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Pregnancy is such an exciting time, but it can also be a time full of uncertainty. Proper prenatal nutrition is essential for both you and your baby, but figuring out what to eat can be very confusing. There are so many decisions to make when you’re pregnant, but while you’re picking out baby names and decorating the nursery, it's important to make nutrition a priority as well. Fueling your body with nutrient dense foods will help provide your baby with the best start possible.
First Trimester Nutrients
A well balanced diet is key throughout your entire pregnancy, but certain nutrients play an essential role in each trimester. Basic water-soluble vitamins B & C become a focal point in the first trimester. The most well know first trimester vitamin is B9, folate, which helps protect your baby from the risk of neural tube defects. Vitamin C is important during all stages of pregnancy, but it works to support your immune system in the first trimester, which is often taxed in early pregnancy.
Folate: dark leafy greens, citrus, asparagus, broccoli, lentils, legumes, grass-fed liver.
Supplementation is never a replacement for a nutrient dense diet, although many women find it challenging to maintain an ideal diet in early pregnancy. Supplementing with folate is advised if you’re not confidently consuming enough through foods. Folate is the natural form of B9, which is better utilized by the body than folic acid, which is the synthetic form found in most supplements.
Second Trimester Nutrients
Iron becomes a key nutrient in the second trimester when blood volume increases by 40-50%. Iron is used to transport oxygen to all parts of your body and to your baby. Vitamin C continues to be important in the second trimester as it increases iron absorption during this time of rapid blood volume expansion.
Iron: (Heme sources) clams, oysters (very high sources, must be thoroughly cooked), egg yolk, salmon, beef, lamb, chicken. (Non-heme sources) lentils, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas.
Vitamin C: citrus, kale, bell pepper, broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries.
Iron supplementation is only recommended on an individual basis, so it’s best to talk to your health care provider.
Real food sources of vitamin C like acerola cherry or camu camu are better absorbed than synthetic ascorbic acid.
Third Trimester Nutrients
The nutritional needs of a baby reach their peak during this time of rapid growth. This trimester still calls for higher levels of iron as well as protein. They are crucial to maintain increased blood volume, the growth and cellular development of your baby and a healthy placenta.
The light fluttery movements felt in the second trimester are replaced by much stronger, sharper jabs in the third trimester. This is when your baby’s bones become more dense and developed, and when calcium becomes a key nutrient.
Two other nutrients that are very important for bone health are the fat-soluble vitamins: D3 & K2. The importance of D3 is being more widely recognized now, but K2 is still an unsung hero. Traditional cultures consumed much higher amounts of K2 then we do today because their diets included more organ meats and naturally fermented foods.
Essential fatty acids like omega-3 play the biggest role in the third trimester for many reasons. Healthy fats are imperative to the development for your baby’s brain, which is made up of 60% fat, specifically DHA. Women who consume omega-3’s, specifically EPA, in late pregnancy are at lower risk of postpartum depression. Healthy fats help add protective padding to your baby and they contribute to additional maternal stores in preparation for breastfeeding.
Calcium: broccoli, collard greens, spinach, turnip greens, kale, beet greens, almonds, sesame seeds, brazil nuts, sardines, salmon, organic yogurt, milk kefir.
D3: herring, salmon, sardines, pasture raised eggs yolk, (and safe sun exposure).
K2: traditionally fermented sauerkraut, natto, pasture raised egg yolk, grass-fed butter, chicken, beef.
Omega-3: fatty fish such as mackerel or salmon, marine algae (find one that contains DHA & EPA).
As a prenatal nutritionist and promoter of real food, I always suggest aiming to meet nutrient needs through whole foods. Whole foods work synergistically by providing the cofactors and enzymes that many nutrients require to be activated and absorbed. For example vitamin D3 is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means that it requires fat to be properly utilized. That’s why any and all food sources of D3 also contain fat. Therefore, if supplementing with vitamin D, a liquid or gel capsule with a shelf stable fat is much preferred over a dry tablet.