“Add a smile and add a plant.” “When you're pregnant, it's important to get a mix of nutrition.”
In this episode, we’re unlocking the secrets to a healthy and vibrant journey from pregnancy to parenthood. We’ll explore key nutrients, food do’s and don’ts, trimester-specific needs, the power of probiotics, and nourishing your baby’s brain. Whether you’re a mom-to-be or a new parent, get ready to fuel your family’s future with expert advice and practical wisdom. Let’s dive in!
Yaffi Lvova is an experienced Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and a proud mom of twins plus one. She holds degrees in both World Religions and Nutrition & Dietetics from Arizona State University. Yaffi is a published author of several books on feeding kids and is the creator of Toddler Test Kitchen™. Yaffi supports parents through her social media, public speaking, and Nap Time Nutrition podcast and YouTube channel.
Shireen: In this episode, we’re unlocking the secrets to a healthy and vibrant journey from pregnancy to parenthood. We’ll explore key nutrients, food do’s and don’ts, trimester specific needs, the power of probiotics, and nourishing your baby’s brain. Whether you’re a mom to be or a new parent, get ready to fuel your family’s future with expert advice and practical wisdom. Let’s dive in.
Yaffi Lvova is an experienced registered dietitian, nutritionist, and a proud mom of twins plus one. She holds degrees in both world religions and nutrition and dietetics from Arizona State University. Yaffi is a published author of several books on feeding kids and is the creator of Toddler Test Kitchen. Yaffi supports parents through her social media, public speaking, and Naptime Nutrition Podcast and YouTube channel. Welcome, Yaffi.
Yaffi Lvova: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Shireen: An absolute pleasure having you on. Yafi, let’s get into first getting to know you a little bit. What really inspired you to pursue a career in providing nutrition and wellness to new families?
Yaffi: Well, it was certainly not my plan. I do remember, as in becoming a dietician, you have to do an internship, which is kind of a medical residency. We play around in different areas of nutrition. I very clearly remember saying to the pediatric dietician, I will never go into pediatrics. You know, we can file that along with, I will never have a minivan. Things that would never happen, but they did. They did. Yeah, so, it was just, I had a really difficult time getting pregnant.
I had a rough infertility journey for four years, and then I got pregnant. It was a high risk pregnancy. Once the children, plural, decided to exit, cause, I like to suggest that people have children one at a time. Not necessarily how I did it. You know, do as I say, not as I do. As my litter birthed, as my litter presented themselves to the world. There were just two, but it feels like a million.
We had a lot of issues, you know, I had preeclampsia during the pregnancy. I had to wear those very sexy, leg squeezy things. We had issues with breastfeeding. I had colic, we had tongue tie, we had lip tie, we had allergies, we had so much with the screaming. All the screaming in the world. I will never use a pacifier.
Let’s add that to the list too. All the pacifiers. I just wanted to help other people transition into parenthood a little bit easier than I did. Maybe a little bit more grace, cause… Man, I was a mess.
Shireen: So that’s what inspired you to it. It’s funny, but at the same time, you’re not alone, right? That is so interesting that you’ve chosen this line of work and also drawn from your own experience being a parent. I do want to get into some of those things related to that. So starting things out here, what are the key nutrients that pregnant women should focus on for a healthy pregnancy? So I want to start with the mom first.
Yaffi: Well, the number one question that I like to start with before getting into any specific discussion of nutrients is, are you eating enough? That’s the number one question because a lot of people are not eating enough. They’re not eating enough to meet their needs.
They’re concerned about gaining too much weight or, the right, eating the right foods, which then prohibits them from eating enough food. So that’s my first question. Number one, are you eating enough? Number two, are you comfortable discussing any questions with your doctor? Because if you’re not, you need a new doctor, hands down.
I don’t need to know anything else. If you’re not comfortable with your doctor, you need a new one. Next, we can get into nutrition. Once I know that you’re eating enough and you feel safe in your medical care, we can talk about what exactly you’re eating. Honestly, it comes back to that first point a lot. Are you eating enough?
There is a huge focus on weight in our society, and that can impact us on a lot of different levels during pregnancy. Not only do we get to this point where you’ve gotten to the age of pregnancy, which means that you’ve absorbed countless numbers of bad messages about body image and nutrition. But now you’re in a situation where you really do have to focus on your nutrition to make sure you get enough to feed that baby inside you.
