Natural Ways to Boost the Pregnant Immune System

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Pregnant women are more at risk for acquiring infection or viruses given the altered immune state that accompanies pregnancy. Most care providers and health agencies agree that the flu is a risk in late pregnancy and recommend certain types of flu vaccines. But there are also natural ways to aid the pregnant immune system.

Habits


Regular Exercise

Gentle exercise cleanses the lymph system and flushes bacteria out of the lungs. When the body heats up with exercise, it helps the body to fight infection. Breathwalking, yoga, swimming, and Tai Chi are gentle forms of exercise that are beneficial for pregnant women.

Sleep

The importance of sleep cannot be stressed enough. The body resets with sleep and a healthy immune system relies upon its restorative aspects. It can be hard to get comfortable in the third trimester when the baby gains the most weight just before birth. Sleeping on your side with a pillow between the legs is one of the most comfortable positions for sleep for the pregnant woman. Heartburn can also be a problem late in pregnancy. Be sure to eat small meals in the evening or drink tea with cinnamon or ginger or peppermint. If you find your sleep is interrupted at night, try to fit in a nap during the day.

Diet

A strong diet during pregnancy helps not only with immunity, but also with the size of the baby, which in the end can ensure an easier delivery. Check out our post on the optimal pregnancy diet and tips for eating healthy.

Hydration

Most midwives will tell you that hydration is key to a healthy pregnancy. Taking in enough fluids helps to flush your lymph system and keep your kidneys and bladder healthy, and water helps to form the placenta and the amniotic sac. Dehydration during pregnancy can lead to serious pregnancy complications, including neural tube defects, low amniotic fluid, inadequate breast milk production, and even premature labor. These risks, in turn, can lead to birth defects due to lack of water and nutritional support for the baby. Aim for at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day.

Hand washing

Be sure to wash your hands regularly. Anti-bacterial soaps are not recommended, but washing with regular soap is a good habit to develop while pregnant and when handling your newborn, postpartum. The most effective hand washing method involves lathering the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails. Be sure to wash your hands after attending a group gathering or playing with young children.

Immune Boosters


Vitamin C

A master immune booster, Vitamin C helps immune cells mature; has an antihistamine effect; controls excesses of stress hormones, which suppress immunity; is antiviral and antibacterial; and raises interferon levels, an antibody that coats cell surfaces. In addition to Vitamin C supplements, the following foods contain the vitamin: papaya, bell peppers, strawberries, oranges, grapefruit, broccoli, pineapple, kale, kiwi, or Brussels sprouts.

Tumeric

Tumeric is the food that keeps on giving. Research has shown that it’s a better inflammatory than many OTC anti-inflammatory medications and equal to low dose steroids. High in antioxidants, anti-cancer by nature, good for digestion, and excellent at controlling inflammation, turmeric offers many immune benefits. You can add turmeric to smoothies, drink turmeric tea, or add turmeric to your favorite dishes.

Garlic

Garlic is a powerful natural antibiotic. One clove is powerful enough to combat infection, with its five milligrams of calcium, 12 milligrams of potassium, and more than 100 sulfuric compounds. It’s most powerful raw. If you feel a cold coming on or feel flu-like, try a raw garlic “shot:” one minced garlic clove in a small amount of water, chased by more water. Or, if you’re really ambitious, consider a shot of raw garlic, ginger, carrots, and lemon for a quick immune boost. Raw pesto is a wonderful way to get your raw garlic – toss on pasta or slather on a piece of toast or use in place of tomato sauce on pizza.

Healthy Fats

It’s important to obtain adequate essential fatty acids (EFAs) from the diet during pregnancy and lactation. DHA supplements, an Omega-3 fatty acid, based on cultured microalgae are available in many natural food stores. EFAs boost the pregnant woman’s immune system, support endocrine function and normal function in tissues, and lessen inflammation.

Linoleic and alpha-linolenic, key components of EFAs, cannot be synthesized in the body and must be obtained from food. Omega-6 fats are derived from linoleic acid and are found in leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts, grains, and vegetable oils (corn, safflower, soybean, cottonseed, sesame, sunflower). Most diets provide adequate amounts of this fatty acid, and therefore planning is rarely required to ensure proper amounts of omega-6 fatty acids. A less common omega-6 fatty acid, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects along with other disease-fighting powers. GLA can be found in rare oils such as black currant, borage, and hemp oils.

Research suggests that fatty acids are needed for fetal growth and fetal brain development. The EFAs are important for infants as they ensure proper growth and development and normal functioning of body tissues. Increased omega-3 fatty acid intake in the immediate post-natal period is associated with improved cognitive outcomes. It’s important that the mother’s diet contain a good supply of omega-3s because infants receive essential fatty acids through breast milk.

Zinc

The body requires zinc for production, repair, and functioning of DNA – the basic building blocks of cells. Beans, nuts, breads, seeds, dairy, and some cereals provide zinc. Too much zinc is not beneficial, so if you consider taking zinc supplements, be sure to talk to your midwife or doctor first.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy and breastfeeding is generally recommended. Vitamin D plays a key role in the process of priming T cells to be ready to attack invaders and to fight infection. Sunshine, oily fish, and eggs are good sources of Vitamin D. If eating fish, it’s recommended to limit the servings to 12 ounces a week because of the exposure to methylmercury in most fish.

Almonds

Almond skin contains naturally occurring chemicals that help white blood cells detect viruses and even help to keep them from spreading. Almonds contain healthy fats, fiber, iron, protein, and magnesium. Almond butter is high in protein and good fats. It’s a good substitute for peanut butter and can be served on apples, crackers, or bread.

Chicken Soup

The old adage is true: eating chicken soup boosts the immune system. The broth and vegetables combine to provide anti-inflammatory benefits. Chicken soup decreases the duration and intensity of colds and flu by inhibiting the migration of white blood cells across the mucous membrane, which, in turn, can reduce congestion and ease cold symptoms.

