April 29th, 2011 | By Alicia Silverstone
I recently interviewed my dear friend Lalanya about her veg pregnancy, and I wanted to share her great story with you!
Michael and Lalanya
Here’s what she said about her experience:
Why did you go vegan?
I had been vegetarian for about 4 years prior to going vegan. During that time I was dating Michael (who ate meat and dairy) and he would often comment on how unhealthy many vegetarians are because of all the dairy they consume. We’d talk about all the ‘french fry, cheese, and potato chips’ vegetarians who had terrible diets that didn’t include meat or fruits and vegetables. I loved dairy and yet I knew he was right. Michael believed that it’d be healthier to eliminate dairy than meat, but he knew both should be eliminated in the long run. In the spring of 2004 we both began eating plant-based (vegan) diets. We were strongly influenced by The China Study by T. Colin Campbell.
I am a vegan both because of my love of animals and my interest in living a healthy lifestyle. Having had an enjoyable, comfortable, and healthy pregnancy as a vegan, I am even more connected with the importance of eating well. It is said that, “you are what you eat” and during pregnancy your baby is literally developing from the food you ingest. It seemed healthier to have an avocado and walnut baby rather than a cheeseburger and bacon one.
What foods were the hardest for you to give up? If any?
Hard cheeses like parmesan and for some reason that imitation crab meat – which though it isn’t crab it does contain fish!
What changed for you when you went vegan?
Most notably my energy level increased and my appetite increased – which I was happy about because it told me I was burning through my food. Quite honestly, I love to eat!
Did you ever hesitate about having vegan baby? If so, what were your concerns, and how did you decide to have vegan pregnancy and birth?
At some point early in my pregnancy, an article about the dangers of vegan pregnancy was sent to me. I honestly can’t remember who sent it to me, but I know that it came from a place of love, not from someone trying to scare me into eating meat and dairy. I read it and found there weren’t many valid points. I did learn from it the increased need for omegas and also the importance of taking a good prenatal vitamin. I compared its arguments to the things I’d learned in school about the human body, anatomy, physiology, nutrition and so forth. I shared my concerns with Michael and my midwife and we all agreed that my diet was healthy and complete, and that my baby would grow strong if I continued to eat as I had been. It was a natural decision to continue eating what I had been, and was also a comfort to know that in order to have a healthy baby, I didn’t need to eat the foods I had intentionally left behind years before.
Did anyone give you hard time about having vegan baby, or being vegan to begin with?
No one in particular, but it does come up. Before Geneva started eating food and was only breastfeeding, people would ask if she was getting all that she needed from my vegan breast milk. Geneva never had trouble gaining weight and always had a great bright-eyed, glowing, healthy look about her. I was confident that she was growing well and getting all that she needed, so I would simply have people look at my incredible little girl to see for themselves just how healthy she is.
To this day when people ask if Geneva is vegan and if it’s ok for her to be, I only have to point to her and say things like “it seems to be working so far” because she is growing well, has been given a clean bill of health at each pediatrician check-up and still looks and acts super healthy. I am never rude or feel upset when answering, because I think people are generally showing honest concern for our daughter. They are expressing what they know and sharing what works for them. For many people, raising a child vegan is as out of the ordinary as giving birth at home. Also, I think people listen better if I listen to them, and if they know I am genuine in trying to spread knowledge about something not very well understood. I answer the same questions about protein and vitamins over and over, but truthfully I am happy to be asked.
What kind of foods did you eat when you pregnant?
Everything I normally eat lots of fruits and veggies (I was a kale maniac!), whole grains and lots and lots of nuts, lentils and nut butters. Since I stayed pretty active I never worried about eating too much or eating ‘bad foods’, so whenever I was hungry, which was probably about every 90 minutes or so, I would eat a little food. I ate more protein-type foods during pregnancy than I normally do, mostly because that’s what I craved. I also had my share of non-dairy ice cream or cookies if I was feeling a desire for them.
Did you have cravings?
