Nutrition in Pregnancy: Surviving the First Trimester
So you’re pregnant—congratulations!
There must be a million things running through your mind. Finances, navigating maternity leave and impending parenthood, baby names, etc. Either way, you know one thing for sure—you want to give your baby the best chance at a healthy life, which starts with taking care of yourself during pregnancy. You start off with the best of intentions to have the healthiest pregnancy possible, but at around the five or six-week mark, things start to go sideways. Between the morning (read: all day) sickness and the profound exhaustion, paired with going to work every day and maybe even taking care of older children, healthy eating has never been more difficult. You want to give your body the most nutrient-dense foods that you possibly can, but all you can stomach are crackers and toasted white bread. Cue your first taste of “mom guilt.”
Yep, I’ve been there. In fact, as I write this, I am currently 39 weeks pregnant with my first baby. And I’m a nutritionist. Before I got pregnant I had dreams of a beautiful, perfectly healthy pregnancy. I prepared my body for months before my husband and I started trying. I sourced the best prenatal vitamins that I could afford and started taking them long before I even got pregnant. I made sure my diet included super nutrient-dense foods like bone broth, grass-fed liver, ghee, fermented foods, and plenty of fresh fruit and veggies. I limited caffeine, alcohol, refined sugar, and processed foods. I was getting lots of exercise. I even went to my naturopath to get my nutrient levels, thyroid hormones, and blood sugar levels tested.
When I found out I was pregnant, I was still feeling great from all my pre-pregnancy efforts. I sailed through the first few weeks, thinking I had it all figured out. But five weeks in (on my birthday, no less) it hit me. A feeling that if I ate anything other than starchy white carbs I would definitely be sick. I happened to have my first prenatal doctor’s appointment that week. My doctor’s advice to me was to stomach what I could, even if that meant nothing but white bread for the next ten or so weeks. I knew I could do better than that.
So here’s my advice to you, soon-to-be-mama: Find some middle ground. Do the best that you can. Remember that it will pass (eventually). I know this advice seems obvious and maybe not even very helpful. But let’s get real: food aversions, morning sickness, and bizarre cravings are a very common part of pregnancy. While I could just list all the nutrients that you are supposed to get in each trimester or tell you that you should just opt out of healthy eating altogether, there are some things that can make the whole experience a little bit easier.
Experiment with different foods. For example, I craved pancakes all the time in my first trimester. So instead of making regular, white flour pancakes smothered in syrup, I tried mixing up the flours and toppings. Almond flour makes a protein-rich pancake. Coconut flour is high and fibre. I even made sourdough pancakes for an easier-to-digest morning meal. I topped them with grass-fed butter, fresh fruit, hemp seeds, and nut butters. Sure, eating pancakes multiple mornings in a row is not exactly the portrait of a healthy lifestyle, but again, it’s about doing the best that you can. The point is to find something that you can stomach, and try to make it a little bit healthier.
Every pregnant woman has been told that high protein intake is non-negotiable, but many people really struggle with meat in their first trimester. The taste, the smell, and even the texture can make a pregnant woman want to hurl. But, luckily, meat is not the only good source of protein available. Maybe scrambled eggs on toast is palatable enough to keep down. I couldn’t eat meat, but salmon was tolerable, so I made sure to eat that a few times a week. Try out plant-based sources of protein, like beans and legumes, or even tempeh. These are usually less offensive than animal proteins. Snack on raw nuts and seeds. Hide some high-quality protein powder in a smoothie packed with other nutrient-dense goodies. Do a quick Google search of protein sources and try some out to see what works.
Hopefully, you’re already taking a good quality multi-vitamin specifically formulated for pregnancy, but a wide variety of vitamins and minerals is also essential throughout all stages of pregnancy. Unfortunately, struggling to eat enough veggies is another hurdle to overcome. My sister-in-law said that raw veggies made her bloated in her first trimester, but she could eat cooked veggies without a problem. I was the opposite. I had no desire to eat cooked veggies at all, but carrot, cucumber, and celery sticks were refreshing, so I made sure to chop up enough each morning to snack on throughout the day. See what works for you. And again, if all else fails, blend your veggies into a tasty smoothie with fruit and protein powder to hide the taste.
Figure out which healthy foods you can tolerate, and have your partner or a close friend prepare some of these things ahead of time so that you can have them available when you need them. In my experience, people are pretty great and they will go above and beyond to help out a pregnant woman in need.
The most important piece of it all, however, is to know that you’re doing the best that you can. Don’t let well-meaning blogs or health care professionals guilt you into feeling that you’re not doing enough. All the changes that we go through in pregnancy can be difficult enough to handle. Feeling like you’re failing at taking care of yourself and your baby is not something you need to deal with.
If you’re lucky, the morning sickness will pass after the first trimester and you’ll have six more months of pregnancy to eat all the healthy things. Most people feel so good in the second trimester that they are motivated to eat well all the time. But you should also remember that every pregnancy is different, and if things don’t get easier, you can always work with a professional to help you navigate the difficulties of healthy eating with morning sickness.
So good luck to you, mama! You’re doing a great job already.
Tamara Dunn, nutritionist and soon to be mum