Pregnancy Eats, The Second Trimester
I adored my second trimester! Well, from about week 18 when the nausea stopped. It was a time of lightness and sweet anticipation. Food regained a bit of the sparkle it had lost during those first few months, and I took an even greater interest in nourishing this little baby I’m growing. My previous pregnancy eats post principally focussed on how to get goodness in during a time when you feel like you have an all-day hangover. I was speaking about my personal experience (which happens to be similar to that of the majority of women), in that the first trimester meant nausea and food aversions, while during the second trimester, those glorious middle months, I felt pretty fantastic.
So what do we eat then, when our acceptance of foods beyond the bread domain returns and we’re enjoying a growing appetite? Whether pregnant or not, I try to encourage my clients to eat intuitively, like when you were a baby yourself. Sometimes (often) this is a skill we need to re-learn, but it's the best thing we can do... to trust our bodies to know what is best, what food makes us thrive and how much. To really tune in and listen to our bodies. Pregnancy is such an important time to do this.
If we think about it, food has two jobs: to provide nourishment and make us feel good. And despite popular belief, the two can co-exist. Eating real, whole food provides us and our growing baby with valuable nutrients, and it also makes us feel our best. Think about it, you feel really fantastic when you eat those vegetables, don’t you? And not in a boring way, I’m talking roasted vegetables like sweet potato, cauliflower, broccoli leaves, carrots and red onion...served with tasty, nutritious things like nuts, boiled eggs, legumes and extra virgin olive oil (always extra virgin olive oil), plus a chunk of sourdough bread or some wild rice or quinoa. This is a harmonious meal for you and baby, one that will both nourish and make you feel good. That is the type of food you should be eating when you’re pregnant. If you need any guidance and if you’re constantly craving less healthy food, it’s best to check in with an Accredited Practising Dietitian for a consultation to see why this is the case, and to brainstorm healthier alternatives.
It’s important to note that there are indeed certain recommendations pertaining to food safety when pregnant (such as only eating well-cooked eggs, not eating fish high in mercury, avoiding soft and unpasteurized cheeses and deli meats, as well as pre-prepared food that has been sitting out and leftovers left too long or not reheated thoroughly). It can seem pedantic, and you'll likely get a flood of advice that "back in my day we didn't worry about that", but the thing is, while the risk of bacterial infection (which can be passed on to bubs) from these foods is very small, it IS a risk. And why risk it?
Some dietary notes for the second trimester
There are a number of dietary goals that are particularly encouraged once you reach the second trimester, and I'll briefly highlight a few below. But again, I advise you to see your healthcare provider for more detail. If ever you’re in a situation of requiring personalised care, whether pregnancy, food intolerance, disease management or prevention (and even just general wellness), it’s best to see a dietitian and not get your advice online. While I encourage eating intuitively, pregnancy is a time when you may need a bit of direction and personalised guidance, just to make sure your diet is balanced and your intuition is spot on (because as you'll see below, there is a bit to think about). I truly think that everyone can do with at least one consultation with a dietitian for personalised advice during different life stages, particularly in this day and age when eating is less intuitive and people are confused as a result of being bombarded with conflicting information .
Here are some general notes about nutrition during pregnancy, which I hope you find useful.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Getting enough calcium for baby's bone development is high on the list of things to focus on during this time. I personally do really well drinking dairy, so this is where I got my calcium intake, via milk in porridge and smoothies, a daily serve of yoghurt (probiotic lovin') and hard cheese with...everything. Dairy gives you a dose of B vitamins and protein, too, so yay for that. Vitamin D is also really important for bone development and bubs' growth, so check your supplement contains a dose. I prefer to get my Vitamin D from the sun, but at this time of year that can be tricky and a supplement is a good idea regardless.
Your iron intake and levels are definitely something watch. Our requirements double during pregnancy, and so you’ll like have your iron stores checked multiple times during the 9 months. I have a history of low iron (related to poor absorption), so I have to really take care with this. Our bodies absorb iron super efficiently from red meat, so that's my number one source (any many women find they crave red meat during pregnancy - though some go off it completely!), however there are some plant-based sources too. You can also be smart about what you eat with your iron-rich foods to enhance absorption. Personally, I’m trying to eat red meat three times a week at this stage.
