6 Tips for Navigating Nutrition and Pregnancy Symptoms from a Nutritionist and Mom-of-5

pregnancy Sep 19, 2019

by Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC

If you’re expecting a baby, congratulations, momma! The first trimester brings an incredible amount of change: physically, mentally, and emotionally. 

There is an unspoken pressure to “get things right”, especially when it comes to how you care for your body and your growing baby. Nowhere is this more true than with eating and how you feed your body. 

As a mom of five and a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I know that while you want to eat the right foods to properly nourish your baby, sometimes the early pregnancy symptoms can get in the way. 

Most new moms I work with want to be sure they are feeding their baby in the best way possible, but sometimes, expectations of what you think you should be eating may not match the reality of the experiences you are currently living. 

What does this mean? 

Because of the drastic physical changes that may be happening in your body, especially in the first trimester, you are likely dealing with a host of unpleasant symptoms that might make food and eating more challenging. 

You may have had every good intention of feeding your body and your baby the most nutrient-dense foods possible, but now that you’re pregnant, you might not even be able to stand the thought of eating such foods. That’s okay, momma! 

Common physical symptoms in the first trimester that can disrupt your typical eating patterns might include:

  • Morning Sickness
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Food Aversions
  • Disruptions in normal senses, including taste and smell

Most mommas I know would rather sleep than eat, or the thought of eating alone can make food sound repulsive. 

There may be foods that you previously enjoyed eating, including an array of vegetables or different types of proteins, that now can make your stomach churn at the thought of them. 

Another common experience in the first trimester is the double-edged sword of “snacking”. It’s normal to want to snack on simpler foods, especially easily-digestible carbohydrate type foods, to help quell nausea. One of the most vicious cycles of the first trimester is the hunger-nausea cycle, where hunger can trigger nausea, but eating certain foods can make the nausea worse. 

Oy! What’s a momma to do?

With all the physical symptoms that newly pregnant mommas experience, it’s no wonder that eating and nourishing your body can become more challenging. 

You might be worried if your baby is getting all the nutrients it needs to grow well, especially if all you can stomach is crackers and ginger ale. I

If your diet is less than stellar, how will this impact your pregnancy and your baby? With the way you are eating, you might also be worried about how this might impact your weight and body changes, especially in a short amount of time. 

Rest assured, sweet momma. I can tell you that you and your baby are going to be okay, even through these intense changes that you may be experiencing that are influencing your appetite. 

Here are a few simple tips to keep in mind as you learn how to best feed your body and your baby through the first trimester:

1. Focus on optimizing the foods that you can eat : 

Gravitating toward starchier foods is NORMAL because they are more neutral and often easier to digest, and that is OKAY. Instead of having any expectations of what you should or shouldn’t be eating, try to take what you are able to eat and build off that to help optimize your nutrition. 

For example, adding some protein to the starches that you can stomach can help stabilize your blood sugar, keep you more satiated, and boost your nutrition. 

While many forms of protein can be hard to eat in the 1st trimester, including meat and poultry, consider other foods that are also high in protein, including nuts, nut butters, seeds, eggs, and dairy products like yogurt and cheese. 

If bagels or crackers are your jam, try pairing those starches with a bit of nut butter or cheese to help optimize your nutrition. Pairing your favorite, easy-to-digest carb foods with even just a little bit of protein/fat can go a long way to help prevent dips in your blood sugar and keep your energy levels stable. 

Some women find that they are better able to tolerate colder foods like popsicles, smoothies, frozen berries, or yogurt. Whatever your go-to-foods are, consider simple ways you can help boost your nutrition.


2. Aim for smaller, more frequent meals: 

Nausea and fatigue have a way of throwing off your appetite and stifling hunger cues that you might normally feel in your body. Because you may be dealing with fluctuations in your appetite, it’s common to go longer periods without eating. 

However, hunger, or lack of adequate food, can be a trigger for nausea and exacerbate symptoms of morning sickness, which can ultimately make it even harder to eat. 

To help prevent yourself from getting to this point, aim to eat small meals or snacks about every 2 - 3 hours. Setting alarms on your phone can help you remember to get a little bit of nourishment in your body, especially if eating isn’t on your radar. 

Try to keep a few easy to eat snacks on hand so that you’re never without food when you need it, like some whole grain crackers and dried fruit/nuts in your car, purse, or bedside. 

On the other side of things, sometimes a larger volume of food may also feel uncomfortable in your body and can be a nausea trigger. Eating slowly, mindfully, and listening to your body at meals can help you eat an amount that feels comfortable in your body. 

