Food and Drink, Recipes

My Herbal Pregnancy Tea Blend

NB: I am not a medical professional or a licensed herbalist. Please do your own research and consult your doctor about any herbal supplements you take, especially during pregnancy. What follows are what I have chosen to use during pregnancy, not recommendations for anyone else.

Herbal teas can be tricky to navigate while pregnant. There are all sorts of restrictions and recommendations, and even conflicting information about what’s safe and what’s not. Then, there’s the fact that some of the teas that are specifically supposed to be beneficial for pregnant women are, well, not terribly tasty. Now, most wisdom is that herbal tisanes (i.e., not tea, which comes from the camellia sinensis plant) that are drunk for flavor contain such a small amount of active constituents that they’re unlikely to cause harm. But there are still proscriptions. Pregnant women are advised to avoid licorice root and certain hormonally-active herbs.

Then there are the total surprises. When I was in Barcelona, I learned that the standard mint blend that is served in cafes isn’t just peppermint or a blend of peppermint and spearmint, but also commonly contains the herb called “poleo” in Spanish. Since it smelled a little licorice-y when I was steeping up a cup of Mentha-Poleo tea one afternoon, I did look it up and found out that “poleo” is the Spanish word for pennyroyal, an herb I certainly didn’t want to consume while pregnant (it’s used in large amounts as an abortifacient).

So once I got home I decided I was going to make my own herbal blend, partly to have a more enjoyable way to drink some more red raspberry leaf (now that I’m solidly out of the first trimester, the warnings against it are less dire), and partly to have a caffeine-free hot drink to enjoy in the afternoons, especially after yoga sessions that I finish rather late in the say. So I started doing my research, as well as looking at some commercial “pregnancy teas” at the store and online. Obviously, a very common pregnancy tea ingredient is red raspberry leaf, for its supposedly uterus-toning abilities, but commercial pregnancy teas also commonly contain nettle. Personally, I don’t care for the taste of nettle tea (if I’m being totally honest, I think it tastes like overcooked spinach that has been boiled in urine), so I thought I’d make my own blend.

A side note: I will say that I’m rather enjoying Yogi Tea’s Mother-to-be tea, despite the inclusion of nettle. Although that’s probably because they tend to be rather heavy-handed with the flavoring herbs, and I find it tastes more of mint and cardamom than anything else.

While researching herbs to include in my personal blend, I decided that flavoring-levels of lemon verbena, rose petals, and citrus peels were probably safe. I stayed away from mint, although I might add it to a future batch, mostly because I find that the peppermint from Mountain Rose Herbs is often so potent that it overpowers any other flavor, and I wanted something a bit delicate and floral. And then I made the base of the tea red raspberry leaf. Interestingly enough, I get a strong hit of rose aroma and floral flavor from the rose petals, which blends rather nicely with the herbal citrus notes of the lemon verbena and peels, plus the slight tannic bite of red raspberry leaf.

Loose-Leaf Pregnancy Herbal Tea:

(A note about amounts: I used parts by weight, so the citrus peel will be a much smaller volume than the fluffier herbs. Using 1/2 oz. as a part, I got enough bulk tea to fill one quart-sized jar and one 8-oz. jar)

4 parts dried red raspberry leaf
1 part dried lemon verbena
1 part dried rose petals
1 part dried and cut orange peel
1 part dried and cut lemon peel

Mix all herbs well in a bowl and then store in an airtight jar in a dry place. To prepare, brew about 1 tablespoon of dried herb blend in 8-12 oz. of boiling water for 5-10 minutes. It’s particularly nice with a slice of lemon and a drizzle of honey.

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Second Trimester, Weeklies

Twenty-four Weeks Pregnant

Zucchini

It’s another big milestone: viability! Twenty-four weeks marks the point at which the baby is considered to be viable outside the womb, so a preemie could potentially survive. As someone with a previous loss, this is something of a relief to get to this point (although I still have a ways to go). This was also the week I experienced another milestone: my first Braxton-Hicks contractions! Yay!

Seriously, though, waking up at 3:30 a.m. with an uncomfortable tightness in my abdomen was not fun, but at least I’d done enough reading to pretty much figure out what was going on. I had a glass of water and sat up for a bit, and eventually they calmed down. And then the baby started kicking. So I guess this kid is committed to giving me a taste of the uncertain sleep schedule that is to come.

How I Feel:

Actually pretty good this week, although I was having an issue with some nausea during my evening commute earlier in the week. I decided to play with my magnesium supplementation a bit, so I think that had something to do with it, since it subsided once I switched back. I might talk a bit about magnesium a little later on in its own post, since I find it so helpful. I also found that eating my afternoon snack later in the day helps me feel better on the ride home.

