10 tips for surviving and thriving in the 1st Trimester of Pregnancy

I'm excited to finally share that baby #3 is on the way!  We're thrilled, so so blessed and especially excited that the first trimester is over :).  With so many physical and emotional changes and demands in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, I thought it would be nice to share some facts, anecdotes and ideas about how to achieve a healthy and balanced 1st trimester.

Here are my 10 professional and personal tips for making the most of early pregnancy:

Fight Fatigue:
This is probably the #1 1st Trimester issue for me and for most.  My advice: rest!  There's a reason you're tired: you're body is telling you to take it easy and you should listen.  While it's hard to let go of the laundry, not feel a little bad about playing the 3rd episode (in a row) of Paw Patrol for the boys, and ordering carry out for dinner...again, honestly, you can't sweat it- there's more important things and this too shall pass.  The one thing I will say is getting up, dressed, making the bed and getting out into the fresh air and sunshine helps (easier said than done some days this winter but I always felt better when I got out first thing)!  It's also really important to fit exercise in where you can.  Aim for at least a 20 minute walk and at best a few moderately strenuous sessions at the gym per week.  Have you heard of Barre 3?  It's an online class you can access for $15/month that a fellow nutritionist and friend highly recommends.  Exercise really does help with the fatigue and nausea, and lessens the guilt you'll feel on the couch later that day!  It can also help reduce the stress of labor and delivery on the baby (and mother) and improve infant development as measured at 1 year according to the book Exercising Through Your Pregnancy.

Cure Cravings:  I find that cravings and nutrition can go hand in hand.  Very early in all 3 of my pregnancies, I found myself eating a lot more eggs.  I didn't even notice it at first, but I was gravitating toward egg dishes and it makes sense.  Eggs are pregnancy superstar foods!  The choline in eggs is important for the brain development in the fetus.  Eggs are also a good source of vitamin D which is so important for that tiny babe (as discussed here).   So I absolutely think it's important to listen to your cravings and really think about what they're telling you.  Just be careful when giving in to the cravings you're having and how often you do it.  A little indulgence is totally fine in my book, but nourishing yourself and your baby is crucial.  Pizza has been one of my weaknesses all 3 pregnancies and I usually give in, but start with a salad and add veggies to the pizza (great, just writing about pizza is making me want some...).  If it's a cupcake or doughnut I'm craving repeatedly, I'll try a quick snack of a rice cake with nut butter and banana or sweet potato with black beans and salsa. And I always have trail mix in my purse.  The balance of dark chocolate, dried fruit and nuts quenches my cravings and keeps my energy stable.  Basically, try not to go too long between eating and consider a healthy alternative to your craving most of the time...which brings me to my next point:

Nourish Yourself & Your Baby:   Most expectant mothers these days know that what you eat affects the baby in a variety of ways.  Beyond what nutrients prevent neural tube defects and what foods cause heart burn, researchers are discovering more and more that you are what your mother ate.   Here are some of the most important nutrients in early pregnancy and how to get the most out of your diet when also dealing with nausea, cravings, aversions and fatigue:

Carbs: Carbohydrates provide the main source of energy for the fetus and your body needs them when you're pregnant.  Cravings for these types of quick energy foods likely mean you need calories now because your blood sugar is low.  Insulin levels increase in early pregnancy as a means of ensuring that mom (aka you) stores fat for later.  This means your glucose or blood sugar can get low quickly making you not just want, but need calories.  Aim for the least processed carbs you can find: beans, lentils, sweet potatoes, fruit, oats, rice etc. combined with protein and fat are your best bets.

Protein is incredibly important in pregnancy and can be obtained from animal or vegetarian sources.

  • Aim for 70-100 grams of quality protein per day (here's a good resource on the protein content of many foods) 
  • 100% grass-fed beef , wild caught salmon and pastured chicken and eggs are great choices (I've been ordering meat, fish and chicken from Wallace Farms who services Chicago and other surrounding areas).  
  • Properly soaked beans and lentils (a favorite recipe here), nuts and seeds are also good sources of vegetarian protein.  
  • All of these foods contain various important pregnancy vitamins and minerals like choline, vitamin B6,  folate, vitamin b12 and methionine as well as many others.  These nutrients are being studied more and more lately, especially in their role in turning certain genes on and off in utero (known as epigenetics).  To keep it simple, eating foods with these beneficial nutrients can be the positive influence on what genes (maybe those for cancer, asthma, autism etc.) our babies (and even grand babies) do or do not express one day.  

Healthy Fats:  A good balance of healthy fat is important in every diet, and especially when pregnant.  Some of my favorite ways to achieve this balance is by eating a variety of the following:

  • avocado 
  • wild-caught salmon (I aim for about 8oz per week plus take an omega 3 supplement)
  • grass-fed beef also contains more omega-3 fats than grain fed beef as well as other quality saturated fats, grass-fed dairy (yogurt, milk, cheese) is also your best choice for the higher quality fats.
  • coconut oil (look for unrefined/virgin oil) is a great source of lauric acid which is antiviral, anti fungal and antibacterial and thus helps support you and your baby's immune system.  It's also present in breast milk so consuming it now will help build your stores of this fat and increase the concentration in your milk if you choose to breastfeed.  This tropical oil may also help balance blood sugar and prevent gestational diabetes.  Finally, coconut oil can also help with constipation.  A little in hot water, coffee or however you like to take it should help move things.
  • Cooking oils should be very heat stable which is why cooking at high temps with olive oil and canola oil isn't recommended as it tends to oxidize and can cause damage to your cells.  Try switching to coconut oil, ghee (clarified butter) or grass-fed butter for cooking.

