When a woman learns that she’s pregnant, her diet, nutritional needs, and overall fitness levels have new meaning, and they often need to be re-evaluated.

Women's Health | one month ago

For Expectant Mothers, the First Trimester is Time to Start Planning for Change

When a woman learns that she’s pregnant, her diet, nutritional needs, and overall fitness levels have new meaning, and they often need to be re-evaluated.

As excited as moms-to-be may be when they first learn they are pregnant, they also likely have a hundred thoughts that come to mind. Thoughts about what’s ahead and what they might have to leave behind, especially if their current lifestyle needs some tweaking for motherhood.

“It’s time to think about preventive measures you can take to make sure you deliver as healthy a baby as possible,” says Martha Edwards, MD, a pediatrician at Atrium Health Levine Children’s Rock Hill Pediatric Associates. “You can start by thinking about your own health.”

That means considering the possible impact of what you put in your body and looking into possible effects of any medications you take. Some are safe for pregnancy, others maybe not as much. It’s also the perfect point to quit – or at least seriously decrease – smoking cigarettes if that’s a habit.

“Fortunately, you have time, but it’s good to make adjustments as early as possible, ” Dr. Edwards says. “Besides smoking, you certainly want to cut out any alcohol consumption in the first trimester. We do see children with fetal alcohol syndrome, and they can have lots of issues with learning and behavior.”

“The first trimester is extremely important, but if you get through it and didn’t know you were pregnant, there’s no time like the present,” she says. “It’s always a good time to start making changes.”

“It's also important to consider making an appointment with your OB/GYN to discuss your health before attempting to conceive. At a pre-conception consultation, your physician will go over your medications and your health history. You also may be offered pre-conception genetic testing in order to optimize both your pregnancy and the health of a future baby,” says Joshua Counihan, MD, an OB/GYN with Atrium Health Eastover OB/GYN – Morehead Medical Plaza.

Nutrition

OB/GYN physicians recommend eating 300 more calories per day than you normally would eat when not pregnant. Whole foods, and avoiding processed foods, is a great way to get essential nutrients.

While you might enjoy fast food and junking out, those aren’t the best dietary choices for your baby. Dr. Edwards recommends loading up on fruits and vegetables that provide vitamins a baby needs – and what moms need to deliver a healthy baby.

“Eating vitamin-rich foods is important. Try to eat a healthy diet with five servings of fruits or vegetables a day,” Dr. Edwards says. “In general, things with fewer ingredients and less processed foods. If you read the label and have trouble pronouncing words on the ingredient list, it’s not something you should eat routinely. Avoid fast foods with lots of additives and preservatives.”

Pregnant women, and women who are trying to conceive, should consult with their OB/GYN about starting on a prenatal vitamin and how much folic acid they should be taking. “We typically recommend taking an extra Vitamin D supplement as well, since most prenatal vitamins do not have enough in it,” says Dr. Counihan. Iron is another mineral that expectant mothers need in their diet to avoid anemia, as well as promote brain development in the baby.  

Also, your list of favorite beverages might need changes beyond eliminating alcohol: “Drink more water rather than sugary drinks,” Dr. Edwards says. Hydration is key in pregnancy – drinking plenty of water helps reduce cramping, preterm contractions and headaches and promotes fetal growth.

Fitness

Women in the first trimester should be fine continuing their normal exercise regimen – within reason.

“Essentially all exercise is not only permitted, but encouraged, in pregnancy,” says Dr. Counihan. Women should avoid contact sports while pregnant, so they avoid trauma to their abdomens. But almost all other sports or activities, including (but not limited to) yoga, swimming, high-intensity interval training, weightlifting, running, and cycling are completely fine to do while pregnant.”

Of course, it's important to first talk with your physician about the type of exercise and activity. Consistent exercise during pregnancy helps during labor and delivery, and during postpartum recovery.

“Physical activity is good for the baby, too, because it reduces the mother’s stress level. Anything that helps mom feel healthier herself is going to help the baby,” says Dr. Edwards.

Dr. Edwards also says the mother’s physical fitness can transfer in tangible ways. The result can be better blood flow, which leads to an enriched placenta, which aids the baby’s brain development.  “Getting mom’s body in a healthier state is good for the baby. If you’re not exercising, this is a great time to start. Take a walk or have a routine you can continue.”

Fitness extends beyond the physical, she says. Expectant parents need to be healthy mentally, too, as much as possible. That means looking at your own background and experiences with your parents and deciding how YOU want to parent. “If you had a difficult childhood yourself, this is a great time to start seeing a counselor,” Dr. Edwards says.

“The first trimester is a good time to get your ducks in a row and your head in a good space as you prepare to bring another being into this world.”

As you begin your pregnancy journey, remember it’s a good idea to begin searching for a pediatrician. Visit online to find a pediatrician near you. Additionally, if you have any specific questions about what to know in the first trimester of pregnancy, contact your doctor or OB/GYN. Looking for an OB/GYN as you start a family? We’re here to help: Women’s Care

If you like this article, and want to see more like it, you can also get a free copy of Atrium Health’s “Your Guide to Pregnancy & Motherhood.”