Your Health during the First Trimester
- Your nutrition needs
- Best pregnancy foods
- Prenatal vitamins
- Food cravings
- Foods to avoid
- Exercise during pregnancy
While your baby is growing and your body is changing, you will continue to gain weight to support your growing baby. Pregnant women require about 300 extra healthy calories (not empty ones like those found in soda and candy) per day. Following this guideline will help keep your weight gain in check throughout pregnancy.
The CDC, among other organizations, recommends how much weight you should gain by your looking at your body mass index before you were pregnant. Women with an average weight and body mass index (BMI) should gain between 25 and 35 total pounds during pregnancy. Women who are underweight before pregnancy begins should gain between 28 and 40 pounds. Those who are overweight before pregnancy should gain between 15 and 25 pounds. And if you are carrying twins, expect to gain between 35 and 45 pounds. Talk to your doctor about where you fall within these guidelines.
The food you put in your body has never been more important than when you are carrying your baby. You will want to ensure you are getting enough protein, iron, calcium and folic acid to support your body and your growing baby. Get a balanced meal by eating an array of colorful foods with each meal.
A balanced diet includes:
- Fruits: fresh, frozen or canned (but no extra sugar added!)
- Vegetables: fresh, frozen or canned (with no extra salt); avoid raw sprouts since they are difficult to clean and can carry bacteria
- Lean protein: poultry, fish, eggs, beans, peas, peanut butter, soy products and nuts. (Note: avoid seafood high in mercury such as swordfish, tilefish, shark and king mackerel. Limit white (albacore) tuna to 6 oz per week. Additionally, deli, luncheon meats and hot dogs should be reheated before eating.)
- Whole grains: breads, cereals, pastas and brown rice
- Dairy: milk, cheese and yogurt. (Note: avoid unpasteurized cheeses)
- Healthful fats: avocados, nuts and seeds and vegetable oils
You will also need more calories—about 300 extra per day. Don’t double your diet and begin “eating for two.” Instead, work one of these extra snacks into your diet each day:
- 1–2 cups of cottage cheese with fruit
- 1/2 of a cup of dried fruit and nuts
- 2 oz. hummus, 1 pita and raw veggies
- Baked potato with quarter of a cup of Greek yogurt
- 1/2 of an avocado with whole grain crackers
There are plenty of delicious foods you should enjoy over the next several months. Here are our top 10 foods for pregnant women to enjoy. As you’ll learn, these foods have many the nurtients you need:
- Greek Yogurt: While carrying your baby, you need lots of extra calcium and protein. This delicious snack packs more calcium than any other dairy product, and contains protein, as well.
- Sweet Potatoes: Vitamin A is essential for growth during pregnancy, but high amounts of animal-based sources are not usually recommended for pregnant women. Sweet potatoes have an abundance of beta-carotene, which converts to Vitamin A in the body. Additionally, sweet potatoes are good source of fiber, which can help you feel fuller, reduce blood sugar spikes and improve digestive health.
- Broccoli and Dark, Leafy Greens: Loaded with fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin A, calcium, iron, folate, potassium and antioxidants, green veggies are a power player in the pregnant woman’s diet. Huge benefits include warding off constipation (a common inconvenience during pregnancy) and a reduced risk of low birth weight.
- Whole Grains: Whole grains have fiber, vitamins and plant compounds, helping you to get the extra (nutritious) calories you and your baby need to stay healthy during pregnancy. Oats and quinoa also contain protein—a two-for-one on healthy meals. Plus, many pregnant women do not get enough B Vitamins, fiber or magnesium, and whole grains can help fill that void.
- Berries: Feel good about adding berries to your breakfast, snacks or enjoying them on their own. They’ve got water, healthy carbs, fiber and plant compounds. But, most importantly, they’ve got Vitamin C, which helps the body absorb iron and improve skin health (you do have a stretching tummy, after all) and immune function.
- Avocados: Known for their healthy fats (aka monounsaturated fatty acids that help build your baby’s brain and tissues), avocados also have high levels of folate and potassium, all nutrients high on the pregnant woman’s list of needed nutrients. They are also high in fiber, B-Vitamins, Vitamin K, copper, Vitamin E and even Vitamin C. And here’s a bonus fun fact: avocados contain more potassium than bananas, which can be helpful in relieving leg cramps—another unfortunate side effect of pregnancy.
- (Cooked) Eggs: These little capsules of nutrients are perfect for your growing baby. With less than 100 calories each, eggs are high in protein and fat and lots of vitamins and minerals. One superstar nutrient founds in eggs is choline, which is essential for brain development and health. It can also decrease the risk of neural tube defects.
- Salmon: This superfood contains essential omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, important nutrients for brain and eye development. Most people, especially pregnant women, do not get enough omega-3 in their diet, so salmon is the perfect addition.
- Lean Meat: Be picky about the meats you eat while pregnant. Beef, pork and chicken are great choices for pregnant women, as they pack high levels of protein. Beef and pork are also rich in iron, an essential mineral the blood uses to deliver oxygen to cells throughout the body. You will need more iron since your blood volume is increasing. This is especially true during the third trimester.
- Nuts: A healthy, convenient snack, nuts are easy to pack in your purse and enjoy on the go and are full of minerals and Vitamin E. They may even be a lifesaver during those “I’m-hungry-as-a-dragon” moments.
Folic acid, calcium, iron and iodine are essential nutrients for a healthy pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins provide these nutrients when there are gaps in your diet.
Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects, which affect the brain and spinal cord. Calcium is needed to help women retain bone density as the baby uses calcium for its own bone growth, and iron helps blood carry oxygen in both you and your baby. Iodine is imperative for healthy thyroid function during pregnancy. Deficiencies can cause stunted growth, mental disability and deafness. It can also lead to miscarriage and birth.
