Growing up, my family never had turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.. or ham, or stuffing, or green bean casserole, or sweet potato pie. Man, you were deprived, you’re probably thinking. On the contrary, I think my family’s tradition of having seafood on Thanksgiving beat any turkey dinner by a long shot. You see, I grew up with parents that didn’t eat red meat or pork, therefore, we ate a lot of seafood, chicken, and you guessed it, turkey. Turkey wasn’t necessarily a “special” meal for us. Our Thanksgiving dinner instead included delicious lobsters steamed to perfection, colossal stone crab claws as fresh as you can get, and all the clams you could eat. Over the years, the meal morphed with new additions to the menu, like king crab claws, my mom and younger brother’s favorite.
I’ve always said that my “last meal” would be stone crab. You know, like if I was ever on death row or something. This is a scenario you’ve thought about too, right? I can’t be sure if I love stone crab so much because it reminds me of childhood, the holidays, or if it’s just really that damn delicious that it brings such fond memories to my mind and drool to my lips. I also think my parents used it as a bribery technique to get me to come home for the holidays when I was in college.
To me, seafood says family, it says holidays, it says special. It doesn’t matter if you’re making it on a mundane Monday night or for Thanksgiving dinner, incorporating seafood into your meal gives it that extra touch of love. People often tell me that they’d like to eat more seafood, but they just don’t know where to start. It seems that most people realize that seafood has numerous health benefits, but might not know exactly what those benefits are. Let’s discuss:
Benefits of Eating Seafood
Omega-3 fatty acids aka healthy fats
Low in saturated fat
Adds variety to your diet
When Searching for Seafood in your Grocery Store, Choose:
Frozen Varieties: Whether you’re buying shrimp, a fish filet, or scallops, frozen varieties are usually a less expensive option than fresh, and just as delicious. You can also buy a larger quantity of frozen and keep it in your freezer at home, whereas fresh seafood should be cooked as soon as possible. I have frozen scallops, shrimp, and salmon in my freezer at all times. Not to mention they thaw super fast! Canned varieties of seafood are also a nutritious and budget-friendly option, like chunk light tuna or anchovies.
US Seafood: The United States has strict guidelines on raising fish including antibiotic use, which is why I would recommend US seafood over all others. International fish farms may not be held to the high standards that we would expect here. You can read Consumer Reports research on the contamination rates of foreign and domestic seafood and about certain labels that might help you make better choices of shrimp.
Wild Varieties: It’s a debatable topic on whether to choose wild or farm-raised seafood. Issues of cost, contamination, nutrition, and sustainability are at the forefront of this topic. If however, budget isn’t a concern for you or perhaps you eat seafood more than twice weekly, choose the wild varieties, like “Wild Alaskan Salmon.” Wild fish eat food that nature intended them to eat, while it can be a mystery as to what farm-raised fish are eating. There are, however, places like Whole Foods Market who pride themselves on sourcing only high quality farm-raised seafood, verified by a third-party.
Low Mercury Varieties: It’s important to choose low-mercury seafood due to the damaging effects mercury has on the nervous system. This is especially important for children, as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women. Some of the fish to avoid include: shark, tilefish, swordfish, Ahi and Albacore tuna, and king mackerel. High mercury fish tend to be large fish, which spend most of their lives eating smaller fish and accumulating mercury in the process. Low mercury options of seafood include: salmon, catfish, shrimp, tilapia, cod, light or skipjack tuna, oysters, sardines, crab, and trout.
Seafood for Children, Pregnant & Breastfeeding Women
These guidelines come from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) concurs:
Eat 2-3 servings a week (8 to 12 ounces in total) of a variety of fish.
Do not eat raw or under-cooked seafood.
Avoid high mercury fish.
Where To Start
Start with something easy, a piece of salmon. Already feeling intimidated? Don’t! The salmon I buy is Wild Alaskan, boned, frozen, individually-wrapped center-cut filets with the skin on. If you prefer to go to the fish counter and get it fresh, ask for a center cut filet. They’ll even remove the skin for you if you’d like. While I don’t eat the skin, I like to cook my salmon skin-side-down, as I find it keeps the salmon moist by locking in the juices, (and the skin is very easy to remove after it’s cooked anyways).
I’m about to share with you my absolute favorite way to eat salmon. This is a recipe you can make for your family time and time again throughout the year, or you can save it for special occasions. It’s both simple and fancy, perfect for kids and company alike.
Pistachio & Goat Cheese Salmon
4 salmon filets, about 4-6 ounces each
1/4 cup roughly chopped pistachios, plus more as desired
1- 5oz package of goat cheese
Pinch of fresh or dried dill
Drizzle (about 1 Tbsp) of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Thaw salmon, if frozen, under running room temperature water or in the fridge overnight.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Drizzle olive oil over salmon to coat evenly, on all sides.
Season salmon generously with salt and pepper, as well as any other seasonings you like, such as garlic powder, paprika, etc.
In a bowl, add goat cheese and dill then use a fork to combine.
Add half of the pistachios to goat cheese mixture and stir (save the other half for later).
Place your salmon filets, skin-side-down in a baking dish, with at least 1/2 inch space between pieces.
Evenly distribute goat cheese mixture to the top of each salmon filet.
Sprinkle the remaining pistachios on top. (Don’t worry if some pistachios fall onto the edges of the dish, these will roast and become crispy and delicious).
Bake salmon for about 15-18 minutes, until fish flakes with fork. (If you did not thaw salmon and are cooking frozen, cook for 28-32 minutes).
Hello second trimester! Since I announced my pregnancy back on Halloween, I’ve received so many sweet messages from old friends and new, sharing their story with me. I’ve heard stories of struggle and loss, but also stories of hope and happiness. I’ve even learned of several newly pregnant friends who are excited to venture this journey together. Whatever your story, it’s beautiful and unique, and makes you who you are. I know my personal struggle has shown me what dark days can look like. It’s also shown me how breathtakingly beautiful the sunrise is on the other side.
If you read my previous post about how I was feeling during my first trimester then you know that I was nauseous… a lot. Due to this, I survived on bagels, pretzels, and fruit, carbs galore. I also made my coco-nut date balls occasionally, as a convenient and delicious snack between meals. I drank a lot of San Pellegrino Sparkling Natural Mineral water (the plain one in the green glass bottle), because the carbonation helped to settle my stomach a bit.