Yogurt or Kefir

A healthy gut is an important building block of a healthy immune system. Yogurt and even better, Kefir, are full of probiotic benefits. Buy plain yogurt or kefir and add fruit-juice sweetened jam or fresh fruit and honey to avoid the high sugar content of commercial flavored brands.

Hot Lemon Water with Honey

Fresh lemon juice is an immune powerhouse, filled with Vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin E, folate, niacin thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, copper, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, phosphorus and protein. Squeeze the juice of one fresh lemon into a teacup, fill the rest of the cup with hot tea water, and sweeten with raw honey. This drink is especially soothing when you have a sore throat, cold, or sinus issues.

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Proper hydration, healthy diet, moderate exercise, and sleep are the building blocks of a healthy pregnancy. The basic prenatal multi-vitamin offers a lot of immune enhancing properties (don’t take a generic multi-vitamin as they often contain Vitamin A, which is contraindicated for pregnancy.) Experiment with some of these immune boosting tips, but most of all enjoy your pregnancy and let your midwife or physician know if you have any questions about immunity in pregnancy.

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Good Cheer and The Pregnancy Diet

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It’s that time of year. The time when we bake cookies and fudge and tasty pies. The time when the workplace break room is littered with holiday candy and plenty of chocolate. It’s a time when it feels almost obligatory to feed the sweet tooth. But what if you’re pregnant? Does pregnancy give you an eat-all-you-want pass with the holiday sweets? The short answer is no. But then again, as with most anything, it’s all about balance.

We as midwives make nutrition an important part of the care we offer pregnant clients. It’s the hallmark of good prenatal care. To help pregnant women navigate this holiday season, we asked a seasoned midwife/educator/author to share her tried and true pregnancy diet, a diet based on a modified American Diabetes Association (ADA) diet, with specific portion sizes and an accompanying chart. The best part? Desserts are not off-limit, although one piece of pie could blow a lot of the small, allowed portions.

Juliana Van Olphen-Fehr, CNM, PdD, retired director of the Shenandoah University nurse-midwifery program and author of Diary of a Midwife, spent an entire prenatal visit on nutrition when she had a combination home/hospital practice. Clients often joked that subsequent prenatal visits were diet confessionals; some tried to hide ice cream cones from her view when running into her outside of appointments. The nutrition prenatal session left its indelible mark on the pregnant women she served and the Fehr pregnancy diet was a hallmark of her successful practice.

Recently, we asked her if her opinion on the optimal pregnancy diet had changed all these years later: “No. Not one bit…. You are what you eat, so when you’re pregnant, so is the baby [what you eat]. What your job is, when you’re pregnant, is to nourish that body and really make sure that the body inside you will grow up to be an incredible and productive human being.”

Dr. Fehr frames the pregnancy diet in both biological and historical perspectives. Our brain requires glucose. “It doesn’t use protein and vitamins. Glucose is it. And now the pregnant woman has two brains and one is really changing fast. It’s growing and it’s interested in getting all the nutrition it needs.” Yet, historically, humans’ access to sugar was seasonal and typically fruit, or at the very least, lactose, another sugar, from a cow’s milk.

“Humans were designed to survive despite the lack of access to sugar. That’s what we were meant to do, because [historically] we didn’t have it. The problem is that evolution takes thousands of years to develop. We now have so much access to sugar; we are inundated with it. We need it. We crave it.”

But at some point the pancreas won’t keep up with a contemporary intake of sugar. And that creates problems for both the baby and the mother.

Every day a pregnant woman needs grains and carbohydrates to offer the brain the sugar it needs. But the trick is to keep track of serving sizes and amounts. A pregnant woman and her growing baby needs:

  • 9 servings of carbohydrates
  • 9 servings of protein
  • 3 servings of milk
  • 3 servings of vegetables
  • 6 servings of fruit
  • 5 servings of fat

And the serving sizes are small: 1 ounce of meet or cheese, 1 egg, or 2 tablespoons of nut butter meet the protein serving requirement. And nut butters also count for 2 of the fat exchanges. Vegetable serving sizes are ½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw. One half of a bagel, 1/3 cup cooked lentils, 1 small potato, or 2 cups cooked pasta meet the carbohydrate serving size requirement.

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So where does that leave a pregnant woman during the holidays? A little bit of good math, planning, and awareness go a long way. Enjoy that pie, but be mindful of the carb, dairy, fruit, and fat exchanges. Enjoy that piece of fudge, but pull back on your dairy and fat servings for the remainder of the day. And be sure to fill the rest of your day with all of the nutrients that are most important for you and your growing baby. You’re eating for two. Two brains, two pancreases, one of each that are still growing and developing. A good diet is an investment in your own health and in the long-term health of your baby. Cheers!

Breast Health: Basic Anatomy and Cancer Prevention

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It’s Breast Cancer Prevention Month. Midwives care for the whole woman, from pre-conception to well-care post-childbearing. Invasive breast cancer affects 1 in 8 women. It’s sobering to think that, in 2016, there are more than 2.8 million women with a history of breast cancer in the U.S (women currently receiving treatment and women who have finished treatment.) Throughout a woman’s life, normal breast changes occur. So how does a woman stay informed on what is normal and when to be concerned about changes in her breasts?

Most of the women we see in our practice choose to breastfeed and are successful. A breastfeeding mom experiences changes in breast shape, the feel of the exterior of the breast (engorgement before and then a smaller breast once the baby has nursed) and sometimes-painful knots – or plugged ducts. New moms who choose not to breastfeed or have barriers to breastfeeding may also experience changes in their breasts postpartum. Most of these changes are normal, and breast cancer while pregnant or lactating is extremely rare. Older women also experience changes, such as softer, fattier breast tissue, or mammograms that show calcifications.

It can be hard to tell what’s what and with national concern about, and awareness of, breast cancer, it’s helpful to review the basic anatomy of a woman’s breast. The National Breast Cancer Foundation has a wonderful video on female breast anatomy. Imagine if all women learned about this basic female anatomy in school, well before their risk factors increased? Female breasts are complex systems of lymph vessels and nodes, blood vessels, milk ducts, lobes and lobules, nerve endings, ligaments, connective tissue, and fat tissue. Check out the video to better understand how all of the elements work as one complex system.

