Nutrition is incredibly important during pregnancy. The developing baby, and mother, require plenty of nutrients to thrive both during the pregnancy and beyond.
However, many women struggle with food aversions, morning sickness, and intense cravings that can make eating a hassle. Also, eating healthy can feel impossible.
In this article, we’ll discuss some tips to help you eat well when nothing sounds appetizing, as well as what to eat for an optimal pregnancy.
Tips for Eating Healthy During Morning (or All-Day) Sickness
Despite its name, morning sickness often occurs throughout the day. It varies in intensity from woman to woman and can be difficult to manage. If you’re struggling to keep food down, you aren’t alone. 85% of women experience this pregnancy woe.
Some research suggests morning sickness may be worsened by a deficiency in vitamin B6. Interestingly, many women report reduced symptoms if they eat protein immediately upon waking.
Here are some tips and tricks for dealing with morning sickness, as well as some methods for coping until it passes (which for most women, is in the second trimester).
Ginger is a common remedy for nausea. It’s great for soothing the stomach and combating queasiness. Its warming effect can help ease irritation, as well. However, if you’re actively throwing up (and not just feeling like you might at any second), you may want to try a cooling tea instead. Since ginger can be considered spicy, meaning it causes a hot or burning sensation, it can cause more irritation in your throat if you vomit.
A cooling herb, peppermint may be a good alternative if you want relief between vomiting spells. Peppermint has similar benefits to ginger tea but without the spiciness.
Sipping warm peppermint tea will provide a cooling effect in your throat. That’s great news since vomiting or dry heaving can cause throat irritation. Like ginger, peppermint also helps calm the stomach.
You can buy peppermint tea in many “Morning Sickness” tea blends or make your own by steeping the leaves in boiling water for several minutes before straining them into a mug.
Vitamin B6 Supplements
Some research suggests nausea and vomiting during pregnancy can be remedied by increasing your intake of vitamin B6. This may be through your diet or supplements. There are also specific anti-nausea gummies that contain B6 to target nausea.
One study showed that women in their first trimester experienced similar nausea relief when taking either 500 mg of ginger or 40 mg of vitamin B6 twice daily versus placebo. Both ginger and B6 were more effective than the placebo, with similar overall results between ginger and B6. Ginger was more effective for reducing the intensity of vomiting.
Eat Protein Upon Waking
Before getting out of bed, try snacking on something with protein first thing in the morning.
Peanut butter crackers are a good mixture. The crackers are easy to digest, while the peanut butter has protein to keep nausea at bay. You can keep them on your nightstand for easy access.
- Peanut butter and half a banana
- Trail mix with nuts such as cashews, almonds, or walnuts
- Greek yogurt
Morning Sickness vs. Hyperemesis Gravidarum
Sometimes, women experience extreme bouts of vomiting. While rare, this condition is called hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). It’s characterized by severe nausea and vomiting resulting in dizziness and fainting. It can lead to issues such as dehydration or weight loss, which can negatively impact mom and baby.
Unlike morning sickness, which is mild in comparison, HG sufferers are unable to keep any food or drink down due to near-constant vomiting.
If you suspect you may have HG, it’s important to discuss this with your healthcare professional right away.
Eating Well with Morning Sickness
Every woman’s experience is different, so making specific recommendations for combating your nausea struggles will be best handled by your healthcare provider. However, here are some quick tips for what to eat when nothing sounds good and/or you’re throwing up throughout the day.
- If you have a food aversion to meat or eggs, it can be difficult to get enough protein. Some women find that eating Greek yogurt is easy on their stomach while still being high in protein (often 10 or more grams per serving). Protein shakes also are an easy way to increase your protein intake. They come in many flavors and varieties, so many women find this to be both a convenient and easy way to feel full longer, keep nausea at bay, and meet protein needs.
- Staying hydrated while you’re experiencing nausea and vomiting can make a big difference. Vomiting can cause dehydration, which can make fatigue worse. Some women find that they tolerate ice-cold water better when they’re nauseous. Carry a water bottle with you so you remember to drink plenty of water.
- Listen to your body. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with thoughts of how much you “should” be eating and whether your lack of appetite or vomiting is negatively impacting your baby. However, it’s important to know that calorie needs don’t increase in the first trimester, and morning sickness is a normal part of the pregnancy process. It’s one sign that your hormones are doing exactly what they need to for your baby’s development. It’s a good idea to listen to your body’s signals during this time and be mindful to consume healthy foods that your body is telling you it needs. For example, if you can’t stand eggs but think you may be craving protein, reach for some nuts or Greek yogurt to get the protein or fat your body may be asking for.
Some of the Best Nourishing Foods for Pregnancy
Good nutrition is vital throughout pregnancy. Each stage of development for a baby comes with different nutrient needs. And, for mom to feel her best, getting enough of these nutrients is key to avoiding the effects of nutrient depletion. If you’re experiencing fatigue, mental fog, or dizziness, these may be remedied by eating a more nutritious diet.
Fatty fish like salmon are excellent sources of EPA and DHA. These fats are necessary for the baby’s brain, particularly cognitive and visual development. Two servings of fatty fish per week are recommended to help meet this requirement. Your prenatal vitamin may also contain DHA, or you can find a separate supplement. If you’re vegan, look for DHA supplements made from algae.