During my first trimester, as I always have, I really enjoyed roasted vegetables, especially if they were smothered with minced garlic. My go-to vegetables to roast were cauliflower and sweet potatoes. I just love the delicate flavor of cauliflower, drizzled with olive oil, minced garlic, and sprinkled with a generous pinch of sea salt, roasted to perfection until a crunchy golden edge appears on each floret. I enjoyed the roasted sweet potatoes more than usual, possibly due to the exorbitant amount of ketchup I used when eating them, a condiment I rarely use at home. I also enjoyed sweet potatoes in a grain bowl like the one below, simple, colorful, nutritious, and delicious.
The first few months of pregnancy can often put you in survival mode. Just a few more weeks, I would tell myself, because the glorious second trimester is when women often start to feel like themselves again. Even during the days when I was feeling blah (yup, that adequately describes it), I would remind myself to be thankful. I was so thankful for that feeling because it meant things were happening, good things. No matter how crappy I felt, I knew there was a woman out there that would trade anything to be in my position, with a healthy growing baby inside her belly.
There were a few items that I used time and time again over the past few months, and continue to use regularly. Things I highly recommend you have at home while surviving thriving in the mysterious first trimester include:
A Body Pillow I’ll be honest, I wanted to buy one of those huge fancy pregnancy pillows but decided that 1. they were expensive and 2. we have no storage for it after I have this baby, thank you apartment life. Instead, I opted for a body pillow and I love it. Before I bought this pillow, I would use a regular pillow and just put it between my legs to help align my hips while I was sleeping, since I’m typically a side-sleeper. A regular pillow is not long enough to support, not only my legs, but also my feet and top arm. Since it’s recommended that pregnant women sleep on their side starting at 20 weeks, I realize that a pillow is crucial for hip, and eventually, belly support throughout the entire second half of pregnancy. It could also be helpful to have behind you if you tend to roll onto your back when sleeping, as it will help prevent this by acting like a wedge between you and the bed. Find a similar pillow here, for all you Amazon junkies.
Crane Cool-Mist Humidifier This humidifier is not only adorable (we have Lily the Ladybug), but its also super high quality, easy to clean, and very effective. Why do you need a humidifier? Humidifiers help to keep the air moist which makes breathing easier, especially if you have congestion, runny nose, cough, cold or flu. We lose moisture through our skin so a humidifier can help to keep skin smooth and reduce dryness. Moist air is also really important for newborns, as they breathe out of their nose when they sleep and eat. While I typically put the humidifier in Laurel’s room at the first sign of a stuffy nose, I had it right next to me in bed during my first trimester. With this and the sinus rinse I mention below, my congestion cleared up in record time.
NeilMed Sinus Rinse When I say that this simple little device has saved my life, I mean it. It’s actually saved me on many occasions, including during my pregnancy with Laurel. I’m not sure if it’s just the time of year that I get pregnant or if it’s the pregnancy itself, but I tend to get very congested in the first trimester. I end up having to breathe out of my mouth at night and then feel sinus pressure during the day. If you suffer from frequent sinus infections and are looking for a natural alternative to treat them, get this rinse and get it now. I’ve avoided antibiotics on multiple occasions being diligent with this product. At the first sign of a sinus infection, I start using it every morning and my symptoms eventually go away. Magic.
A Pea In The Pod Splendid maternity leggings
Lululemon Align pants
A Pea In The Pod Splendid Maternity Leggings My dad actually gave these to me as a gift when I was pregnant with Laurel. He’s the type of guy to walk into a store and ask the salesperson for the most popular outfit so he can buy it and leave as soon as possible. I’m glad he’s that way because these leggings are a dream! I’ve already started wearing them again this pregnancy, so they more than pay for themselves over time. I actually just ordered them in the charcoal color because you can’t have too many pairs of leggings, right?! For exercise during pregnancy, I only wear Lululemon Align crops or pants. While not technically “maternity” pants, they feel like butter on your skin and don’t squeeze at the waist. Come to think of it, I love them pregnant or not!
Earth Mama Organics Belly Butter and Belly Oil Some say that stretch marks are genetic, some say that they’re due to lack of hydration, some say they can be prevented while others say they cannot. I’m not sure what the right answer is, but what I do know is that there are little things you can do that might help prevent them. One of those little things include rubbing Earth Mama Organics Belly Butter and Belly oil all over your growing belly. Not only does this lotion and oil feel so smooth going onto my skin, but they smell delicious, and I know they’re completely natural and safe for me and my babe. As your belly grows bigger and skin starts to stretch, your belly could have the tendency to itch. Enter belly oil. This hydrating and moisturizing oil calms itchy skin. I find myself rubbing these on my chest and arms as well because they’re just so yummy. I love and trust these products and look forward to sharing more from this brand with you.
I found out I was pregnant on August 27th when I took a home pregnancy test. I couldn’t believe my eyes to see two lines! It was three days before I was expecting my period so I don’t know what compelled me to take a test, (well, I take that back- if you’ve ever been “trying” then you know the waiting game is so tough). The second line on the test was very faint, but it was there! When Ryan got home that day, he was playing a puzzle game with Laurel on the floor in our living room. I sat down across from them and said, “So today I did a thing.” Ryan looked at me and said “You took a pregnancy test?” and I just stared at him with a goofy smile as tears welled up in both of our eyes. He asked, “It was positive?” and I said “Yes!” We both stood up and gave each other the biggest hug.
I called my doctor the next day and she ordered blood work which I had done that day. It was confirmed, I was pregnant! I went back two days later to make sure my HCG levels were rising appropriately and, to our relief, they were. Phew. I was pregnant and it was an incredible feeling.
If you're currently trying to get pregnant, you'll appreciate these TMI details. If you're not sure why I'm sharing this information or you're thinking to yourself, "This is TMI" then go ahead and skip on to the next section. I want to add that I'm not a doctor, I'm just sharing my personal experience in hopes that it can be helpful for someone trying to get pregnant.
I was testing for ovulation using these strips and got a positive on CD15, (which means that I likely ovulated 24-48 hours following that positive). I assumed that I ovulated the next day, on CD16, which was "normal" for me since my cycles are typically 30 days. I want to note here that the fertility app I was using did not accurately predict when I ovulated, which is something to keep in mind if you've been trying for a while.