Certain factors in a woman’s life increase risk, such as genetics; a mother, sister, or grandmother who has had breast cancer; alcohol consumption; a first child after the age of thirty; not nursing or nursing for less than a year; early menstrual onset; non-bio-identical Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT); previous radiation exposure; poor diet, which increases risk of all cancers; obesity; and ethnicity—white women have a slightly higher chance of developing breast cancer, but African American women who are diagnosed young are at risk for a more aggressive, more advanced stage form of breast cancer.

Midwives encourage mothers to breastfeed, eat healthy, and limit alcohol consumption. But life isn’t just a series of neat checklists and all that we can do is our best with any given situation. If you know you have one or more of the risk factors, do your best to affect the other factors. Angelina Jolie very publicly chronicled her painful decisions about her risk of breast cancer, and then later her painful decisions regarding ovarian cancer risk. The mutation of her BRCA1 gene meant she had an eighty-seven percent higher risk of developing breast cancer and fifty percent chance of developing ovarian cancer, cancers that claimed the lives of her mother, grandmother, and aunt.

The basic tenets of breast cancer prevention that we recommend to the mothers we serve include:

  • Regular breast exams. You know your breasts best. Pay attention to even subtle changes and don’t be afraid to ask your healthcare provider questions.
  • A healthy lifestyle. Limit alcohol consumption, eat a diet heavy with fresh vegetables and fruits and limit fatty foods, exercise regularly—especially walking or yoga as they give cardiovascular benefits without stressing the immune system—and, if you are planning to have children and have no physical obstacles to successful lactation, plan to breastfeed for at least eighteen months.
  • Clean air, clean water. Research suggests that toxins in our environment contribute to higher cancer rates. Rid your home of toxic cleaners and perfumes and use a good water filter to ensure a clean home and safe drinking water.
  • If breast cancer or ovarian cancer run in your family, ask your doctor to run the BRCA1 test to check for mutations.

Many of us know women who have been affected by breast or ovarian cancer. Support the women in your community who have to undertake this painful journey. Womanhood is a sisterhood. We’re all in this together.

 

 

Busy Mom Lifesaver #3: Strategic Cooking

Strategic cooking? What’s that? When you’re short on time, it helps to think about the big picture and come up with a strategy. You want to avoid eating out, you want food that tastes good, and you want to have food that involves minimal preparation, right? I love to cook, and when I have time, I am happy to spend hours in the kitchen making an elaborate meal. But, most days, I just want to get some food on the table and get it there quickly. I learned a long time ago that with a little forethought, I could cut a lot of time off of my cooking, save quite a bit of money, and make sure my family ate food they liked. Without this planning, we’re like most people – it’s 4:30pm, and we turn to each other and ask, “what’s for dinner?” Nobody has any ideas and next thing you know, we’re getting Thai food.

image-7One solution that has worked well for my family has been freezer cooking. Frozen assets, freezer cooking, once-a-month cooking, planned overs — whatever you call it, thinking about cooking this way has been a Godsend for me. It took me many years of being a grownup to figure this one out for myself and try it. Once I did, I was hooked.

The first time I did once-a-month cooking was about 10 years ago. It was a rather long and arduous process, but the result was a freezer full of great meals for my family, a bundle of financial savings, and a huge load of stress taken off of my plate. I think I was about 7 months pregnant with my youngest son when I did once-a-month cooking the first time. My motivation was to put away meals to help keep my sanity during postpartum (good plan). Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at doing the freezer meals, and now it goes pretty quickly, so I wanted to share with you some ideas to make the process easier and some resources for freezer meal recipes.

Day 1: Plan and Prepare

I usually break up freezer meal cooking into two days. One day of planning and preparation and one day of actual cooking. You’re going to need to set aside some time to gather your recipes and figure out what to make. Sometimes, you can just make your own favorite meals in bulk and divide them up and freeze them. Other times, you’ll want to follow some sort of freezer meal cooking plan. Whatever you’re planning to do, take some time up front to do some planning.

My absolute favorite freezer cooking site is 365 Days of Crockpot. I love how she has it so beautifully organized. The shopping lists are wonderful. The recipes are made in assembly line fashion so it goes very quickly. She lays it all out to the point where you put your bags in the loaf pans, and then her instructions say “2 T Tomato Paste in bags 3, 6, 7,10, 13, 18.” This page has a video that explains her method. You’ve got to see it! I absolutely love it. Her meals are quite good, too. If you want to try out her method, I’d recommend starting with these:

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In addition to doing one of her plans, I also like to make up some of our go-to meals like meatloaf, taco meat, and meatball mix. Now that I use the Instant Pot for my spaghetti and meatballs, I don’t precook the meatballs. Instead, I have the meatball ingredients mixed together so that I can just defrost it, form it into balls, and put it into the marinara sauce in the Instant Pot. It cooks for 5 minutes at high pressure and 10 minutes pressure release.

Go shopping

Once you’ve gathered your recipes, it’s time to make your grocery list. This is not a time where you’re going to want to be making trips to the store in the middle of your cooking, so make your list and check it twice…three times. Go get your shopping done.

Make sure you have plenty of zip top bags, aluminum foil, labels, and permanent markers. I took a tip from one of the freezer cooking sites online and use loaf pans to hold the baggies of ingredients when I’m doing my freezer cooking. This holds the upright and open, ready to receive the next ingredient. I got mine at the dollar store and I save them just for freezer meals.

Clean and De-Clutter

Clean out your freezer. Toss all of the old freezer-burned veggies and meat. Make some space for all of your new meals!

Clean your kitchen top to bottom. You are going to need every inch of counter space for this job. You probably will need to expand your project onto the kitchen table too. Clear off the counter tops of any unnecessary items. Empty the dishwasher and sink. Put everything away. Sharpen your knives and get ready to cook!

The Big Day!

Get some help

I personally recommend having a helper (or a few) when you do once-a-month cooking, especially if this is your first time doing it. There’s a lot of work involved, and having someone help you with it will make all the difference. It’s a great time to teach kids organizational skills and cooking skills.

