Nutrients You Need For Each Stage Of Pregnancy

In this article:
  • Why are prenatal vitamins important during pregnancy?
  • How is your baby growing during the different trimesters?
  • What are the common pregnancy symptoms?
  • What nutrients are needed during each trimester?
  • How can you get these nutrients from the food you eat?

The pregnancy journey is so much more than just the physical side of things. As an expectant mother, Google may have become your best friend and educator, as you go through each stage of pregnancy. Your nutrition may be one of those areas that you’ve been researching a lot to ensure you’re eating adequate nutrients and portions for you and your growing baby. It’s so important to also know what nutrients you need for each stage of pregnancy.

Pregnancy is typically broken down into three trimesters that are marked by specific fetal development. The three trimesters are sometimes broadly identified as formation, development and growth, respectively. Although it’s good to build up essential nutrients throughout your entire pregnancy, some experts believe that as your body changes during each stage of pregnancy, so do your nutritional needs. Subsequently, your prenatal vitamins and what and how you eat should adjust to fit each stage of pregnancy. But if you want to take the guesswork out of picking prenatals, then we recommend Ellement, a company committed to personalizing your vitamins for you each month as your pregnancy needs change. How's that for convenient? 😉

First Trimester of Pregnancy

The first trimester of pregnancy, also called the embryonic stage, is the most vital for your baby's development. During this time, embryo cells start to multiply and form your baby’s body structure, organs, and nervous system. The digestive tract, spinal cord, heart, and brain start to form first, and the placenta. These changes continue until about week 10 when the embryonic stage ends. Your baby’s reproductive organs are also formed by the end of this phase, but it’s still too early to know the baby’s sex for sure by an ultrasound.

Your body also goes through changes during the first trimester that may show up as nausea, fatigue, tender breasts, and constant urination. Some key nutrients that should help build up your body and your baby’s during this stage, include:

  • Folic acid. This is the most vital nutrient for your pregnancy and especially for the first trimester. Folic acid is key in minimizing neural tube defects in your baby as its spinal cord is being formed. The dosage for folic acid can range from 400 to 1,000 micrograms per day throughout pregnancy, but consult your OBGYN for the specific dosage for your needs. Taking a prenatal vitamin daily is also important since you may not consume sufficient amounts of folic acid from the foods you eat daily. Some folic-acid-rich foods are oranges, strawberries, fortified breakfast cereals, kidney beans, green leafy vegetables, cauliflower and beets, and nuts.
  • Iron. During pregnancy, your blood volume increases by about fifty percent. This explains why you’re so tired! By increasing your intake of iron, you’re helping your body to maintain a healthy immune system and also minimizing your chances of pregnancy-induced anemia. Iron is also great for your growing body by boosting your energy and helping your muscles, heart, lungs and other organs function properly. Iron is also essential for the formation of hemoglobin in your baby, so they can receive sufficient oxygen to develop a strong heart, lungs, and muscles. Most moms aim for between 18 and 27 milligrams of iron per day, subject to their OBGYN’s recommendation. In addition to your prenatal vitamins, lean red meats have naturally high amounts of iron plus chicken and eggs. Legumes, vegetables, and grains are also great natural sources.
  • DHA. DHA is crucial for the growth and development of your baby’s brain. DHA also helps with the length of your baby’s gestation and birth weight. DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid found in low-mercury fish, eggs, meats, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and dark leafy vegetables. Oily fish, like salmon, mackerel, trout, and herring, typically have significantly more DHA than non-marine food sources.

Pregnant women, however, should be careful when consuming marine food sources that have DHA, because many of these fish also contain high levels of mercury like swordfish, which is toxic for you and your baby.

Second Trimester of Pregnancy

In your second trimester of pregnancy, you’ve entered what’s sometimes called the “golden period”, where some of the symptoms during the first trimester start to fade. The second trimester of pregnancy starts at week 13 when your baby enters the fetal stage. During this period, your baby may grow from about 3 inches long and 1 ounce in weight to about 10 inches long and 1 pound in weight.

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During the second trimester, your baby starts to suck, swallow and even move around in your uterus. Your baby’s muscles begin to develop and grow and the major organs like the liver and pancreas also grow stronger. Although you may be experiencing less nausea, have better sleep and have more energy, other unpleasant symptoms may develop, such as heartburn, back pain, leg cramps, abdominal pain, and constipation.