Toward the end of the month, (CD27, 11DPO and 3 days before my projected period), I took a pregnancy test and got a positive, a very very faint positive but nonetheless, it was positive!
The next day (CD28, 12DPO, 2 days before my projected period) I had my HCG level checked and it was 26. Although an HCG of 26 technically meant pregnant, it was on the lower end, which made me very nervous. My HCG was checked again 48 hours later and it was up to 92! This was a great sign since you typically want to see it double every 48 hours.
I continued to take pregnancy tests almost daily (overkill, I know) until I was 4 weeks + 5 days pregnant, since that day the test strip on the pregnancy test was finally as dark as the control line. The lines were progressively getting darker each day (a good sign that HCG is rising) but had never actually matched the control and it was driving me crazy.
CD = cycle day
DPO = days past ovulation
HCG = the "pregnancy" hormone
(Warning: I write about my previous miscarriage which might be a trigger for some people)
You might be wondering why my doctor ordered an HCG level to confirm my pregnancy. HCG is the “pregnancy hormone” (a level of 25 = pregnant) and you want to see it double about every 48 hours. You’re probably thinking, my doctor didn’t check that. So what’s the deal? Well, in March of this year I found out I was pregnant! Ryan and I were ecstatic, as it was a baby conceived the first month after my period returned from giving birth to Laurel (about 10 months postpartum). We were actually in Aruba at the time so we joked that we might have to name the baby Aruba, chuckle. Anyways, this was truly a miracle because we had traveled a long, stressful road to conceive Laurel. Needless to say, we felt very lucky this time around.
Our luck took a turn for the worst when I went in to have blood work done, they checked my HCG, and I received a call from my doctor four days later telling me that the numbers weren’t looking good and I would likely miscarry. Heart. Broken. From that day on, I was in and out of the doctor’s office almost every other day for more blood work and ultrasounds. Oddly, my blood work wasn’t reassuring but it was also keeping hope alive, which put me in a really weird place emotionally. I didn’t know whether to feel sad or happy, hopeful or hopeless. You see, my HCG levels were rising, but not as fast or as high as they should have been. We couldn’t really see anything on the ultrasound but my doctor kept telling me it was probably just too early. Until one of the last ultrasounds, we actually saw a gestational sac, a very good sign! That hope was crushed the next day when I started bleeding, at 7 1/2 weeks pregnant. I knew what this bleeding meant. Although I bled in the first trimester with Laurel, when I started bleeding this time, it felt different.
That miscarriage really rocked my world. At that time and the time following it, I felt that I didn’t properly grieve my loss. I was numb during the weeks in and out of the doctor’s office since I truly didn’t know how to feel. I wanted to just allow myself to be happy and hopeful, but I couldn’t help but guard my heart from potential bad news. It hurts me to type this now, but I don’t know how else to explain the feeling of, dare I say, relief, when I started bleeding and I was no longer in this emotional limbo. I was able to just let go of the hope. Because I went from being emotionally numb to then relieved, I felt this looming grief that I didn’t know how to deal with. It wasn’t until I received a gift in the mail, a gift more meaningful than I can really explain, that I was able to purge my emotions and confront my feelings head on. I’ll explain more about this gift in another post.
Baby #2 is due May 8th 2019, (12 days after Laurel turns 2!)
4-5 weeks: I would feel a dull ache in my lower abdomen that was pretty constant. This ache was different than cramps, as it wasn’t painful. I also felt slightly bloated in that same area, sort of like an “impending period” feeling. I would wake up in the middle of the night some nights wide awake. I’m not sure if this was due to excitement or the pregnancy, is pregnancy insomnia a thing?
6-12 weeks: When I opened my eyes the morning of week 6, I felt nauseous. The nausea was constant, 24/7 for the next 6 weeks. It was ironic because I remember complaining to Ryan when we first found out I was pregnant that “I didn’t feel anything.” Boy would I soon eat my words. I basically felt like I was in a constant state of being hungover, minus the fun stories from the night before. The nausea subsided during week 12 and it was a miraculous feeling.
We had our first ultrasound when I was 6 weeks + 5 days pregnant and we were able to see and hear the baby’s heartbeat! It was magical and healthy at 136 bpm. This ultrasound wasn’t standard but my doctor agreed to get me in early for reassurance, given my history of the miscarriage. I was so so thankful for this.
Our next ultrasound was when I was 10 weeks + 1 day pregnant and we saw a squirmy little baby wiggle and stretch his/her legs. Laurel seemed to be watching the ultrasound screen and know that we were looking at a baby. We have the ultrasound picture on our fridge and she constantly points to it and announces, “Baby!”
At 12 weeks, I received the results of some blood work I had done, which also revealed the sex of our baby! Keeping this information secret all day until Ryan got home was hard but his reaction to the news was priceless. He was genuinely happy to hear that we are having another little girl and it melted my heart to see him so excited.
I take a prenatal vitamin, a prenatal fish oil supplement, and a Vitamin D supplement. I used these same supplements before, during, and after my pregnancy with Laurel, so I will continue to take them now. I take them with my breakfast, since taking vitamins on an empty stomach can cause nausea. I’ll likely continue to take them throughout breastfeeding and beyond. Remember that it’s important to take prenatal vitamins even if you eat a healthy diet. With increased needs during pregnancy, it can be difficult to get all of the micronutrients you need, especially if you’re experiencing fatigue, nausea, or vomiting. Although it’s never too late to start a supplement regimen, ideally you’d start these before you get pregnant.
Foods I’m Eating
This pregnancy has thrown me for a loop because I am actually craving things this time around. How cliche – I’ve been loving pickles! Since most of this trimester I’ve been feeling like I’m constantly hungover, I want anything and everything greasy or fried, which I know is the opposite of what would make me feel better. I’ve definitely indulged more this time around, which makes me feel a little guilty, but I remind myself that it’s temporary. Once the nausea started getting less intense around week 11, I was consistently incorporating salads back into my diet. Before that, even though I was feeling ick, I would make smoothies with veggies like cauliflower and spinach, since drinking them was easier than eating them! Simple berry smoothies were my go-to, a spin off from my smoothie bowl.