You’re going to watch your body change. And even if it’s acceptable to gain X number of pounds, whatever that is, you’re gaining that amount of weight in a very short amount of time. It’s very difficult on the body. It’s very difficult on the mind to see your body changing like that. It brings in a whole and then we get to emotional eating. All of this is going on every time someone chooses to eat and that’s where food issues are hardly ever about food.
So that’s why you’ve asked me a very direct and simple question about nutrients and I’m spinning around about social determinants of health and your safety with your doctor because food issues are not about food. You know, it’s very rare actually that someone will come to me with a food issue and the solution is food.
Usually the solution is therapy. When you’re pregnant, it’s important to get a mix of nutrition. And the best way to do that is to get a variety of different kinds of foods. This is the same advice for when you’re raising small kids. It comes down to variety. It doesn’t come down to any one food that’s going to make or break your diet or any one single food that’s going to make your child a superhero in the womb. Plenty of companies will pitch that and even fruits and vegetables.
We get this whole notion of super fruits. It’s all ridiculous. All of the food that you pull out of the ground and shove in your face is good, you know? So we don’t have to worry about things like super foods and we don’t have to worry so much about looking at the nutrition facts panel in general.
If we’re eating a variety of things. So it’s about variety. It’s also about, you know, I do advocate for a prenatal vitamin when someone is pregnant or even when they’re considering getting pregnant so that you have appropriate nutritional status getting into pregnancy. Sometimes, especially when there is nausea, when there’s any kind of intestinal discomfort that’s commonly associated with pregnancy, it can be difficult to get all those nutrients and a prenatal vitamin is going to help with that.
Shireen: Interesting. So we talked a little bit about the nutrition piece. You know, how does a pregnant woman’s nutritional needs really change throughout each of the trimesters?
Yaffi: Yeah, there are changes. I think it’s really difficult to get into it from a public health perspective just because we don’t want people to over identify with which trimester they’re in and I don’t want to steer people into orthorexia where they are too focused on the minutiae. So yeah, there are differences. I’m taught to say that across the span of pregnancy, in order to maintain a healthy pregnancy, you want about 300 calories per day. That’s assuming one fetus, okay? Just telling you, that’s assuming one fetus. Not all of us have kids one at a time.
Although, that is the preferred method. So across the pregnancy span, you have about 300 calories per day extra. And the thing is that, you know, during the first trimester, you are going to have slightly different needs than the second and the third. But we look at it as just across the board, you know, there’s a lot of growth going on during the first trimester.
That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of growth during the second and third. The whole time is a lot of growth. It requires proper nutrition. I choose to not focus on the specific differences just because you get in the weeds, you know. The number one thing people can do to improve the health of any given meal is to add a smile.
Better yet, add some laughter, but increase produce. You know, that’s the number one thing that you can do. Just eat plants. I’m not saying eat only plants. I’m not anti meat here. That’s the easiest thing that you can do in order to increase the nutrition in any given meal.
Add a plant, add a smile and add a plant. That’s across the pregnancy, across, you know, raising kids, add a smile and add a plant.
Shireen: Love it. Add a smile and add a plant. I feel like that should be the name of the episode. No, I absolutely love that. Any other recommendations that you have for moms that are going through the pregnancy?
Yaffi: You know, I really like to advise people to lean into their culture, I’m doing a whole webinars on how cultural foods get bad names in American society and how we’ve taught nutrition. I posted on LinkedIn recently, Taco Bell is not a good representative of Mexican food.
It seems ridiculous to say that, but as professionals, we look at fill in the blank, non majority culture food, and that’s the example of how the people in that culture eat. It’s a terrible way to educate yourself on cultures. Every culture has redeeming factors. I would say that most, speaking of nutrition and culture, If a culture has survived up until the point that it’s still active in the world, they have good food.
I mean, if not, they would have disappeared, right? Like, they wouldn’t have been able to sustain themselves. It’s like how we see those groups that practice complete abstinence. There’s no way forward. There’s… There’s no way forward. You’re not making new members. It’s the same with nutrition. If we limit ourselves so much that we can’t enjoy what’s behind, there’s nowhere forward to move.