Omega 3 Fats
Then there's omega 3 fatty acids, which, at this stage, are really important for your baby's brain development. My pregnancy supplement has a good dose of DHA (the main one to look for!) and EPA, but I always prefer to get my nutrients from food and so have also been ensuring I eat oily fish 2-3 times per week. This takes the form of wild caught salmon (fresh or tinned), and anchovies. Sardines are also a good bet. I add to this goodness with chia seeds, flaxmeal and walnuts, which are also good sources of Omega 3 fatty acids (amongst other great nutrients), but note that these plant-based sources don’t contain the super important DHA or EPA, so I simply view these as a bonus. Bagna Cauda remains my favourite fast, convenient, delicious way to get in omega-3 fats (poured over nutrient-rich vegetables, at that!) - see the recipe here.
You really need to keep well-hydrated during pregnancy, ensuring you drink more than usual. Check that the colour of your urine isn't too yellow and do not let yourself get dehydrated. Regularly sipping water throughout the day should be a top priority.
Another thing to look at is making sure you’re getting enough protein, as your requirements certainly increase during the second and third trimester of pregnancy. You're growing a human! They need protein. If you’re a meat/poultry/fish eater, it is generally quite easy to get enough protein, as these sources are complete and high in protein. But if you’re a vegetarian it's totally doable, you just need to pay more attention and be quite intentional about your food choices (and ensure you love your eggs and legumes!). I am eating a lot more animal-based protein sources at dinner and less vegetarian meals compared to my pre-pregnancy routine. I’m finding this is what my body wants, this is what makes me feel best, so I’m listening and rolling with it.
At lunch (because I’m limiting my tinned tuna intake for reasons I mention in my first trimester pregnancy nutrition post) I’ve been eating a lot of hard-boiled, well-scrambled or fried eggs and legumes, alongside cheese and sometimes quinoa. Some days I will eat tinned salmon, like this bowl below, but I really don't love it like I do tinned tuna or fresh salmon, so that'll be lunch on a day when I realised I'm low on my oily fish intake that week. And snacks always involve some sort of protein, like Greek yoghurt, cheese, milk, nuts and seeds and hummus, which help to "top up" my intake.
Eat regularly. Sometimes cake.
Lastly, try to be smart about not going too long without eating. Having healthy snacks like mixed nuts, fruit and vegetable sticks in your bag makes it much easier to eat well, as it helps keep nausea at bay and stabilises your blood sugar levels. It’s science, folks, low blood sugar levels leads to burgers and fries.
But every now and then, a burger is totally fine. It’s highly important to recognise and place value on the joy one can get from eating, even when it’s food that may not fall within our “real, whole food” philosophy. For example one Sunday you might find yourself celebrating your Grandmother’s birthday with family, and out comes a chocolate cake made with refined sugar. While at home you will benefit from favouring less highly refined foods and using sweeteners like fruit and blackstrap molasses, the small amount of cake enjoyed on this occasion will do no harm to your health, or the health of your baby. In fact, enjoying this cake without worry or guilt (which you can do when you know it is not an everyday occurrence) will allow you to feel relaxed and happy, emotions which should not be underestimated for your health, or the health of your baby.
Cake and burgers only become an issue when people see pregnancy as an excuse to eat extra junk food. Yes, you legitimately need a few extra calories in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, but you don’t need that much (you're certainly not "eating for two"). During the first trimester, you don’t need any more than usual (unless you’re underweight to begin with). Come the second trimester, it’s recommended we add in about 1300 kilojoules (~300 calories), and in the final few months, that increases further to around 2000 extra kilojoules a day (~500 calories) - note, this is for single baby pregnancies and for mothers who are within the healthy weight range. These additional calories should come from foods that will make you and your baby thrive and moderate your weight gain. You may slightly increase the serving size of your meals, or your extra calories may take the form of a snack, one that is more extravagant than what you enjoyed pre-pregnancy, such as an almond butter, date, banana, milk and chia seed smoothie. Or a snack plate of carrot sticks, a hard-boiled egg, hummus, cheese and wholegrain seed crackers. And every now and then, it’ll be a slice of cake with Grandma.
