Food & Nutrients To Consume Each Trimester
Written by: Co-Founder Amanda Capriglione, RDN, CDN
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Nicole Palmer, DO
In This Article
Eating for two? It’s more like nourishing for two (or more!). Pregnant women need all the nutrients and only need extra calories in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. During the 1st trimester, some women can find it difficult to keep anything down—thanks to morning sickness. Nutrients from food (and extra nutrients from prenatal vitamins) are vital during each trimester in pregnancy. Counting calories isn’t necessary during pregnancy (let your appetite be your guide! Hint: it usually increases in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters – hello biology!) but making sure your meals are full of foods that nourish you and your baby’s growth is of utmost importance. To actually create life is just an amazing part of life.
Below you’ll find important nutrients and their corresponding foods for each trimester. Aim to consume at least two servings of these nutrients daily. Hint: some foods contain multiple nutrients! Continue to consume all of these nutrients throughout each stage of pregnancy! There’s also no need to drive yourself crazy and count each nutrient down to the milligram. Eating various foods plus a prenatal vitamin (link) will ensure that you and your baby get what you need to thrive!
THE FIRST TRIMESTER
The first trimester is a critical developmental period for your growing baby. From 1-13 weeks, embryonic growth consists of central nervous system development, heart, digestive system development, eyes, ears, palate, teeth, and external genital development. With the help of food and nutrition, all of this development and growth happens in a tiny little baby! Some women tend to become nauseous during the first trimester of pregnancy, most likely due to hormones. Women typically “crave” carbohydrate-type foods like bread or pasta to help combat nausea. It’s important to just eat anything that you can keep down and continue to take a prenatal vitamin to ensure optimal nutrient intake.
IMPORTANT NUTRIENTS AND FOODS FOR THE FIRST TRIMESTER
Healthy Fats like Omega 3’s and unsaturated fats are important for brain and tissue development. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a type of Omega 3.
Consume foods like salmon, walnuts, and chia seeds for Omega 3 fatty acids. Nuts/nut butter, whole milk dairy, and avocado are heart-healthy unsaturated fats. We love roasted salmon with veggies, peanut butter on apples, and Mama’s guac.
Pregnant women need 200 mcg daily. Try to take a complete prenatal with DHA.
Folate helps to prevent birth defects of the brain and spinal cord like spina-bifida. During the first trimester, the baby’s nervous system begins to develop therefore a sufficient amount of folate is vital.
Leafy greens, legumes, and eggs contain folate. Look for methylfolate in prenatal vitamins, which is the most absorbable form. We love making egg omelets with lots of veggies and lentil soup.
Pregnant women need 600 mcg of folate daily.
Choline is necessary for early brain development and the communication between cells and gene expression. It also helps produce the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, which is essential for memory, mood, muscle control, and other nervous system functions.
Foods that contain choline include eggs, cooked cod, soymilk, red potatoes, wheat germ, and cooked quinoa. Add soymilk to smoothies, bake fish with olive oil and spices, and cook omelets with potatoes and veggies.
Pregnant women need 450 mg of choline daily.
Vitamin C is needed to help your little one’s bones and teeth develop in addition to tissue repair and wound healing. Vitamin C also aids in the body’s collagen production and boosts immunity.
Vitamin C is found in a variety of fruits and veggies. Foods high in vitamin C are yellow peppers, strawberries, parsley, kale, kiwi, and broccoli. Consuming vitamin C rich foods like strawberries and broccoli along with non-heme iron foods (beans, spinach) helps your body absorb the iron.
Pregnant women need 85 mg of vitamin C daily.
Probiotics help keep mom’s immune system and digestive system in check simply by being beneficial bacteria. A healthy gut sustains a healthy immune system and keeps mom regular. Make sure to also eat prebiotic foods like veggies and oats, which help “feed” the probiotics.
Probiotics foods consist of yogurt (look on the label to make sure it contains the bacteria), kefir, miso, and pickled foods like sauerkraut, pickles, and kimchi. Kefir is a yogurt drink, so it’s perfect for adding to smoothies. Do you have any pickle cravings yet? Excellent, you’re getting your probiotics!
There is no known amount of probiotics that pregnant women should take. Aim for one serving of the above foods daily.
THE SECOND TRIMESTER
The second trimester is full of happy surprises like feeling your baby’s first kick and an improved appetite! From 14-26 weeks, your little babes’ growth continues with central nervous system development and eyes, ears, palate, teeth, and external genital development. Your little ones’ skeletal system begins to take more formation and needs the necessary nutrients to form. Mom’s digestive system may also need a little extra help to move along!
