First Trimester Nutrition

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The first trimester is the time when your baby will grow and develop at a dramatic rate, but this is also when he or she is at their most vulnerable – so take good care of yourself. You have the best incentive ever to eat healthily now. By including a wide variety of fresh, wholesome foods, you will be giving your baby the best start in life.

Nutrition for you

This first trimester is the time when your baby will grow and develop at a dramatic rate, but this is also when he or she is at their most vulnerable – so take good care of yourself.

You have the best incentive ever to eat healthily now. By including a wide variety of fresh, wholesome foods, you will be giving your baby the best start in life. The aim prior to pregnancy and during the first trimester is on growing a healthy placenta and making sure you are getting the right nutrients for your baby’s developing organs. The healthier the placenta, the better the exchange of nutrients and oxygen. In the early weeks it can take a while to get used to your body’s growing nutritional demands, and you might assume that you need a significantly higher calorie intake. In fact you don’t need any extra in the first trimester; it only rises to around 400 more in the third. Your body’s use of calories becomes more efficient in pregnancy, so calorie counting is not helpful – your appetite should be your best guide to how much food you need.

You should aim for 4-6 portions of complex carbohydrates a day. One portion is the equivalent of two slices of wholemeal bread or 140g potatoes or 4tbs cooked rice or 6tbs cooked pasta. Aim for 5 portions of fruit and vegetables and 3 portions of dairy products. One portion of dairy products is the equivalent of 200ml milk or 40g cheese or 150g yoghurt. Include 2 or 3 portions of protein a day; one portion of protein is the equivalent of 85g of meat, 115g fish or 140g cooked lentils. Finally, oils, fats and sugars should be less than 30% of your daily intake.

Though we would ideally get everything we need from diet, it can be hard to eat healthily in the early days due to sickness, tiredness or cravings. A multivitamin or mineral supplement designed for pregnancy can provide you with the reassurance that you are getting all of the essential vitamins and minerals you need.

How to get more nutrients

  • Fresh vegetables and some fruits lose their nutritional value quickly, so shop for these more frequently and eat them as soon as you can
  • Eat fruit when it is at the peak of its ripeness, slightly soft, because it will be most delicious and the vitamin and mineral content will be at its peak
  • Fruit and vegetables lose nutrients when they are cut, so try to eat fruit in larger pieces or whole, and cook vegetables such as broccoli florets with just the ends trimmed
  • Try steaming vegetables rather than boiling them, because nutrients leach out into the cooking liquid. If you do opt to boil vegetables, try to use a little less water, cook them as quickly as possible and use the cooking liquid in gravies, sauces and soups
  • Many vegetables store a high proportion of their nutrients just under the skin, so try to scrub root vegetables such as carrots and parsnips and steam potatoes with their skins on, or bake them
  • If you cannot get fresh fruit and veg, opt for frozen over the tinned variety as they retain more of their nutrients
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Food to take care over

  • Avoid unpasteurised milk, cream and cheese, mould-ripened or soft cheese such as Camembert, Brie and chevre as well as ‘blue’ cheese such as Stilton and Gorgonzola as they can contain listeria bacteria which can lead to miscarriage, still birth or severe illness in a newborn baby. The same goes for sheep and goats milk and products, as well as patés
  • Avoid liver as it contains high amounts of vitamin A which has found to be linked to birth defects
  • Don’t eat raw meat, such as steak tartare or carpaccio and undercooked meat, poultry or game and make sure all meat is cooked thoroughly to avoid risk of salmonella bacteria, e-coli and toxoplasma gondii
  • Avoid raw or undercooked fish or shellfish such as oysters, mussels or scallops because of the risk of salmonella bacteria and e-coli
  • Don’t eat too much oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, pilchards, sardines and trout. Avoid swordfish, marlin and shark and limit the amount of tuna you eat to no more than one tuna steak or two tins of tuna per week. These contain high levels of mercury, which can cross the placenta and harm your baby’s developing nervous system
  • Take care with ready prepared foods that have been chilled for reheating as they can carry listeria. Make sure they have been cooked through according to manufacturer’s instructions and are piping hot

Nutrition for your growing baby

Nutrients need to be at the ready to lay down the foundations for the development of all of the vital organs which happens within the first 12 weeks. Your baby will draw on your nutrient reserves first, and then anything your body needs will come after that. Your body does become more efficient at absorbing the most important nutrients, and it’s important you get at least these key vitamins and minerals in your diet:

  • Folate (also known as folic acid) – this protects against neural tube defects such as spina bifida, and it is vital to take a supplement with folate in the first trimester. It can be found in wholemeal bread and fortified cereals but you’ll get your RDA with a supplement as well
  • Choline – this is essential for production of cell membranes and cell division and can be found in foods including bananas, fish, eggs, nuts, pulses, soya beans and wholegrains
  • DHA omega 3 – during the first trimester the baby grows fast and the brain develops just 18 days after conception. DHA is a crucial component of the brain, eyes and nerve cells and can be found in foods such as avocados, nuts, seeds, eggs and oily fish, but a supplement will ensure you build up a supply, ready for when your baby reaches week 28 and goes through the rapid development phase
  • B vitamins – these help your body convert food into energy and are important in early pregnancy because they play a part in the formation of new cells. They can be found in a variety of foods including wholemeal bread and cereals, cheese, eggs, fish and lean meats
  • Iodine – this helps to make the thyroid hormones that assist the brain in development and helps keep cells and the metabolic rate healthy. Fish, shellfish and edible seaweed contains the most, but most seafoods should be avoided during pregnancy, so we recommend you take a supplement to get your RDA. Most good multivitamin and mineral supplements for pregnancy will include this
  • Zinc – is vital for tissue growth and repair. It’s also important for the immune system and the processing of fat, protein and carbohydrates. Found in beef, nuts wholemeal bread, fish, meat and dairy products

The vital link

The placenta acts as the vital link between you and your baby. It is actually created by both of you and it is an essential element in a healthy, successful pregnancy. This is your baby’s supply line. Think of the placenta as a growing tree, with its base forming root-like structures that embed deeply into the womb lining. Like a tree root reaching into the soil, if it is not fed, watered and nurtured it develops a poor root system, unable to draw the nutrients it needs to develop. This early development lays down the path for the healthy outcome of your pregnancy and helps you avoid complications later on, such as foetal growth restriction and pre-eclampsia, both of which can result from a poorly developed placenta. A healthy placenta will grow best from a thick, well-nourished uterine lining. You can help this by eating foods like these containing lots of antioxidants…

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Further reading

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