Managing Symptoms in the First Trimester of Pregnancy using Diet

A Functional Nutrition Perspective on managing nausea, food aversions, and appetite change in the first trimester.

The first trimester of pregnancy brings a lot of change and unknowns at once. Navigating nutritional needs can be challenging even when you’re NOT dealing with the adverse symptoms that typically come early on. For me, I was NOT prepared for the level of nausea and food aversions that hit hard from pregnancy weeks 5 to 14. 

My diet had to shift significantly from what I was used to in order to get enough calories and meet my basic nutritional needs. Now that I am settled into the second trimester, I can reflect back and share MY tips for managing food intake in the first 12-14 weeks of pregnancy. 

This is my experience. Every individual will respond differently, so please reach out to a Functional Nutritionist for one-on-one help if you’re struggling. 

First trimester functional nutrition

First, Let's consider the main food-related symptoms of the first trimester of Pregnancy:

  • Nausea / Vomiting: Some degree of nausea is the number one reported early pregnancy symptom. For some women, it can be quite transient. For others, it may last throughout the pregnancy. If you are struggling to keep ANY food or liquids down, it is important to reach out to your provider to be evaluated for Hyperemesis Gravidarum. Personally, I experienced a constant low-level queasiness that worsened throughout the day and peaked in the evening hours. I didn’t actually throw-up, I just felt miserable. ((And often wished I could just throw up and feel better!!))
  • Aversions: Pregnancy aversions can come in the form of taste AND smell. They can also evolve and change week-by-week. Sometimes, the foods I was eating most frequently became the foods I couldn’t STAND the next week. There are no real patterns to aversions. Personally, I had to be very careful of the environment I was in as smells were particularly triggering for the queasiness mentioned above. 
  • Appetite Change: In early pregnancy, you are likely to experience a change in appetite from preconception. This is related to the swells of hormones as the embryo is implanting and developing. The placenta isn’t fully functional until about 12 weeks, so ALL those lovely hormones are circulating in your whole system. It is common to have LOW appetite in the beginning of pregnancy, especially if you are dealing with nausea, vomiting, or aversions. Many women may lose weight in the first trimester. (Not me- I gained more than expected because I found myself craving simple carbohydrates)
  • Constipation: The lovely pregnancy hormone progesterone is behind this one; although recent research in mice suggests estrogen plays a role as well. It tends to slowwww things down and make it much harder to have smooth bowel movements. While this symptom falls somewhat into the structural/physical realm, I consider it food-related because of the interventions that it may require. 

My diet and lifestyle tips for managing early pregnancy symptoms focus on mitigating these issues instead of simply covering up the symptoms with a pill. Essentially, how can we get the MOST nutrient-dense diet to support a growing baby WHILE experiencing nausea, aversions, and appetite change? 

Needed prenatal powder supplement

My Tips for Good Nutrition in the First Trimester of Pregnancy:

1. Eat smaller meals, but eat often

The sooner I ate after waking, the better I felt. Keep easy to eat food like roasted nuts, rice cakes, or cereal on your bedside table. Particularly for women with classic morning sickness, this small bite may help keep things down in the early morning. 

Swings in blood sugar can also contribute to nausea and vomiting throughout the day. Don’t allow yourself to get TOO HUNGRY or TOO FULL, but try to land in a sweet spot. That will look like eating smaller more frequent meals throughout the day. When choosing snacks, aim for balance in fat, protein, and carbohydrates. 

If you notice that the worst nausea is later in the day, take the opportunity to ‘front load’ your nutrition by eating most of your calories earlier knowing that you may not be up for it later. 

2. Increase Dietary Fiber

Regular and adequate intake of fiber is associated with improved digestion. Aim to consume a minimum of 25g of fiber daily. You’ll want a mix of Insoluble (found in nuts/seeds, vegetable peels, and legumes/grains) and Soluble fiber (found in foods like oats, bananas, dates, and sweet potatoes).  

Prunes were a necessary and easy inclusion to keep things moving smoothly for me. I also found ways to add more seeds/nuts by sprinkling on oats, smoothies, or yogurt. 