Fruits and Vegetables:  In continuing with the discussion about the epigenetic impact foods can have, it's crucial to discuss fruits and vegetables.  People have asked me "what's the best thing to eat during pregnancy" and while I don't believe there is just one "best" food, I do think one of the very important foods that most people don't get enough of is leafy greens.

  • For the months we were trying to get pregnant and now that I am, I've tried to include at least one hearty serving of leafy greens per day.  This is accomplished with a green smoothie most days (this is my favorite recipe lately), and/or a big green salad.  Kale chips are also a great healthy sub for my potato chip cravings.  Leafy greens are a good source of folate, calcium and a variety of other nutrients.  
  • For other f/v besides leafy greens, keep color in mind; eating a variety of fruits and vegetables means you're getting a variety of nutrients, some of whose prenatal benefits haven't even been discovered yet.  

Supplement Appropriately:  So obviously we're not prefect and sometimes we don't or can't eat a perfect diet.  There are SO many supplements out there, but I generally think there are just a few that are really valuable during pregnancy (and even outside of pregnancy) if you're eating a mostly balanced diet.
  • Quality MVI: I like New Chapter Perfect Prenatal because I tolerate it, it doesn't make me nauseas (even on an empty stomach), it's a whole foods supplement and is to be taken in 3 doses.  Your body can't absorb the high dose of some nutrients found in a one-a-day supplement.
  • Fish Oil: Nordic Naturals Omega Oil form (as opposed to capsule) is my choice because it's most potent.  Follow the instructions on the bottle and let your healthcare professional know you're taking this and the others. 
  • Vitamin D:  I discussed Vitamin D in a recent post and its importance for everyone, especially pregnant women.  Try Thorne Labs which also contains vitamin K.
  • Probiotic:  I take the Garden of Life Raw Probiotic because of the # of live, active cultures and because it seems to really work!
  • Magnesium:  Magnesium is crucial for bone formation, can help with nausea and prevent preterm labor, keep blood pressure in check and help prevent preeclampsia along with a host of other benefits.  The mineral isn't absorbed all that well from foods, but it turns out that one of my favorite ways to relax can be a great way to get the magnesium you need: Taking a bath with Epsom salts, or just foot baths in epsom salts work to increase magnesium levels.  Try 1/2-1 cup for a foot bath and 2 for a body bath.  Just don't make it too hot or totally submerge your belly and wait to use soap just before getting out of the bath as the soap can interfere with the absorption of minerals.  If you can fit this in 1-3 times per week, great!  This is also a great remedy for pregnancy leg cramps.
  • Iron and Zinc (zinc especially if you've nursed a baby before) are two others that you may need.  Speak with your healthcare provider about this.

Hydrate:  It's vital to stay hydrated while pregnant, especially if you're exercising.  Water is obviously great, water with lemon has tasted really good to me and coconut water is also very hydrating and full of electrolytes.  These coconut water and fruit pops are the perfect hydration treat and these stainless steel popsicle molds are my favorite.

Consider your Skin- My older cousin told me when I was pregnant the 1st time that she and all her friends swear by vitamin E oil to prevent stretch marks.  I've been using it with each pregnancy (knock on wood it's working) and top it with a layer of coconut oil or Honest Company's face and body lotion.   It's never too early to start trying to prevent stretch marks...skin expansion starts almost immediately and it's not just limited to your belly...don't forget about your thighs and bum.   Also in the skin department is the appearance of prenatal acne.  Ask your doc if your normal remedy is okay while pregnant or try these natural remedies.

Curb Nausea and Constipation:
  • A grapefruit almost immediately after waking helped cure my early morning nausea, maybe because of the sweet/sour taste.  I was surprised to find this is a common "cure" for pregnancy nausea (according to google) and of course a great source of vitamin C, important for a mother's immune system and assisting with the absorption of iron, a mineral many pregnant women need more of, as well as lycopene, important for keeping blood pressure in check and preventing preeclampsia.  
  • For the rest of the day I found that as long as I had something in my stomach (but wasn't overly full), the nausea wasn't too bad.  Try to keep healthy carb/protein/fat balanced snacks on hand.  
  • Ginger chews and teas also help.   
  • Avoid the offenders: some personal nausea inducers included hot green tea (sadly missed but just not worth it) and heavily fragranced items which can be bad for the developing fetus and should probably be avoided anyway.   
  • And Acupuncture has also been proven to help with nausea and increase appetite according to this study.  Pulling Down the Moon in Chicago is a place I've used and liked.

Expect Emotional Hi's and Low's: I'm guilty of moodiness and irrational outbursts on a number of occasions (but have managed to stay married and keep my friends ;) by using the ideas below.

  • Mindful meditation has helped me a lot and "mommy time-outs" totally work in our house.  I've also found that exercise is a great way to shake a bad mood.  Experiment with what works for you as stress on the mom is bad for the baby and can cause negative epigenetic expressions as discussed above, including mental and behavioral issues for your baby years later.  Plus, who needs all that bad energy!
  • It's important that your partner knows that these are mostly hormone induced episodes and you'll be back to your old self in just 10 short months ;)  You have to make so many adjustments to your life right now, your partner should be able to grin and bear it for a while (within reason of course).  

Nest:  Besides very vivid and bizarre dreams, the nesting instinct is one of my personal first signs of pregnancy.  If you're feeling it and have the energy to nest, i.e. organize, clean, decorate etc., go for it now while you can.  There really is something to be said for getting your home ready for baby and clearing the junk from your current life and the space for your new one.

Dress the Part: Ahh, that early belly is a fun sign that you're pregnant, but also looks a bit like you've had too many beers and burgers.  I like flowy tops at first until the belly really takes shape, and then I say show it off!  Find maternity style inspiration here and here.

I hope some of these ideas will work for you.  Let me know if you have any others....and congratulations!!

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