Today we are continuing our pregnancy nutrition series by talking about what to eat in your first trimester!
This article was written by Courtney Moore, MS RDN LD. Courtney is a registered dietitian nutritionist living in Dallas, TX with her husband and baby girl. She studied Human Nutrition, Food Science and Hospitality with a concentration in dietetics at the University of Arkansas (woo pig!) and completed her dietetic internship as well as her Master’s of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Kansas Medical Center. She has worked in many different areas of nutrition, spending most of her years as a transplant nutrition specialist but found that her heart is in preventive medicine and wellness! As a subject matter expert, Courtney regularly contributes articles about all things food and nutrition. Take it away, Courtney!
First Trimester Symptoms
The first trimester is weeks 1-13 of pregnancy. This is the most common time for women to feel all the yucky symptoms that may come with pregnancy; yes, symptoms can last longer (sometimes lasting throughout the whole 40 weeks), but the first trimester is notorious for making us feel pretty crummy. Symptoms can differ massively from woman to woman and even pregnancy to pregnancy. Some common symptoms in the first trimester include:
- Nausea (with or without vomiting)
- Headaches and migraines
- Tender and swollen breasts
- Food aversions
- Mood swings
During this first trimester, your body is experiencing some major hormonal shifts to help support and grow that little nugget. These massive shifts and changes in hormones are what cause the symptoms. It is also thought that even the stress of the change that your body is enduring adds to the symptoms. Our body also becomes more insulin sensitive in the first trimester- meaning we use it more efficiently.
Also, a lot is happening during these first 13 weeks of the baby’s life. By the end of the first trimester, the baby will have fingernails, hair, all major systems and organs are developing and taking shape, and the baby will have already started developing his or her reproductive system – that is a whole lot of big things in just those first 13 weeks.
What to Eat During Your First Trimester
While we are about to talk about some specifics that are great for you during your first trimester… the most important thing is to eat what you can and what gets you through. If all you can tolerate is crackers and toast – girl, go for it. If baked potatoes and peanut butter sandwiches is what you live on- that is great! Eating what YOU can tolerate is key. Eat what you can and whenever you need to. This is not the time to worry about the what or the when – listen to your body, and do what it needs. Our bodies are so smart that they will use stored nutrients from pre-pregnancy to help grow that baby, so do not stress about foods you can or cannot tolerate during the first trimester. Survival is the goal here!
However, for some women, first trimester symptoms can be pretty mild with very few food aversions or nausea and vomiting. If that’s the case, woo hoo! Enjoy it and if you have the freedom to eat a wide variety of foods – let’s talk about some specifics to consider.
Continue Eating a Nutrient-Rich Diet
You’ll want to continue eating a diet with fiber-rich carbohydrates, healthy fats, and high-quality proteins. Continue to focus on fueling your body to feel your best and maintain balanced blood sugars and energy levels (as able). Now is not a time to try any new diet or food trend, and you may even find yourself adding back or increasing the amount of carbohydrates and/or healthy fats you’re consuming during this time if that’s what your body is asking you for. Many of the key nutrients for the first trimester are found in high-quality proteins and healthy fats – choline, vitamin B12, iron, omega-3 fatty acids. Folic acid is another important nutrient that can be found in green leafy veggies and citrus fruits. Again, we say all of these things to encourage you if you are able to tolerate them. If you cannot, do not stress. Your body is brilliant and so efficient – so take care of you and let your body do the rest.
Fruit is an awesome thing to eat during the first trimester – it is packed with nutrients and often can be more easily tolerated than vegetables. All of the vitamins and minerals found in fruits are so beneficial for momma and baby – so fruits of all shapes and sizes are for sure a green light.
During this first trimester, blood volume will increase to help support the pregnancy. According to Stanford Children’s, cardiac output increases from 40-50% from beginning to end of pregnancy (5). Coconut water with magnesium citrate is a great way to naturally replenish your electrolytes at this time as your blood volume is increasing. Low electrolytes can add to the headaches that many experience in the first trimester and cause muscle twitching.
What foods should I avoid while pregnant?
There are a few foods that pregnant women are encouraged to avoid throughout their entire pregnancy for a couple of different reasons. Most all of them fall into these categories of why they are not recommended: either they can be toxic to mom and/or baby, or the foods can carry a foodborne illness and pregnant women are more susceptible to getting these. Here is a list of foods that are recommended to avoid during pregnancy according to the American Pregnancy Association:
- Raw and/or undercooked meat
- Deli meat
- Fish with mercury
- Smoked seafood
- Fish exposed to industrial pollutants
- Raw shellfish
- Raw eggs
- Soft cheeses (imported & unpasteurized)
- Unpasteurized milk
- Unwashed fruits or vegetables
Yes, this list is extensive and takes out many different foods, and you may have even seen friends or family consume some of these items while they were pregnant. For example, you may see some pregnant women consume a sandwich with deli meat but the meat has been heated, or some will consume soft cheeses (knowing they’re pasteurized), or even runny eggs. It is up to you and your doctor what you decide to consume, and we recommend that you always, always, always check with your doctor and follow their recommendations. We are not your medical professional – the one that sees you and knows you is the best one to listen to.
