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What to Eat When You Can't Eat — 4 Tips for the First Trimester

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It will be hard for me to ever fully forget the first weeks of pregnancy with my daughter. Not long after the excitement settled a bit, swaths of nausea, a long list of major food aversions and debilitating fatigue swarmed in, too. As it was a first pregnancy, I was luckily able to cut back on some of the so-called “negotiables” at that time and settle into a basic survival mode, at least for the time I was not at the office. However, we know that this temporary flexibility is not a guarantee in every situation — which is quite often the case in a second pregnancy or beyond…(!)

Fortunately, most women that we work with during pregnancy find acupuncture in the first trimester to be quite helpful for their nausea and difficulty with eating, while other common complaints from changing hormone levels are constipation and bloating. Uncomfortable as they may be, this slowing down of your digestion (referred to as decreased intestinal motility) actually serves a very interesting function at this time. These longer “transit times” allow for an increase in nutrient absorption, meaning that the body makes much more efficient use of the foods we eat in pregnancy.

While this can be comforting during a time when it’s difficult to eat your usual portions or variety of foods, it also emphasizes just how vital it is to select the most nutritious foods possible to maximize these benefits for you and your growing baby…

So with that in mind, here are a few tips gleaned from my own pregnancy that I haven’t (yet!) seen elsewhere:

[Note: These tips are not intended for the most extreme cases of nausea, which may also include frequent vomiting, dehydration and weight loss. Please speak to your main care provider right away if your symptoms fall into this more acute presentation.]

  1. Work ahead to create a stash of meals: make it a habit to make an extra serving of meals that will freeze well as you are trying to conceive, or in the prep phase of an upcoming IVF cycle — these come in handy for quick and easy meals for partners, children and (hopefully!) you during the first trimester of pregnancy, and also minimize strong cooking smells at a time when your stomach is most sensitive. (Note: Be sure to continually eat and replenish what is in the freezer as you go!) You can also use an electric pressure cooker to quickly prepare homemade bone broths for sipping during pregnancy, and freeze these in individual portions. One set of bones will even make at least several batches, depending on the type of bones used.

  2. Create a “Pantry Staples” list and stock the non-perishables now: Be proactive, if possible, and create this list when you are still feeling well (e.g. before pregnancy, in the earliest days of pregnancy, or during an easier time of day if you are already having strong food aversions). Your list should include as many nutrient-dense snacks/meals and easy-to-digest foods that also sound appetizing to you. During the peak of your worst symptoms, review this list as often as necessary to see which foods may sound appealing, knowing that you are still making healthy choices for you and your pregnancy. One idea: chia pudding (made with vanilla almond or coconut milk) or coconut yogurt topped with flax meal, nuts, bananas and fresh/frozen berries.

  3. Find small ways to increase the nutrient density of what you CAN eat: Healthful additions to meals and snacks may include collagen hydrolysate powder (for stirring into mineral rich bone broths or morning smoothies), ripe avocados, nut butters, hemp/chia/flax seeds, greens powder, and/or coconut oil blended into smoothies, or chopped dried fruits and nuts as a topping for steel cut oats, yogurts and congees.

  4. Enlist the help of your partner, family and friends where possible: Think of all of the extra demands on your body at this time. A pregnant body actually expends more energy while resting than a non-pregnant body while does while exercising! This change in your metabolic rate should make it easy for you and others alike to put changes such as extreme fatigue and other early pregnancy symptoms into perspective. It is perfectly acceptable to take periods of well-deserved rest when you need them, and to ask for more help with your normal responsibilities in the home. All relationships will inevitably evolve as you welcome a first (or another) child, and early pregnancy is a wonderful time to begin practicing how each of your roles can shift to continue to provide each other with love and support through such a profound transition.

With some trial and error and some extra planning, you should be able to discover at least a few helpful tips and tricks over time to make your first trimester a bit more manageable — likely just before most of your symptoms disappear altogether! Please feel free to contact your provider for additional suggestions, such as acupressure points, meal ideas and other self-care practices to help extend the effects of your acupuncture treatments with us.

In good health,


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