Begin with smaller servings at mealtimes, and don’t worry if you can only keep a few bites down at a time. A little bit over the course of the day will add up. It may also be helpful to avoid drinking large volumes of water or liquids with meals. 

Taking small sips of your fluids or spacing them out between meals can help you better manage volume amounts at meal times.


3. Take a high quality prenatal vitamin: 

A high quality prenatal vitamin can be a great safety to help ensure that you’re getting the needed vitamins and minerals to support pregnancy, especially while your nutrient needs are higher. 

If you’re facing food aversions or simply having a hard time keeping food down, a quality supplement can help you cover your nutrient basis, especially as you get through the first trimester. 

When choosing a prenatal supplement, be sure to look for one that includes the activated forms of B-vitamins, which will be easier for your body to metabolize.

These may include:

  • Folate, (look for L-methylfolate or 5-methyltetrahydrofolate)
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxal-5”-phosphate)
  • Vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin or adenosylcobalamin)

Other nutrients that may be beneficial in a prenatal supplement include Choline, Vitamin D, and Omega-3 fatty acids. The reason you may want to consider supplementing is because it may be harder to get the amounts you need through food alone. Before adding any supplements, be sure to check with your medical provider and/or registered dietitian. 

Sometimes, taking a prenatal can increase nausea, so try taking your prenatal with a snack before bed. Be sure that your snack includes something with fat to help your body better absorb the nutrients in your prenatal. 


4. Get help to make cooking/eating easier for you and your family. 

With the fatigue and other 1st trimester symptoms that you may be experiencing, it may feel triggering to be around and/or prepare food. It’s common to have food aversions, where even the sight or smell of certain foods can completely shut-down your appetite. 

If it’s possible, find ways to delegate or automate certain kitchen tasks to help you better manage any symptoms you might be experiencing around food. This could look like having your groceries delivered temporarily to avoid any unpleasant trips to the grocery store or having your partner help with meal prep (yes, momma - I’m giving you FULL permission to let someone else do the cooking for you!). 

If you are still doing the majority of the cooking for you and your family, it’s perfectly okay to take any short-cuts you might need to make it easy to feed yourself and your family. Keep meals simple and use pre-prepped ingredients (like pre-washed/cooked fruits and veggies, cooked grains/proteins, etc) to help you pull a nutritious meal together quicker. 

5. Stay hydrated with adequate fluid intake: 

Getting your water intake throughout the day can be rough, especially with many of the common first trimester symptoms. Dehydration though, can exacerbate some of these symptoms. 

To help prevent this, try sipping on fluids throughout the day, keeping in mind that small amounts over the course of the day can all add up. If you’re finding it difficult to drink plain water, try making a pitcher of infused water to create a naturally refreshing beverage. 

For example, add some fresh limes and cucumbers to your water, or strawberries with fresh lemon slices. This can make it more interesting to drink your water. Remember that other liquids can contribute to your daily water needs, such as sparkling water, tea, milk, and broths (from soups). 

You can also include fruits and vegetables in your diet that are naturally higher in water content, such as melons, cucumbers, and lettuce. Keep an eye on the color of your urine when you use the restroom. If your urine is a darker yellow, this is an indicator that you may need to increase your fluid intake. 


6. Trust Your Body Through the Process

If you feel like your diet is less than optimal, please know this: You are not failing. Pregnancy shouldn’t be a time to be hard on yourself for not having the most balanced meals or not eating perfectly - there is no such thing.  You can trust that your amazing body will utilize the nutrient stores it has for the short-term to support your baby’s development, even if you’re not directly able to get it from your food. 

Your body is working incredibly hard to grow your baby, and with that comes some inevitable changes. Treat your body kindly through this process and be gentle with yourself. 

You can trust your body, even though it might feel foreign to you through the changes of pregnancy. Building an alliance with your body by caring for yourself and your baby will help you navigate the changes that pregnancy and postpartum may bring. You’ve got this, momma!

Please note: In the event that you may throw up, it is important to replenish lost fluids and electrolytes as you are able. If you are worried about your nausea/vomiting and/or nutrition at any point during your pregnancy, please be sure to talk with your provider. In some instances, severe nausea and vomiting may require medications or other interventions to adequately manage.


About The Author

Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, is a Maternal Health Specialist, Child Feeding Expert, and Food & Body Image Coach for Mothers. Crystal is passionate about helping mommas build a peaceful relationship with food & their bodies so they can confidently nourish themselves & their kids and bring joy back to eating. Crystal is committed to providing holistic, compassionate, and evidence-based nutrition care to mothers and families worldwide through her online blog and virtual nutrition coaching practice. Find more motherhood and meal time inspiration at http://www.crystalkarges.com

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