The Nutrition that Mamas Need from the Zero to Fourth Trimester
At Needed, we are on a mission to empower women to be optimally nourished at every stage of the journey to motherhood. In this blog post, we walk you through the important nutrients to consume at each stage of the journey to motherhood. We like to emphasize that there are five stages to motherhood: Preconception (Zero Trimester), First Trimester, Second Trimester, Third Trimester, and Postpartum (Fourth Trimester).
Many mamas begin pregnancy already nutritionally depleted and become further depleted through the incredible demands of building and nourishing baby and the placenta. It takes a lot to recover postpartum and to continue to nourish baby for mamas who breastfeed. As a result, many mamas experience postnatal depletion for years to come, impacting their future fertility, hormone balance, mood, and overall health.
Prenatal vitamins are meant to prevent this depletion, but unfortunately most just aren’t cutting it. 97% of mamas take a prenatal supplement during pregnancy, yet 95% of us are still deficient in key nutrients. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Read on to learn more about the whole foods and supplementation that are needed to optimally nourish every stage of your pregnancy.
At Needed, we believe supporting a mama-to-be when she is preparing to conceive will set you, your partner and your baby up for optimal conception success and health for years to come. While there has been much conversation lately about the Fourth Trimester, we believe this conversation should be paired with one around the Zero Trimester.
Preparing to conceive consists of three phases:
- Birth control depletes nutrients including Zinc, Selenium, Folate, and Vitamins E, C, B2, B6, and B12. The zero trimester is a great time to replenish these nutrients once you stop taking your birth control. Birth control can also tax your liver and gut, so a milk thistle supplement and probiotic can be incredibly helpful at this stage.
- The Zero Trimester of pregnancy is the ideal time to understand the toxins you and your partner consume in the foods you eat, use in your personal care products and exist in your daily environment. Reducing or eliminating these toxins from your daily life is incredibly impactful. Toxins can impact fertility in both partners and can also act as endocrine disruptors. Additionally, toxins are passed on from mama to baby once pregnancy occurs, so be sure to give yourself ample time to detox.
- Nutrients to incorporate into your diet: B vitamins, protein, Brassica family foods like broccoli or Brussels sprouts, and Glutathione.
- The Zero Trimester prepares you for the First Trimester in which your nutrient stores will begin to be depleted by baby’s growth. At the Zero Trimester, be sure to incorporate nutrient-dense foods into your diet to balance your hormones, increase fertility, and prepare your body for the First Trimester.
- Nutrients to incorporate into your diet: Protein to help balance blood sugar, Omega-3, Vitamin D, Choline, Magnesium, and B12. These are the nutrients that women are most likely to be deficient in before conceiving and when they head into pregnancy.
The better nourished you are in the First Trimester, the better you will feel throughout the remainder of your pregnancy. In the First Trimester, we recommend consuming nutrients that help support neural tube development and cell division in baby. This is also the stage of pregnancy where your hormones begin to fluctuate causing some unpleasant symptoms like nausea.
Nutrients supportive of baby’s development:
Folate: Research supports that 70% of neural tube defects can be prevented through proper Folate consumption by mamas before and during early pregnancy.
- Find it in foods: Leafy greens, beans, broccoli as unmethylated Folate.
- Find it in supplements: We recommend looking for Folate as 5MTHF or Methylfolate, a methylated form that is optimally used by the body. Folic acid should be avoided as it is unusable or harmful for many mamas. Look for 900mg DFE in your prenatal supplement for the optimal dosage (too much and too little Folate can be harmful).
Choline: This helpful nutrient prevents neural tube defects in baby.
- Find it in foods: Eggs and liver.
- Find it in supplements: We recommend looking for Choline as Choline Bitartrate in a dosage of 550+mg.
B12: This nutrient is needed to properly use Folate and Choline and is helpful for baby’s overall development.
- Find it in foods: B12 is difficult to consume only from foods but can be found in yeast or animal products.
- Find it in supplements: The RDA for this nutrient is about 100x too low (learn more about why labels and RDAs can be deceiving) and many prenatal supplements are missing B12 or have it in the wrong form. Look for 150mcg each of Adenosylcobalamin and Methylcobalamin forms. We recommend staying away from a prenatal supplement with B12 as Cyanocobalamin as it is a harmful compound that requires additional processing for safe removal from the body.
Zinc: Baby uses Zinc to aid in DNA synthesis and cell division.