Oh sure! I often craved protein – nuts, lentils, nut butters, nut milks. Sometimes this craving came while I was out on my walks and would smell people grilling meats. It seemed crazy to think that smell was so yummy, but when I got home and ate protein the craving was satisfied. In my first trimester I craved many foods that I ate as a child, such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, grilled cheese with tomato soup and macaroni and cheese. Luckily, there are fairly healthy vegan alternatives to these childhood favorites. Oh, and I craved chocolate and pickles!
Did you experience any acid reflux?
None for me, thankfully!
How did you deal with nausea?
I didn’t have much, but when I did, I ate protein or bland comfort foods like PB&J or cereal with nut milk.
Why did you decide to have home birth?
Being a prenatal chiropractor I have heard hundreds of stories about women’s labor and childbirth. How it went wrong, and how it went right. How they’d do it differently if they could do it all over again. I realized that birth, and pregnancy for that matter, are different for everyone and you really need to decide for yourself what is right for you. I knew deep down that even the best hospital birth would be, well, in a hospital; and for me that wasn’t what I wanted. Hospitals are where I went to see my sister after she had her appendix out or to visit my grandpa when he was sick. It didn’t seem like the environment where I wanted to bring my pure, brand new baby into the world. It’s like: that’s not the world, that’s the hospital.
That said, I wanted an experienced midwife whom I knew would be supportive and yet smart with my baby’s birth. I didn’t want to be foolish by putting my baby’s life in danger just for the sake of a home birth. But I believe that birth is a truly awesome experience that our bodies are literally made for. And I took comfort in knowing that millions of women have had successful natural births outside of hospitals for thousands of years.
What do you think about cords around the neck? Were you concerned about that?
This wasn’t a concern of mine, and I’m not exactly sure why it wasn’t. Every time I heard the baby’s heartbeat or felt steady movements I was assured that all was well in there. I know that a shockingly large percent of babies are born with the umbilical cord around their necks and in most cases all is well once the cord is removed. I think I just trusted that things would work out well, and fortunately for us, they did.
Note from Alicia: I asked my midwife about cords around the neck, and here’s what she said:
“A cord around the neck or nuchal cord sounds really scary, but in reality it is a relatively common event occurring in about one third of all births. It is usually of little or no consequence. Most commonly the cord can easily be slipped down and over the baby’s head after the head is born. On rare occasions the cord is very tight and must be clamped and cut after the birth of the head. If a cord is causing a baby problems decelerations can be heard in labor while monitoring the baby’s heart rate with a doppler or fetoscope. If changing the mother’s position doesn’t resolve the problem, then we would transfer the mother to the hospital.”
Did you have a water birth? I remember you said you didn’t but you were going to, and that you had a tub, but the birth didn’t actually end up happening there. What made you want to have the water birth? And was the tub helpful?
I had a tub to labor in but I did not have a water birth. I wasn’t set on birthing in any particular place in my home, but I wanted the tub just in case water was appealing during labor. I did really enjoy my time laboring in the tub. It gave my body a break and the warmth of the water was soothing. When the time came to push I decided to get out of the tub mostly because I was pretty warm and my midwife told me that the water temperature had to be increased to safely birth my baby into it. I also remember speaking with her at an appointment, and she explained that she would happily let me give birth in the tub but some women tear more in the water. I don’t remember why that is but I think it has something to do with things moving faster in the water and it being more difficult to ease the baby out slowly.
How long were you in pain?
Let me start by saying that I am no stranger to pain nor am I one of those lucky people who handles pain exceptionally well. In my profession we often ask people what the worst pain of their life was and then we have them compare it to the pain they came to seek help for. The majority of mamas will say that by far childbirth was the most excruciating pain they have ever felt. This was not so in my experience and I fully believe that my healthy diet and lifestyle are the reasons why.
For me, healing from a routine wisdom teeth removal surgery was the worst pain of my life. Labor and childbirth didn’t come close to scoring as my worst pain ever. Was my labor 100% pain free? Honestly, no. Labor discomforts came and went with my contractions but I was by no means in pain the entire 6 hours of active labor. I felt strong and healthy and able to breathe through the difficult peaks of contractions. My body worked with these waves of pressure to push my baby down and eventually out in a most harmonious way.