So you got to reach back into your culture. Pregnancy is a fantastic time to do that for physical and emotional reasons. To look back where you came from while you prepare to lay the foundation for the next generation for what’s next for what you want to pass along to them. These are the foods that have sustained you personally, sustained your family tree up until this point. Thousands and thousands of relatives have come together to produce this moment.
That moment was sustained on things that are not represented on. You know, USDA, my plate examples. We got to lean back into that, you know, think about your roots of who you are, your identity, where you came from and fuel yourself, nourish yourself, the way that that your culture encourages. It’s just, it’s such a beautiful way to reconnect with you as a person before moving on to this really intense part of life, You know, raising kids is intense. There’s so much we want to pass down to them. Culture needs to be at the top of that list to start when you’re pregnant.
Shireen: I love it. Love it. I do want to switch to understanding specifically around probiotics because we hear probiotics be all the buzz but can you discuss the role of probiotics in supporting the health of pregnant women and even babies?
Yaffi: Yeah, well, it’s difficult. That’s my answer for everything. It’s difficult to answer that question.
It’s difficult to fully answer that question just because we’ve got so much amazing research going on in probiotics right now. I can start off by saying probiotics are the happy bugs that live in your gut. It’s an overly simplistic way to discuss that, but leaning back on culture. A lot of cultures have a history of fermented foods.
That’s where you’re going to find probiotics and you can take a supplement too. That’s great. You can take a supplement, you can take fermented foods. Yogurt, Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Kombucha, all of these things are great sources. And these. Happy gut bugs go into your intestines and serve as reinforcing troops to help your immune system that most of it lives in your gut to help support it and keep it strong.
So having foods or having a supplement is going to just help you maintain that immunity. Not only do we have immunity there, but depending on the research you look at, 85 to 95 percent of the serotonin produced in your body comes from your gut. So, a healthy gut is going to produce a happy amount of happy hormones that are going to help you feel your best.
You know, there’s a lot going against you right now. You’re probably going to be really tired if you’re pregnant. You know, you’re slowing down, there’s stress, maybe you’re not sleeping as well. We have to look for the easy ways to have support and this is one of them supporting your gut microbiome is going to help your immune system.
It’s going to help maintain the pregnancy. Also, it’s so interesting. We have all of these little pieces that don’t fit together yet. You know, for example, we know that flossing throughout a pregnancy is associated with maintaining a pregnancy until a healthy gestation. Why? I don’t know.
Maybe someone else could explain the mechanism, but I can tell you just the act of taking care of your body in general and maintaining your health in general is going to set your body up. We don’t know everything about the human body. We don’t know everything about our food either. But we do know that taking those healthy habits lead to health.
Having a donut is not going to destroy that moment or the pregnancy or your life on any level. Having a variety of food and having healthy habits overall is going to support you and support the growing baby and the best way possible.
Shireen: Interesting. And so, we talked a little bit about the probiotics piece.
I do want to understand. You know, can you provide some kind of guidance on introducing solid foods to babies?
Yaffi: Oh, yeah.
Shireen: And then just ensuring that they receive proper nutrition.
Yaffi: Yeah. Oh, so much fun. So in order to transition from that, well, let’s start with the birth. So in a vaginal birth, which I can’t tell you about from experience. I’ve got three kids, two C sections. In a vaginal birth, a child will take in some of those probiotics.
Through the vaginal canal on their way out and with C sections, there are ways to account for, to make up for that as well. That’s when they really start building their immune system. As they grow, they start picking things off the ground and experiencing the world that way. As much as we want to be like, “Oh, I don’t suck on that.”
That’s also how they’re taking in. Exposure to the environment and building a gut microbiome that matches the challenges they face on a daily basis. So once you get to the point where they’re about six months old, they’re sitting independently, they’re interested in food, they reach for food. All of the readiness signs come down to they can physically grab food, put it in their mouth and swallow it.
Okay, that’s when you start feeding them, and I’m going to just ditch the conventional advice, skip the rice cereal, doesn’t taste good. Your kids started tasting things in the womb, actually. They’re exposed to flavor first in the womb with the amniotic fluid. Whatever the mom is eating, eating flavors the amniotic fluid.
You might think, “Well, that’s not how babies get nutrition. They don’t get nutrition from the amniotic fluid.” No, but they do. They take it in through their nose, through their mouth. They’re circulating. They’re breathing through this liquid. It’s wild. They get that exposure on their tongues.
