Permaculture for Pregnancy

by Kelly Steenhuisen

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30 weeks pregnant, harvesting nutritious amaranth from the garden.

Permaculture can be used as a tool to improve all aspects of our lives. During pregnancy, its easy to become overwhelmed by the bombardment from media and people of what you ‘ should be’ doing, how you should look and what you should buy. Permaculture provides an empowering framework through which to curate pregnancy decisions.

I’ll be using David Holmgren’s 3 Core Ethics and 12 Principles of Permaculture to illustrate how we may relate pregnancy and Permaculture.

Earth Care: whilst becoming a mother, we must care for our Great Mother — Earth. In pregnancy, this looks like: limiting the buying of unnecessary ‘cute’ things and educating family about it, ensuring our cravings aren’t bad for the Earth (ie: junk food, lots of plastic), choosing second-hand baby things and making what we can, strictly managing the baby shower/blessing, reveling in the link our life-giving power gives us to Mother Earth and being in this power throughout pregnancy and birth — we are life-bringers, not meek women with a medical condition.

People Care: pregnancy is a journey for all involved — include interested family members in sweet milestones and include your partner in decisions, research and joyful moments. Connect with other pregnant women and use this time to empower them as you empower yourself. You and your child are people that need care too, prioritise your care with good nutrition, rest and exercise.

Fair Share: when you buy that Nestle chocolate, is it fair? Who does it take from? (Clue: marginalised children and the Earth) — choose to sate your cravings with products that do not take from others. Think of how women with less are navigating pregnancy right now, without access to nutritious food, running water or a comfortable bed — could you help? 

OR Future Care: Does the future look bright for your child as well as for the the child being born in an informal settlement near you? How are the choices that you make during pregnancy going to affect your child and others? 

Permaculture Principle 1: Observe and Interact — observe your body and your baby. Your body will tell you what it needs and how its doing… are your hands and feet swelling? Your body may be retaining water as you aren’t drinking enough. Self-observation is empowering! Interact with your baby: rub your belly, play music and talk — your baby will respond and thus you can begin building a relationship with them. Allow your partner or a family member/friend to interact with your baby in the womb — its wonderful to watch baby respond to a familiar voice and the delight on an adult’s face when feeling a kick or hearing the heartbeat. Observe animals, they will show you that birth and pregnancy are a beautiful and natural process.

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Get those greens, girl!

2: Catch and Store Energy — Eat well; consume good, nourishing, high-energy food to support the work that your body is doing. Grow food for yourself and your baby! Don’t deprive yourself. In order to create the energetic being within your belly, you need to consume good and pure energy through food, water and mindfulness. ‘Catch’ the good energy of positive people and ‘store’ in your mind for difficult moments or to think of during birth. Discard any negative and disempowering energy from non-resonating social media posts, conversations and books. Knowledge is energy: read up and store good knowledge to make yourself feel strong and able. Replenish energy after birth with good food, adequate rest and support. Pregnancy and birth are not times to deplete yourself in order to live up to expectations.

3: Obtain a Yield — a baby is most certainly a yield, but so are all the learning experiences of pregnancy, the unconditional self-love, the reverence for this amazing body creating a life, the power, the resilience , the shifting relationships between you and others — allow your experiences to gift you yields of growth and wisdom. 

4: Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback — pregnancy may be the most difficult time to adhere to this principle… hormones are high and people are opinionated and this most certainly does not mean accepting negative or pushy opinions. Decide who has your best interests at heart and accept gentle feedback from them (like when my partner tells me not to have Oreos because the craving is not worth the chemical crap they contain). Accept feedback from your body — if your body says that she is tired, rest; if she is hungry, eat; if you need to be alone, don’t feel obligated to attend social gatherings. Listening to your body and not pushing yourself is part of self-regulation, as is choosing when to give in to cravings and when to rather opt for a healthy food, stretching and moving your body when it needs and checking that your nesting instinct doesn’t turn into unnecessary consumptive buying.

5: Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services — humans are renewable, we produce new versions of ourselves in the form of babies.. value this within yourself, truly realise how incredible it is. Other renewable resources to value include: love and support from family, friends and even strangers on mom groups, breastmilk, sunlight for drying baby clothes, food and medicine growing in a garden or on a balcony to nourish mother and baby. Cloth nappies, clothing and toys made from natural materials.