Divide and Conquer

Some people like the more focused parts of freezer cooking, like chopping veggies. If that’s their gift, have that person chop veggies. I have a few people in my family who are a little overwhelmed with the 30 loaf pans with open baggies on the countertop. They’re much happier to just chop the veggies. Great, chop veggies! My youngest likes to do labels. Cool, make labels! I, on the other hand, like managing the whole operation and keeping track of what goes into each bag. That’s my gift, so that’s what I do. There’s plenty of work to go around, and if you have kids old enough to babysit younger kids, or if you have kids old enough to help you with cooking, all the better. Now that I have older kids, I’m blessed to have two teens who have cooking skills that rival my own. Plus, my husband is every bit as good at this as I am.

Label, Label, Label

Once in a freezer bag or wrapped in aluminum foil and stored in your freezer, all of the meals look pretty similar. You absolutely have to label. I highly recommend double-bagging your meals and labeling the inner baggie. Then, put the cooking instructions on an index card and place it between the inner and outer baggie. When you defrost your freezer meal, remove the instruction card first so it doesn’t get wet from condensation, otherwise your instructions will likely become difficult to read. Another option would be to label and number the bags, and then keep a list of your meals separately with the cooking instructions. Either way, you need a plan for how you will keep track of what you have and how to cook it.

How you freeze it matters

If you lay a baggie of something liquid on a rack in your freezer, it will conform to the rack as it freezes and you’ll never get it out of there later. Trust me; it has happened to me. Freeze flat items on aluminum baking sheets and then stack them, preferably in a box so that they don’t fall out and land on your foot when you open your freezer door. Again, that’s happened to me. If you are using the loaf pan method, freeze things in the baggies inside the loaf pans, and then pop them out like ice cubes in an ice cube tray. You can store them like bricks in your freezer.

Think ahead about how you’ll be cooking the item you’re freezing. If something is going into a slow cooker and you’re not going to defrost it first, freeze it in a container shaped like your slow cooker. That way, it can defrost in the slow cooker. If you’re freezing a meatloaf, wrap it in aluminum foil in such a way that you can place the frozen meatloaf back into the loaf pan while it’s still wrapped. You’ll be able to defrost it like that, bake it, and then throw the aluminum foil into the recycling bin, eliminating the need to wash the meatloaf pan.

Planned Overs

Another solution for our family has been Planned Overs. It’s a different way to think about leftovers. I try to think ahead when I’m cooking. It’s enough effort to cook once, why cook twice, right? I learned a long time ago to cook more than we need at one meal and think about how we could use the leftovers while I’m making the first meal.

Today’s Rotisserie Chicken is Tomorrow’s Chicken Enchiladas and the Next Day’s Chicken Soup

Get a couple of rotisserie chickens and a bag of salad for dinner one day. Chop up the leftover chicken meat to use for the next couple of days.

For the chicken enchiladas, put half of the leftover chicken meat and a can of black beans in a skillet with about a cup of salsa and heat it up. Add a little sour cream and cheese, roll it into tortillas, cover with more salsa and cheese, and bake at 350°F until hot and bubbly. I usually serve it with salsa, avocado, sour cream, and shredded lettuce.

For the soup, I use this as a good opportunity to use up veggies on hand that are perhaps on their last leg. It’s basically a “clean out the fridge night.” Put the chicken bones into the Instant Pot with whatever veggies you like. Season with salt & pepper and some thyme. Add the remaining chopped leftover chicken, put that in there too. Cook in the Instant Pot on the soup setting or cook in the slow cooker on low all day. Remove the bones and serve.

Today’s Pot Roast is Tomorrow’s Beef Vegetable Soup

Chop up your pot roast leftovers (meat, potatoes, carrots, whatever). Put it in your crockpot (or Instant Pot) with some stewed tomatoes and a bag of frozen mixed vegetables. Add beef stock to cover. Season with salt & pepper and fresh rosemary. Cook in the slow cooker all day, or cook in the Instant Pot on the soup setting.

Today’s Tacos are Tomorrow’s Tamale Pie

Make up some taco meat. I generally use ground beef, but you could use chicken or pork or turkey. My recipe is pretty simple – ground beef, onion, seasonings, Ro-Tel tomatoes, cilantro, black beans. I like to make a lot of taco meat and freeze some, but I also will reserve some to make up a tamale pie. This is a simple and quick way to use up taco leftovers. Layer corn tortillas, taco meat, cheese, and salsa in a casserole dish. Top with salsa and a little cheese. Bake at 350°F until hot and bubbly. Serve with avocado slices and some sour cream or plain Greek yogurt.

Today’s Veggies are Tomorrow’s Frittata

Time to use up the veggies! This is great for a make ahead breakfast or Sunday brunch. For more detailed instructions, here’s a post I did about making frittata, but you can really just wing it. Gather whatever veggies you like – onion, zucchini, mushrooms, spinach, broccoli, tomatoes. I generally just use up the leftovers in my fridge. Rough chop them veggies. Using an oven-safe pan, saute your veggies, and then add 6-12 beaten eggs (depending on how big you want the frittata to be). Cook it like you would scrambled eggs until it is partially set, add some cheese, if you like, and then broil until the top is set. Basically, you’re cooking the bottom and then the top. Remove it from the oven, wait a minute, then flip it out onto a cutting board. Cut into wedges and serve. Or, let it cool and wrap it up for a quick breakfast for the next few days.

Today’s Pork Roast is tomorrow’s Pork Fried Rice

This is a great way to use up leftover meat and rice. It also works well with leftover quinoa. I like this with pork, but you could do this with leftover chicken or beef, too. Chop the leftover meat into bite sized pieces. Chop up an onion. In a large skillet, heat some oil and saute until translucent. Add the meat and cook until heated through. At this point, you could add some leftover peas, corn, broccoli, or other vegetables you like. Push the food to the edges of the pan. Beat 3 eggs and cook the eggs in the center of the pan. Once cooked, mix with the other ingredients. Add some soy sauce and sesame oil. Add cooked rice. Add more soy sauce and sesame oil as needed and serve.

