The first trimester is an exciting time, but it’s important to be aware of the nutrients you need, as well as how to deal with food aversions and fatigue.
We all know that a healthy diet is important during pregnancy, but it can be riddled with nausea, fatigue and concerns about what you can or can’t eat – especially in the first trimester.
The first trimester starts on the first day of your last period and lasts up to the end of week 12. Even though you’re probably not showing a bump just yet, your body is already demanding certain nutrients from you to ensure the proper growth and development of your baby.
Important nutrients for your baby:
Recognised as an important nutrient before and during pregnancy, folic acid is needed for the prevention of neural tube defects (NTD), such as spina bifida.
“The recommendation is 500 mcg of folic acid per day but some studies suggest up to 800 mcg can be beneficial in the three months before you conceive, and in the first three months of pregnancy,” says naturopath and nutritionist Leah Hechtman. It’s not enough to obtain these amounts in your diet (in the form of folate), so supplementation is crucial.
Iron plays a crucial role in transporting oxygen to your developing baby and maintaining healthy red blood cells as your blood volume increases. In fact, the developing foetus draws from your body’s reserves to last them through the first six months after birth. Given this, it’s important to be eating iron-rich foods every day or getting the recommended 27 mg daily.
“Iron requirements are increased in pregnancy and women who don’t eat meat will often struggle to maintain adequate iron levels,” says Belinda Kirkpatrick, nutritionist and author of Healthy Hormones. “This is a very individual thing as iron absorption and storage is dependent not only on diet, but also digestion, absorption and genetic factors. Iron (including ferritin, stored iron) should be checked in each trimester of pregnancy to ensure optimal levels are being maintained.” If you’re vegetarian or are feeling averse to eating meat in your first trimester, non-animal sources of iron include asparagus, chard, spinach, lentils, apricots and garbanzo beans.”
Deficiency of vitamin D can affect the foetus and can be prevented.
Vitamin D plays an important role in bone growth and maintaining healthy bones for you and your baby. Depending on the time of year you’re pregnant and whether you get exposure to the sun, you may not be getting enough vitamin D for you and your developing baby.
“If you’re pregnant, supplementation is almost always required. It’s really important to get a blood test to see if you’re deficient,” says Hechtman. Deficiency of vitamin D can affect the foetus and can be prevented.
Iodine deficiency during pregnancy is the most common world-wide cause of preventable intellectual impairment. “During pregnancy, the baby is entirely dependent upon maternal iodine, which plays a significant role in normal central nervous system formation and maturation,” says Kirkpatrick.
“It is recommended that all women who are pregnant or considering conception take 225 mcg iodine (as potassium iodide) daily. Food sources of iodine include iodine-fortified bread, fish and seaweed.”
Omega-3 fatty acids
It’s especially important for pregnant women to get enough omega-3s, particularly omega-3 DHA, to support the development of your baby’s brain, nervous system and retinas of the eyes.
Dietary sources of omega-3s include oily fish (such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, herring), flaxseeds (linseed), walnuts, chia seeds and dark green vegetables. Omega-3s should primarily come from food (with fatty fish being the best source), and supplementation should be considered if the recommended 250 -500 mg are not met through the diet.
Iodine deficiency during pregnancy is the most common world-wide cause of preventable intellectual impairment.
How to tackle food versions and fatigue:
During the first trimester your body is experiencing a surge in hormones which can be responsible for your energy levels, tastes, desire to eat (or not to eat) and feeling nauseous. For instance, some women can’t stand eating meat while others crave carbs.
“Due to the many food aversions and cravings in pregnancy, I’m a big advocate of promoting any fresh source of protein and vegetables that expectant mums find appealing,” says Kirkpatrick.
“The top pregnancy foods I would recommend include organic eggs (due to high levels of protein and choline), sardines (full of omega-3s, protein, B12 and calcium), brazil nuts (for selenium and protein), sweet potatoes (for vitamin A, fibre and ensuring healthy blood sugar levels) and chia seeds (for protein, calcium, fibre and antioxidants).”
“Due to the many food aversions and cravings in pregnancy, I’m a big advocate of promoting any fresh source of protein or vegetables”
Eating small and frequent meals can also help expectant mums get enough nutrients in their diet while managing nausea, while having good quality, low GI carbohydrates will help maintain energy levels and may help with fatigue.
It’s also important to note there is no recommendation for extra kilojoule intake during the first trimester, so if you want that ice-cream or bag of chips, there’s no need to eat for two!
Foods to avoid:
There are certain foods expectant mums should be avoiding throughout their pregnancy. This is because there’s a higher risk of illness from contaminated foods while pregnant, and unborn children are more susceptible to sickness. Many of these foods may contain harmful bacteria such as listeria or salmonella.
As a general rule of thumb, avoid anything that is not fully cooked and cleaned thoroughly.
- Any raw foods (eg. sashimi, oysters)
- Soft cheeses
- Deli / processed meats (eg. salami, sliced ham)
- Soft boiled, poached eggs or eggs with raw foods (eg. mayonnaise)
- Unpasteurised milk and dairy products
- Raw bean sprouts
- High mercury fish
Vitamin A supplements or fish liver oil supplements as it can be harmful to your baby’s growth and development
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