They do taste what the mother’s eating. So when we transition to food, we don’t have to keep it bland at all. And if you’re from a culture that experiences spice in a happy way, go for it. I’m a big fan of baby led weaning, but I’m also a fan of recognizing what’s going to cause the feeding parent anxiety.
If you want to do purees because feeding your baby an actual whole banana is going to cause you too much anxiety, ditch the baby lid weaning and do purees because your anxiety does color that experience. You want it to be a happy experience. The goal is eating happy. You don’t have to worry about specifically what you’re giving the kid in the first year, you just want to avoid this common choking hazards and honey as well before 12 months old and even baked.
Otherwise you can give your child what you’re eating. I find specifically in families that have strong ties to their culture, it’s really best to just give them what you’re eating because it introduces them to how the family eats and the foods that the family appreciates, as opposed to raising them and training them for the standard American diet.
Which we can abbreviate as S. A. D. Sad. I mean, if you’re enjoying vibrant fruits and vegetables, why are you going to specifically train your child towards crackers? You know?
Shireen: You know, thematically, I think what I’m hearing from Yaffi is really this focus around, during pregnancy, post pregnancy. Enjoy it. Enjoy every bit of it. What I’m hearing again from you is like don’t sit there and try to figure out what’s the ideal way something needs to be or someone has prescribed that to you.
Make it part of your journey to say, “This is what I like and this is what the kid likes” and interweave that rather than make it burdensome.
Yaffi: Exactly, exactly. You know, eating is our way to connect with each other. We see all these messages online about how food is fuel, and I hate that so much.
You know, food is not fuel. Food is also not medicine. Food, yes, food can be medicine. There are certain specific instances where food can be medicine, but the societal shift toward thinking of food as medicine has taken a lot of the joy out of eating. You know, I like to illustrate this by showing how we stopped referring to food as food.
We started referring to it as its macronutrient, like, what’s your protein? Would you like to have a protein with that? My favorite way to make fun of that is saying, “Okay, yeah, let’s put that into poetic form.” I remember as a child sitting with my great grandmother in her apartment. She had this heavy Polish accent and we would enjoy our cups of tea as the light streamed in through the window.
She told me stories about her youth and we picked it a plate of protein.
This is not a good narrative.
Yaffi: You got to put the joy back into your plate.
Shireen: We talked about solid foods. In passing, you mentioned around honey. Are there certain foods that you can describe to us that we should think about? I hate to put it in categories of foods to eat and foods to avoid.
Yaffi: Oh, yeah.
Shireen: Particularly, can you run us through what are some of those foods to consider?
Yaffi: Yeah. Well, there are certain categories that are important to know. While I don’t want to say good foods and bad foods for the same reason you don’t, I mean, food is food. We’ve got to enjoy it. There are certain safety things that we need to consider.
You know, for example, we don’t give honey to kids under 12 months because of the risk of botulism. It’s the same risk for adults and older kids, but the immune system has developed enough to fight it off so that it’s not an issue anymore. But under 12 months, they don’t necessarily have the immune system to fight the botulism. So we don’t give them the botulism.
That’s pretty much it with that. So no honey before 12 months, even if it’s baked. After that, go for it. Some people are saying up to two years. There’s no research about two years. The research is one year. Also, choking hazards. You want to be aware of choking hazards. There’s a whole list, but popcorn, gum, anything that can stick to your teeth or is the shape of your esophagus, like grapes.
We cut grapes in half, ideally lengthwise rather than widthwise, so that they don’t copy the shape of the esophagus. They can’t get as easily lodged. The other group to know about is the top nine allergens, which used to be the top eight allergens until Sesame joined the party. Sesame, thumbs up, unless you’re allergic.
The thing to know about the allergens is that it’s actually important to introduce them earlier on. It was old thinking to avoid allergens. It’s good to know what they are for Halloween purposes. You know, having some candy that’s accessible to kids who have allergies and for bringing in treats to classrooms.
It’s also good to know just what to avoid during those first four years, which is where the choking hazards are. So you can look up lists of those there. It’s a lot of things on those lists, but you get to understand the theme of them. Anything that’s shaped like the esophagus, anything that can stick to the teeth.
