Nourishing Your Body During Pregnancy

*written by one of our staff nutritionists Emily Blasik

I wanted to shed some light on what proper nourishment during pregnancy looks like to us—because unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of information out there on this, and the information that is available via the World Wide Web is often misguided. (Ahem, looking at you, strict dietary rules.)

Before we jump in, a little disclaimer: What you’ll find about the beliefs and personal health choices I’m prepared to share below differ greatly from the conventional health advice given to pregnant women in the US—and that’s why I want to point out that this is not health advice and should not be taken as such. It’s simply what I’ve chosen to prioritize in pregnancy based off of my training in ancestral nutrition and female physiology, as well as what I’ve learned from personal experience and through working 1:1 with Amanda as my dietitian.

That said, I’m currently in the last trimester of my second pregnancy, and I’d like to think that I’ve come SO far in terms of growing my knowledge of how best to support my body prenatally since my first go-around in 2019. That’s why I’m excited to walk you through what’s been extremely beneficial for me in terms of prenatal nutrition, exercise, supplementation, and self-care. As always, make sure you talk to your OB or midwife before making changes to your diet or lifestyle!

You’re pregnant. Now what?

We all want to have the smoothest pregnancies and deliveries possible, and I know how tempting it can be to go into Mama Bear mode the second you see that positive plus sign. For me, that meant jumping into a strict wellness regimen that included only the most nutrient-dense foods, a doctor-recommended prenatal vitamin, and an expensive exercise program exclusively for mommies-to-be. After all, gotta give baby the best chances, right? Well, not so fast.

While pregnancy is a special time of excitement, wonder, and growth for most women, it’s also a huge stressor on the body and can come with its own set of food aversions, fatigue, and anxiety. You’re growing a human being, for goodness sake! Which is why I’m now a huge proponent of approaching health in a slightly gentler manner than we may be used to. Prioritizing your health during pregnancy, IMO, has a lot more to do with listening to your body, honoring your cravings, and finding time to slow down and relax. Keep reading to find out exactly how my “wellness philosophy” during pregnancy has evolved, and how I make sure my health stays a consistent priority without the added stress.

Eating for Two

Before ever becoming pregnant, I had it in my head that I would strive to eat “squeaky clean” once I knew there was a baby inside of my belly, depending on me for its every nutritional need. But that sort of thinking went out the window the very first month, when I realized that nine months without sweets, cheese, or bread just wasn’t going to fly. Nowadays, “eating clean” isn’t even in my vocabulary. Nourishing my body properly, however, most definitely is! That means eating enough, eating frequently, and eating as many different foods as possible.

Did you know that the increased physiological changes in pregnancy lead to an increased need for a variety of micronutrients? And if you’re planning on breastfeeding, there’s an even bigger increase in demand in postpartum. That’s why it’s recommended to start paying attention to your micronutrient intake even before you’re TTC in order to prepare for the metabolic processes required for growing a fetus. Take comfort in knowing that our bodies are designed to do everything they can to make sure baby has what it needs, but it can only make do with the resources it has. We have to have the vitamin and mineral stores built up for it to draw from!

As a recap, here are just a few of the necessary nutrients in pregnancy and where to find them:

  1. FOLATE assists with the production of new DNA, prevents neural tube defects, increases birth weight, and more. We need about 600 mcg of folate a day during pregnancy, but remember that more is not necessarily better. Beef liver and cooked spinach are the richest sources.
  2. CHOLINE is responsible for liver and brain development along with many other tissues, making it an essential nutrient for the development of the baby. Our bodies can actually substitute choline for folate if needed for certain reactions too. Choline is found in eggs, beef liver, dairy, and fish.
  3. VITAMIN C (from whole food sources, not ascorbic acid) is a powerful antioxidant that works with copper and many other minerals in the body to reduce inflammation and support collagen and cell growth. Abundant in citrus, bell peppers, broccoli sprouts, berries, guava, papaya, and potatoes.
  4. VITAMIN E is another antioxidant that acts similarly to progesterone in the body. It protects the body from stress and oxidation and is found in beet and collard greens, kiwi, avocado, mango, red bell peppers, and salmon.
  5. IODINE needs increase during pregnancy since thyroid hormone production increases. Iodine is required for the creation of thyroid hormone. The RDA for iodine during pregnancy is 220 mcg and 290 mcg during lactation. You can get it in seafood and kelp. (I buy frozen kelp cubes and throw one into a mineral smoothie!)
  6. MAGNESIUM needs are higher in the first and second trimester than the third because of the amount of oxygen in utero. Found in cacao, cooked leafy greens, dairy, and bone broth. A good rule of thumb is 5x your body weight in milligrams.
  7. COPPER is combined with oxygen to create energy, making this mineral especially critical in the latter stages of pregnancy, as we shift from an anaerobic (low oxygen) to aerobic (normal oxygen) state. Oysters, beef liver, shellfish, bee pollen, cacao, liquid chlorophyll, and citrus will all help boost your bioavailable copper.
  8. VITAMIN A is needed as our blood volume grows, along with copper, to support our body’s iron recycling system, as well as to help cells proliferate and ensure proper organ development during pregnancy. Look to fatty fish, beef liver, dairy, and eggs for this nutrient.

