You’ve heard you should up your calories while pregnant, but downing anything at all sounds like a cruel form of torture right about now. How can you overcome the nonstop nausea and nourish your body and your baby? Begin by taking a deep breath. Feeling guilty about your nutritional shortcomings will only add stress to the situation.
Take small steps—when you can eat, eat healthfully. Consume small meals and snacks throughout the day. Drink plenty of fluids. While you might still be feeling less than your best, meeting these goals should help you manage your health a little more successfully.
Nosh through the nausea
When you’re feeling green, helping yourself to a snack is likely the last thing on your mind. However, nothing perpetuates nausea like an empty tummy. When you make an effort to keep something in your stomach at all times, you’re apt to find your nausea fading. Stock up on healthy, innocuous snacks like whole-grain crackers, nuts and dried fruit, and keep them stashed in accessible places—by your bedside, in your car and in your desk at work. Keep meal sizes reasonable, so you’re not leaving the table overly full. In general, try to maintain a slow and steady food intake.
As you’re meal planning, lean toward foods that are healthy but not too rich, spicy or odorous. While many women come to crave strong flavors later in pregnancy, the early, queasy weeks often call for calmer fare. (If your partner complains, hand over the hot sauce, and call it a day.) Take advantage of the times you’re feeling well enough to go grocery shopping and cook—you can always reheat made-ahead meals on days when you have less pep in your step.
When nothing sounds appetizing, try calming your stomach with ginger (real ginger ale, tea or candied chews) or citrus fruit before eating anything more solid. Adding lemon or orange to your water can aid digestion, too—and keeping your BMs regular will help keep your appetite up and your discomfort level down.
Munchies that matter
Although it can feel like a triumph getting anything down when you’re in the throes of morning sickness, all snacks are not created equal. Opt for whole grains over empty carbs, and try to incorporate protein—peanut butter on your crackers or protein powder in your smoothie. Protein can help curb morning sickness, even if it doesn’t seem appealing.
If you fall short of fulfilling your nutritional needs, baby can still enjoy good health as he steals nutrients from your body. Lisa Calloway, a mom of three in Cumming, Georgia, who was sick throughout each of her pregnancies, relates, “My OB would always reassure me that ultimately the baby will take what he needs before I will get any nutrition, so I will feel the effects of being sick, and the baby will thrive at my expense.”
It’s nice to know that baby isn’t suffering right along with you; however, baby siphoning calcium from your bones and you becoming weaker as a result is not exactly ideal. So do your best to round the nutrient bases by eating whole foods, and fill in the gaps with a daily prenatal vitamin.
Certain nutrients—whether they come from foods or from vitamin supplements (or better, both!)—are vital to a pregnancy’s success. Willow Jarosh, MS, RD, co-owner of C&J Nutrition and the WellRounded NYC program, recommends balancing each meal with fruits or veggies, protein, high fiber (less refined) carbs and some healthy fat. Here is her list of six pregnancy diet must-haves:
Calcium for strong bones and teeth, as well as for maintaining muscle, blood clotting and heart rhythm. Get it from milk, yogurt, smoothies and cheese.
Vitamin D to utilize calcium. Buy vitamin D-enriched dairy products, take a supplement, or enjoy lots of sunshine.
Iron to produce red blood cells and transport oxygen. Sources include meat, beans, nuts, spinach and whole grains.
Protein to maximize baby’s brain development and protect mom against certain pregnancy complications. Meat, eggs, fish, beans, nuts, seeds, cheese and nut butters are all excellent sources.
Folic acid to prevent neural tube defects and form red blood cells. A supplement is recommended, but it’s also prudent to consume folate through dark, leafy greens, citrus fruits, broccoli, asparagus or Brussels sprouts.
Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, to facilitate baby’s neurological and visual development. Find them in liver, salmon, halibut and tuna (light, never albacore, because of its higher mercury content).
Hydration is essential for all physical processes, including making a baby. Normally, drinking water is a pretty easy feat, but there may be times when you’re so sick, even good old H2O is hard to keep down. Try sucking on ice cubes or ice pops if straight liquid is triggering your gag reflex. Sydney Scott, a mother of two in Mountain View, California, says, “My doctor said if I was hydrated, it would be easier for me to eat and drink. She recommended drinking Gatorade or juice—or even eating Jell-O—if I couldn’t drink water.”
Common pregnancy woes—such as heartburn, constipation, swelling and nausea—can all be reduced when you’re drinking enough water. When you’re hydrated, everything operates more smoothly for mom and for baby.
Even when anything you down seems to come back up, the smallest amount of water and nutrients from food will stick with you and do you good. If you go an entire day without keeping down liquid, if you’re unable to pee or if your urine is dark and stronger smelling, call your doctor. Dehydration can become serious quickly and could necessitate medical attention.