Although I’m not typically one to count calories, I remind myself that I don’t actually need extra calories in the first trimester. Instead my focus is more on making sure I’m eating foods rich in calcium (nuts and cheese), folate (brussels sprouts and broccoli), Vitamin D (eggs), probiotics (yogurt), and omega 3’s (salmon and skipjack tuna). I’m also focusing on drinking extra water throughout the day. I find that cooler weather leaves me less thirsty, so I make sure to always have my water bottle with me as a reminder to drink. As I come into my second trimester, I’ll add an extra 350ish calories to my day, which is a bowl of cereal and a piece of fruit. Third trimester calls for an extra 450ish calories per day, just when your belly gets big enough to make eating extra difficult 🙂 I gained 35 pounds total during my pregnancy with Laurel, and so far I’ve gained about 5 pounds. I’m curious to see how this pregnancy will be similar and different from my last one!
Foods I’m Avoiding
Once I found out I was pregnant, I made sure I was avoiding the foods not recommended during pregnancy, to include alcohol, excessive caffeine, high mercury seafood, under-cooked eggs, raw seafood, and cold cuts (all of which are favorites of mine!)
Alcohol: Because doing a randomized control trial on pregnant women looking at the effects of varying levels of alcohol intake on their fetus is unethical, there’s no research that says “x amount of alcohol during pregnancy is safe.” I personally don’t think it’s worth the risk, so I avoid it completely and that’s what I recommend. If I’m going to a gathering, I’ll bring flavored sparkling water so I can still have a festive drink with my friends. You can also order a “mocktail” when out at a bar or restaurant, especially if you’re not ready to share your news and you don’t want people getting suspicious!
Excessive caffeine: Non-pregnant me has one cup of coffee in the morning. With Laurel, I avoided coffee during my first trimester and had 1/2-1 cup in the morning after that. This time around, I limit my coffee to about 1/2 cup in the morning and fill the rest of my mug with frothed whole milk, yum! As the weather has been cooling down, I’ll drink hot tea in the evenings. I’ll choose herbal teas without caffeine, like Earth Mama Red Raspberry Leaf tea or Traditional Medicinals Pregnancy Tea, both of which are delicious, safe during pregnancy, and contain Raspberry Leaf which is nourishing to the uterus.
High mercury seafood: During pregnancy, you’ll want to avoid high mercury seafood like shark, swordfish, ahi and albacore tuna, and king mackerel. Mercury can build up in your body and become toxic to your growing baby. Therefore, choosing low mercury alternatives like skipjack or chunk light tuna, tilapia, salmon, shrimp, scallops, crab, and others make for a safer choice. Remember that low-mercury seafood is an incredibly healthy protein choice for you and your baby!
Under-cooked or raw eggs/meat/seafood: You want to avoid under-cooked or raw foods that have a high risk of contamination, such as eggs and meats. Imagine how awful it is to get food poisoning, now imagine that while you’re pregnant. Not only is it extremely uncomfortable for you, but it’s deadly for a fetus. Again, not worth the risk. You can still eat sushi if you order cooked options (like a baked scallop roll or shrimp tempura roll) and avoid the ahi tuna (due to the mercury). You can ask the waiter if they would make you a custom roll since you’re pregnant, and they’ll likely oblige. I usually substitute cooked salmon or shrimp where raw tuna might be. Also, choose pasteurized eggs or cook them all the way through to avoid illness from salmonella. Did you know that hens lay eggs out of the same hole they poop from? Sorry for the visual, but that’s why it’s important to cook your eggs when you’re pregnant!
Cold cuts/hot dogs: For the same reasons you want to avoid raw and under-cooked meats during pregnancy, you’ll want to avoid cold cuts and hot dogs. You can, however, heat up your cold cuts in the microwave until steaming (about 15 seconds) then throw together a sandwich headed to the panini press. My favorite is a hot turkey “Reuben” with sauerkraut, avocado, and muenster cheese on an everything bagel.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that pregnant women exercise for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. I highly encourage women to continue exercising if they were before getting pregnant and to start if they weren’t active before. Most women can safely adopt a walking regimen during pregnancy, after of course talking to their doctor beforehand.
Before I found out that I was pregnant, I signed up for a relay race with the workout group that I’m a member of. I ended up running my leg of the race (4.6 miles) while almost 9 weeks pregnant and it felt great. I won’t lie, training was very difficult because I was feeling consistently nauseous at that time. I basically swore to myself that I would never run again after the rely was over. I was never really “a runner” before I started training for that race. I’m not sure if I consider myself one now, as I would definitely prefer a spin class or yoga session over running.
For now, I workout 3-4 days per week, mostly with the group I mentioned earlier. Workouts include cardio and strength training, as well as yoga. I also take Laurel for walks around the city most days. It feels so good to move and get the blood flowing when you’re pregnant. I know from my pregnancy with Laurel that exercising helped me to prevent the common aches and pains that women often complain about. It helps combat constipation and it can even help you sleep better. There really is no down-side to staying active, pregnant or not!
Tell me what you like hearing about as I share my pregnancy journey with you!
For as long as I can remember, I knew I wanted to be a mom. I’m one of four kids so I grew up in a big family. I thought I’d be starting my own family around 22, when my mom did, chuckle. Although I didn’t start having babies when I was 22, I did have a few things ingrained in my head from a young age. First was that I was going to have natural births, meaning no pain medication for vaginal births, just like my mom did four times. I remember her laughing when we’d see movies where the woman was giving birth and screaming while calling her husband all sorts of profane names. She would always shake her head and say, “It’s not like that.” Don’t get me wrong, she admitted that labor was painful (she actually compared the pain to getting shot) but she always assured me it was nothing I couldn’t handle. My mom’s strength instilled a confidence in me that never really went away.
Growing up, I’d hear bits and pieces of stories from my dad’s youth. He was somewhat of a hippie, or a “freak” as he’d call himself. He had long black hair, read poetry, practiced yoga, and was a vegetarian for most of his life. You wouldn’t think so if you saw him, as he’s 6 foot 8 inches and has the muscular build of the general contractor he later became. He traveled the world, hitch-hiked, slept in a tent at the ruins of Machu Picchu and in a
hammock in the jungle of Guatemala. He talks about “spiritual leaders” he had in his former life, the same life he attended ceremonies within sweat lodges. He even spent time with Ina May Gaskin’s husband at The Farm. My mom actually gave me Ina May’s 2nd edition Spiritual Midwifery book that I have and cherish, all while trying not to giggle when I look at the pictures.
