Eating For Each Pregnancy Stage Eat Suitable for stages: Pregnancy
Your pregnancy goes through phases, each with different challenges and perks.
Your growing body can affect how you feel about eating. It's easy but not very helpful to worry about putting on too much or not enough weight. During pregnancy is not the time to go to extremes with your dietary intake by either limiting your food intake or taking creative licence to eat whatever you want in huge quantities (eating for two doesn't mean eating double). It's a time to enjoy food and see it as the foundation building blocks of your baby's body.
What can undermine your health
During pregnancy and breastfeeding, your body will need key ingredients and will prioritise the nutrients to your baby. Having a nutrient-dense diet will protect your own health and that of your baby for the short, medium and long term. This concept is reiterated many times in the book by Oscar Serrallach, The Postnatal Depletion Cure, this book gives information on how to identify nutrient deficiencies with the help of your physician, restore nutrients to your body after your pregnancies as well as ideas for how to prevent your body from experiencing depletion in the first place.
There are some common nutritional deficiencies to look out for during your pregnancy. If you suspect something isn't right, seek the supervision of a nutritionally trained doctor or naturopath who can run tests, monitor symptoms and advise on appropriate supplementation.
There are common nutritional stressors which are best to avoid at any time but especially during pregnancy, including alcohol, sugars, caffeine and high histamine foods.
When you eat, your body dedicates energy towards digestion of that food. Digestion takes a lot of energy. Often the advice to help with digestion is to eat smaller meals more frequently. The time and size of the meals we eat and drink seems to have an effect on our circadian rhythm and on our overall health. The Mayo Clinic recommends avoiding going to bed stuffed or hungry. Others recommend allowing digestion time of 2-3 hours between eating and lying down to sleep. The first meal of the day literally means to ‘break fast’. When your gut gets a break from digestion at night, it can repair and renew itself for overall better health. You might already have an early dinner time, or you might want to try bringing dinner time to an earlier time to see if it help with digestion and sleep.
To prepare, eat and digest your food takes a lot of energy. There is all the preparation work of sourcing and buying the food, getting it home, assembling and cooking the meal, eating, and cleaning up. To have the energy to do all this, you need an energy-rich, nutrient-dense diet and then your body needs to be able to digest the food efficiently and effectively.
What to know for each stage
Making steps as early as possible in your pregnancy journey will serve to prevent nutrient deficiencies down the track for you and your baby to give you both the best start in your baby-life.
If you're in the position where you are planning to have a baby with your partner, or you are of child-bearing age, it's never too early to start preparing your body for a healthy pregnancy. Girls are born with all the eggs they will have in their lifetime, and a woman's body is constantly cycling between the 4 phases of the menstrual cycle. These cycles work to prepare your body for your egg/s to be released with the chance of being fertilised and start a pregnancy. The male sperm cells are constantly being produced and can be 2-3 months old when they get a chance to fertilize the egg. Health experts who specialise in infertility recommend introducing changes to maximise the mother and father's health at least 3 months before starting to try for a pregnancy.
Our DNA contains the instructions for our body, including all our cells. It is known that genes can be switched on and off, determined by epigenetic modifications which are influenced by environmental factors. This means that it matters to your future baby, how your body responds to diet, lifestyle & environmental factors during pre-conception, conception and pregnancy. Influencers such as the mother and father’s stress, exposure to toxins, diet, and lifestyle can all influence the DNA that will make up the baby and the expression of those genes (epigenetic modifiers). On a basic level, the healthier the mother and father are in the months leading up to conception, the healthier the genetic make-up and gene expression of the child as a foundation for health.
Starting to introduce changes into everyday life to buy, prepare and learn to cook quality nutrient-dense foods will help prepare your body & sustain the body throughout pregnancy, breastfeeding and beyond. There is good evidence that inadequate folate levels in the mother's body during pre-conception and the first trimester of pregnancy can lead to neural tube defects. This is why increasing dietary folate levels or supplementing a quality folate at least 3 months before conceiving is recommended. Typical antenatal vitamins and mineral supplements available include folic acid, iron, calcium, iodine (200mg daily), zinc, magnesium and other nutrients. If you have a diet rich in a variety of food types, different coloured foods (eating the rainbow) and your dietary levels of the essential nutrients is adequate it may not make a difference whether you take these types of supplements. If you want to supplement, there is no harm in doing so as your body will excrete what it doesn't need. Having some tests indicating your nutrient levels can help you adjust your diet or appropriately supplement.