- Find it in Foods: almonds, pumpkin seeds, oysters, cacao, collard greens.
- Find it in Supplements: Look for Zinc Bisglycinate at a 20mg dosage and be aware of supplements that also contain Folic Acid and Copper as these can prevent absorption of Zinc.
Nutrients supportive of Mama:
Magnesium: Magnesium during pregnancy can be a helpful nutrient for mama’s relaxation, especially during the First Trimester, just be sure to choose the appropriate form.
- Find it in Foods: It can be challenging to get Magnesium from foods as naturally occurring Magnesium levels are very depleted due to removal of minerals from soil.
- Find it in Supplements: Look for Magnesium Glycinate at 400mg in your supplements. Magnesium can also be absorbed through baths and sprays. Magnesium Oxide, the more common form of Magnesium, can be helpful for constipation relief, but can prevent absorption.
Potassium: This nutrient can be helpful during the First Trimester for electrolyte and fluid balance.
- Find it in Foods: Bananas, sweet potatoes and beets are great sources of Potassium.
- Find it in Supplements: Look for Potassium in a Potassium Glycinate form at 100mg.
B6: Mama, this nutrient is so important to help with nausea and even more important to begin supplementing with if you took hormonal birth control prior to conceiving.
- Find it in Foods: Bananas, carrots, spinach, sunflower seeds, pineapple, avocado.
- Find it in Supplements: We recommend looking for 40mg Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate, a bioavailable form that's only found in animal products or through a high quality supplement.
BONUS: Add citrus, ginger, bland foods, and protein to your diet for extra nausea support.
The Second Trimester is often a favorite for mamas, as nausea subsides for most, energy levels increase, and you begin to feel those magical baby kicks for the first time. Now is a great time to reintroduce whole, colorful foods back into your diet, and to create an optimal environment for baby as she develops vital organs and body parts and prepares for rapid growth.
Vitamin A: Helpful for baby’s organ and vision development.
- Find it in Foods: Orange foods like carrots and sweet potatoes as well as liver and dairy.
- Find it in Supplements: Important to get a balance of Retinyl Palmitate (found in animal foods) and Beta Carotene (found in plants), we suggest a dosage of at least 750mcg.
Vitamin C: This nutrient aids mama in connective tissue synthesis and healthy skin.
- Find it in Foods: Fruit like citrus, strawberries, papaya are great sources. Vegetables like bell peppers and Brussels sprouts are also good sources.
- Find it in Supplements: Look for ascorbic acid at up to 500mg per dose.
Vitamin D + K2: This helps baby with bone and teeth development.
- Find it in Foods: Most common in animal products. Sunlight is another great source of Vitamin D, but many mamas don’t receive nearly enough direct sunlight to benefit.
- Find it in Supplements: Look for Vitamin D3 at 4,000IU baseline but it is always important to check your levels and adjust for your unique body.
Magnesium: Continue to supplement with Magnesium throughout this trimester, ensuring that you are supplementing with the Magnesium Glycinate form.
Iron: As mama’s blood volume expands, supplement with hemoglobin to transport oxygen.
- Find it in Foods: Iron is available in dark chocolate, lentils, and spinach, but Iron from animal sources is 2-4x better absorbed.
- Find it in Supplements: We recommend Iron in the form of Ferrous Bisglycinate Chelate as it is easily absorbed by the body and, unlike most Iron supplements, it doesn't cause constipation or gastric upset.
Omega-3: Prepare your body for the Third Trimester by increasing your levels of Omega-3. One-third of baby’s brain will be made of Omega-3 and if you aren’t consuming enough, baby will take from your stores and leave you depleted.
- Find it in Foods: Fatty fish and plant based sources have ALA but these sources are difficult to convert to usable DHA + EPA. Be mindful of your heavy metal intake when consuming Omega-3 in the form of fatty fish.
- Find it in Supplements: Look for at least 300mg DHA + 150mg EPA. Ensure that you select a high quality Omega-3 supplement. Needed’s Omega-3 powder is sustainably sourced and optimally formulated for mama and a mama-to-be.
Protein, especially Collagen: Protein is helpful for stabilizing your blood sugar - helping you pass that 24 week glucose screening - and for getting your pelvic floor and skin ready for the Third Trimester.
- Find it in Foods: Consume collagen protein in bone broth and animal skins.
- Find it in Supplements: Hydrolyzed collagen protein powders are especially helpful. Check out Needed's Collagen Protein.
