20 March 2011, by Tan Yi Lin
I’ve been wondering whether to blog a little about what I’ve been eating during the pregnancy but wasn’t sure whether anybody would be interested in such details. After all, even I myself find the nutritional diet the most boring part of any pregnancy book. Sure, it’s incredibly important to know what you’re feeding yourself (and your baby), but who wants to read about and honestly try to recall whether you’ve sufficiently eaten ‘half a cup of steamed legumes’ or ‘xx grams of brown rice’ every day? Plus, you only need to ingest an additional 300 calories per day during pregnancy. That’s really not very difficult.
But a recent post by blogger yann and a conversation with miss ene about our beloved teh si made me decide to revisit the topic of food. Heck, if I can’t eat or drink any of this stuff anymore, at least let me write about it.
At almost 18 weeks into this pregnancy, the food bit is a key factor in my arrival at this conclusion: pregnancy is exciting but not fun.
Before that, I must clarify: I still am eternally grateful to be pregnant and wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m not complaining. I’m just stating what I’ve learned to discover for myself. Did I expect pregnancy to be rosy, fun and bubbly? No, not quite. But maybe in the midst of aspiring for months on end to be in a pregnant state, I could have forgotten about a few unwanted side effects of pregnancy until they actually happened.
My main bugbear is heartburn. Awful, painful, searing and well, burning, heartburn. Almost as if acid is eating me up from the inside. I practically worry for the state of my oesophagus each time it happens. Heartburn happens because increased levels of progesterone during pregnancy slow down the digestive system, so there’s a lovely potent cocktail of gastric juices and air just sitting pretty and bubbling around inside the stomach. Progesterone also relaxes the sphincter muscle between the oesophagus and top part of the gut. So with each burp, up comes a generous dose of burning stomach acid back up the oesophagus and into the throat, which is what causes the burning sensation that creeps across the entire chest region. The bad news is, heartburn can be expected to get worse as the growing foetus pushes against the stomach and slows digestion even further.
This is where the teh si comes in – or not. I love teh si, especially the ‘peng’ (cold) version – very gratifying during a meal in a hawker centre, neighbourhood coffeeshop or roadside stall on a sweltering day. But teh si contains caffeine. While caffeine in small doses is acceptable during pregnancy, it increases the possibility and occurrence of heartburn. So no kopi si either. Nor green tea nor iced lemon tea. Nor Coke. Nor any other carbonated drink for that matter cos they’re acidic. Nor Milo cos chocolate sets off heartburn too. Definitely no alcohol.
Which really sucks. Cos what else do you drink on a daily basis while eating out in Singapore? Nobody goes to a coffeeshop and orders mineral water. The self-imposed ban against teh si has left me feeling disoriented in my homeland. I alternate between barley and soya bean milk. Borr-riiiiing.
In fact, too much barley can be too ‘cooling’ and too much soy is supposedly harmful to health too. The list of taboo foods grows by the day because somebody somewhere will always have something to add.
For example, papaya is suppose to be a remedy for heartburn. But papaya, like pineapple, contains enzymes which assist in breaking down matter. And I’m sure everybody has heard the old wives’ tale about pineapples causing miscarriages.
So my first few weeks of pregnancy were riddled with questions like, can I still eat Hawaiian pizza? Is it safe if I just pick all the pineapple off? Can I eat pineapple tarts? (That was during Chinese New Year. What is CNY without my mum’s homemade pineapple tarts?) Apparently, cooking the fruit kills the enzymes and makes it safe to eat.
CNY was a little less festive this year for another reason. No yu sheng because I can’t eat raw food, in particular raw fish. I couldn’t eat any Mandarin oranges because citric acid was a key contributing factor to the fast eradication of my precious stomach lining. Which meant no orange juice either.
You know how people like to say that you can’t compare oranges to apples? Well apparently they really are quite the polar opposites. I did some online research on home remedies for heartburn and it’s true that an apple a day keeps the heartburn away. Before that I tried ginger tea to aid digestion and the helpful husband bought me an entire box of peppermint tea bags after reading that peppermint offers relief for digestive problems too. It only resulted in the heartburn becoming the cool, minty kind of burn, which made me gasp and bang at my chest in pain. The husband deserves a mega big ‘A’ for effort and thoughtfulness though.
Besides apples, the other obvious remedy is milk. Cold milk is an instant relief (plain vanilla ice-cream is just as good.) I like mine in the form of a cold banana milkshake from the nearby fruit juice stall. But… pregnant women are not suppose to eat too many bananas because they are ‘cooling’ (here we go again!) Who told me this? My mum. But then, this is the same woman who scoffed at me for avoiding Banana Nut Crunch cereal based on her ‘no bananas’ advice, with a dismissive “You think they put real bananas in there meh?” *confused*
Of course, if you ask your obstetrician if there is any particular food to avoid during pregnancy, she’s not going to tell you to avoid bananas, papayas and pineapples. After all, ang moh women can eat all these and more during pregnancy right? She won’t even tell you ‘no raw food’ outright because it all depends on how safely it’s prepared. In fact, this whole raw food business is pretty confusing too. I know that I should avoid sashimi and sushi containing raw seafood, but how about items like california rolls which technically don’t contain raw meat, but if not prepared in a clean environment, can also cause food poisoning? What about the roe that sits atop the california roll? Or smoked salmon? Or salads and fruits for that matter? Do eggs have to be 100% cooked until they resemble plastic or rubber? The only thing I’m not confused about is how much I miss having soft-boiled eggs at Ya Kun.
So to avoid going completely insane, I just live by the rule of moderation, supplemented by the ‘if you can live without it, just avoid it for now’ guideline. In addition, to prevent heartburn, I avoid deep fried and spicy food, chocolate and caffeinated beverages. True, there’s always heartburn medication to combat the really bad cases, but take it from me – the milky white magnesium mixture is the most foul-tasting sh*t ever created.
It’s easier said than done though. Today, I snuck two bites of a smoked salmon finger sandwich. Yesterday, I succumbed to a nice hot cup of teh si and spent my weekend in painful regret. Dan says I should be glad that he’s not a very strict Food Nazi and lets me eat what I want. But seriously, his job is ridiculously easy – what else is there left for me to eat already?!
So to help him feel more involved in the pregnancy, I gave him a very important task to do – drive me out for the occasional chwee kueh or carrot cake fix. Because, amazingly, this baby of his seems to only crave chye poh. Cheap and good. I highly approve its fine taste in food already!