Because my body was burning clean, bio-available energy and my nervous system was in full control, the fantastic hormone cocktail that my body knew to produce during labor was all the pain relief I needed. We are designed by nature to birth babies and when our bodies are healthy, we may feel the discomforts of labor and childbirth but we do not need to be consumed by them.
I did feel the work of childbirth, and the work my body did post-partum while breastfeeding to return my uterus to its usual size. I would call my contractions ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘pressure’ at worst, but by no means were they an excruciating or impossible pain.
Eating a plant-based diet helped me to have great energy during pregnancy, which in turn enabled me to walk daily and do prenatal yoga about once a week. My food choices made me feel strong and in tune with my body. I had a great pregnancy free of heartburn/acid reflux, lethargy, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, etc. I even continued my very physically demanding job until 38 weeks, all the while feeling confident that my baby was growing healthy and strong with the nutrients my diet provided.
By no means do I mean to discount the pregnancy or labor experiences of others who had a more difficult go of things than I did. I hope to show women that a healthy body which is fueled by clean, plant-based food will only help to create the physically and emotionally enjoyable pregnancy and childbirth experience we all dream of.
How did you come up with name?
Geneva is one of the few names that Michael and I instantly agreed on. Neither of us had any reason to veto it. It just felt pure and lovely. We both have a bit of family history with the name, but overall we felt it was a unique, yet timeless name.
How do you feed your baby?
She is still breastfeeding at 19 months old, and also eats foods that we prepare for her. Now, she basically eats what we eat but when she was younger, we steamed and pureed her fruits and veggies or fed her soft foods like avocados and bananas. Her first food other than breast milk was avocado.
Snuggling with Geneva
What are her favorite foods?
Avocados are her number one favorite food. She also loves blueberries, pomegranate seeds, bananas, tomatoes, mushrooms, tofu, hummus; the list goes on and on.
Is she tempted by other weird stuff when around other people or other babies?
Sometimes yes. Babies and kids seem to want whatever other kids have; even when it comes to food. So far, this hasn’t been too much of an issue because she is easily persuaded to eat whatever I offer her instead. I always try to bring snacks along for her no matter where we go, just so she has some foods she’s familiar with.
Why did she sleep with you guys? And for how long? Still! And how much do you love that? How did you decide on that?
We never set out to have Geneva sleep with us, and in fact we even purchased a beautiful Italian crib with an organic mattress and bedding. I think we just didn’t know how beautiful and natural it would be to have her sleep with us. When she was brand new she slept on my chest every night for about 5 weeks. After that she wiggled around a bit more and we moved her to a bed-side bassinet when she was sleeping alone and was swaddled and then we’d unswaddle her and bring her to be with us when she woke up during the night. Days turned to weeks, and weeks into months, and now here we are 19 months later with our baby still in our bed! We love it.
Geneva is The Snuggler. She puts on her snuggle suit (aka: pajamas) and she lays the entire length of her body next to one or the other of us and falls into the kind of deep sleep only known by babies. Sometimes she’ll have a hand on each of us as she sleeps. This is, let’s see; what is the phrase I am looking for? Oh yes, ‘the sweetest thing in the world.’ No matter what the day has dealt us, at work, on the freeways or whatever, this brings us all right back to the essence of life and puts a lot of our daily concerns in perspective. Geneva seems to feel secure and comfortable and loved sleeping this way. She goes to sleep a few hours before we do, so she has her sleeping time alone then and during naps as well. We know she’ll have her own bed and bedroom sooner than we can imagine, but for now we feel that this is still right for us.
Thank you, Lalanya!
If you Kind Lifers want to learn more about co-sleeping, I recommend a book by Dr. Jay Gordon called Good Nights. It gives a pediatrician’s perspective on the family bed, and how good it is for babies to sleep with their parents. It answers all the typical questions about co-sleeping, like “will it make the baby needy when s/he is older?”, “will I roll over and smash my baby?” etc; anyway, if you want more info about that topic, check it out!
And for all you Los Angeles ladies who are pregnant or thinking of having a child soon, Lalanya is a wonderful pregnancy chiropractor! You can find out more about her at her website Lalanya.com, or if you’d like to book an appointment, you can call her at her office in Los Feliz at 323.454.3123.