Today’s Spaghetti and Meatballs is Tomorrow’s Lasagna with Meat Sauce

This couldn’t be much easier. You could even do this as you’re putting away your leftover sauce and meatballs, which would probably be faster and would eliminate having to wash the spaghetti sauce pan twice.

Heat up the meatballs and sauce in a large saucepan. Using a potato masher, mash the meatballs and break up the large chunks of meatball in the sauce. Add an extra can of tomato puree. Mix ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, chopped spinach, an egg, and salt and pepper in a bowl. Layer sauce, then uncooked lasagna noodles, ricotta mixture, shredded mozzarella, sauce, noodles, etc. The final layer should be noodles, sauce, and then mozzarella. Cover and bake 1 hour at 375°F. Uncover and bake until the cheese browns and is bubbly. You want to be generous with the sauce since you’re using uncooked noodles. The noodles will absorb a lot of the sauce.

Today’s Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes is Tomorrow’s Shepherd’s Pie

When you’re putting away your leftover meatloaf, chop it up into small pieces. The next day, put the meatloaf pieces in a baking dish, add some mixed vegetables and a can of Amy’s Cream of Mushroom Soup. Top with leftover mashed potatoes. I like cheese, so I add a sprinkle of sharp cheddar on top. Bake at 375°F until the potatoes start to brown and everything is hot and bubbly.

Now, time for me to start planning my next freezer meal adventure! Let me know how it goes for you. I’d love to know which sites you’ve found helpful and which recipes have worked for your family!

Busy Mom Lifesaver #1 The Instant Pot

I usually post about birth-related things. I suppose this is birth-related too, since I’d be hard-pressed to do my job without having some time-saving ideas to keep my family fed. If we don’t eat good food, we can’t stay healthy. In this series, I’ll share some of my mom-to-mom survival tips.

image (5)Often, if we don’t plan, we’ll do the usual fall back of “well, let’s just get take out” and that is (1) expensive (2) often as time-consuming as cooking (3) and usually not very healthy. Enter the Instant Pot.

At the risk of sounding like an Instant Pot commercial, I’m going to tell you all about how I feel about my experience with the Instant Pot. Yes, there are links to the Instant Pot on Amazon.com so you can purchase one for yourself, and yes, if you use those links, I’m supposed to get some sort of kick back (although I have yet to see a penny from Amazon’s affiliate program) but other than that, I’m not being compensated for my endorsement of Instant Pot. This is all coming from my own personal experience with this wonderful kitchen gadget. Love this thing!

What is an Instant Pot?

The Instant Pot is a programmable electric pressure cooker. This video gives a good overview about how the Instant Pot works.

Why is the Instant Pot better than other electric pressure cookers?

InstantPot.jpgI had another electric pressure cooker and I liked it quite a bit. It got a lot of use. But, I had two issues that Instant Pot solved for me. First, the interior pot in the other pressure cookers had a non-stick surface. I’m not big on non-stick; I much prefer stainless steel. I have concerns about the safety of non-stick coatings, plus they just don’t wear well over time. Before very long, my non-stick inner pot started showing signs of wear. My other issue with the other pressure cooker was that the inner pot’s capacity was small. The new Instant Pot is available in an 8 quart capacity (yay!), which makes me very happy. I could make do with a smaller one, but having the flexibility of the larger 8 quart size is really nice.

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Other pressure cookers probably can do some of the things the Instant Pot can do, but the Instant Pot is marketed as being able to be used as a slow cooker (definitely replaced my crock pot, and my other pressure cooker did not have a slow-cooker function), yogurt maker, and rice maker. In my experience, I make better rice on the stove, so I’m sticking with that. Maybe I’m doing something wrong, but the rice I made in the Instant Pot turned out sticky. I haven’t tried making yogurt yet, but I really want to!

It’s super easy to use. It’s so easy, in fact, that my 15 year old son said he wants one when he goes off to college. He’s been using it for about a year now. He knows that he pretty much just has to put frozen food in it, set the cooking function, and walk away, so he feels confident he’d be able to pull off home-cooked meals when he’s living away from home. He sees the Instant Pot as the indispensable kitchen tool.

Aren’t pressure cookers dangerous? I’m afraid it will blow up.

That’s what I usually hear when I tell people my favorite kitchen gadget is a pressure cooker. Modern pressure cookers are really quite safe. The Instant Pot has 10 different safety features to prevent the pressure cooker horror stories we’ve heard our grandmothers share. Quite literally you just put the food in the pot, set the cooking type, and walk away from it. The pot brings it up to the proper temperature and pressure, cooks it for the appropriate amount of time, depressurizes on its own, and then keeps the food warm until you’re ready to eat.InstantPotSafety

Why would I want to use a pressure cooker?

The ultimate fast food. Food cooks in a fraction of the time it would normally take. Pot roast that would normally cook all day in a slow cooker takes about 1-1/2 hours. Fall-off-the-bone BBQ Baby Back Ribs – 65 minutes. Best Carnitas evah – 50 minutes. Paleo Kalua Pig Pulled Pork that normally takes 16 hours in the slow cooker – 90 minutes.

You also don’t have to babysit the food. Once you put it in the Instant Pot and set the cooking function, you can walk away and go about doing other things. There is no stirring, minding the temperature, making sure things don’t burn, turning it off when things are done, etc. All of that happens without you.

Pressure cookers save you money, too. You can take the toughest cuts of meat and by cooking them in the pressure cooker, they become fall-apart-fork-tender.

So, what do you make in the Instant Pot?

At first, I just tried some very easy things. I made pot roast in record time. The pot has a saute function, so I was able to use that to sear the chuck roast first. Then, I added the onions, liquid (half wine, half water), salt and pepper, and some fresh rosemary. Covered the pot, turned it to the “Meat” function for about an hour, and when it was done, I added the potatoes and carrots and cooked for 10 more minutes. Yummy!

