If you are reading this, I assume you are either pregnant or trying to conceive- if so- CONGRATS! If you are just reading this for more knowledge, I am all for that too. I did want to start off by introducing myself if this is the first blog of mine you are reading. Hi, my name is Sarah Bowmar and I am a prenatal and postpartum certified trainer and a certified fitness nutrition specialist. I have an almost one year old daughter named Oakley! I wanted to compile information regarding nutrition during each “phase” of pregnancy (TTC, 1st trimester, 2nd trimester, 3rd trimester). I hope this helps consolidate everything into one digestible post. As always, if you have a preexisting condition or a specific question for your doctor regarding your pregnancy journey, please consult with them- this is not medical advice and should not be viewed as such.
Trying to Conceive
Besides the obvious that should be avoided while trying to conceive (smoking, alcohol, etc), it has been proven to be beneficial for fertility to reduce or eliminate caffeine. I personally eliminated caffeine entirely while trying to conceive and while pregnant as well. Additionally, there are several foods that can help improve your chances of conception:
- Sunflower seeds- rich in Vitamin E- will boost sperm count and sperm mobility. They also contain folate and selenium which are both vital for male and female reproductive health
- Grapefruit and oranges- both contain polyamine putrescine, which animal research ties the potential to improve egg and semen health
- Full fat dairy- a Harvard study has linked a high fat diet to better ovulation compared to women with low fat diets. High fat dairy is also high in vitamins A, E, D, K, and K2 (soluble vitamins)
- Egg yolks- within the yolk: iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin A, and vitamin B12. Eggs also contain choline, which may reduce the risk of some birth defects
- A high quality prenatal should be taken at least 90 days prior to conception (if you can). At your first missed period, you are technically already 4 weeks pregnant and the first 12 weeks are vital to proper fetal development and reducing the risk of birth defects through proper supplementation. Your prenatal should be taken throughout your entire pregnancy and breast feeding journey
I also wanted to mention that I have a FREE prenatal and postpartum fitness guide available here. It will break down exercise, calories, cardio, postpartum weight loss, how to prevent diastasis recti, etc. Did I mention it’s FREE? Pregnancy is hard enough, I don’t need to profit off of someone wanting to remain healthy for themselves and their child.
So, you’re pregnant! Chances are, you found out right around the time of your missed period so that puts you at about 4 weeks pregnant (I don’t get how or why they calculate it that way, but they do). You are probably overwhelmed with a ton of thoughts, planning, maybe some confusion, sprinkle in some stress- and one of the last things I am sure anyone wants to do is spend hours and hours researching what vitamins are needed at each stage of pregnancy. Look no further- I have compiled that list for you! Below, you will find which vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, etc are recommended during pregnancy as fetal development changes as well as different food and meal ideas to hit those vitamin numbers.
I would also like to point out- if you are feeling overwhelmed with the list I have below- please note that a lot of foods you will see overlap in more than one category. This should make grocery shopping a little easier! If you feel you don’t enjoy some of the foods listed but want to ensure your baby (and you) are set during pregnancy, I highly suggest checking out our full spectrum prenatal and all of the vitamins it offers. Please take your prenatal throughout your entire pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Also, again, this is NOT medical advice. I am NOT your doctor. Please consult with them regarding any concerns you have with nutrient deficiencies around your specific pregnancy.
Vitamins and Foods
- Choline- 450mg – 550mg per day during pregnancy. Choline is vital during the first 12 weeks as it helps your baby’s brain and spinal cord develop properly and should be consumed through your entire pregnancy
- Foods high in choline that are pregnancy approved: whole eggs, fish, nuts, cauliflower, and broccoli. Liver is also high in choline but there is conflicting evidence on the safety of it during pregnancy. If it’s a food you want to consume, please discuss it with your doctor first
- Vitamin B12- 2.6mcg (note this is mcg) during pregnancy and 2.8mcg while breastfeeding. Vitamin B12 is essential for a baby’s neural tube formation and brain and spine development. Don’t forget about your health too- B12 helps improve your energy, mood, and stress.