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Pretty cloth nappies/diapers save about 950kg of waste per child.

6: Produce No Waste — this is HUGE in pregnancy, birth and child-rearing as companies like to use parents’ desire to provide to encourage the buying of unnecessary stuff. Single-use nappies, bin liners, maternity pads, breastpads, wipes, breast milk storage bags and baby food pouches can all easily be replaced by reusable items. The small conveniences of single-use are not worth their impact, especially when thinking in terms of ‘Future Care’. Breastfeeding reduces formula container waste, however, these containers and others can also be upcycled into plant pots or play things for the baby. Instead of flushing or throwing away baby poop (and everyone else’s), it can be composted and turned into a resource. Resell or donate all things used during pregnancy and in the newborn months.

7: Design from Patterns to Details — how do you want your pregnancy to look? Healthy? Active? Restful? Decide on this before looking at which smaller actions will facilitate such a pregnancy. Similarly with birth and child-rearing. Do you want your birth to be empowering? Peaceful? Gentle? What decisions will allow this to be? Do you want to raise your child as an eco-conscious kiddo? A kind being? What will you need to work on during pregnancy, within yourself and your environment, to influence this? What stimulus will you provide for your child to fit into your ethos?

8: Integrate Rather than Segregate — get your partner and birth attendants involved in your care, don’t feel the need to do it all yourself. Do similar things together to save energy, eg: cook extra dinner and freeze some for postpartum meals. Integrate your child into your day-to-day activities, there’s not much need for a segregation been child and adult activities — this is practiced in ancient cultures and is the best way for children to learn. Don’t segregate your baby from micro-organisms, playing in healthy soil and on clean but unsanitized surfaces will strengthen their immune system.

9: Use Small and Slow Solutions — One of the biggest lessons that pregnancy teaches is: patience. It is a time to slow down and honour the hard work that the body is doing in creating a being, not to push ourselves to the limit in order to keep up. We must learn to be gentle with ourselves and to be okay with achieving small things — one thing ticked off the list a day or a slow walk as opposed to the usual long run. This goes for the postpartum period as well, we mustn’t push the body to ‘bounce back’ but should slowly ease back into life, instead, allowing time for healing and recovery. Birth doesn’t need to be rushed to fit new-age expectations, slow and steady will bring your baby into the world.

10: Use and Value Diversity — a wide array of foods during pregnancy will provide you and baby with the nutrients you need, as well as a diverse range of safe herbs and pregnancy exercise to help your body to function and adjust optimally. A diverse toolkit of ‘pain/discomfort management’ options during childbirth will allow you to find the best for you. Reading up on a diverse range of schools of thought around pregnancy and birth will help you to find what resonates best with you, as well as exploring a diverse rage of birth attendant and birth space options. Exposing your child to diversity from a young age will greatly benefit their sense of empathy for other cultures, genders, ages, levels of ability and species. Choose books, music and movies that represent various forms of diversity.

11: Use Edges and Value the Marginal — Value the small wins, the small achievements. You were able to wash the dishes today, that’s great! Tomorrow you may be able to write a report for work, or draw a picture. Slowly ticking things off your list, instead of becoming overwhelmed by the length of it, is how you will eventually get all that you’d like to do done before your birth. Notice small things, are you getting a bit of heartburn now — find your triggers and nip it in the bud before it gets any worse.

Use edges — use the time at the beginning and end of your day wisely. Set the tone for each day with meditation, journaling or affirmations and end each day with a pleasant walk or some quiet time. Cultivating a calm mindset during pregnancy is important for a peaceful birth. The edges could also be those small windows of time where you’re feeling good, energetic and the brain fog has cleared — use those moments well to tackle the more challenging mental tasks or do important research. 

12: Creatively Respond to Change — the main thing that pregnancy brings is change — body changes, hormonal changes, emotional changes, lifestyle and eating changes, physical ability changes, relationship-dynamic changes, priority changes and the entire world shift that a child brings. These can be overwhelming and can get a woman down, however, to learn to flow with the changes and find creative solutions is the most stress-free way to navigate this landscape. For example: being hungry all the time and later having a large belly restricting stomach capacity will mean having to switch to smaller, more frequent meals. Being more tired, stiff and heavy will mean shifting to lower-intensity daily activities and exercise. 

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Our bodies are magical!

Pregnancy is a lot but, a Permaculture mindset makes it all the more manageable. 

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