I also started having intense leg cramps. It’s only happened twice so far, but it’s really painful, and the doctor recommended potassium, so I’ve been making an effort to eat a banana every day. I have mine first thing in the morning with some cereal and cashew milk. Oddly, even though I usually dislike bananas, I’ve started enjoying them more since I’ve been pregnant. I guess it’s a sign that I really need that potassium. I also find that keeping up with my yoga routine is helping my muscles stay looser.

Other than that, though, I’ve felt pretty good. I’m still walking my normal amount (and enjoying it more since the weather this week was fantastic) and have gone back to all my weekly barre classes. I’m still not sure I’ll keep up barre throughout my entire pregnancy, but so far so good.

I’m definitely feeling more movement from the baby. I notice kicks while I’m moving around more, even during barre class. And baby has been kicking hard enough for Dan to feel every so often (although the kid likes to quiet down as soon as Dan puts his hand on my belly). It’s sweet to see Dan get so excited about the baby moving and watching my belly grow.

As far as belly growth goes, I am solidly showing. I can also usually tell when I’m about to go on a growth spurt because my belly starts to feel tighter. I definitely make sure to slather on the lotion and body butter when that happens, and so far it hasn’t been too uncomfortable. I did have a bit more round ligament pain towards the end of the week though. I imagine that’s going to get worse as I get bigger.

Current Cravings: Eggs and avocados, cake, fried pickles

Exercise: 3.3 average miles/day walking, barre three times, yoga three times

Fruit Comparison: a large zucchini (seriously, who comes up with these?)

[Images Source]

Food and Drink

My Favorite Dairy Substitutes Since Apparently My Pregnant Body Hates Dairy Now

The title is a bit misleading: my body has never particularly liked digesting dairy. But it’s generally been limited to the occasional upset stomach when I have too much milk or ice cream. Since I got pregnant, I found out that one of my primary food-related triggers of nausea was dairy products. For a while during the first trimester, I just had to completely cut out dairy foods, other than butter and a very small amount of cheese. Of course, this meant that I couldn’t engage in one of the most fun stereotypical pregnant lady behaviors: excessive ice cream consumption. I also found that my standard snack of a bowl of cereal, or my morning matcha latte were now off-limits. So I spent some time looking for non-dairy replacements.

Now, I’ve gone dairy-free at various points in my life for one reason or another, although always previously decided it wasn’t worth it, so I had an idea of what I didn’t like in terms of non-dairy products. I’m not a fan of most commercial nut milks, and I don’t particularly like the effect on my body of replacing all my dairy foods with soy. So I had to look a little further. I managed to find some newer nut-based dairy substitutes that are richer than previous products I’ve tried. And I actually found a delicious substitute for ice cream. And since I have these delicious (not just tolerable) replacements, I haven’t felt the need to test out much dairy even since my nausea has abated.

Nut “Milk”:

I think my main issue with nut milks is that I consume whole milk or cream when I consume fluid milk. While I was raised on lowfat milk, I switched to whole milk pretty early on in my young adult life and have just never looked back. So all nut milks have always tasted kind of thin and watery to me. I did find that New Barn Barista Almond Milk worked alright in tea lattes for me, but I didn’t like it on cereal.

But then I tried Elmhurst Milked Cashews. Oh my god, it’s amazing. It doesn’t taste nutty. It actually kind of tastes like half and half. It’s amazing on cereal or in tea, or just on its own. I’m really glad I’ve found a nondairy milk that I can enjoy.

Ice Cream:

Of course, one of the things I was looking forward to was eating lots of ice cream because the baby needs the extra calories, right? My mom ate Haagen Dazs coffee ice cream the whole time she was pregnant with me. So imagine my disappointment when I realized that ice cream was out.

And then I found Coconut Bliss. So yummy. I’ve tried several flavors and loved all of them, but I think my favorite so far is the Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge. It’s kind of like a nutty Nutella ice cream. So if you’re looking for a rich, creamy nondairy ice cream, try it out. It does have a mild coconut flavor to it, so if you really hate coconut, you might not like it, but I don’t find it distracting. And honestly I appreciate that the coconuttiness keeps my husband out of my stash!

Exercise, First Trimester, Second Trimester

Exercise and Pregnancy: The First Twenty Weeks (or so)

Over the years, I’ve generally been a pretty active person. When I changed jobs and started working downtown, I found myself walking for 40-60 minutes 4-5 days a week in addition to what I considered exercise. So when I got pregnant, I wasn’t too concerned with staying active. But then first trimester nausea hit me pretty hard and I had to give myself permission to ease off. Now that I’m past the nausea and past the first “half” of pregnancy, I thought I’d talk a bit about how I’ve been handling exercise, at least up to this point.

