The first trimester of pregnancy is full of significant changes hormonally, physically, and mentally. It is common for pregnant people to struggle with eating due to morning sickness. This inability to eat or eat well can cause a lot of stress, but in most cases, pregnant bodies know what to do to sustain the fetus, even when nothing they eat stays down.
I remember going to my midwifery appointment in the first trimester of my first pregnancy and admitting that all I could eat were saltine crackers. My midwives told me that morning sickness is an excellent, although not enjoyable, sign that my baby is thriving and that our bodies can care for a fetus, even if the food we can intake is only saltine crackers. Their explanation gave me so much peace and the ability to meet my pregnancy diet with neutrality rather than shame.
Ideally, for those who can eat in the first trimester, the focus should be on Protein, Folate, Calcium, Iron, Vitamin C, Potassium, and DHA. These nutrients are all highly beneficial in growing a baby and supporting the pregnant person's body through this process. Protein plays a crucial role in tissue growth, which happens daily as the fetus grows.
The ideal amount of protein is between 60-75 grams each day. Folate is another vital nutrient while growing a baby. Folate or Folic Acid plays a critical role in preventing neural tube defects. Folate can be taken in a vitamin form like a prenatal, and through eating leafy green vegetables and some fruit.
Calcium is critical for the fetal development of teeth and bones. If Calcium is not in your diet, the fetus will take it from your stores which could lead to a Calcium deficiency in you. Iron and Vitamin C go hand in hand. An increase in Iron can help with anemia as your blood supply grows, and Vitamin C helps with iron absorption. Potassium is helpful with regulating blood pressure, and DHA aids in supporting the development of the fetus's brain, eyes, and nervous system.
Each of these nutrients can be beneficial in supporting the fetus and pregnant body during the months of rapid growth and change, but the best advice I can give for the first-trimester diet is to eat intuitively.
During pregnancy, our bodies are brilliant, and they often find ways to signal to the brain that a nutrient is needed. Eating your cravings and trusting your body to tell you what foods you need can feel big and scary because of diet culture, eating disorders, and disordered eating. And although it can feel challenging, intuitive eating is the standard of care from dieticians. Evidence backs intuitive eating as a healthy way to experience pregnancy. In one study on intuitive eating during pregnancy, experts found no differences in fetal size with less maternal weight gain for those who ate intuitively vs. those who did not.
So, what does intuitive eating look like when practiced correctly?
First, eat the foods and nutrients that your body wants to eat. And yes, that includes cravings that are usually frowned upon, like chocolate and other candy sweets. Some principles of intuitive eating are:
- Reject the diet mentality. Pregnancy is not a good time to keep weight off or lose weight. It is also not a great time to limit what food we intake. Ditch the diet and eat what your body asks you to eat.
- Honor your hunger. Your body will increase food intake on its own. I remember many nights of insatiable hunger that was only sufficed by eating an absurd amount of food. Eat when you are hungry, and trust your hunger cues.
- Make your peace with food. Give yourself permission to eat and get rid of your rules around food. There are no "good" and "bad" foods. All food is neutral, and you can enjoy it whenever and wherever you want.
- Respect your body. Each body grows babies differently, and every pregnant body is good. Acceptance and neutrality for how your body grows a baby is crucial.
Remember that the first trimester can be rough, and it is okay if all you do is survive. These tips can help you know what nutrients can be impactful if you can eat. Intuitive eating is not only impactful for mental health around food but also for preparing for childbirth. The more one learns to listen to and trust their body during pregnancy, the easier it will be to do so during childbirth.