Here’s a question we hear almost every day: Is the Whole30 safe for a pregnant woman? We asked registered dietitian and women’s health expert Stephanie Greunke for her perspective. Today, she’s answering the question and addressing the four common fears that are often behind it – but first, a little about our Healthy Mama, Happy Baby program.
The Whole30 Healthy Mama, Happy Baby Program
While conducting research during their own pregnancies, Registered Dietitian Stephanie Greunke and Whole30 co-founder Melissa Hartwig realized that there simply wasn’t a pregnancy wellness program for women like them—who believe in whole food nutrition, nurturing self-care, self-empowerment, informed decision-making, and community connection, while understanding that balance is necessary and perfection is not. So together, they created the Healthy Mama, Happy Baby program.
If you want to support your healthy, happy pregnancy through every stage, visit Healthy Mama, Happy Baby to learn more.
Four Recommendations for a Smoother #PregnantWhole30, From Stephanie Greunke
I love the “Whole30-while-pregnant” question, because show me how serious a woman is about her health and the health of her baby. As a registered dietitian, I’m happy to say that a Whole30 is perfectly safe for most pregnant women. And as a mom, I can lend you my support and encouragement because I did a Whole30 during my pregnancy.
During pregnancy, it’s possible to complete a Whole30 exactly as outlined in The Whole30 program guidelines. However, I have a few additional recommendations to make those 30 days as smooth and stress-free as possible:
- Listen to your body
- Make sure you are eating enough (see Concern 1)
- Enjoy smaller meals and snacks, if desired (see Concern 2)
- Consider your protein and carb intake (see Concern 3)
Note: there are a few reasons why a Whole30 may not be appropriate for every pregnant woman, at every stage of her pregnancy. Click here to read my two-part series addressing this topic.
Four Common Concerns Around a #PregnantWhole30
Concern #1: I’m afraid I’ll LOSE too much weight if I do a Whole30.
When you embark on a Whole30, you remove foods (grains, legumes, and dairy) that may be accounting for a large percentage of your total calorie intake. This is especially true if you’re coming to the program from a standard American diet. Now, not only are you potentially eliminating significant sources of calories, but you are replacing those foods with foods that promote satiety (non-starchy vegetables, healthy fat, and protein). This is all happening during a time when your body needs an additional 300-500 calories to promote the health, growth and development of you and your baby. Do you see how this scenario can set us up for potential weight loss or under-consumption of calories?
Pregnancy isn’t truly a time to eat for two, however, your body does require additional calories and you want to make sure these additions come from nutrient-dense foods. From a Whole30 point of view, your meals and snacks should contain plenty of healthy fat (such as avocado, olives, nuts, seeds, and coconut products), protein, vegetables (starchy and non-starchy) and fruit. If you’re coming to the Whole30 from a low-fat or calorie controlled diet, you may have to make a conscious effort to include enough healthy fat with each meal. If you’re exercising during your pregnancy, you’ll need to make sure you purposefully include enough starchy vegetables (like potatoes and winter squash) and fruit to support your activity level. This will ensure that you are providing yourself with the nutrients and energy required to grow a tiny human.
At any point during your Whole30, if you’re losing too much weight or feeling under-fed and exhausted, it may be time to take a break from your Whole30. Now isn’t the time to “push through it” or “Whole30 harder.” Listen to your body, take a break, and do whatever you need to do to get through the rough time. This may include eating a gluten-free bagel or some full-fat, grass-fed yogurt. As your energy levels increase and you feel better, check in with your healthcare provider and consider restarting your Whole30 at a later date.
Healthy Mama, Happy Baby addresses this topic in depth, and we include a sample meal plan to give you plenty of ideas on how to eat well during pregnancy.
Concern #2: There’s no way I can eat that much protein, fat, and non-starchy vegetables at each meal!
While the recommendations of the traditional Whole30 program say to avoid or minimize snacking, you may need to ditch this recommendation during your pregnancy. This is especially true if you are dealing with morning sickness. Having smaller meals every three hours may help alleviate some of the nausea you experience, which can be triggered by an empty stomach or low blood sugar. As your baby grows, you may not have the physical space in your stomach to eat larger meals, especially in your third trimester. Do the best you can with the specific issues affecting you, and remember that everything you’re eating on your Whole30 is nutrient-dense and healthy for your baby, which is the most important thing.
In Healthy Mama, Happy Baby, we give you meal plans, tips, and tricks designed to help you comfortably modify the Whole30 to account for these exceptions.
Concern #3: Should I modify the recommended portion sizes in the Whole30 Meal Planning Template?
Pregnancy is not the time to follow a very low-carbohydrate diet or go heavy on protein. You’ll want to add some form of starchy vegetables and/or fruit to most of your meals. This will ensure you and your baby receive a wide-variety of nutrients while reducing any stress that your body may experience as a result of not eating enough carbohydrate. You’ll also want to consider sticking to the lower-end of the recommendations for protein (one palm-sized portion per meal) as your body’s ability to safely convert protein by-products is less efficient during pregnancy.
Many women experience protein aversions during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester. You may naturally find yourself consuming less throughout the day. If a palm-sized amount of protein at each meal seems impossible, you can try:
- Having smaller, more frequent meals
- Using a plain, unsweetened egg-white protein powder
- Adding collagen peptides to your beverages
- Having a cup of bone broth mixed with collagen peptides
- Or whatever you need to do to make it work
Don’t stress about it too much. Most women find they feel much better once the second trimester hits, and can resume eating their normal protein staples.
In addition to tossing out the “no snacking” recommendation, you may also choose to ditch the Whole30 recommendation to limit fruit to two servings a day, eaten with your meals (and not on their own as a dessert or snack). I found myself craving fruit during my pregnancy and enjoyed it a few times a day. Just make sure to pair fruit and starchy vegetables with protein or fat to reduce the impact on your blood sugar levels. The more we can prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes, the better you’ll feel and the less likelihood you’ll have of developing pregnancy-related complications.
Concern #4: How do I stick to the “no stepping on the scale” rule?
While it’s against Whole30 rules to weigh yourself, your prenatal care visits will likely require weight gain checks. If your provider asks you to step on the scale, you can simply ask them not to tell you the number or avert your eyes. However, there may be reasons that your provider wants you to know your weight, and they may want to talk to you about it. If that’s the case, your provider’s priorities take priority over the Whole30 rules. If your provider is concerned with your pregnancy weight gain (or lack thereof), you should be following their instructions, including weighing to ensure you stay on track.
Join our Healthy Mama, Happy Baby Program for Even More Support
Melissa and I are not advocating that you do a Whole30 throughout your entire pregnancy. In fact, you may not choose to do a Whole30 while pregnant at all! We simply want to help you determine how the general principles of the Whole30 program can support your desire to have a healthy, happy pregnancy.
In addition to extensive resources related to pregnancy nutrition, our Healthy Mama, Happy Baby program includes resources on exercise, sleep, alignment, communicating with your partner and more. To learn more, and to join our mama community, visit Healthy Mama, Happy Baby today.
The information included in this post is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for your own situation, or if you have any questions regarding conception, pregnancy, or your prenatal treatment plan.
Stephanie Greunke is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition who specializes in women’s health. She is a certified personal trainer, a prenatal and postnatal corrective exercise specialist, and the co-creator of the Whole30 Healthy Mama, Happy Baby program. Stephanie guides and supports women locally and globally through her web-based private practice, RockYourHormones.com.