I think it was in grad school that I became very in tuned with my body, through practicing a lot of yoga and through my academic studies of Human Biology. I did yoga as both a form of exercise and a way to manage the stress of school. Being in grad school for Nutrition allowed me to dive deeper into human physiology and metabolism in a way that was purely engrossing. I developed a deep respect and trust for my body during this time.
I’m not a doctor or midwife or nurse. Every single woman, baby, and pregnancy is different and has different needs. I am wholeheartedly grateful for modern medicine and feel strongly that it has a place in our society. That being said, it makes me sad that the birth process has become so clinical. For so many women, fear surrounds birth. I want to encourage anyone reading this to know that there are options, and you can have an amazing birth experience.
Here are some of the steps I took to give myself the best chance at a natural birth:
Get informed. Although obvious, this is the single most important thing you can do when planning your birth experience. You have to know your options before you can start making decisions. I would suggest signing up for a natural birth class. Look within your community for a birth class geared toward building knowledge and confidence, covering the basics but also covering relaxation and comfort measures during labor. Ryan and I took a 6-week birth class that met for almost three hours once a week, (oh how I love that man!) The class was held at a local yoga studio in Colorado Springs called Enso and it was amazing. It was the same group throughout the entire 6 weeks so we got comfortable with each other and I actually still keep in touch with a few of the ladies. Two of the biggest benefits of the class were that it built my confidence tremendously and that it raised questions for Ryan and I to discuss with our OB (topics that we may not have thought about otherwise). I also loved how Ryan and I were there together; we learned about the process, our options, and discussed things on our drive home. It really helped us to stay on the same page.
Make a plan. You’ve probably heard of a Birth Plan but maybe have never seen one before (mine is pictured below). All it is is a written or typed hard copy of your preferences during your labor, birth, and after. It’s a piece of paper you can literally hand to and discuss with your OB or midwife, as well as your nurse on delivery day. You can hang a copy on the wall or door of your hospital room so everyone knows exactly what your expectations are. Ultimately, your birth plan acts as your guide when you’re enthralled in the emotional, exhausting, and sometimes unpredictable labor experience. It reminds your husband (or birth partner) what you discussed and agreed upon so if the nurse were to ask him a question and his mind blanks, he doesn’t panic. There are a ton of topics you can have on your birth plan, from whether you want an epidural or not to your request for delayed cord clamping. I would strongly encourage you to make your birth plan with your birth partner, whether that’s your husband, friend, mom, doula, or someone else. You and that person should be in agreement with each item on your birth plan. For me, it was so important to have Ryan’s support for the decisions surrounding Laurel’s birth. It’s really hard to go against “the norm” and if your birth partner isn’t 100% supportive, it could be tough to stand your ground or even maintain your confidence during the time you are most vulnerable.
3. Talk to your OB or midwife about your expectations. Early on, when choosing our OB, I voiced my intentions for my labor, mainly to get a feel for how comfortable she was with them. From the get-go, my OB was supportive, as she had two children herself whom she birthed naturally. Ryan and I were elated with our OB from the first meeting. If we hadn’t been, we would have kept searching. One thing that people don’t understand is that your doctor is working for you, not the other way around. If you speak with a doctor that doesn’t seem to respect your wishes, find one that does! This can make the difference between the birth you always imagined and a nightmare.
4. Make a 100% decision, before you go into labor, on the things you can usually control. For example, if you don’t want to get an epidural during labor, be 100% about it. If you’re thinking, “Well, we’ll see how it goes” or “I’d love to do it without pain meds but I like to have the option,” chances are you’re going to get the epidural. You cannot see it as an option. What might happen is your contractions will really kick in and your nurse will politely ask you if you want pain medication. At that point, only a crazy person would turn them down! Instead, have a conversation (or have your birth partner have the conversation) with your nurse about not asking you if you want pain meds, because remember, they’re not an option. After all, it’s on your birth plan!
5. Bring the essentials, including snacks. I was told by several friends that I wouldn’t be “allowed” to eat once I arrived at the hospital. Since not eating was not an option for me (my hanger is real) I made sure to pack foods I could eat and digest easily, like yogurt, crackers, organic Gatorade, and a pb&j. Eating during labor was a topic that we discussed thoroughly in my birth class. Although the general consensus was that a woman in labor needs fuel for her body, it seems that most hospitals discourage a woman to eat during labor. I thought this was absurd! When we arrived at the hospital, Ryan informed my nurse that I would be eating as I pleased. Her response? She smiled and said, “Just wait until I leave the room.” Thinking back, I don’t know if I would have physically been able to push for two hours had I not eaten highly nutritious foods throughout the day.
Another essential to think about is what you will wear during your labor, keeping three things in mind: comfort, color, and ease of removal. You don’t want to wear something that might squeeze you when you go into different positions, such as a squat. You most likely don’t want to wear anything light-colored, as there are several different bodily fluids flyin’ around during labor (sorry for the visual) that might end up on your clothing. I decided to wear the hospital gown upon arrival. I ultimately gave birth in a simple black nursing bra that I still wear to this day. I brought a nursing robe that I put on after Laurel’s arrival. Other things you might consider bringing include essential oils (like Lavender and Orange), chapstick, hair ties, the breast shields from your breast pump so the Lactation Consultant can confirm a proper fit, your nursing pillow, towels (hospital towels can be pretty sketchy), and extra pillows (to increase comfort and promote relaxation since they smell like home).
6. Prepare yourself for labor, both physically and mentally. The benefits of staying physically active during pregnancy are endless. When it comes to giving birth, physical strength and endurance are essential. Stay active during your pregnancy, whether this means walking daily or attending yoga class a few times a week. Generally, walking and yoga are safe for anyone during pregnancy, even if you were not active before getting pregnant. I highly recommend yoga during pregnancy for several reasons. The deep breathing in yoga helps with physical and mental relaxation, which can decrease blood pressure and improve overall mood. Many of the positions in yoga allow baby to get into the perfect position for birth: head-down, chin tucked, and facing your back (anterior). Several yoga poses allow your body to open and let gravity work in your favor. For this reason alone, yoga could be very beneficial for pregnant women, especially in the third trimester.
