Pregnancy Diet: Knowing Your Nutritional Needs for Each Trimester

Pregnancy Diet: Knowing Your Nutritional Needs for Each Trimester

Everyone knows that good prenatal nutrition is essential to the growth and development of a healthy baby and this is what prompts most women to change their diet and sometimes initiate a complete lifestyle overhaul upon learning they’re pregnant.

In deciding to make the health of your baby a priority, it’s important to understand exactly what both of your needs are.  Each trimester has unique nutritional requirements key to the specific stage of your baby’s development.  We’ve briefly outlined some of the vitamins and minerals required through each trimester below, and have included charts with the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI’s- which replaced the Recommended Daily Allowances- RDA's) for pregnancy and was updated by the National Institutes of Health in 2001.

First Trimester
The first trimester brings the early development of your baby’s eyes, ears, spine, digestive tract, heart and central nervous system.  Zinc, calcium, and B vitamins are all essential building blocks to support this stage of development.  By the end of the trimester all of the major organs are present and your baby’s bones are starting to develop.  The most critical of all requirements in the first trimester though, is folate, or folic acid.  Folate can reduce the risk of neural tube defects like spina bifida and anencephaly by up to 70%.  These types of birth defects most commonly occur within the first 28 days of pregnancy so ideally a woman’s diet should be supplemented with folic acid before she even conceives.

Second Trimester
Iron can often worsen morning sickness, but this should be tapering off by the second trimester which is a good thing since your iron needs increase. Your body is producing up to 50% more blood during your pregnancy and you’ll need extra iron to produce hemoglobin.  Hemoglobin is a protein found in red blood cells which carries oxygen to all of your tissues and cells.  Fetal growth accelerates in the second trimester.  Your baby’s lungs and nervous system are continuing to develop, and eyes and ears are shifting in to place.  You’ll need extra vitamin C and more calcium to support collagen production, growth of connective tissues and skeletal development.  Your baby’s immune system is also starting to form and at this point, he/she is beginning to store some of your antibodies.

Third Trimester
The third trimester is the home stretch!  By now most of your baby’s organs are fully formed and are simply maturing at this point, but your vitamin and nutrient intake are still a priority.  Your baby’s brain experiences the most significant growth and development in the final two months of your pregnancy which makes Omega-3 fatty acids, or DHA an essential requirement.  Both calcium and Vitamin D are necessary as your baby’s bones continue to strengthen.  Calcium also helps to regulate Mom’s blood pressure and lower the risk of developing pre-eclampsia, while Vitamin D can prevent rickets in infants.  Rickets is a softening of the bones which can lead to skeletal deformities.  You will still need a good amount of iron to support your blood production and prevent anemia which most typically occurs in the late second/early third trimester, and can lead to fatigue, preterm birth, and low birth weight.

The below charts are based on years of research and list the DRI’s for each trimester.  Knowing which nutrients are essential for each stage of your pregnancy will help you make dietary choices that benefit both you and your baby.  Since it's not always easy to eat the foods containing all of the vitamins and minerals listed below, we also recommend taking a daily prenatal vitamin.


* Please note the FDA published the new DRI's in 2001, however are still in the process of requiring labels to reflect the new percentages.  While the FDA recommends all food and drug companies to follow the new DRI's they still require all labels to show RDA's.

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