It's hard to believe that Ella Mills is still only 28. For the past five years, the founder and creative director of Deliciously Ella, has shared her love of plant-based healthy living, which helped her recovery from a serious illness.
Now several cookbooks, cafes and social media followers later - not to mention a range of frozen foods and energy balls, she's married to Matthew Mills who now works with her in the business and they are expecting their first child, a girl, in August this year.
We caught up with her to talk morning sickness, pregnancy gut issues, hypnobirthing and what maternity leave looks like when you're the face of your own business. And will her daughter have an Instagram account...? We found out.
GTG: You’re 7 months pregnant. Apart from the obvious, how did it happen?
Ella: “On the way back from honeymoon  Matt and I talked about having a baby – and we really wanted to do it. We went into the office the next day and we were like, ‘what are we thinking? No, we're not'. And for the last three years, it's been like that: one of us will be, 'let's do it’ and the other one will say, ‘no, it's a bad time.'
We were talking about it again at the end of last year and said to each other, ‘there's just never going to be a good time. So, let's stop saying that there will and if it happens it happens'. At the time, we were in America because we were planning to launch in the US around now and we got pregnant literally a day after having that conversation. So obviously, we aren't launching in America this month - I’m seven months pregnant.”
Did the death of Matt's mum bring into focus what you wanted as a family?
“Completely, 100 per cent. It gives you a sense of appreciation that you've only got today. Because it was so sudden [Dame Tessa Jowell died in May 2018, a year after being diagnosed with brain cancer] it gave everyone a real perspective on that. I think that's why we said, 'You know what? Let's just stop trying to plan everything', because you realise you can't plan life. Then when his sister said she was pregnant, we thought gosh it would be amazing to do that together? We're due six weeks apart.”
You knew you were pregnant almost immediately. What were the signs?
“We’d just got home from the US, I was at home on my own and I made a really unexciting lunch – I think it was a baked potato - and I felt so sick. Then I felt sick again after dinner. But I put it down to jet lag. Then the next day, I still felt sick and I had a little bit of blood. I never have spotting in between my periods; I got quite worried, so obviously went straight on the internet Googling, because I didn’t know that was a sign ['implantation bleeding' can be a very early indication of pregnancy]. I said to Matt, ‘I think we might be pregnant'. Neither he nor my mum thought it could be true because it was still so early.
"Then I got acne: I had a few massive breakouts on both my cheeks. I called my sister-in-law and told her ‘I think we're pregnant’ and again she said, 'I don't think you probably are'. I saw her that night and she said, ‘sorry, you are pregnant, you don't look like yourself at all!’ I waited till I knew that a pregnancy test would be viable, roughly a couple of days before my period was due, rather than taking early and getting a negative - and yes it was positive."
Pregnancy does some surprising things to the body – what’s come up for you?
"I find bodily functions fascinating and so I've found the changes in pregnancy really interesting. Your digestion is just rubbish because of [the pregnancy hormone] relaxin which slows it down. You do notice that you're just that bit more sensitive. The other day when I’d washed my hair and did an acid reflux burp all over the towel and I was like, ‘this is so unattractive’.
"Pregnancy is incredible, but I’m also aware that it’s a sensitive topic. You feel so lucky to have a healthy pregnancy, but at the same time, I do think that people can feel quite alone in a lot of the weird things that happen in your body. It's not a particularly open topic. You think, 'I'm going to feel like a goddess' and then you're burping sick onto your towel. The nosebleeds, phlegm, I've had all of it – and the cankles. They're fine today but if I'm standing up and not moving, my ankles get really swollen."
How did you treat the pregnancy acne?
"It lasted the first couple of months. I went to Pfeffer Sal to have a pregnancy facial and got really good extractions. That really helped. They use lots of natural products."
And the morning sickness?
"For the first 12 weeks, I felt so awful. I think it's so important to listen to your body - don't bother trying to be healthy. When you feel that sick, ‘healthy’ is simply eating something. All I wanted was bread, toast, crisps, chips – and lemon. I got quite gross because I would squeeze lemon on my chips. Matt would try one and say, ‘Ella That's disgusting’. And I'd say ‘no it's amazing!’
"I was also obsessed with artichokes randomly, as well as potatoes - dinner some nights would just be mashed potato. That wasn't the best thing for my digestion because I wasn't getting a huge amount of fibre. I was mostly eating bread, bread, bread. So you get so constipated and bloated.