Your first trimester can be rough, as you can feel exhausted, nauseous (with vomiting) and have food aversions (where you can't even think about or smell certain foods). During early pregnancy, the progesterone hormone can be responsible for slowing your digestive processes causing nausea, gas, wind, bloating, heartburn and constipation. Gentle exercise can be one thing you can do to help your digestion. The Victorian Government have a useful guide to exercise during pregnancy- there are certain precautions you need to take in early pregnancy. Hence, it’s worth checking out or talking to your doctor, physiotherapist or exercise physiologist.
Some common food & drink related symptoms include:
- frequent urination
- food cravings
- sensitivity to smells - your sense of smell is heightened, which can mean that even the smell of food cooking can put you right off eating or cooking.
- Altered taste, including the experience of a metallic taste.
Cravings and food aversions should be respected as this can be your body letting you know which nutrients you and your baby needs and what you don’t need. Sugar cravings, however, could be a sign of stress and the need to slow things down. When cravings hit, consider why you want that food such as for salt, fats, sweetness and try to substitute with naturally salty or good fats or naturally sweet whole foods.
Generally, symptoms may be alleviated by eating small meals, eating slowly, avoiding bloating foods such as beans and dried fruits or fatty, rich or spicy dishes. As always, eating a healthy diet including whole grains, fruit, vegetables, plant-based proteins such as legumes, nuts, seeds & low mercury fish and drinking extra fluids will help with some symptoms and provide a variety of nutrients your body and baby needs. Where possible, eating foods produced as close to natural growing methods as possible such as organically grown, grass-fed, pasture-raised plants, and animal foods will be the most beneficial for your body to absorb nutrients from. Some foods are known to be more commonly grown using pesticides and others that aren't. Here is an Australian take on the Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommendations known as the dirty dozen and clean fifteen.
Food ideas for during the first trimester include berries, chia seeds, nuts, seeds, porridge, quinoa, homemade meat stock, seaweed, seafood, coconut water, fermented foods, slippery elm, and psyllium husk.
Foods to avoid include alcohol, processed foods with trans fats, sugar, soft cheeses, limit caffeine intake (including coffee, tea, chocolate and caffeinated soft drinks), raw meats, deli meats, farmed fish or deep-sea fish (due to high mercury levels).
Middle and late pregnancy
Over the second trimester, ideas for foods include
- iron-rich foods such as liver to meet your iron needs which have increased by over 30%
- calcium-rich foods such as dairy, chia seeds, almonds, green leafy veg, salmon with the bones
- frequent protein
- fats such as avocado and olive oil
- essential fatty acids (quality fish oil)
- berries (blackberries, acai, blueberries),
- high fibre foods such as chia bran, psyllium husk (great for constipation),
- kefir yoghurt,
- egg yolks,
- wheat bran,
- magnesium and electrolytes (to prevent cramps).
There is some evidence to suggest that the foetus can taste the foods eaten by the mother in the womb, these then flavour the breastmilk during breastfeeding which leads to a greater tendency to accept these foods once solids are started. Once your baby is around 6 months old, the previous exposure encourages a natural and easier transition to healthy, balanced family foods. These foods will already be in the house, tried and tested recipes, and most importantly, you will be modelling to your child how these foods are eaten (in other words your baby will want to eat whatever you are eating).
Over the third final trimester, food ideas include probiotics, nettle leaf tea (assists overnight sleep), coconut water, electrolytes, berries, citrus, iron-rich foods, essential fatty acids, avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds, fish, fibre in the form of chia seeds, chia bran, psyllium, quinoa.
Once you have your baby, you enter into a period known as the fourth trimester. Special attention has traditionally been given to nutritious food in the initial 40 day postnatal period such as hot foods of special soups made from beans, meat including chicken (or vegetarian options) and chicken or beef broth or casserole-style meals with rice and meat or foods rich in calories and fats. This article provides a review of traditional postpartum practices and rituals where you can appreciate how many different cultures have similar practices to help with postpartum recovery. Queensland Health has an interesting summary of different cultural beliefs around the perinatal period including Indian cultural beliefs including foods to avoid and enjoy and Chinese ethnicity beliefs and practices including their traditional 40-day confinement period.
If you are trying to improve your food's quality and diversity, you will be giving your baby and your future self the best opportunity for strength and balance in all aspects of life. Any day is a good day to work towards making positive changes for your health, including today. What you learn, what you buy, prepare and cook for yourself, will ultimately become the foundation for your family's food habits, including their love and appreciation for food.
Please note: Above all, any information on this website aims to provide general ideas for informational and educational purposes only. We encourage users to investigate several information sources, including, where necessary, independent individualised medical advice before making any decisions that could affect you or your child’s health or wellbeing.