My wife, Saffron, is pregnant with our first child, and so far, we’ve been fortunate enough to not have any serious complications. Still, as excited as we are, there’s been plenty of anxiety that has popped up during the pregnancy. Even though all our blood tests have come back negative so far, there are still a million different problems that could potentially occur.
My wife was worried in the first trimester when she couldn’t keep any food down and lost weight. She was worried when, after she got excited at new ultrasound pictures, her blood pressure was slightly raised. She worried that because of her hypoglycemia, her blood sugar could drop to dangerous levels for our baby. Fortunately, none of those problems turned out to be lasting or serious, but I’m sure every woman has her own set of concerns.
On top of worrying what could go wrong during your pregnancy, you want to do what’s best for your baby, too. You want to give your baby the best possible chance of growing up to be a smart, capable, independent adult. As my wife and I talked about this recently, I realized those concerns probably never completely go away. However, they don’t have to consume your life, either.
Eating during the first trimester
As I said, the first trimester was definitely difficult for my wife. One of her biggest stress relievers is cooking, but there were a couple of meals she started cooking but couldn’t finish. The smell of the meat cooking actually made her sick. Unsurprisingly, she didn’t end up eating even a bite of that dinner. So, that night and many others, she didn’t eat very much at all. There weren’t many foods she could keep down, so her main selections were crackers, yogurt, Jell-O and cereal—not the healthiest options, and she was understandably worried what this would mean for the baby.
However, our doctor cleared up any concerns almost immediately. She said during the first trimester, many women lose weight and have trouble eating. The important thing is simply to eat as much as you can of whatever you can. Thankfully, the baby is so tiny at this stage that your diet really shouldn’t matter much. Luckily, at around the 12-week mark, nausea started to subside, and within a few weeks, all the old foods started to taste right again.
Right around the time Saffron started to get her appetite back, the baby started growing a significant amount. As this development progresses, the vitamins and nutrients in a mother’s body start to matter more and more. Saffron started to take a prenatal vitamin and folic acid as soon as we started trying to get pregnant, and these can help in a lot of ways. The most important vitamins and minerals are folic acid, iron, iodine and calcium.
Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects, which affect the brain and spinal cord. Calcium helps prevent the baby (as its own bones start to grow) from leeching too much calcium out of the pregnant woman's own bones. Iodine helps women maintain healthy thyroid function and thus reduces the risk of miscarriage. Iron helps keep blood oxygenated and prevent an iron deficiency—which can decrease energy levels, disrupt sleep and increase irritability.
Proper diet once nausea subsides
An average-weight woman should gain about 25–35 pounds during pregnancy and only needs about 300 extra calories a day to ensure proper growth for her baby. Research has shown that women who eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains while also cutting back on added sugar and excessive fat consumption have children with fewer behavioral problems and who are less likely to develop attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
What are the current dietary recommendations? Sarah Krieger, a registered dietician and prenatal nutrition expert, recommends that women fill half their plates with fruits and vegetables, a quarter with whole grains and a quarter with lean protein. The best whole grains come from oatmeal, whole-wheat pasta and brown rice. Pregnant women should also try to get three or four servings of dairy every day from milk, yogurt or cheese.
As you may have noticed, many of these foods are high in fiber, and that’s no coincidence. Pregnancy can greatly disrupt a woman’s digestive system, so it’s very important to drink a lot of water (80 ounces or more a day) and increase the amount of fiber in your diet. Your body will need all the help it can get!
Rest of your life may not have to change as much as you expected
While you should, of course, always consult with your doctor, for us personally the most interesting development is that our lives haven’t changed all that much during pregnancy. I know change will come once we have a crying baby to take care of, but after a slight hiccup in the first trimester, we’ve mostly kept up with the same old habits. Saffron gets tired easier and sometimes goes to bed earlier than normal, but the rest isn’t all that different.
As far as exercise goes, it’s generally OK to keep up the same sort of routines you managed prepregnancy. We still go on walks and manage to lift weights together. You don’t have to give up sex or constantly worry about hurting the baby since the baby is protected in the womb. Saffron is still able to get her hair colored or have one cup of coffee on days she wants one. Sure, there are foods such as lunch meat, sushi and others she has to avoid, but we’ve never eaten most of them very often, anyway. In the end, for now, our life feels like it’s gone back to normal, and we’re just enjoying the peace and quiet until our little girl pops out. I hope those of you reading this manage to find a way to keep stress levels at a minimum along the way, too.
Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He's on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at email@example.com with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.