12th July 2012 by SevenSeasLife | 0 Comments
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When you are in the early stages of pregnancy, especially if you are looking forward to your first child, a whole new world of information suddenly bombards you. Sometimes the transition into your ‘pregnant’ state of mind can be a challenge. You may take a while to get your head around how your behaviours and foods choices should change. Prioritisation is the key here. Your most immediate action list is as follows:
Pregnancy is divided into three stages or trimesters. Nutritional strategies for your first 12 weeks, or trimester of pregnancy are focussed on here. However, your health in pregnancy is not divided into these neat little stages – NO! Your nutritional and general health status is influenced by what you have been up to before you conceived! So, if you are planning to start a family make sure that you are already following the guidelines for eating for a healthy pregnancy, including supplementation.
Pregnancies are dated from the beginning of the last period but fertilisation normally takes place around ovulation at week 2, of a roughly 28 day cycle. Your first trimester progresses very quickly, as does the early development of your foetus.
By the time you are at 12 weeks and entering your second trimester all the organs and bone structures of your foetus are in place. The heart has starting beating although of course it is not fully formed. By around week 5, the neural tube will close, this will contain the developing structures for the brain, backbone and spine – one week after your period was due!. We will come onto neural development and nutrition later.
Good nutrition at the very start of your pregnancy is vital. The principles of healthy eating have never been more important than when you are first pregnant. Do not miss this opportunity to nourish your baby in the best way possible. Do not wait to follow the pregnancy guidelines until you have confirmation from your pregnancy test. If you are trying to become pregnant, it is best to follow a pregnancy diet, see below.
If your pregnancy was a unplanned, don’t panic – just get straight on to the dietary recommendations here.
You may be feeling queasy with a range of sickness symptomsranging from ‘going off’ foods to violent daily sickness. The exact cause of morning sickness is not known, although it is thought to be a way that nature defends the foetus from foods that may be contaminated by toxins or bugs. Follow some simple tips to reduce nausea:
If you are suffering from nausea and vomiting during your first trimester, make sure that you mention it to your midwife. There may be other factors causing your illness and they should be eliminated.
It is also common to feel tired during the first trimester of pregnancy. It goes without saying that you need to make sure that you rest as much as possible. It is also important that you get checked by your midwife or GP for deficiencies, most significantly iron. Ask for a blood test to eliminate anaemia.
Beware, it is tempting to prop yourself with sugary snacks and quick release foods – especially since the ‘grab a cup of tea of coffee’ quick fix is not an option! This strategy will probably make you feel gradually worse and gain unnecessary weight. By eating calories lacking nutritional value you are depriving your foetus of the nutrients contained within more wholesome options. Eat meals little and often and avoid big meals. Make sure every single mouthful you eat follows these recommendations:
One of the symptoms of being pregnant is needing to go to the loo all the time. This is caused by the changes in hormones associated with pregnancy and an increased amount of blood in your body – both of which increase the flow through your kidneys to produce more urine. Again, mention how often you are going and how much to your midwife. You need to eliminate frequent urination as a sign of ill health e.g. gestational diabetes or a urinary tract infection. The latter can be very common in pregnancy. You must not deprive your body of water during this time. You could consider avoiding diuretic foods and drinks – you will be avoiding caffeine colas anyway, but many sodas can be dehydrating. Diuretic foods include: asparagus, artichoke, apple cider vinegar, celery, lemon, fennel, watermelon.
Make sure you record feeling dizzy or faint with your midwife. Your body is busy producing more and more blood which will be used in the placenta and absorbed into your baby. This change to your cardiovascular system can be the cause of feeling faint. Alternatively you may have low blood sugar or you could be dehydrated.
Whilst it is healthy to make sure that you are gaining enough weight in pregnancy, gaining too much or too little can lower chances for good health for you and your baby. You may be eating for two, but you do not need to increase your daily calorific intake in the first trimester8. Beware if you are eating to pep up your energy supplies, see above.
We should be able to get all we need from a healthy balanced diet – but do we? Prenatal supplementation is widely acknowledged to be a good idea during pregnancy. The government recommends supplementation with Folic acid, Vitamin D as a minimum.
Here we will outline the nutrients that are most relevant to your first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Do note however, this is just of list of priorities and is not exclusive. Whole foods contain a complex number of nutrients for a reason; they work with each other both in the plants, grains or animals and in our bodies. We do not fully understand these interrelationships, but we do know that supplementing some nutrients without others can throw us out of balance. For this reason we recommend a specifically developed multivitamin and mineral formulation for preconception and throughout pregnancy. In addition, where there is a deficiency of folic acid for example, it is likely that a woman is deficient in a range of nutrients.
Having optimal folic acid is well documented as crucial for the normal development in the ‘neural tube’. Deficiency in folic acid is associated with neural tube defects e.g. spina bifida. A study showed that pregnancies resulting in neural tube defects correlate with significantly lower folic acid and B12 levels in the first trimester of pregnancy. A study across 33 locations supplemented women with 400ug of folic acid and found a 72% protective effect, this study measured the impact of supplementing with other nutrients, none of which had any significant effect on neural tube risk. Make sure that your prenatal supplement contains at least 400ug of folic acid. NOTE: the neural tube closes in week 5 of pregnancy. Evidence from a recent UK study showed that only 12% women took folic acid supplements before falling pregnant and only 17% before neural tube closure . Folate supplementation has also been found to improve birth weight, head circumference and length of newborn babies.
A deficiency in B12 is associated with neural tube defects. Vegetarians and vegans should be aware that they are at significant risk of a B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 works with folic acid to clear a potentially toxic by product of body processes, homocysteine. Low B12, folic acid and high homocysteine levels in the body during pregnancy are associated with birth defects and pregnancy complications.
Low iron status can be common in pregnancy. It is therefore important to check that anaemia is not the cause of low energy or fatigue. A study in the USA found that 8% of women had low iron status in the first trimester of pregnancy. Although the research is not consistent, low iron status has been associated with low birth weight, small for gestational age and preterm delivery.
Vitamin D status has been widely reported to be alarmingly low in the UK. Vitamin D supplementation is recommended by the government throughout pregnancy. Low Vitamin D status is associated with increased risk of preeclampsia. Low Vitamin D status in the first trimester could be associated with low birth weight for gestational age, although there is some conflict in the evidence. Vitamin D also works with Calcium to build the structure and strength of bones in the growing foetus. Both should be included in a prenatal multivitamin and mineral supplement.
Zinc is important in pregnancy as it influences cell division, growth and development of the foetus. Zinc levels in the body steadily lower during pregnancy. Mild zinc deficiency is associated with low birth weight, slowed growth in the uterus and preterm delivery.
As we have discussed the development of all of your baby’s body organs starts in the first few weeks of your pregnancy. Omega 3 and 6 fats are essential for the health of every human cell. They are found in highest concentrations in the brain and nervous system and are known to be important in cell division, cell communication and inflammation in the body. They make up a large proportion of the membrane of every living cell. Omega 3 supplementation improves length of gestational period and birth weight and mental performance of the child. Higher intake of omega 3 fats EPA and DHA are also associated with reduced risk of preeclampsia .
We have focussed on the nutritional needs of pregnant women during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, although the generic advice for pregnancy applies throughout your pregnancy including the first 12 weeks. There are specific symptoms associated with the first trimester of pregnancy and we have aimed to tackle these issues and suggest some strategies to reduce suffering. Throughout pregnancy do not forget the importance of good nutrition and sensible lifestyle choices- the research is there to prove it!
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