Pregnant women may joke about eating for two, but the reality is a little more complex. Pregnant women and their babies have special diet and nutrition needs from the beginning. The first trimester, or first three months, provides time for a woman to build strength to meet the added demands on her body. The rapid growth and development of the fetus during these early stages make good nutrition just as important for the baby.
Most women have questions about weight gain and food choices in the early stages of pregnancy. Meeting with a health-care provider can lead to answers tailored to the individual needs of the mother. Research reported by The Institutes of Medicine found that during the first trimester, pregnant women don’t need to gain any additional weight. In the early stages of pregnancy, food choices and nutritional supplementation matter more than weight gain.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture stresses a diet that is low in fat, sugar and cholesterol and high in vegetables, fruits and grains. The USDA recommends adding iron and folic acid to increase red blood cells, protein to help the baby grow organ tissue and muscles, and calcium to help build the baby’s bones and teeth.
The USDA offers a food pyramid for pregnant women that can help guide individual diet plans. Visit mypyramid.gov/mypyramidmoms for more information.
Many health providers recommend a nutritional and mineral supplement for pregnant women. In addition, the American Dietetic Association and other experts recommend a folic acid supplement for all women of child-bearing age. A lack of folic acid in the early stages of pregnancy has been linked to birth defects.
The Centers for Disease Control also recommends iron supplements and calcium pills for women who don’t or can’t consume enough dairy. Vegans may benefit from a vitamin B-12 supplement as well.
Some foods harbor bacteria that can damage a fetus. These foods include raw seafood, including sushi, unpasteurized milk, soft cheese and raw meat. Make sure to thoroughly cook all prepared foods to help eliminate bacteria.
The U.S. Surgeon General and the American Academy of Pediatrics, along with many other health experts, have warned pregnant women not to drink alcohol because of the risk of fetal damage. Women who drank moderately before they knew of the pregnancy may have concerns, but evidence shows a drink or two in the first 2 weeks of pregnancy may cause no harm. The risk steadily grows after the first 2 weeks.
Caffeine can affect fetal heart and lungs and cause miscarriage. It has also been linked to low birth weight. Health-care providers recommend limiting or avoiding coffee, tea and foods containing caffeine, starting with the first trimester.
Morning sickness can occur during the first trimester. Even if this causes lack of appetite, it’s important for pregnant women to continue good eating habits.