Oh, mama. We know you’ve got enough on your (hypothetical) plate without the sh*tload of ‘rules’ about what you can and can’t eat during pregnancy. Let’s just acknowledge that it’s a LOT! On top of the hellish symptoms you’re dealing with when you get pregnant too. You may not know what to put on your actual plate.
Give yourself a break. Sometimes the best foods to eat while pregnant are the ones that fill your tummy and make you feel good. But it’s useful to know what your body really needs right now. There’s a lot of research out there about what particular nutrients and foods we should eat during pregnancy. Doing your best to pack more of them into your meals (and snacks… all the snacks) will help keep you and your growing bub healthy.
So get comfy, grab a cuppa and let’s take a look at what foods to add to the shopping list during each trimester of your pregnancy.
Best foods for pregnancy in trimester one
Ah, the first trimester. A time that many women spend either curled over a toilet bowl or scoffing endless amounts of carbs (or alternating between the two). Maybe all you can think about is food, or perhaps you can’t even keep your prenatal vitamins down. Eating is weird right now.
Even if you feel illogically famished, your body doesn’t technically require any additional calories at this stage. But remember that it’s doing amazing things right now (like forming tiny bones and organs) and it needs adequate fuel for this.
Nutrients you need in trimester one
- Folate/folic acid – Helps protect against neural tube defects such as spina bifida. (Fun fact: It’s called ‘folate’ when it’s in food, and ‘folic acid’ when it’s in supplement form. But same thing.)
- Protein – Supports muscle development and the growth of your uterine tissue.
- Iron – Important in supporting increased blood supply (which will just about DOUBLE by the end of the pregnancy!)
- Vitamin C – Helps with iron absorption (great for vegetarians/vegans who can’t get iron from meat).
- Calcium – Helps your baby’s teeth and bones grow, while protecting your own circulatory, muscular and nervous system health.
Good foods to eat in first trimester
- Leafy greens – Green veggies like spinach, lettuce, rocket, cabbage, kale, peas, broccoli and beans all contain folate! They’re rich in antioxidants and other wonderful nutrients like calcium, potassium, fiber and Vitamin A. So load ‘em up.
- Lean meat – Lean beef and pork are filled with protein, iron and Vitamin B6 which can ease morning sickness symptoms and promote healthy brain and tissue growth for your bub.
- Bananas – One of the best known sources of potassium, bananas are also filling and usually bland enough for nauseous mamas.
- Ginger – You can add it grated to stir-fries or sip on ginger tea to help relieve nausea and morning sickness.
- Yogurt – It’s one of the richest sources of calcium, and contains protein to support your baby’s bone structure. Jazz up the boring-but-very-good-for-you sugar-free stuff with fruits and granola for a healthy brekky or snack.
- Edamame – A great vegetarian source of protein, calcium, iron and folate.
- Orange juice – Vitamin C y’all. Get it in ya.
- Bean and lentils – Whether tinned or dried beans, these are a great filler ingredient for salads, sandwiches, wraps and more, legumes are rich in protein, folate, protein, fiber and calcium. Vegetarians and vegans, get your fill of iron and protein here!
Bonus tips for trimester one
Dealing with morning sickness
Morning sickness is just the worst isn’t it?! It can make it tricky to get the right nutrients into your body. If you’re really struggling with it, your doctor may be able to prescribe some vitamin supplements to help.
But first, try some of these hacks for managing morning sickness:
- Keep your tummy topped up by eating smaller, more frequent meals
- Pack in protein and carbs
- Sip on peppermint tea
- Eat plain crackers first thing in the morning.
Dealing with cravings
There’s a common myth that pregnant women only crave the foods their bodies need. But we feel like whoever made that up wanted to justify eating heaps of hot chips. It’s reasonable to satisfy your cravings from time to time, but remember that your body still needs plenty of healthy foods for pregnancy.
Best foods for pregnancy in trimester two
In the second trimester, many moms experience those early pregnancy symptoms subsiding (thank hell!). You may get a spring back in your step as your energy levels increase and morning sickness reduces. But while those nasty signs of pregnancy will hopefully go away, you’ll soon start to look visibly pregnant (cute bump alert!).
Your macronutrient needs will increase in the second trimester, so try to sneak in some extra nutrition. Around 200–300 extra calories is recommended at this stage.
Nutrients you need in trimester two
- Omega-3 fatty acids – These bad boys are vital for your baby’s brain development.
- Protein – Essential in helping your body create more cells in developing a baby. (Note: you need plenty of protein at all stages of pregnancy, but protein needs increase significantly in later stages – you’ll need 73% more than normal!)
- Magnesium – Helps regulate body temperature, synthesize protein and relax muscles to reduce cramping. Plus, studies have shown it may reduce fetal growth restriction and preeclampsia, and increase birth weight.
- Vitamin D – Essential for your baby’s bone development. Low Vitamin D levels in the second trimester could be related to developing gestational diabetes.
Good foods to eat in second trimester
- Salmon – Or other oil fish like mackerel, fresh tuna, herring, and sardines are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids (in particular, DHA), as well as protein. Salmon is also one of those handy, rare food items that’s appropriate for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
- Chia seeds, flaxseeds or algae oil – Vegetarian/vegan-friendly sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Eggs – An eggsellent (had to) source of protein, choline, DHA and B-vitamins – eggs are considered one of those pregnancy superfoods that all pregnant ladies should eat.