Then, I ventured out a bit. I tried just putting frozen chicken breasts with a jar of salsa in the Instant Pot. Yes, frozen. The Instant Pot will defrost the chicken for you. After the timer went off, I shredded the chicken with a couple of forks, added a can of black beans and some frozen corn, and then turned it to saute to warm up the corn and beans. Ta-da! Chicken and Black Bean Tacos!

Feeling more confident, I thought maybe I could convert some of my existing recipes to Instant Pot meals, and yes, that worked very well. Pulled pork, soups, and chili all worked great.

Then, I discovered there’s a whole community of over 100,000 Instant Pot lovers (“Potheads” as they call themselves!) on the Internet. They share countless recipes including cheesecake (seems to be an especially popular thing among Potheads), ribs, macaroni and cheese, Indian Butter Chicken, beef stew, and about a zillion other things. Pretty much, if you want to cook something in the Instant Pot, you can post it on Facebook, and some pothead will have a recipe for you.

My most recent Instant Pot win was cooking spaghetti and meatballs. Understand that spaghetti and meatballs is one of my specialties, so much so that my daughter asked for it for her 18th birthday dinner. It’s one of those things that my kids consider to be mom’s cooking at it’s best, and they consider the techniques used in making them to be sacred – nobody messes with mamas meatballs. I make marinara from scratch and normally, I’d make the meatballs and bake them in the oven while I prepare marinara sauce on the stove, then I’d simmer the meatballs in the sauce for about 30-60 minutes. Well, with the Instant Pot, I learned a whole new way to do it without compromising taste one bit. In fact, I hesitantly admit I think I like the recipe better. Now, with the Instant Pot, I prepare the marinara sauce in the pot on the saute function. place the raw meatballs in the sauce (it doesn’t even need to be simmering yet), and then cover and cook on high pressure for 10 minutes. By the time the pasta is cooked, the sauce and meatballs are done, and the sauce tastes like it has been cooking all day. My daughter is grown and doesn’t live at home anymore, so I’ll have to try it on her sometime when she’s home visiting. She’s the ultimate meatball taste-tester.

We’ve made the Carnitas and Kalua Pig recipes. Mainly, we’ve converted a bunch of slow cooker freezer meal recipes to Instant Pot recipes. That’s been a huge time saver. More on Freezer cooking in another blog post in this series!

 

7 Great Reasons to Drink Your Pregnancy Tea

If you’re planning to give birth with a midwife, chances are she’s recommended you drink a pregnancy tea. Premier Birth Center has a really delicious Organic Pregnancy Tea from Mountain Rose Herbs. We’ve been drinking it at the birth center lately, and we have to admit it’s pretty awesome! Our pregnancy tea has the usual NORA (Nettles, Oatstraw, Red Raspberry Leaf, and Alfalfa) that we’ve always recommended, but it also has spearmint, ginger, lemon balm, and lemon peel, which give it a great taste and offer additional health benefits. We think it’s especially good iced.

Why drink the pregnancy tea? Why do midwives think it is such a great idea? Here are 7 great reasons we think you should drink pregnancy tea:

1. It helps you stay hydrated.

You can count your pregnancy as part of your daily “water” intake. Sometimes, drinking just plain water can get a bit boring, so having the pregnancy tea as an alternative can help make it easier to meet your daily hydration goal.

2. It’s great iced!

If you’re not a hot tea drinker, no problem. This stuff is really great iced. We’ve been making it in our Takeya Iced Tea Pitcher, which has been working really well. It takes about 5 minutes to have a big pitcher of iced nutritious deliciousness this way. If you’re having trouble getting in your daily pregnancy tea, try using an iced tea infuser so you’ll have iced pregnancy tea on hand when you’re thirsty. So yummy!

 

Takeya

You can get the Takeya Iced Tea Pitcher on Amazon.com (currently $24.99 on Amazon Prime, as of 8/14/16)

 

3. It’s a great source of iron.

The red raspberry leaf, alfalfa, and nettles in the tea are full of iron. Nettles, especially, is an especially potent source of herbal iron. If you’re trying to prevent or treat anemia, drinking at least a quart of strongly-brewed pregnancy tea daily can be an important part of your iron-boosting regimen.

4. Oatstraw is amazing.

Nobody every really talks much about oatstraw. It is often overshadowed by the red raspberry leaf, alfalfa, and nettles in the tea, but oatstraw is truly awesome in its own right. Oatstraw is high in magnesium, which helps your body to properly absorb calcium. It can be calming, lower your blood pressure, aid in your digestion, and lower your blood sugar. Oatstraw helps improve your sleep, too.

5. It’s like sending your uterus to the gym.

Your uterus is a muscle. It contracts off and on during pregnancy, and that’s normal. The red raspberry leaf in the pregnancy tea strengthens and tones the uterus, a bit like sending it to the gym. It causes contractions that are like exercise for your uterus — not strong enough to put you into labor or to be uncomfortable — just a gentle workout to build strength and uterine tone. This can help your labor to be more coordinated and help prevent excessive bleeding after the birth.

6. It’s a complex multivitamin in a cup.

The vitamins and minerals are easily assimilated by your body because they are from a food source. Seriously, this is powerful stuff. Here’s the list of vitamins and minerals we know are in the pregnancy tea:

Nettles

A, B complex, C, E, K1, folic acid, histamine, acetylcholine, formic acid, acetic acid, and butyric acid.10,21 The hairs are made of silica and inject neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine, histamine, 5HTP (serotonin), moroidin, leukotrienes into the skin.

Oatstraw

Silicon dioxide occurs in the leaves and in the straw in soluble form as esters of silcilic acid with polyphenols, monosaccharides and oligosaccharides. Oat straw contains a high content of iron, manganese, zinc, chromium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, niacin and a variety of other nutrients, and saponins, alkaloids such as avenine, trigoneline, sterols, flavanoids, and calcium.

Red Raspberry Leaf

Red raspberry contains anthocyanidins, ellagitannins, flavonols such as quercetin and kaempferol, catechins, phenolic acids, fragrine, ascorbic acid, beta-carotene, chlorogenic acid, glutathione, and alpha-tocopherol, iron citrate, pectin, malic acid, calcium chloride, potassium chloride, and potassium sulfate.

