Your body is starting its amazing transformation so that your baby can flourish in optimal conditions. Here in this article we’ll explore ways to nourish yourself nutritionally during the important first few weeks of pregnancy. You’ll also find suggestions for natural remedies to increase your comfort during this time.
Although you won’t have a bump yet, this is a time of incredible adaptations—all happening behind the scenes. Every system of your body is altering to provide the healthiest environment for your baby.
Many of these changes are happening as early as first few weeks of pregnancy (8–10 weeks into your pregnancy), before you even have your first antenatal visit. Not only is your body transforming—so is your identity. You are embarking on the biggest transition of your adult life. With all these physical and emotional changes, it’s not surprising most newly expectant moms experience fatigue and mood swings in the first trimester. As your body goes through a major transformation in the first few weeks of pregnancy, you may find that you have sore or sensitive breasts. Those hard-working hormones can also trigger morning sickness.
Your digestive system is starting to slow down as your body retrieves nutrients from your diet to grow your baby, making it even more important to have a healthy and varied diet with plenty of fiber to avoid constipation. You may experience bloating, and, although your kidneys are adapting to pregnancy, you are likely to have to urinate more often.
Already, your blood volume is starting to increase (it’ll have almost doubled by the end of your pregnancy), and amazing changes are happening to your cardiovascular system, as your heart actually enlarges.
With all this happening, make sure that if you have been prescribed any medication pre-pregnancy, you consult with your health-care professional.
All About You
Whether this is a much longed-for pregnancy or a surprise, the emotions of the first few weeks of pregnancy can be a rollercoaster of highs and lows—excitement and disbelief, as well as anxiety and exhilaration.
A mindful approach to your emotional wellbeing and the physical changes during this time can help you to “surf” some of the more challenging emotions that you may experience, rather than feeling overwhelmed by them. Short meditations and mindful breathing can help you to feel more at ease during this trimester. It’s hard not to worry about miscarriage during the first trimester. In the vast majority of cases, there is little anyone can do to prevent a miscarriage—although that doesn’t take the pain away when it happens to you.
You may also worry how a new baby will impact on your body, your career, your finances, or your relationship with your partner. These feelings are normal and the sooner you can allow yourself the space and grace to approach strong emotions with curiosity and acceptance the better you’ll feel. Don’t worry about things you can’t change—instead follow the mantra: “control the controllable.”
If you’re keeping your pregnancy under wraps until the second trimester, make sure you confide in a trusted friend about how you’re feeling (preferably someone who has been through pregnancy already). Pregnancy affords you a timely opportunity to reflect on your approach to life, work, and family in a way that adds a wonderful richness to your life. Always be gentle with yourself, though, and embrace “mindfulness.” If you are finding the emotions of the first trimester challenging, talk to your health-care provider—not everyone finds pregnancy easy.
All About Your Baby
When you think about it, what’s going on in your body is truly magical. In only 40 weeks, the natural intelligence of your body will be able to grow a human being from just one microscopic cell.
Your baby is on a developmental fast track, and by the end of the first trimester he has gone from resembling a tadpole to a fully formed little person, about 7.5 cm in length.
Folate and Folic Acid
Folate is a B vitamin that is found naturally in foods, whereas folic acid is a synthetic supplement. When possible, choose a supplement including the words “-folate” as the healthier, more natural option.
Getting enough folate or folic acid is vital for your baby’s development in early pregnancy as it protects against major birth defects of the brain and spine. As it can be difficult to get the required amount of folate from your diet alone, it is recommended that anyone planning a pregnancy should take a folate or folic acid supplement for three months before conception and until the end of the first trimester. Folic acid supplements are not advised after the first trimester, but eating folate-rich foods throughout is recommended.
Good sources of folate include vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, beetroot, and cauliflower, as well as citrus fruits, lentils, and eggs. Try adding an extra leafy green vegetable to your main meal to boost your folate levels—Brussels sprouts, romaine lettuce, mustard greens, kale, and spinach are all high in folate. Or add kidney beans or lentils to casseroles or soups to increase folate levels. Choose organically grown produce when possible.
Use a mindful approach when selecting your sources of calcium so you’re intentionally choosing options that are not only rich in calcium, but provide you and your baby with other key nutrients during your pregnancy.
Calcium is vital for the growth of your baby’s bones and teeth, as little tooth “buds” form in the gums during pregnancy. It is also essential for the development of your baby’s muscles and heart. As your baby will take the calcium she needs from your body, making sure you have enough calcium for both of you is important. Milk and other dairy products are good sources of calcium, as are some green leafy vegetables.
Seeds are rich in calcium, so why not sprinkle some roasted sesame seeds over a rocket salad or steamed Swiss chard or broccoli? To boost your calcium intake, enjoy a yoghurt for breakfast, have a handful of almonds as a quick snack, or add sardines in olive oil to a salad for a nutritious lunch. If dairy products aren’t an option for you, talk to your health-care provider about a calcium supplement.
Your energy levels can take a dive in pregnancy, especially in the first trimester. Vitamin B12 can boost your energy and most likely your mood, too, as it can help reduce the effects of stress.
