How Important is Nutrition in Early Pregnancy?
This week I am headed back to Melbourne. I have not been back since my surgery so really looking forward to visiting one of my favourite cities again. The last time I was here I was promoting one of two books I did last year – The Nourished Bump. Among other business related activities I am also recording some podcasts in Melbourne. This includes conception and pregnancy related topics. As such I thought I would have a bit of a ‘bump’ focus this week for our online community!
Let’s be straight good nutrition is hard at the best of times.
When you are planning to conceive and those early days of the first trimester there are even bigger challenges that can make it feel impossible to eat well or even eat at all.
Hello morning sickness right.
I have seen some dialogue online recently (from other health professionals) to suggest that “just eat what you can” in the first trimester and that “your baby does not need a lot of nutrients” in the first trimester.
Like all things nutrition related there is always a mass of confusing and conflicting advice.
However, this is firstly completely inaccurate – we have significant evidence to support such. Secondly, as this is coming from health professionals there needs to be extra caution here.
“A healthy diet in pregnancy has been demonstrated to be one of the most important factors that promotes optimal maternal and neonatal health outcomes
(Ramakrishnan et al., 2012).
The first trimester can be extremely challenging. I have entered that five times so I more than understand (three full terms babies and two miscarriages). However, nutrition during this period truly does matter. We also know with little doubt of the impact of good nutrition with considerable peer reviewed research to demonstrate this. I have pages and pages of references for this research at the back of The Nourished Bump. Not to mention the countless number that were read before even writing that book.
It has become more mainstream knowledge of the importance of nutrition during the first 1000 days for your baby. This starts literally from the singular moment of conception. Not only is nutrition important from this literal second – it means that your nutrition and wellbeing before conception is fundamentally crucial.
The role of optimal nutrition at preconception, has received too little attention given the nutritional status of the mother at the time of conception is an important determinant of embryonic and fetal growth”
(Marshell et al., 2022)
What About Moderation?
In the introduction to The Nourished Bump I call “moderation” out. This is two-fold for a conception and pregnancy journey. Firstly we can’t aim for moderation when our food environment and socio-cultural environment around food is not moderate. It is so grossly stacked against good food choices. Secondly, as conception and pregnancy is a vulnerable time, a time when your body and your developing baby will really benefit from optimal nutrition, now and for the future - you have less wriggle room (not more!).
Now this is not to say berate yourself, feel guilty or have circumstances that mean it is actually not possible to be able to eat they way you want.
The difference here is between myself as a health professional giving advice and what you do.
Imagine if I did say it was ok and your baby did not develop optimally?! Let alone not support your own recovery and subsequently your ability to be able to be the parent you want to.
I cannot in good faith say this!
Deep down you are also not here to be let off the hook – that's why we seek guidance out right?!
I have nothing but love and compassion for how hard this is and that we are all human - I have dedicated my life's work to this and share has much of my own struggles as possible. I written many books and cookbooks all of which include recipes and advice I have personally used and still use.
I have also not stopped there. I have started my own food brand. I am not just saying do this really hard stuff in a tough food environment, let alone a socio economic culture without also trying to make a significant difference some how there (and if you think for a second it’s easy, think again).
Learning to eat well when you are faced with extra challenges is truly the name of the game and it is part of the preparation for when your baby arrives.
Do I wish it was easier? Of course but working with what we have right now is what we have to do. As a health professional I will guide you to the best I can – for your health, for your conception journey, for the health of your future baby.
So What is Important?
Here is an info-graphic from The Nourished Bump. It quickly summaries what are important nutrients in pregnancy including the first trimester. I also have this blog on food safety in pregnancy which is a good guide.
Eating for Two?
I love a good myth buster. In fact I specifically have small snippets in the book just on unpacking many of the 'myths' that get thrown around colloquially in pregnancy. This may be where the slight confusion lies in early pregnancy. While your total energy requirements do not increase in your first trimester but your nutrient intake does. In fact, your total energy intake only increases by 10% in the second two trimesters. But your body's need for maximum intake of the nutrients in this infographic is significant. This is why you have less wriggle room than before you were pregnant - more so when struggling to get food in.
I hope this blog helps to clarify some of importance of good nutrition during this roller coaster of a journey. I have lots of free recipes on my blog - my latest ones include a high iron option of a Meatball Bake and these Gluten-Free Lemon Bars are a yummy low sugar (and gluten-free) desert option. Of course my Ginger & White Chocolate Cookie mix was made with expecting mums in mind - low sugar and packed with extra fibre, iron and good fats.
Do check out The Nourished Bump it’s packed full of information and over 30 recipes as well. I share lots of nuggets on Instagram and Tiktok plus my podcast is about to kick off – be sure to ask me any questions for this via my contact page!
x Dr Julie