If you are already active going into your pregnancy, feel free to maintain your current exercise routine. You might want to modify certain workouts after 20 weeks, such as any that have you flat on your back, crunching with your abdomen, or jumping. As always, discuss this with your doctor before making changes to your exercise routine. For me, staying active helped keep my weight gain under control (I ended up gaining 35 pounds total), it helped me sleep better at night (when I wasn’t getting up to pee 3x a night), it prevented swelling, and it helped minimize the classic aches and pains of pregnancy. It also helped keep my mental state clear, positive, and confident.
I mentally prepared for labor in a few different ways. I think the main benefit of putting energy into mental preparation is that it helps build and maintain confidence. I didn’t want to be scared of giving birth, I wanted to be excited for it. First and foremost, throughout my pregnancy, I made an effort to avoid negativity surrounding pregnancy and birth. I never understood why people felt it was appropriate to tell me their horror birth story as I’m sitting there, big belly and all, about to embark on the journey myself. I have literally walked away from groups of people when the conversation turns negative. You don’t have to say anything or be rude, just remove yourself from the situation and you’ll be glad you did. Sometimes all it takes is one negative comment to cause your confidence to plummet.
To build my confidence, daily starting around 25 weeks pregnant, I listened to an audio track called Positive Pregnancy Affirmations from the Hypnobabies program. Although this can sound bogus if you’re skeptical, I would highly recommend you give it a try. Search for any sort of positive affirmations, this can be something you read or listen to, and read or listen to it every day. I would sometimes listen to it multiple times a day, especially in my last couple weeks. Call it brainwashing, but I’m a believer that hearing positive things really helps your mind connect to them and embrace them.
I think it’s important to note that even with ample preparation, both physical and mental, there can always be unexpected things that arise during pregnancy and labor. Sometimes these things are completely out of your control. When making your birth plan and discussing topics with your birth partner and doctor, try to remain flexible. Know that you’re not a failure if things don’t go exactly as “planned.” Ultimately, the purpose of making a “plan” is so you take the time to inform yourself of your options. As a first time mom especially, you really have no idea what to expect when you go to give birth. The main objective that every parent wants on their child’s birth day is for their baby to be born healthy. However your baby enters this world is the right way, but my hope is that you were informed of your options and felt comfortable with whatever decisions were made.
As a dietitian, I strongly believe that what we eat plays a huge role in our fertility. I mean, food affects everything when it comes to our health, reproductive health included. There are so many physiological functions that have to run smoothly in order for conception to occur. Giving your body the nutrients it thrives on might not only help you conceive, but could also help you enjoy a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby to boot!
There are countless stages that couples find themselves in when starting or growing their family. You might be wanting to start trying to conceive in the next couple of months. Maybe you’ve already been trying for a few months. Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with infertility, because you’ve been trying for over a year. Maybe getting pregnant isn’t even on your radar! If you’re not actively trying to get pregnant, but you’re considering it as an option within the next few years, it never hurts to start making healthy lifestyle changes now.
I’ve counseled countless people on the many benefits of living a healthier lifestyle, but no patient population is more engaged and dedicated than those women, and their partners, trying to get pregnant. At some point during the baby-making journey, especially if it’s taking longer than expected, an assessment of diet and lifestyle choices is imminent.
While an overall healthy diet itself can boost fertility, there are some specific recommendations that those aiming to get knocked up should focus on. These recommendations come from the research led by Drs. Jorge Chavarro and Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health, which was ultimately published in a book, The Fertility Diet. Previous to their findings in 2007, research on the topic of nutrition and fertility was scarce. They used information from the Nurses Health Study, which looked at tens of thousands of women through their reproductive years, many of whom were trying to get pregnant. They were able to identify risk factors for infertility, specifically relating to anovulatory infertility, (when an egg is not released from the ovary as expected). Here are some of the specifics they discuss:
Switch all grains to whole.
Whole grains provide enormous nutritional benefits, such as fiber, protein, and vitamins that you won’t get in refined grains. The fiber itself helps to fill you up faster and for longer, a huge bonus if you’re one of those people that’s “always hungry” or never really feels satiated. By switching to whole grains, you are now omitting many simple carbohydrates from your diet. Why does this matter? Simple carbs cause blood sugar spikes -> blood sugar spikes can lead to insulin resistance -> insulin resistance is not good for fertility. Think of insulin resistance as your body not being able to regulate your blood sugar properly. A fluctuating blood sugar means that your energy level and mood will fluctuate as well. If you suffer from chronic “blah” feeling (yes, that’s a medical term I just made up), low energy, have been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), or have stubborn fat around your abdomen that you can’t seem to lose, you could benefit tremendously from switching to whole grains.
How to get started: Mix it up, literally! The next time you make white rice, make wild or brown rice as well and combine the two. Do the same with pasta, mix white pasta with whole grain varieties. Check cooking times on the box, as you might start one before the other. This could be a realistic way to ease into the transition to whole grains… and bonus, your family might not even notice!
2.Swap unhealthy fats for healthy ones.
Notice that I used the word swap. Don’t just start downing avocado and guzzling olive oil without eliminating fertility-killing fats, called trans fats. Trans fats are found in items such as fried fast food, powdered coffee creamer, donuts, some margarines, and “movie theater butter” popcorn. You’ll know if trans fast are in a product if the ingredients list contains “partially hydrogenated oil.” Limit foods high in saturated fats too, as excessive intake of these contribute to insulin resistance as well. These foods include processed meats like bacon and sausage, fried foods, butter, shortening, and coconut oil. As you work on limiting unhealthy fat sources from your diet, focus on increasing foods like avocado, nuts, seeds, and seafood like salmon and tuna.
How to get started:
Instead of -> ribeye steak choose -> salmon filet
Instead of -> chips choose -> nuts
Instead of -> butter, bacon grease, or coconut oil choose -> extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, or canola oil
Instead of -> salami, bologna, or spam choose -> sliced turkey breast or lean ham
Instead of -> deep fried choose -> baked or grilled
3. Add one serving of whole-milk dairy daily.
This one seems contradictory since I just talked about limiting saturated fat, but according to the Nurses Health Study, it could decrease your risk of anovulatory infertility. The underlying mechanism is unclear, but you can’t deny the findings– in the study mentioned above, there was an inverse association between dairy fat intake and anovulatory infertility.
How to get started: Next time you’re tempted to reach for that fat-free yogurt for your mid-morning snack, instead choose the whole milk version and enjoy every scrumptious spoonful!