Vitamin B12 is essential for your baby’s brain development rights from conception. It is involved in the metabolization of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats in your diet so your baby gets everything she needs to grow. It is also important for a healthy nervous system and works with folate/folic acid to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you’re more likely to have low B12 levels so make sure you discuss this with your health-care provider.
Good sources of vitamin B12 include meat (grass-fed whenever possible), wild salmon, milk, and other dairy products (many are fortified), eggs, and fortified cereals. Start your day with breakfast cereal with added B12 and fortified milk. Enjoy poached eggs with ham or spinach for lunch, grilled salmon for dinner, or try yeast extracts and cheese on whole meal crackers for a B12-rich snack.
Ginger for Nausea
If you’re feeling nauseous due to hormonal changes in early pregnancy, ginger is one of the best known and most effective natural remedies. Plus, it can help to alleviate common digestive problems such as bloating.
Several studies suggest ginger is a safe and effective way to reduce nausea and vomiting without any side effects. Keep ginger biscuits beside your bed to nibble on when you wake up, or keep ginger lollipops in your handbag for those times when you are out and about and your nausea is triggered. You can also chew on candied ginger—a 2.5 cm piece is equal to about 500–1000 mg of dried ginger, or take a supplement.
Use fresh ginger in smoothies, or add to stir-fries. Another good option to boost your intake is to make ginger tea to sip on throughout the day. Steep one teaspoon of grated fresh ginger in boiling water. Leave to infuse, then drain and sweeten or dilute more if the taste is too strong. If you prefer not to make your own, there are plenty of shop-bought options for ginger tea, too.
Citrus Oil Morning Sickness Remedy
As your sense of smell is often heightened in pregnancy, you may find relief from nausea by using essential oils. Morning sickness can strike throughout the day, and this remedy can be used any time you’re feeling queasy.
To help settle morning sickness, try using essential oils with a citrus base—lemon, sweet orange, or grapefruit, for example. Less is more when it comes to aromatherapy, so place just one or two drops of your chosen essential oil on a cotton wool ball and take a few deep breaths to inhale the scent. Combine the use of your essential oils and your hypnobirthing practice to create a positive mindset around your pregnancy, and later for your baby’s birth—they work wonderfully well together.
Iodine and Choline
Most women consume less than they need of these important nutrients, so you may well need to boost your intake. When shopping and planning meals are mindful about ways, you can include more in your diet.
Iodine is important as it makes the thyroid hormones, which are used to regulate all your baby’s internal systems including brain development. Dairy products, particularly milk, and seafood such as cod, haddock, and place are good sources of iodine, especially if you add iodized salt for flavor. For a nutritious snack that’s packed with iodine, as well as fiber and minerals, add some sea lettuce (Ulva) to a salad once a week, or toast a few leaves with some sesame seeds.
Choline is essential for your baby’s brain development. Good sources include lean red meat, fish, chicken, legumes (beans and peas), eggs, and nuts. Fresh cod is a tasty dinner option that is rich in choline, and as it’s not an oily fish you can eat it more than twice a week. You can also sprinkle wheatgerm onto a yoghurt or your breakfast cereal or add it to a fruit smoothie to boost your choline levels.
Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D, so in the winter you may find yourself deficient in it. However, it is found in a number of foods, including eggs and oily fish, so it’s easy to boost your levels by considering your diet.
Vitamin D helps us to absorb the right amount of calcium and phosphate and helps your baby’s teeth, bones, kidneys, and heart to develop in the womb. Research also found that women who had good levels of vitamin D were more likely to have an uncomplicated birth, decreasing the chance of having a premature baby or a cesarean birth. You can get vitamin D from a number of foods including egg yolks, oily fish such as salmon, sardines, and herrings, and fortified orange juice and milk.
The primary source of vitamin D is sunshine, and vitamin D deficiency is quite common in Northern Europe, particularly in the winter months. If you can get out in the open air for short periods each day, you can top up your vitamin D levels without supplementation. A study of UK adults suggests even 13 minutes of sun exposure on the arms and legs, three times a week, supports healthy vitamin D levels. If out in the sun for longer, use a mineral sunscreen to protect you from sun damage while allowing for some vitamin D absorption.
Making sure you are eating enough protein every day can help ward off common dietary issues in pregnancy such as carb cravings and unstable blood sugar levels, thus improving your mood and energy levels.
Protein is required for the development of your baby, as well as transporting oxygen and making essential antibodies and hormones. The best sources of protein are fish, meat, and poultry, but eggs, pulses, and lentils are also good sources. If morning sickness is making mealtimes difficult, then a cup of hot bone broth is a stomach-friendly, protein-rich drink.
If you want to boost your protein intake, keep a few hard-boiled eggs in the fridge for a quick, healthy snack. Try some pumpkin seeds, seasoned chickpeas, or peanut butter with apple slices or wholegrain crackers for a morning snack. For a delicious lunch or dinner, blend peanut butter with a coconut yoghurt, sweet chili sauce, and coriander to make a Thai-style dressing for a chicken salad.