Since August, I’ve been concocting a birthing beverage in my head. A couple of nights ago, my husband and I tried it out.
It’s a lot tastier than it looks. :-)
First I’ll give you the recipe, and then I’ll explain the why-to’s…
Start with several cups of water
8 oz (probably more on labor day) Coconut Water
8 oz unsweetened Kefir
1 Tablespoon Chia Seeds
1/2 cup (probably more on labor day) Pomegranate Seeds (frozen)
7 Strawberries (frozen)
2 Clementines (or oranges or other citrus fruit)
1/2 cup whole Cranberries (frozen)
1 large leaf raw Kale
3 small leaves raw Swiss Chard (from my garden!)
Combine ingredients in a high-power blender. Enjoy!
As I’ve brainstormed what I wanted to consume in labor over the last few months, I determined that I wanted to include things that would…
- Provide a nutritious energy source
- Help me stay hydrated
- Promote labor progress
- Protect me from hemorrhage
It’s also my plan to drink this concoction every day for the remainder of my pregnancy to prime myself and my baby for the birth process. So I’ve known all along that I also wanted to include ingredients that would help prepare my body and my baby for the journey ahead.
So… how does this smoothie mixture provide the benefits I wanted in my labor beverage? Well, I’m not 100% sure it will. I’m not a chemist. It’s entirely possible that one or two ingredients may negate the positive effects of another. But I’m hoping their combination will produce the benefits I’m aiming for. Many of the ingredients are “multi-tasking” in this smoothie, so you can expect a bit of repetition in the remainder of the post. I probably don’t need to explain how these ingredients provide a nutritious source of energy (natural carbohydrates), but here’s why I think they will help me with my other goals…
1) Help me stay hydrated
As I’ve mentioned in a prior blogpost, coconut water is an excellent electrolyte replacer, providing significant amounts of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium (see here). It is an “isotonic beverage” which means that it has the same level of electrolytic balance as we have in our blood. Studies indicate that coconut water is superior to both commercial carbohydrate electrolyte beverages and water as a means of hydration.
Chia seeds, in addition to providing high quality protein, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and a wide array of minerals, also aid the body in maintaining hydration levels. Chia seeds have the unique ability to absorb ten times their weight in water, acting as a fluid reservoir for whomever consumes them. As the seeds make their way through the digestive system, the water is then slowly released into the body. Chia seeds also slow down the body’s digestion of carbohydrates and, by doing so, enhance the body’s levels of endurance.
Last fall, my endurance runner husband replaced Gatorade with “chia fresca“—a homemade chia drink. He has found it far superior to Gatorade in improving his hydration levels, stamina, and performance. He even drank it (rather than alternative electrolyte replacers) while he ran the Grand Canyon Marathon in November.
As this site explains, “Since chia seeds are so absorbent, they could potentially dehydrate your body if not accompanied by ample water.” Be sure to make your smoothie with plenty of water or drink extra water in addition to the smoothie, if you include chia seeds. You might also consider making chia gel and stirring it into the smoothie afterward.
2) Promote labor progress
I learned last August that pomegranate seed extract can promote uterine contractions (see here). Although the extract form is highly concentrated, I’m hoping that consuming pomegrate seeds in their natural state will give at least a slight boost to my uterus. (In December, my husband and I found pomegranates on sale for 59 cents a piece and bought 8 or 9 of them, planning to freeze the seeds just for this purpose.) Researcher, Dr. Sajeera Kupittayanant, explains that “the increase [in uterine contractions] is due to a rise in calcium, which is necessary in order for any muscle to contract” (source).
Which brings me to the other labor-promoting ingredients… kefir, kale, and swiss chard are all excellent sources of calcium. Ensuring that my body is supplied with ample calcium before and during labor should enable my uterus to function at its peak ability. Many of the other smoothie ingredients also contain vitamin C which boosts calcium absorption.
3) Protect me from hemorrhage
Pomegranate seeds and calcium should help keep my uterus contracting well following the birth, providing some protection against hemorrhage. But kale and swiss chard are also plentiful sources of vitamin K. As I explained in my postpartum hemorrhage post, without sufficient vitamin K, hemorrhage and heavy bleeding are more likely.
There are two forms of vitamin K… K1 and K2. Kale and swiss chard provide K1. K2 is manufactured for the body’s use by beneficial bacteria in your intestines. In order to ensure that your body is getting sufficient K2, you have to promote a healthy population of beneficial (probiotic) bacteria in your gut. Kefir is a probiotic beverage, so I included it in my smoothie partially for vitamin-k-producing purposes. (I have type A positive blood, but it’s my understanding that individuals with type O blood lack several clotting factors, so adequate intake of vitamin K is especially important.)
Kale and swiss chard also provide some iron, and boosting iron levels can also help prevent postpartum hemorrhage.
4) Prepare me and my baby for the journey ahead
I’m hoping this smoothie will prepare me and my baby for the birth and beyond in several ways. As I mentioned before, kefir helps boost vitamin k levels and provides lots of calcium to promote uterine muscle function, but I also included kefir for another reason. It’s important to me to ensure that I have a healthy population of beneficial bacteria in my gut and nether-regions so that I can pass along a strong base population of healthy bacteria to my baby as he/she passes through the birth canal. That strong base population will then, in turn, protect my baby from harmful bacteria as well as boost his/her own vitamin K production. Consuming extra probiotics leading up to and following the birth will also boost the probiotic content of my breastmilk, further protecting my baby.
Pomegranate seeds may also help protect my baby. Studies indicate that consuming pomegranate juice during pregnancy may help protect infants’ brains from injuries resulting from reduced blood flow or oxygen deprivation (hypoxia ischemia). Childbirth can, at least temporarily, deprive a baby of oxygen. It’s my hope that consuming pomegranate juice (and other fruits high in polyphenols such as berries and grapes) leading up to my birth will give my baby an extra protection against any moments of hypoxia he/she may experience during labor and delivery.
I included several sources of vitamin C (strawberries, citrus, kale, swiss chard, and cranberries) in part for flavor, in part because vitamin C aids in calcium and iron absorption, but also because vitamin C will improve the collagen content of my skin, helping to strengthen my perineal tissues and prevent trauma. The omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds will also improve the strength and elasticity of my skin. So I’m hoping my smoothies will help prepare my body to give birth with my perineum intact.
As I mentioned before, this birthing beverage is a work-in-progress. I’ll probably be tweaking it over the next couple of weeks, and I’ll be sure to update this post with any important additions or substitutions. I can’t say it’s guaranteed to do the things I hope it will do, but I figure it couldn’t hurt, right? I’ve been drinking it for two days, and I’m having quite the doozie of a “braxton hicks” contraction right now as we speak. 38 weeks today (and possibly slowly losing my mucous plug). I’ll keep you posted. :-)