The good thing about your second trimester of pregnancy is that you can eat more! You should typically increase your calories by about 340 calories per day, but try to stick to foods that can help you gain healthy weight like avocados, nuts, seeds, and hummus. During the second trimester, it’s still important to be on top of your prenatal vitamins and to continue incorporating those essential nutrients from the first trimester. In addition, the following nutrients are key for your baby’s growth and development in the second trimester:

  • Protein. This is crucial for you and your baby’s muscle development. Try to consume about 75 grams per day from sources like eggs, Greek yogurt, and chicken.
  • Calcium: It is essential for building your baby’s bones and teeth. If you’re not having enough calcium in your diet, your body will leach it from your bones. So try to consume about 1,000 to 1,300 mg of calcium per day. Some great calcium-rich foods are milk, cheese, yogurt, calcium-fortified orange juice, salmon, sardines, broccoli, kale, and other leafy greens, broccoli.
  • Magnesium: It is a key mineral that helps regulate almost every system in your body. Magnesium works alongside calcium to increase absorption and helps relax your muscles and builds up healthy bones and the nervous system for your growing baby. The recommended dosage of magnesium during pregnancy is about 350 mg to 400 mg. Magnesium-rich foods include cashews, almonds, peanuts, black beans, spinach, avocado, yogurt, and kidney beans.
    Vitamin D: Vitamin D also helps the absorption of calcium and helps your baby’s bone and skeletal development. Additionally, for pregnant women, low vitamin D levels have been linked with gestational diabetes, increased risk for preeclampsia, and low infant birth weight. At least 600 international units (IUs) of vitamin D is usually recommended. Getting some sunlight each day helps your intake of vitamin D, but it’s difficult to get all your vitamin D from the sum. So try to include some of these foods in your diet to help increase your intake: eggs, carrots, canned sardines in oil, vitamin D-fortified milk, and almonds.

Third Trimester of Pregnancy

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the final stretch of your pregnancy. You may be both anxious and excited about the birth of your baby. Although you may be still experiencing some unpleasant physical symptoms of pregnancy, the finish line is just around the corner! On the flip side, some of your symptoms are good signs that your pregnancy is progressing as it should. Most of your symptoms arise from the increase in the size of your womb, from about 2 ounces pre-pregnancy to 2.5 pounds at the time of birth. Your baby should be about 20 inches long and weigh between 6 and 10 pounds.

On the inside, your baby’s organs should all be developed by now, and your baby may move around much more initially. Your baby’s lungs should be fully developed after about 28 weeks. Your baby should be able to recognize changes in sound at this stage although inside the womb may be dark, your baby can detect bright light from outside the womb.

During this trimester….

  • Vitamin A: This super-nutrient has a major influence on the development of your baby's cells, bones, skin, and eyes. Too little of this vitamin has been associated with premature birth and slow growth. Also, excess vitamin A through a supplement can be very toxic. Although most pregnant women take between 750 and 770 mcg RAE (retinol activity equivalents) per day, ensure to consult with your OBGYN to minimize the risk of over or under-consumption. The best vitamin A-rich foods include dairy, carrots, tomatoes, apricots, sweet potatoes, kale, broccoli, cantaloupe, bell peppers, pumpkin, dark leafy greens, meat, and low-mercury fish
  • Vitamin C: This vitamin is vital for blood vessels, cartilage, tendons, and bones. A few studies have linked low blood levels of vitamin C and preeclampsia. Vitamin C also boosts your immune system and helps your body absorb iron. It is recommended that you take about 85 mg per day. Vitamin C-rich foods include guava, papaya, kiwi, grapefruit, orange, pineapple, broccoli, strawberries, green chiles, red bell pepper, and sweet potato.
  • Vitamin B6: Vitamin B6 is not only essential for your baby’s developing brain and nervous system, but studies have shown that it can help with nausea and vomiting, especially during the first trimester. You need about 2 mg of vitamin B6 per day during pregnancy. The top vitamin B6-rich foods are spinach, bananas, avocado, tomatoes, sunflower seeds, pistachios, tuna, poultry, prunes, and lean beef.
  • Vitamin B12: This vitamin is necessary for red blood cell formation, nervous system function, and DNA synthesis. The recommended intake is 2.6 mcg per day. The best vitamin B12-rich foods are beef, dairy, salmon, trout, and tuna (canned light, including skipjack).

Now that you know the key nutrients you need for each stage of pregnancy, be sure to discuss with your OBGYN which ones best suit your needs and in what proportion. Also, ask about prenatal vitamins that work best with you and your baby for each stage of pregnancy. Pregnancy is a very enriching journey and eating well truly makes a world of difference for you and your baby.