The first trimester is monumental – both for you and your little one. In the first 13 weeks, as your hormone levels rise and your body prepares itself to support a healthy pregnancy, your baby is already developing at a rapid pace.
An overall healthy, balanced diet will help keep you and your baby on track, but a few specific nutrients are extra important during the first trimester. As you navigate the first trimester, make sure your nutrition routine is solid to carry you through the rest of your pregnancy.
Need a refresher? Let’s go back to the basics of pregnancy nutrition.
You may have heard that you need to “eat for two” during pregnancy. As enticing as it sounds, it’s not quite true.
Even though your baby is developing quickly during the first trimester, they’re still pretty tiny. In the first trimester, your calorie needs to support healthy weight gain aren’t much different than before pregnancy. Most women who start their pregnancy at a healthy weight gain about 1-4 pounds during the first trimester.
Your body will let you know what it needs, so you probably don’t need to count calories throughout your pregnancy. Listen to your hunger cues and focus on a nutrient-rich diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
Macronutrients are nutrients that your body uses in large amounts for energy – protein, carbohydrates, and fat. A balanced meal includes all three of these components – let’s take a deeper dive into each.
Proteins are like the building blocks of your body – they help build, repair, and maintain all your tissues. And they do the same for your growing baby.
The American Pregnancy Association suggests that most pregnant women need about 75-100 grams of protein each day. If this seems like a lofty goal, take it one meal and snack at a time. Try to fill one-quarter of your plate with protein at each meal and include a protein-rich food with each snack.
Plant-based protein foods like beans, lentils, tofu, nuts, and seeds are all great options. They’re packed with fiber to help you stay full and tons of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients (plant nutrients) that keep you feeling your best. Chicken, turkey, lean cuts of beef or pork, dairy products, and eggs are also great sources of protein.
Although carbohydrates sometimes get a bad rap, they play a crucial role in your baby’s development. They’re the main energy source for your body, so it’s no surprise that they fuel your baby’s growth as well.
Unless your doctor has advised otherwise, pregnancy is no time to restrict carbohydrates. Include plenty of healthy carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to maintain your energy levels and help your baby thrive.
Fats are the satisfying component of your meal – they give foods an appealing flavor and texture and help you feel full. They also play an important role in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), production of hormones, and development of your baby’s brain and central nervous system.
Opt for healthy fats like nuts, seeds, avocados, and low-mercury fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, or tuna. Plant oils like avocado, canola, and olive oil are also great sources of heart-healthy fats – make these your go-to for sautéing or roasting veggies and meats.
Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are used by your body in much smaller amounts than macronutrients, but that doesn’t make them any less important. Eating a varied, colorful diet with lots of fruits and vegetables can help you meet most of your micronutrient needs, but a high-quality prenatal vitamin can help you fill in the gaps and support a healthy pregnancy.
While some nutrients take the spotlight later in pregnancy, there are a few that do some heavy lifting during early pregnancy. Let’s dive into three nutrients that are important during the first trimester.
Your baby’s neural tube, which eventually becomes the brain and spinal cord, develops within the first few weeks of pregnancy. Healthful diets with adequate folate may reduce a woman’s risk of having a child with a brain or spinal cord birth defect.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for folate for pregnant women is 600 micrograms DFE (dietary folate equivalents).Choose folate-rich foods, including spinach, kale, collard greens, beans, nuts, and cereal fortified with folic acid to support healthy neural tube development.
Similar to folate, choline also plays a role in your baby’s brain and spinal cord development. Your choline needs are higher during pregnancy than almost any other time in your life, second only to breastfeeding. The adequate intake (AI) for choline during pregnancy is 450 mg per day.
Choline-rich foods include beef, poultry, liver, egg yolks, and dairy products. Some plant foods also contain choline, such as soybeans, peanuts, quinoa, potatoes, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and brussels sprouts. Although choline is present in a variety of foods, many women have difficulty meeting their increased choline needs through diet alone. Don’t fret – just make sure your prenatal vitamin contains choline.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps promote bone health, produce hormones, and support your immune system. Although the optimal blood level of vitamin D for overall health hasn’t been determined, most experts agree that a vitamin D level of 30 ng/ml is a good target. Adequate vitamin D levels can help support a healthy pregnancy.
Food sources of vitamin D include fatty fish like salmon, eggs, and dairy products. Most people achieve a healthy vitamin D level through a combination of vitamin D-rich foods, sun exposure, and vitamin D supplementation.
The first trimester of pregnancy brings so many changes to your body and your lifestyle – some may involve your diet to better support your little one. Change can be overwhelming but remember that good nutrition doesn’t have to be fancy, expensive, or time-consuming. Just go back to the basics and keep this article on hand to remind you how.