Are there any foods that are good for morning sickness?
“If I'm completely honest I don't think there are. I didn't find anything. I made so much ginger tea but it did absolutely nothing. Just eating crisps - salt and vinegar flavour - helped. I think that’s why I was obsessed with lemon and artichokes because I wanted that tang. Carbs and tang is such a weird combination.
"Since the nausea passed, I've been actually more conscious about eating well and trying to move so that I don't have cankles am not sicking on my towel."
When did you start to feel better?
"I started to feel better at about 16 weeks, but I was still so tired until week 20. I just remember sitting in the office thinking, ‘I can't hear anything you're saying, I'm just in another world’. Week 20 was a turning point.
"I was really nervous about my 20-week scan because I hadn’t felt anything - from week 16 people always ask you 'are you feeling [the baby move] yet?' There’s a lot of fear in pregnancy. I mentioned it to the midwife and said I was scared about the scan and she said, 'I think your placenta might be at the front.’ If your placenta is at the front it takes much longer to feel something because it's basically a cushion. I’d been so worried. Someone sent me a message telling me about an app that tracks the baby’s movements. I thought that would send me completely crazy and felt like I had to trust my body. I can feel her move now."
How have you managed your energy being pregnant and running your own business?
"I have been really trying to listen and slow down. It's been a really good learning experience, realising that you don't have to do everything. Realistically, I'm not going to be able to take a black-and-white maternity leave. When it's your business you can be quite a control freak. I'm trying to be more relaxed and say ‘You know what? It's OK if I don't check my email.’ I'm aware that it’s quite healthy for me to slowly remove myself from some things. I really want to make sure, especially in the first six-to-eight weeks [after the birth], that I'm really focused on that. It’s such a huge thing for you, your body and your mental health to go through. If I'm also trying to write 300 emails a day I will probably not be in the best place."
What will you step back from in the business?
"I think I will just be trying to do what really matters - and that's going to be the key thing, differentiating what really matters and what doesn't. I would always want to sign off packaging, but do I need to be at every single meeting for it? Maybe not. So I think it will probably be big things, but allowing myself to step back too."
What are you eating in the second trimester to keep up your energy?
"My tip for energy is just trying to eat as well as you can when you can, once the nausea subsided and make easy healthy meals like stir-fries smoothies. I've been obsessed with smoothies because they take two seconds to do but you can get like lots of portions of fruit and veg, healthy fats and plant proteins in."
What's your favourite pregnancy smoothie recipe?
"For my daily smoothie, I do frozen banana, a mix of frozen berries and frozen spinach - that's easy because you can keep that always stocked. I'll do almond milk, almond butter, hemp seeds which are amazing for fats and proteins, then chia seeds and a date and then blend that all up with a bit of ice, it's so delicious. If you're hungry, chuck in some oats so you get some good carbs in there."
Have you been using different products on your skin in pregnancy?
"I used really natural products anyway so it wasn't a massive change. People tell you that you shouldn't have essential oils in pregnancy and suddenly you go through your cupboards and say, 'Oh my gosh have I got essential oils?' but then you realise all these things are fine. I've been using a lot of Pai products."
"I swear by this radiant face mask, it’s a gentle acid fruit peel. I use a couple of times a week and the acne hasn’t come back. It has been a game changer."
Which supplements have helped you in pregnancy?
"The first thing I did when I found out I was pregnant was to see the nutritionist I've worked with for a long time, Alice Mackintosh . I had so many gut issues after I'd been really sick [with postural tachycardia, the reason she set up Deliciously Ella]. She put me onto the [liquid probiotic] Symprove all that time ago and it’s been such a game changer.
"I just wanted to get everything checked - to make sure my iron, my calcium all of those levels were where they should be. I had a blood test and everything was good so that brought me quite a lot of calm."
"I've been using Symprove for four-and-a-half years and I’m so happy to work with them [as an ambassador] because I'm their number one fan. I've got Matt on it now and he's like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can't believe it works'. How does he know it works? Because he poos regularly!
"It helped so much with my pregnancy constipation. Generally, digestion in pregnancy is quite ‘gurgly’. I really feel the difference if I'm away for a couple of days and don't have it."
