How important is diet in early pregnancy?


Fertility expert Zita West examines the importance of diet in early pregnancy

A healthy diet during pregnancy will guarantee you get all the nutrients you and your developing baby need. But in reality, for many women, a perfectly balanced diet isn’t always possible, especially around the beginning of pregnancy when your blood sugar is fluctuating, and you’re feeling tired and sick.

However, research shows that what you eat (and what you don’t eat) during pregnancy can have a profound effect, not only on how healthy and enjoyable a pregnancy you have, but on the health and development of your baby for her whole life. That’s why it’s important to build up your nutritional reserves prior to pregnancy so your baby can rely on them even when your diet isn’t perfect.

I often talk about pregnancy being a 15-month event. Not only do you have the nine months with child, but the three months beforehand are really important too, in terms of laying down the foundations for a healthy pregnancy nutritionally.

As your baby develops and your body is required to cope with the additional demands, both will draw from your nutrient stores. Here’s how yours and your baby’s needs change nutritionally with each trimester:

First Trimester

Good nutrition is particularly important during the first trimester when your baby is developing and the risk of miscarriage is at its highest. In your first trimester you’re laying the foundations for all of your baby’s organs, and there are key nutrients that are needed during this time. One very important one is folate which is vital for nerve development, but also for preventing neural tube defects, so many women are encouraged to take folic acid before and during pregnancy. Folate is rich in foods such as broccoli, parsley, cabbage and spinach. You should also make sure you have plenty of omega 3 in your system to help with brain development which you can find in oily fish.

Second Trimester

The second trimester is a crucial time for the development of baby’s skeleton. Drinking plenty of milk and eating yoghurt will help boost your calcium levels, enabling your baby’s bones and teeth to grow. Vitamin D and magnesium are also vital at this stage – you can get this from oily fish, while magnesium is found in green leafy veg, nuts and seeds.

Third Trimester

During this phase your baby is rapidly developing and you will be gaining weight. But make sure you focus on quality not quantity. Between 28 and 40 weeks, your baby’s brain goes through a growth period and it needs fats, so eat oily fish, which is rich in omega 3. However, you won’t be getting enough through diet alone, so I recommend supplements to top up on this. Protein is also important (meat, fish and eggs) as your baby will be building muscle and tissue, and iron, from spinach, lentils and sardines, is vital to build up your stores in preparation for labour. Other important nutrients to top up include vitamin C, vitamin K, zinc and glycine.

Zita West is the founder of the Zita West Fertility Clinic which specialises in a holistic approach to IVF – Instagram: @the_first_1000_days

Want more? How your pregnancy diet can affect baby’s future health