4. Eliminate processed meat intake, limit red meat intake, and increase plant protein intake.
The bottom line here is to try to replace some of the animal protein in your diet with plant-based protein. Intake of vegetable rather than animal-based protein was a dietary factor prospectively reviewed and related to lower risk of ovulatory disorder infertility. Processed meats like sausage, bacon, salami, and hot dogs contain loads of sodium, saturated fat, nitrates, and nitrites, which are all known fertility-killers. Excessive red meat intake can cause you to take in excessive amounts of saturated fat, potentially leading to inflammation and weight gain. Healthier protein choices than the aforementioned options include lean poultry, seafood, beans, peas, lentils, eggs, nuts, seeds, dairy, and nut butters.
How to get started: The next time you plan to use ground beef in a recipe, use half the amount you normally use and combine it with ground turkey breast or diced mushrooms.
5. Eat more vegetables.
Do you eat enough vegetables? If you hesitated before the answer to that question popped into your mind, you could probably benefit from eating more. While all vegetables are nutritious, those higher in iron and folic acid, including spinach, kale, and asparagus should be included into your daily diet. Although iron and folic acid may not necessarily increase your fertility, these nutrients are essential for a developing fetus, especially during those early weeks before some even know they’re pregnant. Vegetables promote health due to their high fiber content, high vitamin and mineral content, and their antioxidant benefits. It’s also a good rule of thumb to take a prenatal vitamin if you’re trying to get pregnant, but remember that a supplement does not replace a healthy diet.
How to get started: Add a salad to your lunch and dinner meals. If you often find yourself buying salad ingredients but they go bad before you use them, try this. Find the biggest bowl you have and make one huge salad. Keep it covered in the fridge.* You can scoop from this bowl over the course of a few days (depending on how much you make) until it’s gone. You’ve made it once but you benefit from it over and over. *Put a paper towel in the bowl with the salad to absorb any moisture that might accumulate. This keeps the veggies fresh for longer.
6. Exercise & maintain a healthy weight.
The physical and mental benefits that exercise provides makes it an essential ingredient in the recipe for getting pregnant. Not only does exercise reduce stress, improve blood flow, and regulate blood sugar, but it also aids in weight loss. For both women and men, obesity is associated with infertility. Maintaining a healthy weight is easier when exercise becomes a part of your lifestyle. Interestingly enough, exercise, regardless of your current weight, has fertility-boosting benefits in itself, according to the National Infertility Association.
How to get started: You know yourself. Set realistic goals for how often and how long you will exercise. Start with going on a daily walk and eventually make that walk longer and faster. If you don’t have a ton of motivation to work out on your own, consider joining a gym with group fitness classes. Enlist a workout buddy. Hire a personal trainer. It’s worth the money if you actually use it! Your body, and future baby, will thank you.
Pictured below: Laurel and I practicing yoga, an exercise I did frequently before, during, and after my pregnancy.
The #1 question I hear from postpartum women is: How do I lose my baby weight while still maintaining my milk supply? Oftentimes, when women try to lose weight by restricting their calorie intake, it impacts their milk supply. Exhausted and frustrated, this is about the time they come to see me. So what’s a mama to do?
Ultimately, the reason we choose to breastfeed is to provide our babies with the best nutrition this planet has to offer, right? Although you might feel pressure to get your “body back” right away, remember that the main goal during this time is optimizing your nutrition. Why? You want to have energy, feel emotionally stable, provide all of the nutrients your baby needs, and of course bond with your baby in the process. Are you ready to have your mind blown? A woman needs more calories when she’s breastfeeding than when she was pregnant! A breastfeeding mom needs approximately 450-500 extra calories per day. Yes, you need more calories to produce milk than you did when you were growing a human being. Your newborn is growing at an exponential rate, so it only makes sense that your body will be working overtime to facilitate this growth.
Women are often torn because they want to lose the baby weight so badly, but they don’t realize the impact that excess calorie restriction can have on milk production. Think about it this way, the average ounce of breast milk is about 20 calories. A new baby could drink up to 32 ounces of milk in a day. That means that in one day your body can produce over 600 calories worth of liquid gold! Goosebumps.
I’ll break it down and share some of the most important nutritional tips I tell breastfeeding women. These tips are not only important for maintaining a healthy supply of milk to nourish your little one, but also to facilitate healing your own body.
Drink water. Lots of water. Remember those 32 ounces of breast milk you’re producing in a day? If you’re dehydrated your body would have a really hard time doing that. I recommend you add 32 ounces of water to the typically recommended 64 ounces daily. This means you want to drink about 96 ounces (or about 12 glasses) of water every. single. day while breastfeeding. An easy way I keep track of my water intake is by filling my 32oz EcoVessel at least three times a day. I actually received it as a gift and now I swear that it’s the absolute best thing anyone can give a postpartum woman.. along with food, banana bread muffins, peanut butter-filled anything.. okay I’m getting off topic. Bottom line: keep a water bottle or cup of water at each place you might rest your body during the day and night, such as the couch, next to your bed, the bathroom, everywhere.
Have 2-3 snacks daily. Although you might feel like you’re always eating (which can’t be too bad right?) keep snack items at home and in your diaper bag for between meals. Snacks are optional but provide a nice energy boost and help to prevent you from going into your next meal ravenous. The key to a snack is that it has carbohydrates and protein. You can even add veggies for a bonus dose of fiber. *Snacks are crucial if you find yourself losing weight too quickly after having your baby.
Try to eat two 6 oz servings of omega-3 fatty acid rich fish per week, such as salmon, anchovies, or chunk light tuna. The omega-3 DHA is passed through your breast milk so your baby can reap the benefits of optimal brain and eye development. If fish isn’t typically part of your diet, I would suggest a fish oil supplement that provides at least 200mg DHA. Looking for a vegetarian option? Incorporate nuts and seeds, such as walnuts and flaxseeds, along with DHA-fortified eggs into your diet, or consider taking a vegetarian DHA supplement, usually made from algae. Continue taking your prenatal vitamin throughout breastfeeding and beyond, as those vitamins and minerals are beneficial for healing and overall health.