- Foods high in vitamin B12: trout, salmon, fortified breakfast cereal, yogurt, and eggs. Again, liver is also high in B12 but please see the above warning.
- Iron- 27mg per day during pregnancy. Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin (blood) for both you and your baby during pregnancy. Iron helps move oxygen from your lungs to the baby’s body and the rest of your body. Supplementing with iron can help prevent iron-deficiency anemia, a condition that can cause extreme fatigue and other symptoms. Please do not consume iron with calcium (an hour on either side)
- Foods high in iron: shellfish, spinach, red meat, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, poultry, etc
- Omega 3 fatty acids- 300mg DHA during pregnancy. Fatty acids are the building blocks of fetal brain and retina development. They also play a role in determining the length of gestation and in preventing postpartum depression
- Foods high in omega 3 fatty acids: fish and cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, herring. Nuts and seeds such as flaxseed and chia seeds. Additionally, plant oils and fortified foods
- If you do not like fish or struggle consuming it while pregnant, please consider this supplement
- Folic Acid- 640mcg DFE per day while pregnant. In early pregnancy, folic acid helps neural tube development. It can help prevent some major birth defects of the baby’s brain (anencephaly) and spine (spina bifida). Babies tubes have formed by end of week 4 which is why it is vital to supplement with a prenatal prior to conception but at the very least AS SOON as you find out you are pregnant
- Foods high in folic acid: broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, peas, chickpeas, and fortified breakfast cereals
- Vitamin C- 80mg per day while pregnant. Almost 1 in 4 pregnant women will suffer from iron-induced anemia. Vitamin C helps with the absorption of iron on top of boosting one’s immune system
- Foods high in Vitamin C: mangoes, avocados, lemons, bananas, berries, and apples
- Immunity supplement
Meal and Snack Ideas
- Whole eggs with fortified breakfast cereal and full fat milk
- Trout with Brussels sprouts and quinoa
- Ground red meat with broccoli and peas
- Smoothie with kale, blueberries, strawberries, chia seeds, ice, milk, and peanut butter protein powder
- Snacks: mangos, nuts, bananas, yogurt, cottage cheese, pumpkin seeds
In my experience, I was exhausted by 3-4pm during the first trimester so I knew I needed to get absolutely everything done by that time. During the second trimester, I felt like a completely new person with all of my energy! If you are exhausted during the first trimester, it should get better!
To add to the above list, you want to ensure you are getting enough protein and calcium throughout your entire pregnancy. If you are getting the proper intake of the vitamins listed under the first trimester, you shouldn’t need to change much during the second trimester. If you are struggling to consume meat or other high protein foods, it may be wise to research a protein powder supplement that would best fit your needs.
During the second trimester, the baby’s skeletal system and brain are developing. On top of the above list and your prenatal, it is extremely important to consume the following: calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and omegas. It is obviously completely fine and safe to consume all of these vitamins the entire pregnancy.
- When it comes to calcium, not all are created equal. You may be getting enough through your whole food sources, but, if you are not, you should consider a calcium supplement. Per usual, not all supplements are created equal and that is especially true when it comes to calcium. You want to ensure your supplement is derived from calcium citrate and also has Vitamin D with it as well. Additionally, do not consume iron an hour before or an hour after taking your calcium supplement as your body will absorb the calcium over the iron. This is also why any “multi” vitamin that has calcium and iron in it together should be avoided, at all costs. You should be consuming at least 1000mg of calcium per day while pregnant
- Foods high in calcium: cheese, yogurt, milk, sardines, leafy greens such as spinach and kale
- Magnesium: 350mg per day (18-30 years) and 360mg per day (31 and older) daily while pregnant. Magnesium and calcium work in tandem: magnesium relaxes the muscles while calcium stimulates muscles to contract. Research suggests that getting adequate magnesium during pregnancy can help prevent the uterus from contracting prematurely. Magnesium also helps build strong teeth and bones in your baby. Additionally, the study above concluded that those who supplement with adequate Mg during pregnancy had fewer pregnancy and birth complications such as preeclampsia.