Here’s a breakdown of what to look for in your prenatal vitamin:
- 400 micrograms (mcg) folic acid
- 17 mg iron
- 150 micrograms of iodine
- 200 to 300 milligrams (mg) calcium
- 70 mg vitamin C
- 400 IU vitamin D
- 3 mg thiamine
- 2 mg riboflavin
- 20 mg niacin
- 6 mcg vitamin B12
- 10 mg vitamin E
- 15 mg zinc
If you find your prenatal vitamin makes you nauseated, ensure you take them on a full stomach. If nausea continues, talk to your medical care provider. You can work together to find a plan that will ensure you get the nutrients you and your baby need for a healthy pregnancy.
No one really knows why pregnant women experience cravings, but what you know is that those yearnings are real—and strong! Cravings are not linked to some sort of deficiemcy in your diet, so when you just must have pickle juice, it’s not your body signaling you need sodium, and when you send your partner out for rocky road ice cream, it’s you looking for a favorful experience and not your body asking for calcium and fat.
Additionally, your taste buds and sense of smell may be affected by your hormones during pregnancy, leading to a desire for foods you’ve never really enjoyed before or an aversion to foods you used to love!
In most cases, these cravings are perfectly safe for you and baby. But if you find yourself craving non-food, non-nutritive substances (dirt, chalk, laundry detergent), talk to your doctor right away. You may have developed a condition called pica. And while odd, the desire to consume these substances can be overwhelming and dangerous to you and your baby.
But most women crave foods in one of four categories: sweet (chocolate), spicy (hot sauce), salty (potato chips) or sour (lemons). Some women crave fruits or vegetables, but not many. This is why it is important to make sure you are getting the foods your baby needs to grow healthy and not just filling up on the foods you crave.
If you are concerned you are not getting the right nutrients or that your cravings are causing you to gain more weight than the recommended amount, talk to your doctor about tips for controlling these cravings.
As scientific research progresses, we find more and more foods pregnant women should avoid. That’s why you will often hear people your parents’ age say, “I ate that when I was pregnant and my kids turned out fine!” It is ultimately your choice what you put in your body while pregnant, but here are common foods not recommended for pregnant women:
- Raw or undercooked meats and fish
- Fish high in mercury (shark, tilefish, swordfish, king mackerel)
- Cold deli meat (heat 30 seconds before eating)
- Smoked seafood
- Seafood exposed to environmental pollutants (lake fish, for example)
- Raw eggs (commonly found in homemade Caesar dressings, mayonnaise, homemade ice cream or custards, and Hollandaise sauces)
- Unpasteurized cheeses
- Unwashed vegetables
The above foods are known to have certain bacteria that can cause harm to your baby. If you accidentally ingest a food on this list, try not to get worked up; not every smoked fish carries listeria—you are simply trying to minimize risk.
Caffeine During Pregnancy
It’s likely you’ve heard conflicting thoughts on whether it is OK to have caffeine while pregnant. Studies do show caffeine intake in moderation is safe for the baby; however, others show it may be related to miscarriages, fetal growth, etc. Again, it will be your personal decision on whether you have it or not.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends keeping intake below 200 mg per day during the second and third trimesters. That is about a tall, 12 oz. cup of coffee, but remember caffeine is found in sodas, tea, chocolate and Excedrin, too.
To be completely safe, avoid caffeine as much as possible, or talk to your healthcare provider to make the healthiest choice for you and your baby.
Many women wonder if they can exercise during pregnancy. In most cases, exercise is encouraged. If you were active before your pregnancy, it is likely safe to remain active during your pregnancy. Talk to your doctor about the type of exercise you plan to do and if you have any other health concerns.
By exercising 30 minutes a day, five to seven days a week, pregnant women, especially, can reap the potential benefits, including the following:
- Reduced backaches, constipation, bloating, and swelling
- Prevention or treatment of gestational diabetes
- Increased energy and improved mood
- Improved posture, muscle tone, strength and endurance
- Better sleep
- Smoother labor
- Easier recovery
While exercise during pregnancy is safe, there are a few situations you will want to avoid, including sports or activities where falling or colliding is common; extensive jumping, hopping or bouncing; hot, humid weather; exercising to the point of exhaustion. Drink plenty of water and keep safety in mind at all times by wearing the correct and well-fitting gear and drinking plenty of water.
Remember, the goal of exercising while pregnant is not to lose weight but to keep your body healthy and prepare for recovery after giving birth.
Cardio can help build up stamina for the third trimester when moving around 30 extra pounds becomes cumbersome and for labor when your body will need all the energy it can get. (Did you know labor requires as much energy as running a marathon?) Here are some of the best cardio exercises for pregnant women:
- Walking: Easy on the joints, requires no equipment and can be done anywhere, walking is a safe exercise you can do any time during pregnancy.
- Running: If you were a runner before pregnancy, feel free to continue running while you are pregnant. If you are new to running, talk to your doctor about a plan to gradually build up your runs to 30 minutes a day.
- Swimming: This activity works out your large muscle groups, provides a cardio workout and can even reduce swelling. Plus the floating sensation can feel wonderful after maneuvering a large belly all day.
- Aerobics and dancing: Many communities offer aerobic or dance classes for pregnant women because it provides a healthy cardio workout that it is good for the heart and toning for the body. Bonus: You can get your heart rate up dancing in your own living room, no class needed!
Flexibility and strength training are also important for mom-to-be! Yoga, stretching and weight training are all fantastic exercises to do while pregnant, so long as you don’t push your body too far and use proper techniques. Talk to your medical team if you have any concerns about exercising while pregnant.