Pregnancy Nutrition: What To Eat In The First Trimester

What to eat in the first trimester that will nourish your body, promote your baby’s growth, and minimize the discomfort of nausea? Our guide to the best first trimester foods will help you out.

During the first trimester of pregnancy (the first 13 weeks of pregnancy), it may be difficult to nourish your body. The hormone surge your body’s experiencing can cause nausea and morning sickness. And in particular, an increase in the hormone progesterone can lead to constipation, reflux, an upset stomach, and other digestive issues. What to eat that will nourish your body and minimize the discomfort? Our guide to first trimester eating will help you out. 

The first trimester: How much to eat in a day?

In the first trimester of pregnancy, your growing baby is very small. You won’t need to eat that many extra calories to meet both your and their nutritional needs. Around 2,000 daily calories is usually recommended  when you’re in the first trimester – which is in line with the nutrition recommendations for most adults. But your needs will vary depending on your activity levels, so check with your doctor. 

Stick to eating three meals a day, and add in one to two snacks as needed. If you’re having trouble eating because of nausea or GI issues, don’t worry about the amount of food you eat. Instead, focus on eating quality foods that supply key nutrients, that you enjoy the taste of, and that your body can handle at the moment. (And don’t sweat it if what your body can handle changes from hour to hour – that’s totally normal!)

Best foods for the first trimester

In the first trimester, it’s all about quality over quantity. Your baby eats what you eat as they grow in your womb, so it’s vital to eat food with nutrients that support their growing body and brain. Here are the best foods for your first trimester, based on the high amounts of key pregnancy nutrients each one contains. (Find out more about the key pregnancy nutrients and their benefits in the next section.)

  • Kale: This powerhouse leafy green supplies a wealth of nutrients, including fiber, calcium, folate, iron, and vitamins A, C, E and K. 
  • Lean meats: Lean meats are great sources of protein and iron, as well as essential amino acids. You’ve got several options to choose from, including chicken, turkey, sirloin steak and chuck steak. Make sure they’re cooked thoroughly for safety, and select a preparation that you enjoy and that you’re feeling up to. 
  • Low-mercury finned fish: Fish supplies omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA. Be sure to stick with fish that are both low in mercury and high in omega-3s, such as salmon, freshwater trout, sardines, and pacific mackerel. If you aren’t feeling up to fish, that’s ok – you might ask your doctor if you can take a DHA fish oil supplement. 
  • Bananas: They’re one of the best sources of potassium, plus they’re easy for your stomach to handle if your stomach feels upset. 
  • Dairy foods (cow’s milk, cheese, and yogurt): The calcium and protein in dairy foods help support your bones. Yogurt’s a great snack, especially if it has few ingredients and no added sugars. Try a strawberry-banana smoothie with milk or plain yogurt – this yummy, healthy treat will add potassium and vitamin C to the mix. 
  • Beans and lentils: These legumes are awesome sources of protein, fiber, folate, and iron. Edamame is especially powerful because it has calcium along with the protein, iron, fiber, and folate. 

Looking for more inspiration for healthy first trimester foods? Check out a day of first trimester meals, as suggested by Brittany of Eating Bird Food:

Nutrients for the first trimester 

There are plenty of other food options that will help supply key pregnancy nutrients. In addition to the highlight foods above, focus on any foods that supply the following nutrients during the first trimester:

Folate (also called folic acid or vitamin B9): Folate is the most essential pregnancy nutrient because it supports baby’s growth of a healthy neural tube, and helps prevent neural tube defects. (Baby’s neural tube is the first stage of their brain and spinal cord.)

  • How much is recommended: 600 micrograms per day
    • Foods that supply it: Spinach, kale, other leafy greens, beans, fortified cereals (such as oatmeal), folate-enriched pasta, oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, beets, cauliflower, and your prenatal supplement

    Calcium: Calcium helps your baby develop strong bones and teeth. Baby will take calcium from your own stores, so you’ll need to keep your intake up. If you take in too little calcium during pregnancy, you could be at risk for osteoporosis (brittle bones) later in life. 

    • How much is recommended: 1,000 milligrams per day
      • Foods that supply it: Dairy foods, spinach, kale, and other dark leafy greens

      Iron: During pregnancy, your body makes more blood to meet your baby’s growth needs. Iron helps you make more blood, so you can supply oxygen to your baby. This means you’ll need more iron than before you were pregnant. Take in too little iron and you could be at risk for pregnancy anemia. It may be tough to meet your iron needs with just food, so your prenatal vitamin is also key in keeping your iron intake up. 

