By Doris Rathgeber, Founder & General Manager of Body & Soul – Medical Clinics
Pregnancy is a time of growth and change for a woman. A new life is growing inside her womb, so she needs to take special care of herself and that precious cargo. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believes that every person is endowed from birth with an essence that lasts throughout life and provides the body with energy. This essence flows from the mother during pregnancy, and a healthy lifestyle and good nutrition increases the amount and quality of this essential essence.
To build up this life-giving essence and guarantee the best health for the newborn, the soon-to-be mom is advised to eat a balanced diet high in nutrients and fiber, and low in bad fats and cholesterol. TCM provides specific nutritional recommendations for each trimester to correspond with the changing needs of mother and baby.
In the first three months, the baby begins to form in the mother’s body. The body is making major adjustments to hormonal and physical changes. Nausea and vomiting are common in this stage. Eating neutral and warming foods during this time will help (e.g. soups and stews with pumpkin, cabbage, potatoes, carrots; chicken, and salmon). Ginger is an excellent complementary food that warms the spleen and stomach and relieves morning sickness.
In TCM, pregnancy is thought of as a ‘hot’ condition. In the second trimester, the blood circulation in the “penetrating channel” increases as the baby grows rapidly. The pregnant woman experiences a yin blood deficiency and excess heat, which can lead to excessive thirst, flushing, insomnia, night sweats, heartburn and constipation. Cooling foods can counterbalance the heat in the body. Cooling foods include vegetables (e.g. broccoli, artichoke, eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, asparagus, and tomatoes), salads and fresh fruits (e.g. apples, banana, pear, strawberry, pineapple, melon, cherries, and mango). Limit the consumption of red meat, soy-based food, fried food, and sugar, especially during this period. It is strongly advised to avoid caffeine and alcohol throughout the pregnancy.
This is also the time to eat reinforcement foods and a nutrient-rich diet to help the baby with the rapid period of growth and development. Reinforcement foods include spring cabbage, spinach, sesame, white fungus, coconut and beans.
In the last trimester, the mother doesn’t need as much reinforcement food since the period of rapid growth is over. Cooling foods can continue to be eaten mixed with some warm foods (but continue avoiding hot foods such as listed above). Besides nutrition, expectant mothers should keep fit by doing light exercise (walking, yoga, swimming), including outdoor exercise where possible. Herbal medicine and acupuncture are safe, natural remedies for discomfort during pregnancy.
The Role of Nutrition in TCM
And what about once the pregnancy is over, and your child arrives? Every mother is concerned about her child’s nutrition, as it provides the building blocks for a child to learn, play and grow. With an increasing number of children suffering from eating disorders, obesity, allergies, and digestive problems, Moms have a lot of reasons to worry. Also, in a city like Shanghai, where the products one buys back home may be unavailable or overpriced, preparing healthy meals for children can be a hassle. So how can we provide a good nutritional start for our kids with a little help from Chinese wisdom?
In TCM, balance between Yin & Yang is the key. However, children are ruled by Yang, as their organs are not yet complete and are slowly maturing. This is why food items should be carefully selected in order to support good development both mentally and physically.
The Chinese believe that the food we eat is transformed into Qi, the vital energy the body needs to function properly. When food is well digested, it produces a good quality Qi. On the other hand, improper or unhealthy food causes an overproduction of destructive substances. These substances, like heat or phlegm, affect the spleen system and the lungs. These organs are particularly weak in children. An imbalance arising during childhood might permanently damage them, leading to lifelong poor health. Children with excessive phlegm in the spleen may develop digestive problems and will suffer from a poor distribution of nutrients throughout the body. Moreover, the spleen supports the production of Qi and blood which promotes the growth of muscles and bones. Excessive phlegm in the lungs may favor respiratory tract diseases such as asthma.
Practical Tips for Good Nutrition
For all these reasons, paying extra attention to children’s nutrition is vital. Kids need foods full of nutrients to ensure healthy development. The diet needs to include good quality proteins like chicken or fish (twice a day), dairy products (or an equivalent substitute) such as milk, yogurt and cheese (three portions a day), vegetables (at least three portions a day) and fruits (at least two portions a day).
To provide energy, carbohydrates should be the main component of children’s meals with six servings per day. However, it is important to pick good sources of carbohydrates such as whole wheat bread, brown rice and whole grain pasta. Fats, oil and sweets should be used sparingly. Avoid processed foods with high fat and refined sugar content, as well as sweet drinks. Those items lead to over-production and stagnation of phlegm in the body, which can weaken your child’s health.
In most cases, children control their appetite and select foods they know they can digest themselves. It is not advisable to force kids to eat something they do not like. Continue introducing new foods and model good eating habits, but don’t create anxiety over food. Introducing variety and offering tasty, healthy foods will enable children to develop beautifully as well as to get used to new flavors.
Also, eating schedules for kids are different from those of adults. Usually, kids prefer small meals at flexible times over three big meals at adult-appropriate times. Have healthy snacks on hand. Your kids may even enjoy getting involved with some food preparation.
Are you interested in TCM? Want to know more about natural ways to resolve health issues? Shanghai Mamas has partnered with Body & Soul to provide a series of family health articles and wellness talks. Check here for more information and registration for the upcoming talk about TCM for Pediatrics by Doris Rathgeber, or follow Body & Soul by scanning the QR code below.
Body & Soul combines Eastern medicine and Western science to provide the most natural, effective health solutions in four convenient locations throughout Shanghai. Services offered are covered by insurances and include TCM and acupuncture, osteopathy, chiropractic, physical therapy, psychological counseling, podiatry and functional medicine among others. Contact Body & Soul via WeChat or online/by phone for more information or to make an appointment.