6 Foods to Eat While Experiencing the Early Signs of Pregnancy

Healthy mommies, healthy babies. Discover eating do’s and don’ts for expecting mothers during the early signs of pregnancy.

A pregnant woman looking at her husband chopping vegetables in the kitchen

Pregnancy can bring about multiple changes to a woman’s body. Some of the early signs of pregnancy that you might be experiencing include missed periods, changes in the breasts, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, mood swings, food cravings, frequent urination, and back pain. In the early signs of pregnancy, it’s essential to eat healthily. This can help ensure a healthy birth weight and reduce the risk of congenital disorders.

Once these signs accompany a confirmed pregnancy, you are already about four weeks pregnant. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believes that the health of pregnant mothers and the foods they eat during pregnancy directly affect the congenital jing (congenital essence). 

“When the baby is inside the mother, the food that (the mother) eats and her constitution (matter). She will pass some of them to the baby. That forms the basic constitution for the baby when they’re born,” says Eu Yan Sang’s Associate Senior TCM physician Lin Jia Yi. She adds that this foundation will support the baby’s early development. 

You don’t need to drastically change your diet or spend lots of money to eat a special menu – just maintain a balance of the right types of food! Hitting nutrition goals, especially in the first 13 weeks, can help make sure the healthy development of your growing foetus.

1. Leafy green vegetables

Leafy greens, which include spinach, beet greens, collard greens, lettuce, and kale, are abundant sources of fibre and other essential nutrients. Some of the vital nutrients include beta-carotene, folate, and vitamins C and K.

Beta-carotene can help strengthen a baby’s immune system and encourage the healthy development of the eyes and tissues. Vitamin C can promote the healthy development of a baby’s teeth and bones. Potassium can help in regulating blood pressure and maintaining fluid balance in your body. 

Folic acid is extremely important for the health of the baby, particularly during the early symptoms of pregnancy. This nutrient is derived from a B vitamin called folate. It’s important to produce red blood cells, and the prevention of birth defects in a baby’s brain and spinal cord. 

It is also common for a doctor to prescribe folic acid supplements to pregnant women or women who intend to get pregnant. This health supplement ensures an adequate intake of folic acid daily.

What to Avoid: Unwashed fruits and vegetables – they may be at increased exposure to bacterial contamination by the Listeria monocytogenes. The disease is called Listeriosis, which can cause spontaneous abortions and intrauterine infection. Meanwhile, from a TCM perspective, many vegetables are cooling in nature. To warm and lessen the “cooling effects” of foods, you may cook the vegetables before eating them. Try grilling your salad greens!

2. Well-cooked red meat

Eating red meat is beneficial for a pregnant woman’s blood supply. It is also important for ensuring an adequate intake of essential nutrients like iron, protein, and zinc.

Like an intake of folic acid, a sufficient absorption of iron is particularly crucial during pregnancy. This is because increased blood volume is needed to transport oxygen and nutrients to the growing placenta and your baby.

On the contrary, a depleted level of iron in the body will prevent your body from producing enough red blood cells. This may cause iron deficiency anaemia. Common symptoms of this health disorder include fatigue and muscle weakness. 

Red meat is also a good source of high-quality protein. This is needed during pregnancy to encourage healthy physical growth and collagen production. Alternatively, you can also get this collagen boost by taking edible bird’s nest, which is good for strengthening a pregnant woman’s joints and ligaments and improving skin elasticity.

What to Avoid: Organ meats – the most popular ones include the liver, tongue, heart, and kidneys. Organ meats are a concentrated source of vitamin A. Eating these meats can trigger a condition known as Hypervitaminosis A. This condition can cause problems to your baby’s development, including their nervous system, eyes, face, kidneys, heart, thyroid, and skeletal development – especially during the early stage of pregnancy.

3. Whole-grain bread

An Asian woman eating a slice of whole-grain sandwich
Whole-grain bread is a healthy option to add to your menu. 

By including whole-grain bread in your diet, you’re getting an essential source of energy, including vitamins and fibres – which help boost digestion and maintain your blood sugar level. This wholemeal type is a much healthier option than refined white bread. 

What to Avoid: White bread. It doesn’t provide any nutrition and can cause heaviness in your stomach. You might experience bloating and constipation due to its low fibre and high-fat content.

4. Fatty fish

Fish that contain a healthy amount of omega-3 fatty acids – tuna, sardines, salmon, and mackerel – can promote healthy baby brain development.

Similarly, an intake of omega-3 fatty acids during the early signs of pregnancy can influence the length of gestation and prevent the onset of postpartum depression. On some days when you can’t stomach foods with strong smells, you can consume health supplements like oat and flaxseed drink. It’s also high in fibre, protein, and plant-sourced omega-3. 