      • How much is recommended: 27 milligrams per day
      • Foods that supply it: Kale, spinach, lean beef, chicken, eggs, beans, lentils

      Protein: Protein helps you and your baby build healthy muscles, and encourages the healthy growth of your uterus tissue. 

      • How much is recommended: 75 grams per day
        • Foods that supply it: Dairy foods, lean meats, eggs, beans, lentils

        Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3s help support your growing baby’s heart, immune system, brain, and eye development. DHA is one of the most important omega-3s during pregnancy, as it may also help reduce the risk of preterm birth and help baby have a healthy birth weight.

        • How much is recommended: 200-300 milligrams per day 
          • Foods that supply it: Low-mercury fish (2-3 servings a week will supply the recommended daily intake)

          Potassium: Potassium works with sodium to make sure your cells have the right balance of fluids, and it also helps maintain a healthy blood pressure. Plus, it helps support your muscles, which may mean fewer cramps, aches and pains. 

          • How much is recommended: 2,900 milligrams per day
            • Foods that supply it: Bananas, dried apricots, avocados, beans, lentils, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, nuts, milk

            Choline: Choline is an essential nutrient that promotes healthy brain development and reduces baby’s risk of neural tube defects. 

            • How much is recommended: 450 milligrams per day
              • Foods that supply it: Lean beef, eggs, chicken, salmon, cauliflower, broccoli

              Vitamin B12: When you’re pregnant, your red blood cell count increases by 20-30%. Vitamin B12 works with iron and other B vitamins to help your body produce these red blood cells. It also helps support baby’s brain health and reduce your baby’s risk of neural tube defects. 

              • How much is recommended: 2.6 micrograms per day
                • Foods that supply it: Lean beef, salmon, freshwater trout, dairy foods

                What to eat if you feel nauseous? 

                Around 75% of expecting mothers have morning sickness symptoms in the first trimester, which can include nausea  and an upset stomach. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, you’re not alone.

                Even though food may be harder to stomach, waiting too long to eat anything can also make nausea worse. Stick to smaller meals and snacks if you’re feeling nauseous, because big meals can also aggravate nausea. 

                The following foods are gentle on a queasy stomach, so they may be helpful to ease your nausea:

                • Bland foods that are cold or room-temperature: These foods won’t emit smells that could make nausea worse. Try yogurt with fruit, cheese, nuts, or a small bagel with cream cheese or nut butter. 
                • Cold liquid meals: A fruit and yogurt smoothie, or a fruit puree, could be easier to tolerate.
                • Soft meals: Plain cold pasta, cold mashed potatoes, soft cold oatmeal, or overnight oats may also be easier on the stomach.
                • Dry snacks: Crackers, pretzels, nuts, and dry cereal with no added sugar (like Cheerios) are great snacks to have on hand. 
                • Ginger: If you’re feeling nauseous, sipping ginger tea may help lessen the nausea. You might also try chewable ginger. 

                Avoid the following foods that can make nausea worse:

                • Hot foods: The odors of hot foods could aggravate your nausea.
                • Spicy foods: These can cause heartburn and make your upset stomach worse.
                • Foods high in fat: High-fat foods can also cause an upset stomach and heartburn. 

                More pregnancy nutrition tips for the first trimester

                • Drink plenty of water! Prepare water in a glass or reusable water bottle before you go to bed, then drink it first thing in the morning. 
                • Keep the right snacks handy – you might find that you’re suddenly hungry, but nauseous at the same time. Nuts, whole grain crackers, cheese, fresh fruit, or nut butter on a mini whole grain bagel are nourishing snack options. 
                • Be consistent with your prenatal vitamin. Taking it every day is key to getting the nutrients you and baby need to thrive, especially if an upset stomach keeps you from getting the nutrients through food.
                • Eat healthy foods when you aren’t experiencing nausea or an upset stomach, but reach for the foods you can tolerate when you aren’t feeling at your best.
                • Try healthy comfort foods like smoothies and baked sweet potato “fries” with oil, to balance nutrition and satisfying your cravings. 
                • Don’t get discouraged if you aren’t craving healthy foods. Take it easy on yourself, and listen to your body, especially if nausea or morning sickness hits. It will be a lot easier to eat well in the second trimester, as you won’t experience as much nausea. 

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