I would say that the mainstay of my pregnancy exercise routine is the decent amount of walking I do most days. I can roughly track my walking using my iPhone Health app, and it says that, right now, I’m walking about 3 miles per day on average. Now, that takes into account days when I walk more — such as when I walk from my gym to my office, which is a longer distance than from the metro station to my office — as well as days when I might not walk much at all. I work downtown four days a week and telework one day per week, so my commute doesn’t come into play, but I try to walk places near my house when I’m staying home.

In the first trimester, I put my gym membership on hold for a month so that I wouldn’t worry about the sunk cost, which meant that I never had my 40-minute walk from the gym to the office, and I wasn’t walking from the metro to the gym on the weekend. Of course, I still had to get to work somehow, but occasionally, when I was feeling truly terrible, I would work from home one extra day per week. This meant that my average daily walking distance went down. At my lowest average daily mileage, I was still walking about 2 miles per day on average (that was during May). Since then, I’ve worked my way back up to about 3 miles per day (although that went down during the two weeks I was sick with that damned cold). I’m hoping I can maintain 2-3 miles per week for the rest of my pregnancy, and I’m hopeful that the weather will actually make this easier, as we move into autumn.

As far as “actual” exercise goes, outside of my walking, I used to run a few times a week, go to barre a few times a week, and do yoga when I felt like it. Unfortunately, first trimester nausea pretty much put the damper on running, and since I came out of my nausea right around the time the weather started getting hot, I decided not to try running while I was pregnant. At this point, I haven’t been running in several months, and I think it would be awkward (to say the least) to try picking it back up now, with 15 extra pounds, mostly concentrated up front. So I’ve been focusing on the strength and flexibility afforded by barre and yoga.

I’ve talked before about my prenatal yoga routine, so I won’t get into that again, but barre is a workout that I’ve come to love over the past two or so years I’ve been at it. I started looking at barre classes when it became apparent that my new commute downtown made it more or less impossible for me to continue with my regular evening adult ballet classes, but I still wanted that type of a workout that built long, flexible muscle, as well as balance and coordination. I found some classes that fit my schedule at a gym near-ish my office, and found that, among those classes, one instructor in particular really fit my idea of what I wanted. Kathryn’s classes have been bright spots in my week for nearly two years now, and I currently go three times a week, although schedule changes means that one of those classes is now with a different instructor.

Other than the fact that I love to stretch, I think my favorite part of Kathryn‘s barre classes is the fact that she makes it very clear that your barre class is what you make it, and she never guilts anyone into working harder than they feel they can on any given day. She constantly reminds us that each day is going to be different and not to push ourselves beyond our capability today, even if we could do more yesterday. That has been particularly helpful during my pregnancy, as I’ve discovered things changing about my body that I didn’t expect (pro tip: if you are lazy with your form during curtsy lunges while pregnant, your round ligaments will tell you). She’s also been great about helping me as my abilities have changed throughout pregnancy by offering me a sort of library of modifications that I can try, while giving me the ultimate decision on how to handle my own workout. Lately, I’ve decided to stop doing ab exercises while laying flat on my back, and it’s nice to have options to try, rather than just trying to modify the specific exercise she’s doing at the moment.

The other nice thing about barre is that I feel like it helps me build and maintain functional strength in a way that helps me maintain my stability. As my body has changed, I find myself readjusting to differences in balance and center of gravity. Barre helps me work my abs, yes, but not in a sit-up-crunch-plank way only. Every exercise we do relies on the stability of the abdominal muscles, so even if I skip the focused “ab” exercises, I’m still working my core muscles for stability. And I have had to back off on a lot of focused ab exercises as I’ve realized that things like planks become a lot harder to do right when you have to hold in not only your abs, but a growing uterus pushing behind them as well.

So that’s how I’ve been handling exercise the last 20 weeks or so. Of course, I’m not a doctor, physical therapist, personal trainer, or anyone with any actual training or expertise in giving advice, so I’d encourage you to find your own path. But hopefully reading about how I’ve handled my own personal pregnancy workout plan will help you figure out yours. And I’ll check back in later in pregnancy to talk about how this routine changes as my body continues to change.

Second Trimester, Weeklies

Twenty-three Weeks Pregnant

I’m 23 weeks pregnant today! I’ve mostly gotten my activity back up to where it was before my vacation and illness, which is nice. I feel like I’ve gotten into a little pregnant lady groove. I no longer have moments where I don’t feel pregnant, plus I’m showing to the outside world, so I pretty much never have to worry about sitting on the metro, which is nice. I wish the weather were a little cooler and less humid, but I’m doing pretty well this week.