- Wholegrain cereals – Wholegrains contain magnesium, protein and iron – perfect fuel for making a baby. Oatmeal can be a great start to the day, or go for wholegrain bread for your sandwiches.
- Nuts – Nuts are a good food for pregnancy because they contain magnesium and healthy fats. Plus they’re a convenient and yummy snack option.
- Legumes and tofu – Vegetarian/vegan-friendly options that are also high in magnesium, as well as that extra protein that’s going to help grow your babe.
Bonus tips for trimester two
Take advantage of renewed energy
Most women find trimester two the most enjoyable. You may start to feel more alert and full of energy as the ickiness of early pregnancy passes. Make the most of this time! Enjoy some exercise and get your baby shopping sorted.
Dealing with food aversions
If you spent the first few weeks of your pregnancy vomiting, you may have developed aversions to certain foods. Pregnancy hormones can randomly turn you off certain things too. If food aversions are stopping you from adopting a healthy second trimester diet, have a chat to your doctor.
Best foods for pregnancy in trimester three
As you get closer and closer to your baby’s due date, your body will need more nutrients and energy to carry around an increasingly heavy load. Aim for 300–400 extra calories in your diet – equivalent to something like a banana, 1oz (30g) of peanuts and a glass of low fat milk.
You may find yourself struggling to fit in big meals because your baby is taking up most of the space down there. Smaller, more frequent meals may be the way to go.
Nutrients you need in trimester three
- Probiotics – Linked to lower rates of pre-term birth and preeclampsia, and reduced risk of gestational diabetes.
- Fiber – Post-birth pooping is not a fun time. Dietary fiber helps regulate pooping while improving heart health and decreasing risks of preeclampsia and diabetes.
- Choline – Important for placental health and baby’s brain development, as well as YOUR brain function. Choline is vital during breastfeeding so top up on it now.
Good foods to eat in third trimester
- Fermented foods – Things like sauerkraut, pickles and yogurt are good foods to eat during pregnancy because they help put good bacteria into your body. This then passes onto your baby if you have a vaginal birth.
- Fruits – Fresh fruits like kiwis, strawberries and melons are a rich source of Vitamin C which can help boost your immune system and help with placental functioning. (Hot tip: Papaya helps prevent heartburn, a common complaint in the third trimester.)
- Brown rice – Contains melatonin, a natural sleep hormone, to help you sneak in a few extra much-needed z’s. Plus it’s low-glycemic to help control blood sugar levels and promote the slow release of energy.
- Prebiotic foods – Jerusalem artichoke, dandelion greens, garlic, leeks, onion and asparagus, when eaten raw, are beneficial for gut health and packed full of soluble fiber.
- Eggs, eggs and more eggs – Eggs are the best source of choline (a type of omega-3 fatty acid), which is super beneficial during pregnancy and even more so during breastfeeding.
Bonus tip for trimester three
Managing constipation naturally
Almost three quarters of women experience constipation during pregnancy, and it tends to be most brutal in the third trimester. Maybe because, I don’t know, A F*CKING HUMAN BEING is squashing your intestines.
Overcome this nasty pregnancy side effect by:
- Staying super hydrated (yes, you will pee more, but it’s a small price to pay for the ability to poop).
- Eating lots of fruits and veggies which are full of fiber.
- Staying physically active (as much as you can).
- Eating smaller, more frequent meals.
Foods to avoid during pregnancy
When it comes to the ideal pregnancy diet, study upon study has found that it’s best to avoid or minimize the following:
- Alcohol – We know. *sigh*
- Excessive caffeine – Studies have shown that there may be a correlation between caffeine consumption during pregnancy and birth defects, miscarriages and delayed conception. There’s not enough conclusive evidence out there, but if you can reduce your caffeine intake to 200mg (i.e. one cup) a day or cut it out altogether you’ll be on the safer side.
- High-mercury fish – Try not to eat fish like swordfish, shark, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy and certain types of tuna and tilefish, which have high levels of mercury. Mercury can be passed onto your baby, damaging their brain and nervous system development. Sushi is off the cards.
- Uncooked processed meats or raw meats – Steer clear of cold cuts, deli meats, paté, hot dogs and store-bought salads with meat in them. This is because you’re at a higher risk of getting food poisoning from bacteria that could be found in raw or uncooked processed meats.
- Unpasteurized dairy – Unpasteurized milk isn’t heated to a temperature that kills bacteria. So it could contain the harmful listeria bacteria which pregnant women are 20 times more likely to get. This can cause miscarriage, stilbirths, newborn illnesses and more nasty stuff. So when you put it like that, avoiding soft cheeses like feta, Brie, Cambert, blue cheeses or queso blanco for nine months is probably worth the effort.
Don’t freak out if you slip up
Let’s be real: while eating healthy foods during pregnancy is important for your baby’s development and your own health – if you don’t follow the ‘rules’ to a tee, it doesn’t make you a bad mom. On the contrary, you’re a superstar for trying your best to keep yourself healthy (and sane) while growing a human.
Each pregnancy journey is different, and each woman’s body has different requirements. So while it’s great to eat healthy foods during this time, f*ck ’perfection’! Give yourself a break if you slip up here and there. Try to enjoy tasty and nutritious foods, even if your pregnancy diet may be a bit more limited than you’d like.
Your pregnancy is your own. Be informed, but do what works for you. And remember, the information included in this article doesn’t replace medical advice, so if you’re ever unsure, pay a visit to your doctor or family physician.