What to Eat When You're Pregnant: First Trimester

By: Lainey Younkin, M.S., R.D., L.D.N.

Welcome to the first trimester of pregnancy, complete with morning sickness, exhaustion, breast pain and all the carbs. Before you even see a positive test, your body is already changing. And, even though it's an exciting time for most expecting moms, the physical symptoms can be a real drag. We break down what is actually going on in your body during those first 13 weeks, which nutrients to load up on, and what to do if you feel sick from sunup to sundown.

Don't Miss: What to Eat and Avoid When You're Pregnant

What's Going On in Your Body

Before you even get pregnant, you can (and should) prepare your body to grow a healthy baby. Folic acid is the most important nutrient to have on your radar even before conception. "Folic acid is an important vitamin that helps prevent neural tube defects. Women need to take at least 400 mcg of folic acid daily starting at least one month prior to conception and throughout the duration of the pregnancy. Most prenatal vitamins include 400-800 mcg of folic acid, but always look at the label when choosing a vitamin or supplement to be certain," said Sara Tingle, N.P.-C, a family nurse practitioner in Athens, Georgia.

Folic acid can be obtained through a variety of foods, such as beans, lentils, fortified cereals and dark leafy greens, but you should still take a prenatal vitamin to make sure you're getting adequate amounts.

Once you see that plus sign, you are already about four weeks pregnant, since pregnancy dating is counted from the first day of your last period. The first trimester includes the first 13 weeks. "Physically, the body is experiencing a surge in pregnancy hormones, specifically estrogen and progesterone, which can cause feelings of nausea and morning sickness," said Crystal Karges, M.S., R.D.N., a San Diego-based private practice dietitian and lactation consultant. Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) is also on the rise. This hormone is the one detected on your at-home pregnancy test, and some believe it is responsible for nausea and frequent urination.

Progesterone slows down muscle movement in the body, which can lead to constipation for some women. You may also experience light bleeding as the embryo implants in the uterus, but it is nothing to worry about unless bleeding is severe, in which case you should contact your doctor. Also, expect very sore breasts. Your body is already ramping up for milk production.

There is a lot going on during these first 13 weeks. In fact, by the end of the first trimester, your baby will weigh one ounce and have arms and legs. Fingernails, toenails and reproductive organs will also start to form. It's no wonder you are tired.

Important Nutrients

Peanut Butter & Jelly Smoothie

Recipe to Try: Peanut Butter & Jelly Smoothie

Folic acid: Found in beans, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables and your prenatal vitamin.

Calcium: Found in dairy (milk, yogurt and cheese) and dark leafy greens.

Iron: Found in meat, poultry, seafood, beans and greens.

Choline: Found in red meat and eggs.

Vitamin B12: Found in meat, poultry, seafood, as well as fortified breads and cereals.

Omega-3 fatty acids: Found in fatty fish, chia seeds, flax seeds and fortifed foods.

Pregnant or not, food is your fuel, and that fuel is extremely important as you grow a human being inside of you. The baby eats what you eat, and the baby needs vitamins and minerals to support growth of its tiny brain and bones. Specifically, "Nutrients needed during the first trimester to support a healthy pregnancy include calcium (about 1,200 mg/day), folate (600-800 mcg/day), and iron (27 mg/day)," said Karges. "These increased nutrient needs can typically be met by eating a diet that offers a wide variety of healthy foods and supplementing with a prenatal vitamin."

"Because your baby's nervous system is starting to develop, it is also important to get adequate amounts of choline, B12 and omega-3 fatty acids," said Ingrid Anderson, R.D.N., founder of Results Dietetics. "Sources of these nutrients include eggs, salmon and walnuts."

Although your body is hard at work, you do not need any extra calories until the second trimester. However, it is normal to gain 3 to 5 pounds in the first trimester due to increased blood and fluid volume.

When You Can't Stomach Vegetables

Raspberry-Peach-Mango Smoothie Bowl

Recipe to Try: Raspberry-Peach-Mango Smoothie Bowl

Morning sickness is common for many women during the first trimester. News flash: it doesn't just happen in the morning. You can feel nauseous at any time of day, and anything can trigger it. Food aversions are also common and can be related to nausea. "Helpful tips for managing nausea include avoiding an empty stomach, eating a smaller amount of food more frequently, eating lower-fat foods, and drinking plenty of fluids," said Lindsey Janeiro, R.D.N., C.L.C., dietitian and owner of Nutrition to Fit. "Eating foods that are easier for the body to digest can also help with nausea, such as rice, applesauce, fresh fruit, multigrain crackers/bread, clear-based broths and soups, potatoes, yogurt and dry, bland multigrain cereals," said Karges. Also: "Vitamin B6 has been shown to ease nausea," according to Anderson. But check with your doctor before adding any supplements.

Many women can't stand the thought of a fruit or vegetable and just want comfort food during the first trimester. If this sounds like you, "try incorporating some health into the foods you are craving," said Anderson. "For example: if you are craving french fries, try cutting sweet potatoes into sticks, drizzling oil and sprinkling salt on them and baking them in the oven until they are crispy. Or if ice cream is more your thing, try blending a frozen banana with a small amount of milk to create an ice-cream-like texture and taste." Your diet doesn't have to be perfect during pregnancy. When you are feeling good, seize the opportunity to eat your fruits and vegetables. When you aren't feeling so great, reach for the comfort food.

Overall, "it's important to eat foods that you can tolerate and that feel good in your body," Karges said. Do the best you can. "Sometimes that means having a salad with that pizza you're craving, and sometimes that means simply eating whatever you can keep down," said Janeiro. If nausea or food aversions persist for a long time and you feel your baby is not getting adequate nutrients, be sure to talk to your doctor.

Foods That Help with Nausea:

• Cold foods: yogurt, smoothies, frozen fruit

• Ginger

• Peppermint

• Lemon

• Bland foods

Exercise During the First Trimester

Woman hiking

Rumor has it that you should cut back on exercise during pregnancy, but this is not true. You can continue anything you were doing before, as long as you listen to your body and stop if you start to feel light-headed, dizzy or shaky. In fact, exercise is beneficial for mama and baby. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that pregnant women exercise 20 to 30 minutes every day with a mix of cardio and strength. Exercising during pregnancy can prevent excessive weight gain, reduce risk of gestational diabetes, decrease likelihood of a C-section and improve postpartum recovery time. Take advantage of the times you are feeling good and get moving, but don't stress if you can't work out every day. Rest is equally important.

Exercises To Try:

• Walking

• Swimming

• Strength training

• Stationary biking

• Yoga

• Pilates

Watch: How to Make a Healthy Smoothie Bowl

Related:
Foods That Help Fight Morning Sickness
Healthy Vegetarian Pregnancy Meal Plan
Best Cures for Heartburn During Pregnancy