*Notice I don’t mention iron—this is because high levels of iron can be inflammatory in the body and most of us are easily getting more iron than we need through our diets. I instead try to focus on getting enough copper and vitamin A to support my body’s built-in iron recycling system. Listen to our podcast episode on copper and iron for more info on this!

Talk about a lot of nutrients to be responsible for eating! That is why I don’t prescribe to any sort of diet during pregnancy. There are no limitations or restrictions involved whatsoever (besides giving my my weekly glass or two of wine), as we need an abundance of macronutrients (protein + fat + carbs) AND micronutrients to support both ourselves and our babies during such a developmentally crucial time. Variety is also important for mineral balance, so instead of depriving myself of sugar, gluten, or dairy—three of the most heavily demonized foods in the mainstream wellness industry—I focus on incorporating as many nutrient-dense foods into my diet that I can—including lots of:

+ grass-fed or wild meats like beef, pork, chicken, bison, lamb, and venison

+ pastured eggs (2+ per day)

bone broth

+ full-fat milk products, especially raw milk (2-3 cups per day)

+ wild seafood like shrimp, cod, salmon, as well as canned sardines and oysters

+ seasonal fruits

+ root veggies (like white potatoes, sweet potatoes, squashes, etc.)

+ cruciferous and leafy veggies (always cooked for optimal digestion)

+ raw carrots (for estrogen detox)

mineral smoothies with full-fat coconut milk

adrenal cocktails

Not to mention, I indulge in ice cream and homemade sourdough pizza on the reg. Because what would life be without these two delicacies?

That said, I’m one of the lucky ones: While nausea was a minor issue in the first 12 or so weeks of both pregnancies, I didn’t experience too many food aversions after that (other than dark chocolate—a travesty!), which makes it easy to prioritize these mineral-rich foods. I understand that many expectant mamas can hardly stomach things like meat, fish, or even veggies for the entirety of their pregnancies—and in that case, I wouldn’t force it. My tip to those of you struggling? Give yourself grace in this area: Eat what sounds appetizing in the moment, even if it’s something simple like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. As long as you’re feeding yourself, your body will handle the rest.

Lastly, don’t forget to hydrate! I love sipping on coconut water and pregnancy-friendly herbal teas throughout the day! (My favorite is raspberry leaf for its uterine-toning effects—but make sure you consult your doctor first, as it can be contraindicated for early pregnancy and high risk pregnancies.) I do also enjoy a cup of coffee every day during pregnancy, but I try to drink the low-caf or half-caf versions as much as possible. (Savorista is a great brand, and the code AMANDA will get you 25% off!)

A Word on Meal Frequency

What you’re eating and how much you’re eating are not the only things that matter. Meal timing is also something to consider, especially in the first half of pregnancy, when our bodies are in an anabolic state of growing/building a baby PLUS a whole new organ (the placenta)! This demand on the body requires a ton of fuel, and that fuel needs to be provided in regular intervals throughout the day in order to keep our livers armed with glycogen and to combat symptoms associated with hypoglycemia like fatigue, light-headedness, and insomnia. During pregnancy, I do my best to eat a balanced meal within 30 minutes of waking and then again every 3 hours. This also worked wonders with keeping my bouts of morning sickness at bay!

Supportive Supplementation

While Amanda and I wholeheartedly believe in a food first approach to nourishing your body, we understand that certain supplements can play a helpful role in getting exactly what you need to thrive during this time. I personally choose not to take a prenatal, but rather to build my own by focusing on the whole food supplements that I know my body could benefit from based on hair mineral testing. (Read more about why you may want to reconsider your prenatal here!)

For example, I consistently take desiccated beef liver (because I simply can’t stomach the real stuff) and cod liver oil capsules throughout pregnancy to support my vitamin A levels naturally, as well as whole food forms of B vitamins and copper. I love these two supplements because they only contain whole foods—no synthetic vitamins or minerals to be found. I also prioritize full spectrum vitamin E in supplement form, as well as both topical and liquid magnesium—as these two micronutrients can be difficult to get through food. Lastly, I take a high quality probiotic to support my and baby’s microbiome and whole food vitamin C to boost collagen and copper. This may seem like a lot to take individually, but I can rest assured knowing exactly what I’m getting instead of relying on one multivitamin or prenatal that includes an imbalanced ratio of certain low quality nutrients.

As someone who struggles with acid reflux during pregnancy, I also occasionally supplement with apple cider vinegar and DGL.

Again, please discuss your supplement options with your doctor to decide what works for you! We are all different, and this is simply what I’ve found to help me feel my best during this time.

Here are some other great resources to checkout about pregnancy and nutrition:

If you feel like you need more support with your health during your pregnancy we do offer our 1:1 support to pregnant women, you can learn more here about working 1:1 with the team.

Amanda Montalvo

Amanda Montalvo is a women's health dietitian who helps women find the root cause of hormone imbalances and regain healthy menstrual cycles.

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