How much should you eat during your first trimester?
Easily summed up: Listen to your body and fuel it accordingly. That will be the leading recommendation from us for most of pregnancy. Especially in this first trimester, try not to get too caught up in how much or how often you are eating. The key here is to listen to your body and nourish it accordingly. If you need to eat every few hours (think mini-meals) to feel good and/or help combat nausea- go for it. If you feel better eating 3 square meals – that’s great too. Listen to your body and give yourself a lot of grace. You and your body are going through A LOT.
As far as calorie needs go, technically there is no increase in calorie needs in the first trimester – but listening to your body and what it needs will always trump generalized recommendations. In theory, you are not technically eating for 2 yet. So, if you are feeling great, there is no need to increase the amount of food you’re eating to help feed the little one growing. But with that being said, if you are hungry, feed your body and be kind to yourself.
How to Combat Nausea During Your First Trimester
Nausea is very common for pregnant women, especially during the first trimester. The exact reason of why this happens isn’t 100% clear but it is very likely related to hormones, specifically the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG). This hormone starts to peak once the fertilized egg attaches to the uterine lining and there is a correlation in the timing of the rise in this hormone and symptoms of nausea (8). Another thought is that the spike of estrogen that occurs also plays a role in nausea.
Each woman and each pregnancy are different, but there are some remedies that may be worth trying to help alleviate or at least lessen the nausea.
- Ginger: Ginger has long been a go-to anti-nausea remedy. Sipping on ginger tea or eating a few ginger chews is very helpful for some women.
- Refined/starchy carbohydrates: graham crackers, crackers, toast, white rice, and cereal (eaten with or without milk) are often some of the few foods that pregnant women can digest when dealing with first-trimester nausea. If meat or veggies are triggering more nausea and causing you to lose your appetite – don’t push it! There’s no shame in falling back on these easy-to-digest foods when you need them.
- Carbonated beverages: The carbonation in sparkling water (flavored or unflavored) can help settle your stomach. Reaching for mineral water can also be a good way to get a few more nutrients in.
- B6 supplement and/or Vitamin B complex: Adding in Vitamin B6 or a Vitamin B complex has also been shown to help with nausea.
- Mild exercise (walk, yoga): Even though it may seem like the last thing you want to do, mild exercise can help settle the stomach as well! You can even find specific yoga routines for nausea.
- Snacking: If you typically eat 3 meals a day with nothing in between, try snacking every few hours and reducing the size of your main meals so that your stomach is never super full or super empty. Both of these can lead to more nausea.
- Avoid spicy and/or greasy food: Spicy or greasy food is known to cause stomach upset, we recommend avoiding them during periods of nausea.
- Eat cold foods: If the smell of food is triggering your nausea, try opting for cold foods instead. Items like yogurt or fruit are great options to start with.
- Pressure bands: The same pressure bands you use for sea and motion sickness can also help with first-trimester nausea!
Everyone’s first trimester can be so different – it is a time to embrace how you are feeling and what your body is doing. Try to keep your eyes in your own lane and resist comparing what your body is doing (or not doing). We encourage you also to go into your pregnancy journey with an open mind and allow yourself to do whatever you need to do to take care of you (which oftentimes looks different than what we expected). The human body is a beautifully and incredibly designed machine – trust the process and embrace the very fun season ahead!
- Editors, What to Expect. “Your Guide to the First Trimester of Pregnancy.” What to Expect, 31 Aug. 2018, www.whattoexpect.com/first-trimester-of-pregnancy.aspx.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “First Trimester Pregnancy: What to Expect.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 14 Apr. 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/pregnancy/art-20047208.
- Nichols, Lily. “Intermittent Fasting and Pregnancy: Why It’s a Mismatch.” Lily Nichols RDN, 11 June 2019, lilynicholsrdn.com/intermittent-fasting-pregnancy-mismatch/.
- Younkin, Lainey. “What to Eat When You’re Pregnant: First Trimester.” EatingWell, 2019, www.eatingwell.com/article/290540/what-to-eat-when-youre-pregnant-first-trimester/.
- “The First Trimester.” Stanford Children’s Health, 2019, www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=first-trimester-85-P01218.
- Bjarnadottir, Adda. “11 Foods and Beverages to Avoid During Pregnancy.” Healthline, 18 July 2018, www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-foods-to-avoid-during-pregnancy.
- “Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy.” American Pregnancy Association, 8 Nov. 2019, americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/foods-to-avoid-during-pregnancy/.
- “Nausea During Pregnancy: Causes, Management & Concerns.” American Pregnancy Association, 29 Oct. 2019, americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-concerns/nausea-during-pregnancy/.
- Bregman, Lori. “30 Natural Remedies For Morning Sickness.” Edited by Wendie Trubow , Mindbodygreen , Mindbodygreen, 4 Oct. 2019, www.mindbodygreen.com/0-9602/30-natural-remedies-for-morning-sickness.html.
- “Morning Sickness Relief: Treatment & Supplements.” American Pregnancy Association, 29 Oct. 2019, americanpregnancy.org/womens-health/morning-sickness-relief/.