By the time most women find out they’re expecting, they’re already four to eight weeks pregnant, which is about halfway through your first trimester. It’s a time where emotions are heightened and new moms may be experiencing undesirable symptoms, such as nausea or food aversions that may make it difficult to crave a healthy diet. But good nutrition is crucial throughout your pregnancy because it supports both maternal physiological adaptations and fetal growth and development.1
By only eight weeks gestational age, all essential organs and bones are beginning to form in your baby. And your nutritional health history and current lifestyle are influencing important pregnancy outcomes for both mom and baby. This can determine gestational hypertension and diabetes, preterm delivery, and fetal growth restriction. Additionally, your nutritional intake during pregnancy and early life impact not only physical development, but also the risks of congenital anomalies, cognitive and behavioral development, and metabolic adaptations that can affect long-term risk of obesity and future diseases.2 In short, a nutritious diet runs parallel with a healthy pregnancy. To set yourself up for success, here are six important nutrients and the food sources where you can find them to incorporate into your diet during your first trimester.
Your body needs iron to increase blood production so nutrients and oxygen can be delivered to the placenta. Iron deficiency in pregnancy is the most common nutrient deficiency worldwide and is associated with the risk of low birth weight and preterm delivery, according to a recent study, Macronutrient and Micronutrient Intake During Pregnancy. Food sources of iron include meat, poultry, fish, legumes, dark green veggies, fortified cereals, and grains.
Folate is important in the early stages of pregnancy where there is rapid tissue growth, neural tube formation, brain development, and DNA synthesis. Foods that contain folate include green leafy veggies, legumes, citrus, fortified breakfast cereals, and grains. Supplementation during preconception and early pregnancy can prevent forty to eighty percent of neural tube defects.
Vitamin B12 is essential for neural tube formation and the development of the neurological function. B12 insufficiency affects 25 percent of pregnancies worldwide and impacts cell growth and nerve tissue development. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products, so those who follow a vegan or limited vegetarian diet may require additional supplementation. Dietary sources include dairy products, meat, poultry, fish, and eggs.
Vitamin D is necessary for skeletal development, regulating gene expression, and immune function. Women require more vitamin D than normal during pregnancy to support their baby’s growth and development. It is estimated that forty to 98 percent of pregnant women globally are vitamin D deficient. And women who live in environments with minimal sun exposure, have darker complexions, or who protect their skin from sun exposure are at a higher risk for insufficient levels of vitamin D. Opt for food sources such as fatty fish (like light-canned tuna, mackerel, and salmon), egg yolk and dairy.
Iodine is required for thyroid hormone production, which increases by fifty percent in early pregnancy and is essential for brain and nervous system development. The best sources of iodine are seaweed, seafood, and iodized salt.
Choline is an essential nutrient that is critical for brain development, neural tube formation, and cellular growth and metabolism. Deficits in early life can have a long term impact on brain function. Ninety to 95 percent of pregnant women do not meet adequate intakes for choline.3 Rich sources of choline include eggs, beef, fish, poultry, dairy, soybeans, wheat germ, shiitake mushrooms, kidney beans, and red potatoes.
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Stephanie Lauri is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Lactation Educator, and a mom of a toddler and newborn. Throughout her first pregnancy she was surprised at the minimal focus there was on nutrition during this critical life stage. She then knew she wanted to become a resource for pregnant women to gain confidence in their food choices throughout their own pregnancy journey. She now helps pregnant women worldwide overcome their anxiety and uncertainty around knowing what to eat, feel confident and empowered in their food choices, and feel their best throughout their pregnancy.
1 Dietitians of Canada. Dcjournal.ca. https://dcjournal.ca/journal/cjdpr.
3 Mousa A, Naqash A, Lim S. Macronutrient and micronutrient intake during pregnancy: An overview of recent evidence. Nutrients. 2019;11(2). doi:10.3390/nu11020443
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Perelel.