At the beginning you want things to be able to be smushed between the thumb and the forefinger. That’s your test, especially if you’re doing baby led weaning. You can give it to a baby if you can smoosh it between your thumb and your forefinger. Then it’s not a choking hazard. They can mush it.
Shireen: Lovely. Are there any specific foods or nutrients that can support a baby’s brain development?
Yaffi: Ooh, DHA. My colleagues like to make fun of me because I say that fish oil is the answer for everything. Yeah, fish oil. It’s amazing. DHA and EPA and the research coming out on that as well.
The research on these things in the neurodivergent population and autism. It’s huge, huge research. I really like to supplement this stuff just because the way to get it in the diet is three servings of fish per week. That’s fatty fish. Ideally the fatty fish that’s less affected by toxins. You know me, for me to say toxin, it’s like a really big deal because I don’t believe in food fear. There are certain fish that I try to manage based on EPA reports, but it can be really difficult to get it in your food. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, it can be especially difficult. There are algae sources where you can supplement, and that is very important to supplement. Specifically if you’re vegetarian or vegan with that DHA.
That’s going to support brain development, as well as mood regulation. If your kid’s taking it, maybe you want to take it too. 3,000 milligrams is a standard dose for fish oil. That’s 2,000 is standard, 3,000 for some mood stuff. Get up to 6,000 for some real, targeted approach to things like schizophrenia.
That’s where you’re going to be supervised by a doctor. You can get fish oil gummies. There are a lot of different ways to supplement fish oil in ways that kids will take it. Mainly gummies.
Shireen: Okay, so fish oil is a big piece of the puzzle there. Okay. Any other foods you recommend for brain development?
Yaffi: Really just stick with variety. Look at a plate and see, is there a variety of texture, of color, of smell. You know, you don’t have to worry about the nutrients because they will be represented by these other things. You know, different colors represents different nutrients when you look at a plate.
Okay, chicken nuggets. Thumbs up. Especially dipped in hummus. If you have not had chicken nuggets and hummus, you got to try it. Okay?
Shireen: I have not, and I will totally make a note of that and remember that for next time.
Yaffi: Do it. Okay. Do it. Chicken nuggets and hummus. Um, yeah. So, yeah. Well, I got sidetracked now.
Wait, where was I? Oh, right. Okay. All right. Chicken nuggets. Good hummus. Good mashed potatoes. Good. But what’s all of those are tan foods. If you put them on a plate together, it’s not going to look good. Even if you have good nutrition representation, it’s not going to be that appetizing. You know, so you got to look and see, is there a representation of color and texture?
Are things cooked in different methods? Is everything boiled? Don’t do that. Don’t do everything boiled. That’s really the best way. I’m answering the question from a different angle because that’s going to support brain development through exposure rather than through direct nutrition.
You know, the variety of nutrients will support development through the nutrients, but the exposure to different temperatures and textures and colors and flavors is going to support the brain in different ways by just providing exposure to the unfamiliar. The more exposure, the less unfamiliar, the more, the more familiar foods are, and the more they’ll take in, and a variety which then gets back to the nutrients.
Shireen: Love it. In the last 30 seconds here, Yaffi, can you tell us what are some reliable resources or tools that pregnant women or new parents can use to educate themselves about nutrition and wellness?
Yaffi: Wow. Well, there’s some really great and also really awful Instagram accounts. I’m going to go with @Anti.diet.kids, @Kid.food.explorers, and @feedinglittles, and then of course me, @Yaffi.Lvova.Eat.Happy.
Shireen: There we go, love it. Which takes me into the very last question. How can our listeners connect with you, Yaffi, and just learn more about your work?
Yaffi: Yeah, find me on babybloomnutrition.com and on Instagram @yafi.lvova.eat.happy. Just type in Yaffi, it’ll come up. It’s me. It’s a cartoon. It’s cute.
Shireen: Love it. Awesome. This was a great episode, Yaffi. Thank you so much for being on. To our listeners, it is that time. Head over to our social media and answer this quick question, which is, “What did you enjoy eating as a child?”. Find this podcast post. Super easy question. Head over to Facebook or Instagram @Yumlish and find this podcast post. Comment below and tell us, ‘What did you enjoy eating as a child?”
We’ll continue the conversation there and Yaffi, thank you so much.
Yaffi: Thank you so much, Shireen. This was great.