah, wow, only a few weeks away?
Sara: Oh, congratulations and we here at Raw Food Magazine hope the best for you that it is the easiest it can be and you’ll have even a fuller, wilder life.
That’s very exciting, I know, because you never know what you’re in for.
Joanna: Yeah, you don’t know.
Sara: Yes, absolutely. Well, thank you so much and it’s been a pleasure getting to talk to you and thank you everyone for listening.
Joanna: Thank you, Sara.
Connect with Joanna
To get a copy of Joanna Steven’s books, The Milky Way or Well Rounded, or to become a part of her Nourished Village community for moms, visit her online:
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Thanks for reading and have a beautiful day -your rfm team