Alfalfa

Alfalfa contains 2-3% saponins, sterols, alcohols, flavones and isoflavones (including phytoestrogens such as genistein and daidzein) coumarin derivatives, alkaloids, plant acids (including malic and oxalic acid) vitamins A, B1, B6, B12, C, E, K1, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, folic acid, amino acids (including valine, lysine, arginine, tryptophan, sugars, plant pigments such as chlorophyll, 17-25% crude fibers, 15-25% protein, minerals, and trace elements such as calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, and copper.

In smaller amounts, the tea also contains:

Spearmint

Volatile oil, menthol, menthone, d-limonene, neomenthol, tannins and very small amounts of essential oil containing about 50% carvone.

Ginger

Ginger rhizome contains oleoresin composed of (phenols such as gingerols and their related dehydration products shogaols), fats and waxes, and volatile oils (1.0–3.3% the volatile oil contains sesquiterpenes, monoterpenes), 40–60% starch, 9–10% protien, 6–10% lipids composed of triglycerides, phosphatidic acid, lecithins, and free fatty acids, vitamins niacin and A, minerals; and amino acids.

Lemon Balm

flavonoids such as quercitrin, rhamnocitrin, and the 7-glucosides of apigenin, kaempferol, quercetin, and luteolin, phenolic acids and tannins such as rosmarinic acid, caffeic and chlorogenic acids, triterpenes, volatile oil composed of the monoterpenoid citronellal, geranial (citral a) and neral (citral b) and sesquiterpenes

Lemon Peel

Limonene and at least 45 other antioxidant flavonoids, pectin, vitamin C.

7. We have a special BOGO offer at Premier Birth Center for you!

Want some Organic Pregnancy Tea? Stop by Premier Birth Center for a free sample and pick up a bag of tea for $10. Blog readers can mention this coupon when they come to Premier Birth Center and get a BOGO special for extra savings!

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9 Essential “Must Haves” for Your Birth

I posted this question on Facebook:

Mama and baby waterbirth“People ask us what to bring to their birth center birth or to have at their home birth. What is the one thing at your birth that helped you the most?” The women who responded had a wide variety of answers, but there were some common themes.

1. The Right People

The most often mentioned essential item for a great birth was some sort of support person or team of support people. Having great support, the comfort of loving touch, and words of encouragement are so important for a great birth.

“Someone whose sole job is to remind me how strong I am and that my body was made for this work.”
– Chrysta N.

“To me, all that mattered was having my people around me and knowing I was in the safest, best environment possible.”
– Liz C.

“…the most important ‘thing’ was not a ‘thing’ it was the words spoken to me and around me, the touch given to me in the form of comfort and support (sometimes literally holding me up) and the countenance of those in the room…the loving smiles and the shared joy once the baby arrived…just like with a newborn baby, lots of ‘things’ aren’t necessary for birth…it is far more important to choose your ‘company’ wisely.”
– Carrie B.

Think about who you want at your birth. Support can come from many sources, but everyone present should, ideally, support your choices and help you feel safe and loved.

  • “My Husband.”

“… all I really wanted was my husband to let me pull his hair or push on him. All the rest was nice, good friends, a good meal afterwards, snacks, a favorite robe, but I didn’t really need those things. The straw and my husband’s hair were what I couldn’t have done without.”
– Kelly H.

“…most of all, my wonderful trusted birth team and the father of my children, love of my life, my strength and my inspiration!”
– Anne S.

“For me the #1 thing was having my rock of support with me (my husband). Everything else could be left at home.”
– Lindi J.

  • Other Family & Friends

“My amazing family helped me the most!”
– Meghan H.

“My daughter. Seriously. From literally the first signs of labor, her snuggles, smiles, energy and love reassured me that every contraction was worth one hundred if I got another like her.”
– Jenn A.

  • Midwives and Doulas

“My midwife, my doula, my hubs…”
– Liz C.

“Bring Mari (doula). That was all I really needed.”
– Kate D.

“My doula and her bag of tricks.”
– Jessica G.

“The number one must-have would be THE MIDWIFE!!!!!”
– Angela S.

2. Food & Drink

Hydration during birth is super important. Water is great, but in order to keep your electrolytes in balance, varying your hydration drinks is really helpful.

“…coconut water, and labourade ice cubes…”
– Beth H.

“…plenty of gatorade!”
– Anna M.

“Popsicles to suck on, either homemade or not. I was so thrilled at the prospect of being able to eat what I wanted in labor at home, unlike at a hospital, and I didn’t eat or drink anything except water and like three popsicles.”
– Meredith E.

“…some snacks, coconut water…”
– Liz C.

“LOTS of cold water. This time, I’m planning to bring at least two huge jugs so that one will always be full and I don’t have to keep refilling my too-tiny-for-labor regular water bottle.”
– Sara D.

“Coconut water. Also, pre baggied snacks so your favorites are easily accessible.”
– Meggen H.

We’ve always included bendable straws in our home birth kit. People usually ask us “what are the straws for?” Our answer — “for drinking!” As these mamas will tell you, straws seem to be quite important!

“With my first, I made sure to bring plenty of electrolyte drinks. They were in individual containers with straws, like juice boxes. Really helped keep my energy levels up and the straw was helpful.”
– Holly D.

“A water bottle or cup with a straw.”
– Kelly H.

“Favorite drink with a bendable straw and lots of ice.”
– Anne S.

“Depends and a water bottle I could use to drink from any angle.”
– Rebecca S.

As one of our students often says, you need enough calories to get you through a 50 mile hike. While you don’t need to eat huge meals during your labor, unless you want to, it is important to eat little bits here and there to keep your energy up.

“Something you will eat and drink, even when you don’t want to eat and drink.”
– Meghan H.

“Peanut M&Ms.”
– Debbie S.

And, of course, after the birth, you’ll probably be quite hungry!

“I’d recommend some light snacks for afterward, like a double cheeseburger & waffle fries, or maybe an entire pot roast.”
– Kate D.