3. Work Around Aversions

If you find your aversions tend to be in one macronutrient category, start to explore other options within that so you’re not missing out. The example I’m thinking of is protein. Commonly, meat is a turn-off. This may mean you need to incorporate more dairy-based protein, plant-based protein, or even turn to powdered protein supplements to meet your minimum requirements. 

If you’re sensitive to dairy, you may find that this changes during pregnancy. Begin with fermented dairy like kefir, yogurt, and cheese to assess your individual tolerance. 

I also found it very challenging to eat raw vegetables. Instead, I would roast them or add to simple soups. You can also try blending frozen vegetables (like zucchini or cauliflower) into fruit-based smoothies.

I gave up salads for quite a while in the first trimester, trusting my body would come back around later in my pregnancy! (It did!!

As my smell aversions got stronger, the thought of cooking at home was miserable. I found myself ordering out more frequently than ever before. When I did, I chose places that I knew I could get some extra veggies in that I wasn’t eating at home. My go-to places became Cava, Modern Market, FlowerChild, and Sweetgreen. 

4. Eat simple foods

Simple food is better than no food- especially when growing a baby! Scrambled eggs, avocado toast, oatmeal, smoothies, and cottage cheese/yogurt bowls were foods that I knew I could fall back on. Don’t worry about time of day with these- oatmeal for dinner is totally appropriate during the first trimester! (Ok, anytime!!) 

5. Read Labels

It is ok to want more packaged (re: convenient) food in early pregnancy. Things like granola bars, crackers/chips, and cereal are notorious for hiding inflammatory oils like canola, soybean, and safflower. Be extra cognizant to avoid these, particularly if your frequency of eating out has also increased. 

You CAN choose healthier convenience options! Once you have your staples, you can feel good relying on these when pregnancy brain and fatigue are in full-force. I ordered my pregnancy snacks on Thrive Market. They allow you to filter products BY value and ingredient– which meant less brain power was required to ensure I was eating food products with the highest quality of ingredients. 


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6. Give yourself grace 

This is likely a short-lived period where you don’t feel like yourself. Give yourself grace around cravings, and do your best to stay positive that IT ISN’T FOREVER!  No one expects perfection during pregnancy. In fact, our society more often encourages misdirected sentiments like “eating for two”. ((Your caloric needs are NOT significantly higher yet)) 

Know that there will be good days and bad days. In week ten, I ate a McMuffin for the first time in over a decade.  And you know what? Me and baby are still thriving. 

Ultimately, it comes down to making the best choices for you as often as you can. 

7. Support the Nervous System 

Pregnancy stress and anxiety can make symptoms of nausea and appetite change worse. Practice stress-management techniques like mindfulness, journaling, exercise, or TVNS. If things feel insurmountable on your own, reach out to a Mental Health Therapist for more individualized support. 

8. Consider prenatal supplements

While I’m a HUGE proponent of getting everything you need from food, a prenatal supplement can give you some peace of mind when your nutrition isn’t as *optimal* as you’d like. 

Unfortunately, taking the pills was an extreme nausea trigger for me. Luckily, I found Needed Prenatal Multi Powder. It was a game-changer! I could easily add it to yogurt or a smoothie and know I was covering my bases. The vanilla flavor is not too sweet or overpowering, so I really enjoyed this. (use code THEFACILITY for 20% off)

Now, I am able to get back to my usual NutriDyn Pregnancy Essentials Pack. This convenient pack has everything you need, including a high-dose fish oil. I struggle to swallow that many pills, so I always take it with a sparkling water or Poppi soda. The bubbles make such a big difference- try it!!

Troubleshooting First Trimester Pregnancy Nutrition : 

If making dietary and lifestyle changes does not diminish or resolve symptoms, consider reaching out to work with a nutritionist one-on-one. They will be an advocate for you and can provide individualized support in working through your unique challenges to ensure the health of you and your baby. 

Want to work with a nutritionist to personalize your diet?

Let's chat! We'll start with a free phone consult to determine the best roadmap for your concerns.

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