What to Avoid: Mercury-rich fish. Species of fish that are at the top of the food chain like shark, swordfish, and the Southern bluefin tuna contain high levels of mercury. An intake of this metal is particularly dangerous for pregnant women. It can damage numerous parts of the body, including lungs, kidneys, and nervous system – the brain, spinal cord, and nerves in the body. It can also cause hearing and vision problems.

5. Yoghurt

Two glasses of blueberry smoothies aesthetically placed on a white surface
You can create an easy healthy drink like a blueberry smoothie with yoghurt for breakfast. 

Yoghurt is another healthy food that you should consume regularly during the first trimester. Yoghurt made from pasteurised milk can provide several pregnancy health benefits, including better digestion, stronger immunity, and a sufficient intake of nutrients such as calcium and probiotics. 

Alternatively, you can also consider taking a digestive enzyme drink before, during, or after every meal to improve digestion.

What to Avoid: Unpasteurised milk or dairy products. They may harbour Listeria bacteria that causes Listeriosis – a bacterial infection caused by Listeria. If this happens during the early signs of pregnancy, it can put a pregnant woman at risk of miscarriage, premature labour, delivering an underweight infant or infant death.

6. Ginger

Commonly known as a spice, ginger is a traditional remedy for various health problems, such as coughs, indigestion, and metabolic disorders. Based on TCM belief, ginger is predominantly yang and is directly linked to three meridians — the spleen, stomach, and lungs. 

Specifically, ginger can disperse Wind-Cold, warming the stomach and spleen, draining dampness, and supporting a healthy flow of qi. TCM Physician Lin states that ginger can suppress morning sickness as it has a warming effect on spleen qi

You can make an easy concoction by steeping fresh or dried ginger in hot water to alleviate nausea and vomiting during the first trimester of pregnancy.

What to Avoid: Foods or beverages that are yin (cold) in nature. They can cause dampness in the body and, consequently, trigger an imbalance of spleen qi. These foods include bananas, lettuce, sashimi, white cabbage, and beverages prepared using barley grains, chrysanthemum flowers, or tea leaves.

TCM Physician Lin adds that expecting mothers should stay active by doing light exercises, get plenty of sleep to regulate their mood, and maintain a well-balanced diet. If you are unsure whether a food or drink is safe for consumption during pregnancy, always consult a professional obstetrician and a registered TCM physician. In addition, keep this guide on hand to help you with formulating a healthy pregnancy diet.

References

  1. ScienceDirect. 2015. Chapter 18 – Green Leafy Vegetables: A Health Promoting Source. [online] Available at <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128008720000184> [Accessed 1 June 2021] 
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Current Folic Acid Research. [online] Available at <https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/research.html[Accessed 1 June 2021] 
  3. National Library of Medicine. 2020. Iron deficiency in pregnancy. [online] Available at <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32184147/[Accessed 1 June 2021] 
  4. Food and Behaviour Research. 2018. Randomized controlled trial of brain specific fatty acid supplementation in pregnant women increases brain volumes on MRI scans of their newborn infants. [online] Available at <https://www.fabresearch.org/viewItem.php?id=12321> [Accessed 1 June 2021] 
  5. US National Library of Medicine. 2010. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Pregnancy. [online] Available at <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3046737/> [Accessed 1 June 2021] 
  6. Harvard T.H Chan. Yogurt. [online] Available at <https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/yogurt/> [Accessed 1 June 2021] 
  7. BetterHealth Channel. Mercury in fish. [online] Available at <https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/HealthyLiving/mercury-in-fish> [Accessed 1 June 2021] 
  8. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Mercury and Your Body. [online] Available at <https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/dontmesswithmercury/body.html> [Accessed 1 June 2021] 
  9. NHS. Foods to avoid in pregnancy. [online] Available at <https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/keeping-well/foods-to-avoid/[Accessed 1 June 2021] 
  10. FoodSafety.gov. People at Risk: Pregnant Women. [online] Available at <https://www.foodsafety.gov/people-at-risk/pregnant-women> [Accessed 1 June 2021] 
  11. U.S Food and Drug Administration. Listeria from Food Safety for Moms to Be. [online] Available at <https://www.fda.gov/food/health-educators/listeria-food-safety-moms-be> [Accessed 1 June 2021] 
  12. University of Arkansas. Chapter 9: Heredity, Prenatal Development, & Birth. [online] Available at <https://uark.pressbooks.pub/hbse1/chapter/heredity_ch_9/> [Accessed 1 June 2021] 
  13. Information Office of Shanghai Municipality. 2018. Handpicked special ingredients put up the price but ensure top quality. [online] Available at <http://en.shio.gov.cn/sh/shanghai-today/cuisine/3752.shtml> [Accessed 1 June 2021] 

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