by Kimla McDonald, CNM, Guest Blogger
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” -Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, The Botany of Desire, Food Rules, and In Defense of Food
“Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food.” -Hippocrates, ancient Greek physician
“Let’s Move!” -Michelle Obama… “and not eat crap.” -Mark Hyman, MD
“Eat your fruits and vegetables.” -Your Mom
As midwives, we pay attention to what our colleagues say about food because of its importance in women’s lives and health. When we take care of pregnant women, we get double the fun because apparently, not only are you what you eat, so is your unborn child. (See Time magazine’s cover story from September 2010, “How the First Nine Months Shape the Rest of Your Life.”).
Many paths lead to a discussion of how our patients nourish themselves (or not). Eating is often a response to emotions. Our appetites can be stimulated or erased by stress, unhappiness, and boredom. We eat what we we’re used to—what our moms fed us—whether we know better or not. We eat what we can afford, in time and money. We eat while we drive, watch TV, read, work, or stand at the stove.
Rarely do we eat mindfully, taking several minutes to fully savor the sight, smell, taste, and texture of a single grape. Why spend that much time on one grape, you ask?
Every time I write a prescription for prenatal vitamins, I think of Robert Rountree, MD, who says that everything we eat is a genetic instruction manual. We’ve been told that vitamins can act as antioxidants and fight free radical damage, but Rountree suggests that it might not just be the chemicals (vitamin C for example) but other nutrients in plant foods that make the difference in our bodies. He extols the virtues of a list of foods (the spices turmeric and rosemary; cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower; green tea, red wine, garlic, and coffee) that act like free radical generators in our bodies, which sounds like it might be bad, but as it turns out, is actually a good thing.
Functional medicine is defined as personalized medicine that deals with primary prevention and underlying causes instead of symptoms for serious chronic disease. Practitioners who specialize in treating patients using a functional medicine approach see phytonutrients (nutrients from plants) as important factors in our cellular communication systems. When we eat them, they provoke a slight stress that elicits our body’s adaptive stress response which ultimately provides us with a protective antioxidant effect.
Just understanding a little of this makes me feel better when talking to my pregnant patients about what they’re eating. Because they really are eating for two, more than they know.
For more information about functional medicine, go to www.functionalmedicine.org. Doctors Mark Hyman, MD, and Robert Rountree, MD, are both faculty for the Institute for Functional Medicine. Another great learning and teaching resource is the University of Utah’s Genetic Science Learning Center. What resources do you use to inform your dietary discussions with clients?
Kimla McDonald, CNM, is a practicing full-time CNM at a private practice in Annapolis, MD, doing both birth center and hospital births. McDonald started out as a doula in San Francisco, became an apprentice to a homebirth midwife in New Orleans, then finished her studies for midwifery in the DC metro area. She has also worked as a documentary film producer, landscape architect, nonprofit fund raiser, and worked for several years with the Center for Mind Body Medicine in Washington, DC, producing educational conferences on nutrition and alternative and complementary medicine. She has studied yoga, traditional Chinese medicine, Healing Touch, and nutrition.