Having made my way through the first trimester, I have officially decided that the key to having a healthy first trimester is surviving.
If you’d been establishing some healthy habits in preparation for pregnancy, you’re well set up for this first trimester. You don’t need to really focus on adding anything – just on managing symptoms.
The most common first trimester complaints (in my experience as a WIC dietitian) are nausea and vomiting, fatigue, constipation, heartburn, and frequent urination.
I experienced all but heartburn (and help women with all five on a regular basis), so I do have a few tips for you.
Surviving Nausea and Vomiting
One of the most important things you can do to manage nausea is eat. Oftentimes, nausea is worse when blood sugars drop too low (baby is pulling a steady stream of glucose from your blood) – so small frequent snacks that keep your blood sugars up (but not too high) are useful. Try to include as many food groups as you can in these snacks throughout the day, and add a protein food (peanut butter, yogurt, cheese, eggs, nuts, seeds, etc.) if you can stomach it to help modulate your blood sugar response (protein helps your blood sugar rise slowly and not dip low after the rise.) If you generally have nausea first thing in the morning, keeping some crackers or dried fruit beside the bed to eat before you get out of bed might be helpful. If you’re throwing up just about anything, don’t worry too much about the variety, just eat anything you can hold down.
Some women experience nausea and vomiting when taking their prenatal vitamin. If this is you, taking the prenatal with food or at night may help.
Other women find that odors give them problems. Some techniques for managing odors include trying cold foods instead of hot (the odor isn’t as intense that way), opening a window or turning on a fan to get air moving, taking a walk somewhere away from the odors, and having a “masking odor.” Occasionally get a whiff of BO while you’re shopping that sends you running for the bathroom? Carry a handkerchief with a non-nausea-inducing odor (essential oils or even cooking extracts – some women find lemon, vanilla, or mint to be soothing) on it and delicately dab your nose as you walk past.
Lower your standards. You’re working hard growing a baby – some things are going to slide. Enlist help with dishes, groceries, whatever. Don’t start ambitious projects. Work to establish good sleep habits. Fatigue most likely won’t last through the entirety of pregnancy – although most women do experience it during the first trimester (and many during the last as well.)
Before I got pregnant, I didn’t spend much time discussing this with my clients. They’d check on their diet questionnaires that they were experiencing constipation but I didn’t bring it up in conversation – and neither did they. Now that I’ve experienced constipation during pregnancy (even if only for two weeks), I bring it up if it shows up on their questionnaire. It’s TERRIBLE.
If you’re constipated, your number one priority is getting unstuck. While you might be tempted to spend a lot of time straining on the toilet, this can lead to unexpected and undesirable consequences (like hemorrhoids). For now, go to the bathroom when you feel like you have to but don’t sit there if there’s no urge. When you do get that urge, squatting on the toilet seat is actually a better approach for getting hard stool out (as opposed to sitting on the seat with your feet on the floor.) In between the urges to go, eat fruits and vegetables and whole grains, drink lots of water, and get moving around. Physical activity (taking a walk or dancing a while) can get your bowels moving. Sitting in a squatting position with your feet flat on the ground and your butt hanging near the floor behind you lets gravity help things out. Fiber and water bulk up and soften your stool. If you’ve already been doing these things and they’re not helping, adding in some apple or prune juice or prunes and raisins can serve as natural stool softeners. Other women find that a little coffee works well as a bowel stimulant (keep it at about 1 cup a day – moderation is important here.) If you’ve been taking an iron supplement or a prenatal with iron, talk to your doctor about switching to an iron free prenatal or taking a single iron supplement just a couple times a week instead of iron with your prenatal daily. If none of the above are helping, talk to your doctor about an appropriate over-the-counter stool softener or laxative. Remember, you only want to use medication as a last defense to get you moving – and then you want to rely on diet and activity to keep things moving from there.
This is the one I haven’t dealt with much, for which I consider myself fortunate.
For those that are struggling with heartburn, it’s valuable to eat small amounts frequently (rather than large meals only occasionally). Find your trigger foods and avoid them. Many women find that spicy or greasy foods trigger heartburn. Avoid caffeine and mint, both of which relax the sphincter (closure) between the stomach and the esophagus. Drink a little milk with your meals to help neutralize the stomach acid. And avoid lying down within a half hour to hour after eating.
Surviving Frequent Urination
Drink lots of water. Does that sound counterintuitive? It is – and it probably won’t really make you go to the bathroom any less. But it’ll help ensure that you don’t end up with something worse: dehydration or a urinary tract infection. Go ahead and go when you have the urge – and contact your doctor if you have burning with urination. Frequent urination is a bother, but it’s not actually a bad thing – just go with the flow on this one.
Does anyone else have any great tips for handling these first trimester woes? I’m always eager for more suggestions to share with my clients!