- Foods high in magnesium: spinach, edamame, swiss chard, cashews, quinoa, almonds, etc
- Vitamin D: 400IU per day while pregnant. Supports your immune system and the health of your bones, muscles, and teeth. It’s also necessary for absorbing calcium and phosphorus. For the developing baby, vitamin D supports healthy bone development. Adequate vitamin D may also help prevent preterm birth
- Foods high in vitamin D: egg yolks, tuna, cheese
- Please note, the calcium supplement listed and linked above has 500IU and as Vitamin D and Calcium need to be taken together, supplementing may take the stress away from timing these two vitamins
Meal and Snack Ideas
- Cottage cheese and fruit
- Eggs topped with cheese
- Tuna and quinoa
- Grilled cheese and homemade soup
- Plus all of the ideas from trimester one!
To add to the lists above, calcium should be increased to 1300mg per day during the third trimester as that is when bone development peaks at 250 to 350 milligrams transferred from you to your baby daily.
During the third trimester, all of the above nutrients are vital for both mom and baby. An additional food to start incorporating once your third trimester hits is salmon roe (this is where I got mine and the only company I trust). I consumed 1 TBSP every day for weeks 27 through 35. Towards the end of my pregnancy, I went to week 41, I was taking it 2-3 times per week. The omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon eggs can also help provide important support for healthy fetal brain and nervous system development.
Meal and Snack Ideas
- Incorporating salmon roe can be quite tough for some, especially if you aren’t used to it. They are tiny little fish egg balls that do pop when chewed. I personally liked eating them with rice and soy sauce (to make it feel like it was sushi). I know others enjoy with an avocado and some women just eat it plain. It isn’t pleasant for me, but it may be for you!
Calories Per Trimester
I really don’t want to offend anyone when I say this- but you aren’t eating for two while pregnant. You are eating to nourish your body while you grow a tiny human. For the majority of your pregnancy, your baby is smaller than a banana. Imagine how much food a banana would need. Not much. It is VITAL to keep weight under control while pregnant to prevent gestational diabetes. It’s also better on your joints, energy levels, etc if you can keep your weight under control. Not to mention, the less you gain, the less you have to lose postpartum (not that that needs to be the primary focus). That being said, according to the ACOG and my prenatal and postpartum fitness certification, the following is needed per trimester:
- Trimester 1: maintenance calories
- Trimester 2: maintenance + 300-350
- Trimester 3: maintenance + 500
- Breastfeeding: maintenance + 500
For reference- 500 calories is equivalent to 1/2 cup of trail mix and 8oz of juice. If you are severely underweight, your doctor may want you eating/gaining more. If you are severely overweight, your doctor may want you to eat less / gaining less. The goal while pregnant is to nourish YOUR body to ensure YOU have the nutrients you need as your body prioritizes your baby over you. Becoming deficient is very common in pregnancy if proper nutrition steps aren’t accounted for.
Vitamins to Avoid While Pregnant
- Vitamin A- it is in many prenatal vitamins because it is important, but too much can lead to liver damage. Excessive amounts during pregnancy have been shown to cause congenital birth defects.
- Vitamin E- too much can cause abdominal pain and premature rupture of the amniotic sack
- Black cohosh
- Dong quai
- Other herbal supplements: saw palmetto, tansy, red clover, angelica, yarrow, wormwood, blue cohosh, pennyroyal, ephedra, mugwort
Please note- for all supplement recommendations, please discuss with your doctor. You should disclose everything you are using while pregnant. If you choose to support our family with the links above- just know we have open labels on all of our products (meaning we don’t hide behind blends) and those panels can be found on each product page of our website.