We’re all familiar with the concept of “eating for two,” and if you’re like me, you may have been looking forward to eating donuts and ice cream without the guilt. But before you find yourself elbow deep in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, let’s talk about what your body needs and when, in order to have a healthy and happy pregnancy. Assuming you can swallow anything more than saltines and water, what you eat during the first trimester is particularly crucial.
Indeed, during the early months of pregnancy, your little one’s brain and spinal cord begin to develop, as do major organs such as the heart. So you need to provide him or her with the right nutrients — and not just through prenatal vitamins. You need a healthy, well-balanced diet too. So what are the most important nutrients you should be getting at this stage?
Here’s the lowdown on what you should eat during the first trimester.
1. Try to eat your nutrients. If you are one of the lucky 50 percent of women who experience the dreaded morning sickness, your prenatal vitamin will carry you over until you can stomach something other than white rice. But if you’re feeling good, do your best to eat a balanced diet of protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates (such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains). You will feel your best and minimize unpleasant symptoms such as swelling, constipations and fatigue, giving you and your little blueberry a solid foundation for a healthy and happy pregnancy.
2. Smaller, more frequent meals. Your body doesn’t require any additional calories at this stage, so “eating for two” actually means eating half as much and twice as often, and being twice as careful about what you put in your mouth. Focus on eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day, which will also help minimize nausea and fatigue, and eat nutrient dense foods to fuel up on vitamins and minerals. Finally, avoid the foods that have been deemed unsafe during pregnancy such as raw meat and fish, deli meat and unpasteurized cheese.
3. Folate. Also known as folic acid, folate is an important B vitamin that supports the placenta and helps prevent neural tube defects in baby. Pregnant women are advised to take in an additional 400mcg for a daily total of around 800mcg. For reference, two cups of cooked spinach or 20 spears of asparagus will get you that additional 400mcg. In other words, the greener your plate, the better.
4. DHA. You should eat healthy fats every day to support brain and neurological development for baby. Look specifically for omega-3, and more specifically DHA, which is a type of omega-3 that is most readily absorbed by the body. Salmon, sardines, enriched eggs and flaxseed oil are the best sources, and it’s advised that pregnant women consume an extra 600mg for a daily total of around 1,000mg. A 6oz piece of salmon has around 1400mg of omega-3 DHA, so having one or two servings per week gets you off to a great start.
5. Iron. Iron has many benefits throughout pregnancy, but is most important for your health in the first trimester. Most women start their pregnancy iron-deficient, which is linked to a poor immune system in mom and preterm delivery and low birth weight for baby. Since your blood volume will double over the course of your pregnancy, it’s recommended that you increase your iron intake by 12mg for a total of 27-30mg daily.
6. Zinc. Though we don’t talk about it very much, zinc is an essential mineral for cell division and growth and for the production of DNA. You need only about 11mg daily, and your prenatal vitamin should have you covered, but speak to your doctor if you aren’t sure you’re getting enough.
7. Vitamins A and D. Vitamin A is most commonly found in milk and eggs, as well as orange, green and yellow fruits and vegetables. It helps develop major organs and bodily systems during the embryonic stage. Vitamin D helps with the development of strong bones, as well as healthy cell division and immune function in baby. Both are fat-soluble vitamins, which means the body stores what it doesn’t use so it can pull from reserves when necessary. If mom isn’t getting enough, the body will pull from her reserves to make sure the baby is getting what he needs.
Mom of a baby boy, Carolyn Tallents is a prenatal and postnatal health coach, focusing on nutritional needs for mom and baby, as well as safe and effective exercise from trying to conceive through the postpartum period. Check her website here.