The First Trimester
The first three months of your pregnancy, otherwise known as the first trimester, are especially important, as the cells in your baby’s body are rapidly growing and differentiating, eventually forming the skeletal system and the various organs and organ systems, such as the nervous and cardiovascular systems.
Throughout your pregnancy, there are certain periods, called “critical windows,” when particular organs or tissues develop. During these periods, proper nutrition is especially important, as a risk for damage to these organs or tissues is increased. I will discuss each of the critical windows that take place during the first trimester and provide a week-by-week guide to the development of your baby as well as a description of foods that you can focus on each week to promote this development. But first, let’s talk about one of the less-pleasant aspects of pregnancy for some expectant mothers: morning sickness.
Morning Sickness and How to Relieve It with Food
Whoever coined the term “morning sickness” was never pregnant, because unfortunately, you can have it morning, noon, and night! Morning sickness is the feeling of nausea, with or without vomiting, that many women experience while pregnant. The specific causes of morning sickness are debated and not fully understood, although hormones, psychological factors, and slowed digestion may play a role.
Most pregnant women experience some morning sickness in the early months. A recent study found that almost 70 percent of pregnant women in the United States suer from some form of it. Often starting between weeks 4 and 6 and peaking between weeks 8 and 12, nausea and vomiting may be quite problematic for some women. A minority (about 1.2 percent) may experience a severe form of morning sickness, called hyperemesis gravidarum when vomiting occurs every day and can lead to a loss of more than 5 percent of prepregnancy body weight.
Kate Middleton’s battle with this type of severe morning sickness during her pregnancies in 2012 and 2014 was highly publicized. This more severe form of morning sickness may cause a woman to become nutrient deficient and dehydrated (not to mention make her feel awful), which in turn may harm the baby, causing a low birth weight or preterm delivery. Fortunately, there is a light at the end of the tunnel: though about one in ve women may continue to experience symptoms beyond the 20th week, for most, symptoms of morning sickness tend to improve by week 16.
If you are experiencing morning sickness, you know how difficult it can be to constantly feel like you’re about to throw up and to not be able to function as you did just a few weeks ago. But most importantly, you may be concerned about your baby. Is it getting enough nutrients if you’re constantly nauseous and vomiting and having trouble eating? How can you relieve your nausea and keep food down? Fortunately, there are a few natural remedies you can try.
Change Up Your Eating Pattern
Try to eat many small meals (aim for about six per day) slowly instead of larger meals, because a full stomach can trigger nausea and vomiting. Similarly, an empty stomach can make you feel sick, so try not to go too long between meals. It can be helpful to keep a snack handy. Speaking of which, having a snack, such as a banana or crackers, even before getting out of bed may also help.
Become a Food Detective
Try to figure out which foods you can tolerate without getting nauseous. If you nd that hot foods trigger nausea, go with cold foods instead, as their smell is not as intense so they may be easier to handle. Avoid greasy or fried foods, as they can trigger nausea from the smell as well as cause it after eating because fats are more difficult to digest than carbohydrates or proteins. Try to go for low-fat, protein-rich foods, such as eggs, lean meat, or boiled beans, and try to take in more liquids than solids. Additionally, try salty liquids, such as sports drinks with electrolytes, in small volumes (preferably half an hour before or after you eat so that you avoid having a full stomach).
Choosing cold, carbonated, and slightly sour liquids may also help, so if you start feeling nauseous, try sipping on a cool, carbonated beverage, such as ginger ale or lemonade (it may be helpful to always keep a few cans in the fridge). Eliminating coffee, spicy and smelly, high-fat, very sweet, or very sour foods and choosing more bland, low-fat, salty, or dry foods, such as crackers, pretzels, or toast, may also help alleviate symptoms of morning sickness.
The Power of Ginger
Ginger is the only non-drug intervention for treating nausea and vomiting recommended by the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology. It is thought to help improve symptoms by stimulating your digestive tract motility and the ow of saliva, bile, and gastric secretions. Several studies have shown that women reported reduced nausea (but, unfortunately, not reduced vomiting) when given ginger compared to a placebo. Overall, ginger has been recognized as safe for use during pregnancy and effective in alleviating nausea; it is recommended if you’re experiencing morning sickness. No detrimental consequences to the mother or the baby have been noted with ginger use in small quantities.
However, it is important to note that the maximum safe dose of ginger, as well as ginger’s interactions with other herbs, is unknown. Thus you should avoid consuming it in high doses or combined with herbs; ideally, stick to ginger tea or other forms of ginger that provide small amounts.
Make Sure You Are Getting Enough Vitamin B6
In addition to the many benefits of vitamin B6 mentioned in the last chapter, this vitamin has also been shown to be effective in alleviating the nausea associated with morning sickness and may even be as effective in treating nausea as ginger. Make sure you get enough B6 in your diet (1.9 mg per day), and if you’re concerned that you’re not getting the required amount, or if you want to try it as a nausea- alleviating agent, talk to your doctor about adding a vitamin B6 supplement (if you’re taking a prenatal vitamin, be sure to check the package, as B6 may already be in there).
If you are experiencing morning sickness—whether mild, moderate, or severe—talk to your doctor and start by trying the natural interventions described here as your first line of defense. If these approaches don’t help, or if you have a severe form of morning sickness, your doctor may consider prescribing a medication. There are safe medications for use in pregnancy that have proven to be effective in alleviating both nausea and vomiting.