"I was taking Methylfolate folic acid £11.90 for the first 12 weeks. The advice I was given is that after 12 weeks you can have that as part of a multivitamin, so now take this multi.
Which Instagram pregnancy accounts do you follow?
"That part is such fun. I've started following all these accounts; there’s one called @badassmotherbirther [doula Flor Cruz] and she posts videos of women giving birth, showing the head actually coming out. It's intense and quite graphic with ‘sensitive’ content, so you have to click agree that you want to watch it. I'm conscious where I watch it - I don't watch it on the bus. I find that really amazing."
Any pregnancy books you recommend?
"A photographer that I’d worked for ages and who’d had a baby last year posted me this book. She said, ‘this will change your life’. It’s by an American midwife who's the ‘mom’ of natural childbirth.
"The first half is all women's birth stories. They're not like, 'Oh I sneezed and the baby came out'. They don't pretend that it's like just going for a stroll in the sunshine. They show that it's an intense, often long and incredibly powerful, your-entire-body-is-taken-over experience. There's no sugar-coating it. But it also shows that birth can be empowering and powerful and that your body can do it. I think we're all brought up with a sense of fear, that it's impossible. Now I buy it for anyone I find out is pregnant."
Any plans for the birth?
"Loads of people got in touch on Instagram saying 'you need to try hypnobirthing'. My sister-in-law had used it as well. Lots of people said they’d didn't have a very good experience with their first birth but with their second or third they did this and had a home birth and that it had been an amazing experience.
"We were put in touch with Katharine Graves who does KGC Hypnobirthing. Matt and I have decided she's our favourite person. We’ve met with her a few times and I've felt so empowered. Again, it's not trying to pretend that it's not intense or that [hypnobirthing] is pain relief. The idea is it helps your body do what it’s meant to do. Apparently, you can't produce [the birth hormone] oxytocin and [the stress hormone] adrenaline at the same time.
"It's is not rocket science, it's just based sensible thinking, that if you're in a calm space and you feel safe so that your body's not making it harder than it needs to be - reframing it. We've decided to have a home birth with a pool. We're open-minded and I'm really excited."
Have you thought about hiring a doula?
"We're thinking about it and friends say they recommend it. But we've met an amazing independent midwife who we're completely in love with. Probably it will just be the three of us."
Any exercise tips?
"I've kept up my yoga, but obviously modified - a lot of child’s pose. But it feels really good. There's so much change physically as well as mentally and so I find that making that space every day is really helpful. I do yoga most mornings. Some days all I do is sit in child’s pose. There’s something about being in the [yoga] room and having that sense of calm."
How 'green' will you go with your baby products?
"I'm the biggest believer in doing the best you can. I have such respect for other people’s views and their ability to commit to things like this, but I also think you've got to do what's feasible. People ask me are you going to use reusable nappies? My intention would be - yes in the future. But when the baby is tiny and you're changing them 10 or 12 times a day, how many times do you put the washing machine on? So is that better? I don't want to create a structure in which you're so hard on yourself because makes it stressful. I don’t think that's good for you or the baby either. There's got to be a middle ground."
You have 1.5m followers on Instagram. Will we see your daughter on social media?
"Our business (and our social media) is about healthy plant-based living. It’s not a blog. It’s what we are cooking, yoga, books, ideas, podcasts, things that tap into your wellbeing. I was at a hen weekend in Aberdeen last weekend but I’d never post ‘here’s my friend, here’s my sister’. Everything that’s shared is connected to healthy living.
"But at the same time, it’s a family business and a personal journey so it would feel strange not to share anything. We will share what feels relevant. We’ll share learning to cook as a family, what we are feeding her and weaning, breastfeeding, maternal mental health. Someone said on Instagram and it’s so true, 'Let’s be honest, all babies look the same.' For me, there’s a big difference between sharing a baby and sharing a child. When the child is recognisable as their own person that’s a very different cut-off point than when they are a month old.
"We would always share what we are cooking, but I won’t take a picture of us sitting at our dining table or a friend who's there. I think it will be the same with the kids as they got older: this is what we are cooking together, not this is them eating it.
"I also want to make sure they have a healthy relationship with technology because that’s complicated. We never have phones at the table. I will take a picture of the meal in the kitchen and then we eat together. That’s really important to us."
Follow Ella on Instagram @deliciouslyella and Symprove @symproveyourlife
Image (black dress) Helene Sandberg.