Probiotic: Creating a healthy gut for mama also creates a healthy gut for baby. Probiotics can also be helpful in preventing Group B Strep. Taking a preventative probiotic at this stage is helpful in reducing stress in the third trimester.
- Find it in Foods: Many plants as well as kimchi and kefir offer probiotics.
- Find it in Supplements: Supplementing with high quality probiotics during pregnancy is important to get enough of certain targeted strains like Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus reuteri, and Bifidobacterium longum, among others. Our Pre/Probiotic capsules were specifically designed for the unique needs of mama and baby before, during, and after pregnancy.
The final stretch - baby’s bones really start to develop and their brain is becoming more fully formed and active. Specific nutrients support mama as baby gets larger and mama prepares for labor. This trimester is also the time when complications and unpleasant side effects can occur ranging from serious ones like preeclampsia or a positive Group B Strep result to more minor ones like swelling and body aches.
Omega-3: Continue supplementing with Omega-3 in this trimester. As baby’s brain develops, it will require more Omega-3, so this is the time to ensure mama’s stores are full to replenish what baby takes for development.
Choline: We discussed the use of prenatal Choline as a helpful for preventing neural tube defects in the First Trimester. In the Third Trimester, prenatal Choline is supportive of baby’s brain development.
B12: As baby grows and expands, Vitamin B12 is incredibly supportive of mama’s energy levels and cognitive health. Baby also benefits from Vitamin B12 in this stage as their cognition develops.
Calcium: As baby’s skeletal system begins to build, they absorb 250mg of Calcium per day.
- Find it in Foods: Dairy, tofu, broccoli, and bok choy are good sources of Calcium.
- Find it in Supplements: Look for 400mg of Di-Calcium Malate, the best absorbed form of Calcium. This dosage is enough to fill in the gaps for most mamas while not overly taxing the body (too much Calcium in a single dose can impact Iron absorption). Vitamin D3 and K2 are critical “helper” nutrients to be sure mama consumes alongside Calcium for optimal absorption.
Collagen Protein: Continue to consume Collagen Protein throughout the Third Trimester.
Probiotic: Continue to consume a Probiotic throughout the Third Trimester, all the way to birth to help prevent a positive Group B Strep result.
Lots of water: Good hydration offers mama myriad benefits in the Third Trimester including: healthy amniotic fluid levels, stable blood pressure, reduction in swelling, digestive issue ease, and prevention of urinary tract infections.
Vitamin C: Birth requires a high level of Vitamin C from mama, so be sure to continue consuming and supplementing with Vitamin C in this trimester.
Magnesium: Sleep can become more challenging in this trimester and Magnesium during pregnancy is very helpful in reducing insomnia. It is also a helpful nutrient to reduce water retention.
As the third trimester comes to an end, you can begin to consume foods that prepare for labor and breast milk production.
Foods to stimulate breast milk production: fennel, carrots, oatmeal, unripe papaya, garlic, and freshly made raw veggie juices.
Foods to prepare for labor: red raspberry leaf (tea or supplement form), dates, evening primrose oil after 37 weeks. In addition, unripe papaya can act like prostaglandin/oxytocin, two critical hormones for getting uterine contractions going.
Your little one is here! Now it is time to support mama’s recovery and breast milk production through key nutrients.
Protein: Continue to consume Collagen Protein to aid in the rebuilding of tissue, maintain energy, and aid in digestion.
Vitamin C: Promote healing and protect your immune system by maintaining your dosage of Vitamin C.
Omega-3: Baby’s Omega-3 should remain high for the first year of life as the brain continues to develop. Needed’s Omega-3 supplement is delivered exactly in the form that nature delivers Omega-3 in breast milk, via a molecular structure known as liposomes. Omega-3 is also helpful in supporting maternal mood and brain function.
Vitamin D: This is a critical nutrient for baby and mama. We recommend discussing Vitamin D with your pediatrician as many will suggest that you give baby a supplement in addition to the Vitamin D they receive through breastmilk or formula.
Warming Foods: Ayurvedic principles suggest that a postpartum mama consume warming foods to restore her digestion. Enjoy soups with root veggies, bone broths, and comforting teas and lattes as you recover.
Galactogogues: This important substance has been used by mamas for years to increase breast milk supply for their little one. Find this substance in whole grains like oatmeal, dark leafy greens, ginger and papaya.
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