Eat three meals daily. Since life with a baby can seem like a blur and you’re not sure if it’s 6am or 6pm or what planet you’re on for that matter, the main idea is to eat a meal every 3-5 hours. This keeps your blood sugar stable and keeps a steady influx of calories your body can use to produce lots of milk. Every time you eat, you want to be taking in quality calories so your body can function as best it can, even on top of sleep deprivation and lack of personal hygiene. Ditch the empty calorie foods like chips and sodas that leave you still hungry and even more exhausted.
Try to eat from all of the major food groups every day (is peanut butter a food group?) so you get a variety of beneficial macro and micronutrients. These include:
Fruits & Vegetables: Try to consume a ton of fruits and vegetables throughout the day so you can benefit from the antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber (ahem… help with going #2) they provide. Stock up on frozen varieties so you have plenty of options to pair with a sandwich for a quick lunch, (microwave steamer bags are your friend). When your neighbor asks if she can bring anything when she comes to meet the baby, ask for a veggie tray or a homemade salad. That’s an easy task for her but a huge help for you since making a salad is the last thing on your to-do list right now. Other quick ways to get in more fruits and veggies:
Keep celery and carrot sticks in the fridge to dip in hummus for an easy late-night snack.
Fill little baggies with nuts and unsweetened dried fruit, such as raisins or apricots, to munch on during your afternoon feedings.
No time to cook eggs in the morning? Slap some peanut butter on a slice of whole grain bread and top with a 1/2 banana for a quick breakfast.
Enlist your significant other, mom, or friend to cut up a bunch of fresh fruit to keep in a bowl that you can just grab as you walk by.
Roast a ton of vegetables to keep in a container in the fridge, since they taste even better the longer they’ve been sitting in garlicy goodness. Spread chopped onion, bell pepper, zucchini, squash, broccoli, and/or cauliflower on a sheet tray and coat with olive oil, minced garlic, and salt & pepper. Bake at 375 for 10-15 minutes or until you see a slight char on the veggies.
Grains/Carbs: You want each meal you eat to contain starchy vegetables or whole grains, such as potatoes with the skin, corn, wild rice, oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, or beans. Repeat after me: carbohydrates are my friend. The key is selecting high fiber carbs like the ones mentioned above, while limiting refined carbs like white pasta. Tip: Buy convenience items, such as the microwave pouches of brown or wild rice, just make sure nothing besides oil and salt are added. Also look for frozen varieties of chopped squash, potatoes, peas, and corn.
*Anecdotally speaking, women I’ve counseled seem to notice the biggest drop in their milk supply when they limit carbs. Although this tends to be the go-to diet practice when trying to lose weight, it seems to be the most detrimental when trying to maintain a plentiful milk supply.
Protein: Lastly, don’t forget the protein. You have increased protein needs when you’re healing and breastfeeding which is why it’s important to incorporate protein into meals and snacks. Chicken, turkey, lean beef, and seafood are all wonderful options to cook up with your meals. Meats, poultry, and seafood can be purchased in bulk, separated into single serving bags, and frozen. Remember that you also get protein from yogurt, milk, eggs, nuts and seeds, nut butters, beans, peas, cheese, and tofu. Hard-boil a dozen eggs and keep them in the fridge for a quick, protein-rich snack. Canned beans are a versatile pantry staple, as you can add them to everything from chili to salads. When purchasing canned goods, always look for “no salt added” or “low sodium” varieties.
Option 1: 1 slice of whole grain toast smeared with avocado, topped with 2 eggs and a side of strawberries
Option 2: 2-3 egg omelette with spinach, minced onion, and bell pepper with a whole grain English muffin or
Option 3: Slow Cooker Oatmeal (Before bed, put 1 cup steel cut oats in your slow cooker, along with 4 cups milk or water. Turn on low and cook all night. Keep extra in fridge, reheat by adding a splash of liquid and microwave until hot. Suggested toppings include: walnuts, slivered almonds, pumpkin seeds, cinnamon or nutmeg, a scoop of peanut butter, diced apple or banana, chia seeds, or hemp seeds). Pair with 1-2 boiled eggs.
Tuna sandwich (tuna mixed with avocado, diced onion, and celery on whole grain bread), a salad (with a variety of vegetables, topped with sunflower and pumpkin seeds), and a pear. *Substitute diced hard-boiled eggs for tuna for another sandwich option.
Baked chicken breast (marinated in olive oil & garlic pepper seasoning) with a medium sweet potato (skin on; drizzled with olive oil), roasted asparagus (coated in olive oil and minced garlic), and a salad (with balsamic vinaigrette dressing). *BONUS: this entire meal can be cooked in the oven!
yogurt (preferably plain; Greek or regular) with berries added
6 whole grain crackers with 1-2 scoops natural peanut butter
1 cup of edamame pods (often sold in the freezer section in microwave steamer bags)
A granola bar (look for ones with lots of nuts, such as KIND bars) or protein shake
*Consider meals/snacks that can be made in bulk, separated into containers, and frozen such as chili, lasagna, and soups.
The recommendations above are what I personally think should be your focus if you are trying to eat healthy while breastfeeding. If you’re overwhelmed in any way, remember that the important thing is keeping your sanity and providing your baby with what he or she needs. Sometimes this means that you might supplement with formula or transition your baby to formula altogether. From one mom to another, that is okay. You are still a rockstar.
I truly understand breastfeeding is not easy and that all of this can be overwhelming. #thestruggleisreal. I’m going on eleven months of breastfeeding my baby girl, the first six were exclusive breastfeeding, and I too have experienced its trials and tribulations. Although Laurel latched within minutes of being born, my first five days of breastfeeding were absolute torture. I felt like her mouth was full of razor blades and every time she would latch, my face would turn beet red and tears would flow, ugh. After seeing a Lactation Consultant I learned how to get Laurel to latch deeper and our problem was solved (Thank you baby Jesus!). It took the next four weeks for my nipples to heal, since they were so scabbed and tender from that first week. Just as things were starting to get easier, and actually enjoyable, I was hit with mastitis. Uncontrollable shaking, a fever of 106, and a trip to the ER.. if you’ve ever had mastitis you know it’s not fun.
When I was pregnant I was told that the first six weeks of breastfeeding are the most difficult and that if you can get past that time it gets easier. In many ways I agree with this statement and I think it’s good advice. As things like breastfeeding and learning your role as a new mom gets “easier” with time, new challenges enter the scene constantly. I guess that’s what motherhood is, new challenges to conquer all while trying to keep your heart from growing out of your chest.