3. Clothing

We are often asked what to wear during the birth. Hospital gowns are unlikely to be part of your home or birth center experience. What should you wear?

“Comfy, large cotton tshirts.”
– Sheryl R.

“…some jammys to change into afterwards.”
– Liz C.

“…my favorite pair of oversized, comfy, dark-colored, yoga pants.”
– Katie R.

“Socks…yoga pants…I preferred staying clothed while laboring (it was December…cold!!). I went from the shower to the bed to birth tub then back to the bed…but I hated that my favorite nightgown was soaked. I ended up with my husbands huge oversized tshirt, which was too big and got annoying! So if I could go back…I’d have 3 or 4 of the same nightgown on hand.”
– Meggen H.

“I also brought a cozy pair of pajamas to put on afterwards. It was nice to have something from home to wear.”
– Holly D.

“The thing I greatly underestimated was the amount of clothing to pack. I had an outfit for the tub, a gown and the outfit I wore to the Birth Center. I didn’t imagine I’d get in and out if the tub several times and in an out of the shower several times. No one wants to put wet clothes back on, so I ended up naked for most of my labor. Turned out I was comfortable naked, but had I not been, I would have been very uncomfortable.”
– Jenn C.

“A comfy shirt with buttons all the way up the front. Easiest for nursing in the first hours.”
– Julie D.

Some people are happiest with no clothes at all.

“Getting naked.”
– Angela S.

Of course, clothing (for mom) is optional! Dads, bring your swim trunks!

4. Music/Videos/Distractions

Some women find it helpful to listen to music or watch movies. Early in labor, a movie can be a great distraction and can help you relax.

“My favorite Pandora station playing with some of our “special” songs was just the final touch that made (my baby’s) birth feel absolutely perfect! I can still remember specific songs playing at certain points during the labor/delivery. 18 months later when I sing those same songs to her it’s like I get to relive those beautiful moments all over again!”
– Elisabeth G.

“Something that relaxes you to keep your mind off the pain, mine was comedy DVDs…”
– Anna M.

“Harry Potter DVD. It relaxes me.”
– Hannah N.

“I watched my favorite Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes. I usually put those on just before bed, and fall asleep to them. Having that on in the background really helped me relax during the hardest parts of labor, because those shows were a relaxation trigger for me.”
– Kim P. (yes, me!)

5. Preparation

Birth is likely to be the hardest work you’ll ever do. It is a marathon. You wouldn’t show up to a marathon without at least going for a jog first, right? Preparing yourself mentally and physically for birth will help you have a much better experience.

“…overall the most helpful thing was the reading I did in the long last few weeks. Breathing exercises I learned from a pregnancy yoga book and tips/stories from Ina Mays Guide to Childbirth were the most useful things I used in labor.”
– Beth H.

“Hypnobirthing tracks….after 8 babies, I used the hypnobirthing tracks with number 9, and it was my best labor/delivery yet . Totally calm through the whole thing…and I would almost go so far as to say “pain free”….amazing!”
– Angela H.

6. Chux Pads

Chux pads are disposable pads used to catch all sorts of fluids at the birth. I was surprised to see this one on the list, but as a midwife, I can honestly say, there is no such thing as too many chux!

“Chux pads for a homebirth. They leave no trace of birth…like magic.”
– Sheryl R.

“From the Midwife perspective.. Chux pads…please have chux pads. Not newspaper, not paper towels, not extra bath towels..chux pads.”
– Jennifer R.

7. Birth Tub

Water is a wonderful tool for labor and birth. It takes the edge off the contractions and helps relax you. It is often called, “the midwife’s epidural.” It is a safe, low-tech option that many women enjoy.

“For the actual labor- the birthing tub was wonderful.”
– Makendra B.

“FISHY POOL…”
Anne S.

8. Birth Ball

Birth balls (aka yoga ball, exercise ball) are a great tool for birth. They come in various diameters to accommodate women of different sizes, and can be pumped up to the level you find works best for you. Birth balls can be something to lean on when you’re on hands and knees, and can be used to help the baby descend into the pelvis. Sitting on the ball and rotating your hips can help with discomfort during the contractions, too.

“A nice, firm yoga ball.”
– Sara D.

“For three births now, it’s been a birth ball. That’s what got me through labor and helped baby descend and my pelvis open up (roll those hips!)”
– Amy D.

“…I used my exercise ball to help me through both labors.”
– Kelly B.

“It’s funny, because I only used it for a few minutes at E’s birth, but I hung on my birth ball for almost the entire birth with M. That thing was a life-saver, as that was truly a freight train birth at just under 2 hrs. It gave me great support in a number of positions while I tried my best to relax and surrender while AJ was on the road back home. So, I say birth ball.”
– Kimberly F.

“…birth ball, birth song list, candles (flameless or real), Christmas lights, nursing bra and sarong.”
– Anne S.

9. Other Comfort items

“…beloved rice sock (more than one so there is always a warm one available), lavender oil (a few drops on the rice sock or in the birth pool).”
– Anne S.

“Some essential oils”
– Hannah N.

“Ice packs (that’s right, plural) for afterwards.”
– Angela K.

“Rebozo, for someone to do the double hip squeeze for hours.”
– Amy B.

“…birth affirmations, a yoga ball, wash cloths for cooling down.”
– Jessica R.

“Chapstick. Lotion. Post birth…pads, peribottle, soft icepacks, and plenty of people to help you at home!!”
– Meggen H.

“Birth affirmations were also very helpful and essential oils you think you might like to use.”
– Jenn C.

“Gum. lip balm. super cold pregnancy tea. music playing in the background. multiple tank tops (in case the others get wet). personal fan (I was always burning up).”
– Rissa J.

“If you have a pillow you love, you need it. Bring the things that give you comfort when you’re sick – maybe your thing is a rice sock or a nice smelling blanket – bring those things.”
– Natalie E.

“Didn’t help with labor but birth photos are priceless. Camera for birth and/or the first newborn pics.”
– Beth H.

You are unique. You will likely find other things that will help you during that time, but this list can give you a head start. Have a great birth!

P.S.: After your birth, come back and let us know what helped you most!