It’s important to look for low-mercury fish during pregnancy to avoid mercury getting into the baby. Other low-mercury, high DHA fish include sardines and trout.
Greens such as kale and spinach contain folate, which is important for spinal cord development. Folate is especially important in the first trimester when the spinal column is forming. The neural tube is closed at about 4 weeks gestation, so eating plenty of leafy greens and other folate-containing foods is important before pregnancy as well, given that many women don’t realize they’re pregnant by the 4th week of gestation.
Eating high-quality red meats, beans, spinach, and pumpkin seeds is important for getting enough iron in your diet. Pairing these types of foods with a source of vitamin C such as citrus, bell pepper, or strawberries will increase the absorption of iron as well.
Iron is needed to keep up with the increased blood volume your body creates. This blood goes to the placenta and baby to deliver nutrients. Without iron, your body can’t deliver oxygen and other nutrients as effectively.
Choline is just as important for cognitive development as DHA. One egg contains 169 mg of choline, about 38% of your daily needs during pregnancy. Studies demonstrate choline’s role in lifelong memory function and neural tube development.
Despite its documented significance, many popular drugstore prenatal vitamins don’t contain choline, so it’s important to know dietary sources. In addition to eggs, choline can be found in organ meats such as beef or chicken liver.
Vitamin D and Calcium
These vitamins are important for fetal bone development. They work together to build strong bones in-utero, and this is important for bone health throughout life. The current recommendation for vitamin D intake is 600 IU per day. For calcium, the daily recommendation is 1,000 mg.
Sources of calcium include dairy products, leafy greens, and low-fat yogurt. Sources of vitamin D, apart from the sun, include fatty fish, cod liver oil, white mushrooms, and eggs.
Note: calcium and iron compete for absorption in the body, so if you’re supplementing iron, be careful to take your iron supplement 2-4 hours apart from high-calcium foods or beverages.
You’ve probably heard that pregnant women need to drink plenty of water. You may dread this fact since a baby kicking and pushing on your bladder means frequent restroom visits.
Your growing baby is suspended in amniotic fluid. Your own body, as well as your baby’s body, is made up of lots of water, too. To keep up with the increased demand, replenishing fluids is key.
Plus, proper hydration can decrease your risk for other unpleasant pregnancy issues like urinary tract infections.
Lemon water is a great way to stay hydrated. Lemons contain electrolytes such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Adding lemon to your water helps your body stay hydrated longer than plain water. Coconut water has a similar effect.
High-Quality Prenatal Vitamin
Taking a prenatal vitamin is highly recommended, even if you eat a stellar, nutrient-dense diet. Especially during the first trimester when food intakes can vary widely, it’s wise to invest in the highest quality prenatal supplement that works for your budget and your stomach.
You may have to try a few before you find one that makes you feel your best. So, if you’re planning to become pregnant, now is the best time to start testing out different ones. Just keep in mind that what you take while planning conception may need to change if it doesn’t agree with your stomach once you’re pregnant.
A prenatal can help make sure you’re meeting all your nutrient needs, even when you’re craving chili cheese dogs or hanging out by the toilet most of the day.
A Few Key Nutrients to Look for in a Prenatal Vitamin
- Look for a prenatal with methylated folate (5-MTHF). This is the active form of folate and is better absorbed by the body. The current recommendations for folate are 400 mcg per day.
- If your prenatal doesn’t contain iron or DHA, talk with your provider about supplementing with these separately. Not all women require iron supplementation during pregnancy, but most women are at risk for low iron levels due to increased blood volume. DHA is necessary for proper brain development and should be taken in addition to a prenatal if the prenatal doesn’t contain it. The current recommendations for DHA intake are 300 mg per day. Pregnant women require at least 27 mg of iron per day. It’s important to discuss this with your healthcare provider to know if you need to take additional iron.
- Choline is newer on the prenatal nutrition scene. A growing body of scientific evidence is demonstrating how important this nutrient is for fetal brain development. Unfortunately, most women don’t meet the recommendations for this nutrient. The current recommendation for choline intake is 450 mg per day.
Pregnancy is a time of exponential growth and change for both mother and baby. While most women know nutrition is key during pregnancy, it can often be an uphill battle trying to meet your goals.
Thankfully, there are many ways to manage morning sickness. Natural remedies such as ginger or peppermint tea can help you cope, but if you find yourself unable to go about your daily activities due to vomiting, or feeling dizzy, weak, or faint, it may be a sign of a more serious condition that justifies a call to your OBGYN or midwife.
Food aversions and loss of appetite are other common barriers to eating well during pregnancy. It’s important to listen to your body while focusing on eating a balance of healthy carbs, protein, and healthy fats. It’s important not to be too hard on yourself and invest in a high-quality prenatal to ensure you’re meeting your ideal nutrient intakes.
By focusing on the key nutrients mentioned in this article, you can optimize your nutrition to have a healthier pregnancy and give your baby a great start in life. Your doctor, midwife, or dietitian who specializes in prenatal nutrition can help make personalized recommendations to address your needs and concerns.
At BrainMD, we’re dedicated to providing the highest purity nutrients to improve your physical health and overall well-being. For more information about our full list of brain healthy supplements, please visit us at BrainMD.
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