It goes without saying that our bodies radically change during pregnancy and, with it, our body’s needs. Whether you’re preparing for pregnancy or already on the journey, what you eat plays a big part in how you feel. Prenatal nutrition and diet play a vital role in a healthy, happy pregnancy, but the guidelines on what to eat or not to eat and how to feel your best vary from source to source.
You should always consult your medical provider before changing your diet. However, to get you started, we connected with our in-house dietician, Dr. Sheila Varshney, for prenatal nutrition guidance on how you can nourish yourself in a way that combats common pregnancy discomforts while supporting your baby’s growth and your postpartum recovery.
If You’re Feeling Nauseous
Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms during the first trimester experienced by 70%-80% of women. While the specific causes of these symptoms are still being studied, the good news is that they will pass as you get closer to your second trimester.
Note: If you cannot keep food or water down for several weeks, seek the support of your OB/GYN or midwife, as you may be suffering from a more severe condition known as hyperemesis gravidarum.
Tips to Combat Nausea with Prenatal Nutrition
- One of the best ways to address nausea is to always have something in your stomach. Keep a light, salty snack on your nightstand, such as saltines, so they are available first thing in the morning.
- Research has shown that the compounds in ginger help alleviate nausea. Eating ginger chews or sipping ginger tea will, in many cases, ease the discomfort.
- Some studies show that taking a B6 supplement (also known as pyridoxine) can help manage nausea. Discuss starting B6 vitamins, drops, or chews with your care provider if you are experiencing morning sickness.
If You’re Concerned About Weight Gain
When it comes to weight gain during pregnancy, it’s important to remind yourself that the weight you are gaining supports your baby’s development. According to the Institute of Medicine, pregnancy weight can be attributed to:
- Baby: 7 to 8 pounds
- Larger breasts: 1 to 3 pounds
- Larger uterus: 2 pounds
- Placenta: 1 1/2 pounds
- Amniotic fluid: 2 pounds
- Increased blood volume: 3 to 4 pounds
- Increased fluid volume: 2 to 3 pounds
- Fat stores: 6 to 8 pounds
For most, gaining weight during pregnancy is expected, and your healthcare provider can help you navigate whether you are doing so at an appropriate rate. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) has formal guidelines on weight gain during pregnancy. Still, your care provider can best guide you based on your medical and health history.
Note: It’s crucial to pick a care provider whose viewpoint aligns with your values. And to remember that everyone has a slightly different weight gain journey.
Weight Gain By Trimester
What to expect by trimester if you’re carrying one baby:
- First Trimester: Expectant women typically gain less weight in the first trimester. During this period, fetal development is focused on laying the foundation for the organ systems. On average, you should expect to gain 1-4.5 pounds.
- Second Trimester: During this period, women often see an increase in weight gain. This is when the support systems like the placenta, uterus, and amniotic fluid take center stage. On average, you should expect to gain 1-2 pounds per week.
- Third Trimester: In the final trimester, one should expect to gain the most weight. This is when the baby starts to put on weight and the body shores up reserves for breastfeeding. On average, you should expect to gain 1-2 pounds per week.
If you’re still worried about your weight gain, there are some safe and effective ways to continue your exercise routine. You can learn more about prenatal exercise and why it’s important for maintaining your energy levels and avoiding complications.
If You’re Confused About What You Can and Cannot Eat
Contrary to popular belief, you can consume a vast majority of foods during pregnancy. Your OB/GYN or midwife will be able to provide the best prenatal nutrition recommendations that take into account allergies, intolerances, and specific health conditions. There are, however, a few points to keep in mind.
Tips for Safe Eating and Prenatal Nutrition
Minimize Foods that Carry Risk of Foodborne Illness
Certain foods such as unpasteurized dairy, raw seafood, and cold cuts can be harmful to both mom and baby during pregnancy because they may carry bacteria, viruses, and parasites that cause foodborne illness. Given that your growing baby doesn’t have a fully developed brain or immune system and that pregnancy itself can leave women’s immune systems in flux, it’s crucial to be aware of what foods are safe and unsafe during this time. And to note that even if certain foods don’t make mom feel sick, they can cross the placenta and affect the baby’s development. Instead of guessing, contact your care provider and check out this pregnancy nutrition guide by the Mayo Clinic to learn more.
Practice Safe Food Handling
Safe food handling is critical during pregnancy. To avoid food-borne illness, wash your produce, avoid unpasteurized foods when possible, and buy from reputable sources if you want raw seafood or deli meat.
Avoid Eating Large Fish
Large fish such as tilefish, swordfish, yellowfin tuna, and albacore tuna, are high in methylmercury, a recognized neurotoxin that impairs the development of the brain and nervous system. Instead, opt for fish low in mercury and high in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon.
Increase Your Vegetable Intake
Vegetables contain phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals that support both you and your baby’s health. Aim to increase your vegetable intake to the best of your ability during pregnancy by packing them into your smoothies or incorporating them at every meal.
In the end, there is no “right” prenatal nutrition plan. Each person’s journey is unique, and the steps they take to combat discomforts, encourage healthy weight gain, support babies’ growth, and postpartum recovery are best discussed with a care provider. However, by following this guide, we hope to give you the foundation to make informed decisions throughout your pregnancy.
Last Reviewed by Dr. Sheila Varshney on January 26th, 2022
- Bustos, M., Venkataramanan, R., & Caritis, S. (2017). Nausea and vomiting of pregnancy – What’s new? Autonomic Neuroscience, 202, 62–72. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5107351/
- editor. (2021, December 9). Hyperemesis Gravidarum. American Pregnancy Association. https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-complications/hyperemesis-gravidarum/
- Festin, M. (2014, March). Nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy (PMID: 24646807). BMJ Clin Evid. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3959188/
- Rasmussen, K., & Yaktine, A. (2009). Weight Gain During Pregnancy. Weight Gain During Pregnancy: Reexamining the Guidelines. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20669500/
- Weight Gain During Pregnancy. (2020). ACOG. https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/committee-opinion/articles/2013/01/weight-gain-during-pregnancy
- National Research Council, Institute of Medicine, Children, B. Y. O., Board, F. A. N., Committee to Reexamine IOM Pregnancy Weight Guidelines, Yaktine, A. L., & Rasmussen, K. M. (2010). Weight Gain During Pregnancy: Reexamining the Guidelines (1st ed.). National Academies Press. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK32815/
- Pregnancy nutrition: Foods to avoid during pregnancy. (2022, January 22). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/pregnancy-nutrition/art-20043844
Dr. Sheila Varshney is a registered dietitian with a doctoral degree in nutrition in public health and a mom of two young children. After spending over a decade helping individuals adopt healthier eating habits, she’s learned that making simple changes is the key to better eating. Dr. Varshney believes a healthy diet consists of whole foods and avoiding highly processed foods as much as possible. She also believes in the value of food beyond nutrition, namely its social and cultural importance, and reflects this through her work.