IMPORTANT NUTRIENTS & FOODS FOR THE SECOND TRIMESTER
Fiber during pregnancy helps to promote heart health, reduces the risk of preeclampsia, and aids in preventing constipation. By the 2nd trimester (and beyond!), it becomes more difficult for a woman to be “regular” due to hormones and a growing belly that shifts around digestive organs! All foods that contain fiber also have a variety of other healthy nutrients, so that’s also a plus!
High fiber foods consist of red raspberries, pea, beans, and oatmeal. We love to add raspberries to salads and oatmeal and peas and beans to rice and soups. Green peas also taste great when mixed in marinara sauce. For an entire list of foods plus more ideas on preparing them.
Pregnant women need from 25-30 grams of fiber daily.
Protein is a crucial nutrient needed for babies’ continued growth. Babies grow rapidly in the last few weeks of the 2nd trimester, especially.
Protein foods we love are lentils, salmon (DHA & protein!), and peanut butter. We have two delicious & nutritious lentil soup recipes in our e-book. Peanut butter on everything from apples to oatmeal. Be sure to purchase the natural kind with just peanuts (and salt).
Pregnant women need about 70 grams of protein daily. It sounds like a lot, but it is simple to achieve! For measure, about 3 oz of chicken has 26 grams of protein, ½ cup of lentils have 9 grams of protein, and one egg has 6 grams of protein.
Iron is needed to make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to tissues. Pregnant women’s iron needs double because they need to make more blood to supply oxygen to the baby. Iron deficiency during pregnancy can result in fatigue and increases moms’ risk for premature birth, low birth weight baby, and even postpartum depression.
Foods containing iron consist of meat, beans, poultry, and spinach. Plant-based iron foods like spinach and beans contain non-heme iron, which needs vitamin C to help with absorption. For example, adding strawberries to a spinach salad helps your body absorb the iron in spinach because strawberries are high in vitamin C. We love making fajitas with meat and/or chicken and adding spinach to smoothies, soups, and salads.
Pregnant women need 27 milligrams daily.
Vitamin D & Calcium help build the baby’s bones and teeth by working together to help ensure bone development. By week 20, your little babe’s bones are visible in the ultrasound. Calcium also helps mom’s circulatory, muscular, and nervous system run normally.
Salmon is an excellent source of vitamin D as well as the sun! Milk and orange juice are also fortified with vitamin D. Calcium is found in dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese. It’s also found in non-dairy products like broccoli and spinach.
Pregnant women need 600 IU of vitamin D and 1,000 mg of calcium daily.
Magnesium & Phosphorus are also involved in bone cell formation. Magnesium also helps to regular every system in the body. If a pregnant woman feels fatigued (we know that’s often), it could be due to decreased magnesium intake. Phosphorus is important in many bodily functions like muscle movement.
Magnesium-rich foods are almonds, spinach, avocado, peanut butter, and yogurt. We love adding almonds to cereal and smoothies and peanut butter to plain, whole milk yogurt. Phosphorus is high in salmon, milk, lentils, eggs, and whole wheat bread.
Pregnant women need about 350 mg of magnesium and 700 mg of phosphorus daily.
THE THIRD TRIMESTER
The third trimester is the last and final stretch. At this point, pregnant women tend to consume more food because the baby grows about ½ pound each week from weeks 27 to 40 rapidly. By week 32, the baby’s bones are fully formed and now store iron and calcium. Be sure to continue to include all the nutrients mentioned above, as well as vitamin K and biotin.
IMPORTANT NUTRIENTS & FOODS FOR THE THIRD TRIMESTER
Vitamin K helps blood to clot. It is essential to help prevent serious bleeding during childbirth. It’s also important to help maintain healthy bones.
Vitamin K is found in green leafy veggies such as kale, spinach, turnip greens, romaine, and Swiss chard. It’s also in vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage.
There is no recommended daily intake for vitamin K for pregnant women; however, a suggested adequate intake is 90 mcg for women.
Biotin is needed in pregnancy to help support increased metabolic demand. It can also help mom’s energy, mood, and stress improve.
Biotin is found in egg yolks, nuts and seeds, legumes, sweet potatoes, and bananas. We love making scrambled eggs with potato hash browns and adding nuts and bananas to cereal. Biotin & breakfast, mama!
Pregnant women need about 30 mcg of biotin daily.
For more tips on how to eat healthy while pregnant, visit our mama blog!
- Zerfu, Taddese Alemu, and Aleme Mekuria. “Pregnant women have inadequate fiber intake while consuming fiber-rich diets in low-income rural setting: Evidences from Analysis of common "ready-to-eat" stable foods.” Food science & nutrition vol. 7,10 3286-3292. 5 Sep. 2019, doi:10.1002/fsn3.1188
- Kovacs CS. Bone development in the fetus and neonate: role of the calciotropic hormones. Curr Osteoporos Rep. 2011 Dec;9(4):274-83. doi: 10.1007/s11914-011-0073-0. PMID: 21904825.