How I’m Feeling:

I feel pregnant. My belly is noticeably big and I can feel that it takes me extra effort to get around. It’s started taking me about five extra minutes to make some of my normal walks to get to work and things, which is a little annoying, but I’ve learned to allow myself the extra time. I’m also feeling baby movements everyday, though there are still strong days and weaker days, depending on where baby is sitting.

This week I noticed that I’m peeing a lot more. I know a lot of other women who have been pregnant will hate me for it, but I don’t really need to pee all that much more often since I got pregnant. I can mostly make it through the night without needing to get up and pee, as long as I don’t drink a big glass of water right before bed. But this week, I’m noticing the peeing more. I did have at least one day where it was obvious baby was just sitting on my bladder, wiggling occasionally. So fun.

While my first trimester nausea was pretty much gone by about 14 weeks, I’m starting to realize that my base level of nausea is just higher than it was before I was pregnant. I think it’s starting to become a mixture of pregnancy hormones and just indigestion from things getting squished up in there. I’m also noticing that I get short of breath more easily, probably from my lungs getting crowded.

But I’m otherwise feeling pretty good. Just, y’know, big.

Current Cravings: Nothing really specific, just generally hungrier, although I usually want eggs most days, and today I really, really wanted a pulled pork sandwich with cole slaw for lunch

Exercise: 3.1 average miles/day walking, barre twice, yoga twice

Fruit Comparison: Ear of corn

Recipes

My Body and Belly Skin Care Routine, plus DIY Belly Butter two ways

One of the things you hear about constantly on pregnancy-related websites and forums is how to prevent stretch marks. Now, from what I’ve read, developing stretch marks is largely genetic and just has to do with the structure of your skin. But, the pressure and damage to your skin that stretching causes can also make your skin feel very, very uncomfortable, so it can help if you keep your skin well-moisturized during pregnancy, if for not other reason than it’s more comfortable that way. Also, rubbing things on your belly feels like a nice way to connect with your baby, especially in that limbo period when you haven’t really started feeling movement regularly.

I started out my pregnancy with the best of intentions. I did a lot of research and looked up what ingredients are the best for possibly preventing stretch marks and skin damage. And I came up with a great three-step belly skincare routine that I did religiously every night… for about a week, until my nausea started kicking in. Since my nausea was worse at night than in the morning, and I was super fatigued most of the time, I found that I barely had it in me to wash my face every night, let alone apply a three-step routine of hydrators, oils, and creams to my mid-section. So I generally opted for a quick slather of my go-to body lotion (Eucerin Skin Calming Cream, if you’re interested). But, as I emerged from my first-trimester fog, I found myself with more time to devote to my body skin care.

I also noticed that my body skin in general was just starting to get really, really dry, and since I hate apply lotion right after getting out of the shower, I limit myself to a quick slather on my arms and legs before grabbing a robe in the morning, and then I devote time in the evening to more thoroughly moisturizing and treating my body skin in the evening. Because centella asiatica extract and hyaluronic acid are supposedly really good at keeping skin supple, and therefore more able to stretch without damage, I start my belly skin care routine with a liberal spritzing of COSRX Alcohol-Free Centella Toner. This is a facial toner, but it comes in a pretty generous bottle for about $16 and is basically just water, centella, and hyaluronic acid. Plus, it’s in a spray bottle, so I can just spray myself down. It’s actually kind of refreshing in the summer heat. Then, I originally applied a layer of sesame oil, before following with a layer of my Eucerin cream to seal every thing in.

But as time went on, I decided I wanted something a little heavier to really treat my dry skin, so I started experimenting with some DIY body butters. I especially like these DIY recipes because they combine nourishing oils with a butter and a wax to really seal in all the hydration and emollience of previous steps. I like my semi-solid jarred body butter for every-day (or every-night) use, but I also made a solid version to take with me on vacation to get around TSA’s liquids restrictions. The solid bar is based on this recipe from Humblebee and Me (my favorite DIY blog), after a bit of experimentation. I actually made a first batch that I didn’t like quite as well, but I shared it with a coworker whose sister is also pregnant, and she reported back that it was well-loved. The solid bar served me well on my two weeks of travel.

The semi-solid, jarred body butter is my preference, however, and I’ve tweaked my recipe to really make it lovely for nourishing stretching skin. I actually just winged it a bit on this one, starting from a mental assumption that I wanted something that was roughly 50% solid butters/wax and 50% liquid oil. I use a combination of mango and cocoa butter because I like the rich smoothness that cocoa butter gives to it, but the softness of mango butter makes it a bit softer of a balm. I add a little beeswax to make a proper balm of it, as butter-only balms can be tricky and unstable. And then, for the liquid portion, I used rice bran oil and hemp seed oil, both of which are highly recommended to both prevent and heal stretch marks. I finish it off with a healthy dose of vitamin E, to both help prevent rancidity, but also to boost the skin-healing properties.

The whole effect has a beautiful olive green color from the hemp seed oil, and an earthy warm scent from the smells of the natural oils. It has a buttery-smooth texture, and melts in my hands so I can smooth it on with very little tugging. It is all oils and butters, so it does feel a bit greasy on initial application, but I apply it before bed and wake up with soft, nourished skin. When I feel my skin stretching more than usual, I’ll also do the three-step routine of centella toner, body lotion, and then a layer of body butter, to keep everything nice and soft.

NB: I do weigh all my ingredients, and I can’t convert my recipe into volume measurements. If you’re interested, I use this digital scale. Also, I like to get most of my butters, oils, and waxes from the Wild Herb Soap Co. on Etsy because they strike a good balance between convenience and price for the home formulator who doesn’t need bulk quantities.

Homemade Belly Butter:

20g cocoa butter
20g mango butter
10g beeswax
25g hempseed oil
20g rice bran oil
5g vitamin E oil

Instructions:

  1. Melt the first three ingredients by placing them into a heatproof bowl or cup (I use a Pyrex measuring cup) and placing that over a pan of simmering water. Stir occasionally until completely melted. To avoid graininess from the cocoa butter, leave the bowl over the hot water for 15-20 minutes.
  2. Remove from the heat and add in the liquid oils, stirring to incorporate. If the mixture looks cloudy or like it has started to congeal, return it to the heat, briefly, just to melt it down until it is clear. Stir well.
  3. Pour into a 4-oz. clean, dry, sanitized jar, cap, and put in the fridge to harden for at least an hour.

Solid Belly Butter Bar:

14g cocoa butter
9g mango butter
10g beeswax
15g sesame oil
2g vitamin E oil

Instructions:

  1. Melt the first three ingredients in a cup/bowl over simmering water, leaving over the heat for 15-20 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat and pour into a mold (I found that a single standard muffin cup worked perfectly).
  3. Allow to harden for at least an hour, and then remove from mold, wrap in parchment paper, and store in a small tin.
Miscarriage, Second Trimester

On Pregnancy After Loss, Part Two: Post-Quickening

Note: This is a post about coping with previous pregnancy loss, so once again if you don’t want to hear about my anxieties and fears, please enjoy this photo of my cat being adorable:

I thought I’d write again about how I’m handling the emotions of being pregnant again after an early miscarriage, now that I’m feeling my baby move on a regular basis. Last month, I shared my fears and complicated feelings that came up when I first found out I was pregnant. I shared the relief I felt when our first ultrasound went well, and my continued anxiety that something could still happen. I mentioned that I’d heard that things get easier once you can feel the baby move.

“The quickening” is an ages-old term for that point in a pregnancy when you feel the first movements. It happens at different times for different women, and it tends to start as ambiguous flutters in the belly that some mistake for gas. As I’ve gone through the first half of my pregnancy after having a missed miscarriage, I’ve had varying levels of anxiety due to the fact that, the last time I was pregnant, I didn’t know anything was wrong until the doctor told me. This time, everything has gone smoothly, so far, but I still have that nagging feeling in the back of my head. It did help that our anatomy scan last week went well.

Also, for the last few weeks, I’ve been feeling the baby move on a fairly regular basis. And it is comforting. But here’s the thing about the first movements you feel while pregnant: They’re not consistent or regular. So even though I find it comforting when I feel my baby move, the fact that it’s still somewhat early to feel consistent movement means that I get just as worried when I don’t feel the baby move for a while. But it was nice, especially while I was traveling, that I could come back to my hotel room and almost immediately feel movement, even after doing something that had me slightly worried that I’d hurt something, like overexerting myself or getting a bad cold.

So my anxiety is slowly but surely getting better, although this week seems to be a week where baby is hanging out in a part of my body where I can’t feel the movement as much. I need to remind myself that I just felt a giant kick this morning when I get to work and don’t feel the random fluttering, flopping movements that I often feel anytime I sit quietly at my desk. So I’m hoping that, as the weeks go on, eventually I’ll get to a place where I can sit down, feel for movements, and feel confident that I’m feeling the right amount of movement. For now, I’m still trying to remind myself that everything has looked good so far.