Eating well throughout pregnancy is just like eating well throughout your life. If you listen to your body and have a goal of harmonious nourishment and enjoyment, you will invariably make decisions that are good for you and your baby.
For me, that looks like this. Here is a typical day of food for me during my second trimester...
My second trimester eats
Breakfast Once the nausea subsided, I stopped needing a snack as soon as I woke to keep me from feeling rotten. But I would usually wake up hungry anyway, so it was common for me to grab a tiny bite before heading out for a walk. This would usually be a heaped teaspoon of nut butter, half a glass of juice or half a piece of fruit, just to tie me over until breakfast.
Breakfast at this time was a lovely meal, full of wholesome goodness to satisfy my big morning appetite. What a difference a few months makes! Sometimes I’d jazz my breakfast up a bit too much and wouldn’t be hungry for lunch (though I would make myself have something and by the time I started eating, my appetite picked up). My portion of porridge grew to a heaping ½ cup of rolled oats, with chia seeds or flaxmeal, cooked in full cream milk. I’d top this with a bounty of toasted nuts and/or seeds or nut butter, often a spoonful of yoghurt and usually fruit. Perhaps I’d make it with cacao or carrots, but often it was plain, just milk and oats (and then the toppings!).
Either way I really got into my nourishing breakfasts. And juice! Midway into my second trimester I discovered how amazing orange juice was and would treat myself to a carton of pure orange juice every other week (not every week purely because I’m self employed and hence a constant saver. Spending money on juice each week would be a total luxury).
Occasionally I'd have toast with nut butter and banana or avocado, and on the weekends breakfast would often be eggs. My default is porridge, though, particularly at this chilly time of year. Eating nuts is encouraged during pregnancy, as exposing your bubs to the proteins that can cause allergic reactions on the outside appears to reduce their risk of them developing those allergies. Thank goodness, because eating nut butter is a favourite pastime of mine. #nutbutterforlife.
Lunch I made sure to include lots of vegetables at lunch, along with something fatty and wonderful like avocado, a bit of protein and wholesome carbohydrates like sweet potato, a cooked wholegrain or sourdough. As I mentioned above, I’ve been limiting my tuna intake and relying on eggs and legumes, and sometimes canned salmon, for my lunchtime protein. Often there’s some cheddar cheese and toasted nuts or seeds in the mix too, which helps the protein profile. Lunch was rarely huge, as I was not overly hungry after a big breakfast and I knew I’d be having a decent snack in 2-3 hours.
Snack Favourite, nutrient-rich snacks of mine have been yoghurt (with honey and more nuts/seeds - love them!), smoothies, cheese or hummus with vegetable sticks and wholegrain Dr Karg crackers or my nut, seed and oat loaf. Sometimes I'll make a smoothie bowl, banana soft serve or toast with nut butter and jam or banana. My snack really depends on hunger level, whether I'm home or out and how much time I have. If on the run, I'll grab a snack from the freezer like this (or if Ben hasn't eaten them all, this).
I suppose these snacks are not too different from the first trimester, but portions were more generous (certainly more vegetables) and I ate with far more gusto. Note the below portion is a lot smaller than I'd usually have. I must not have been very hungry that day.
Making big batches of my nut, seed and oat loaf has made it really easy to snack well and snack substantially. Because otherwise my Dr Karg's cracker habit would be off the charts. It freezes beautifully and when I get home from seeing clients I often find myself reaching for a slice, popping it into the toaster and deciding whether to top it with avocado, cheese, hummus or butter and jam. I'd often have a serve of yoghurt alongside the loaf.
Dinner I actually looked forward to dinner more often than not during the second trimester, which was super nice! While I’ve made sure to eat well during my pregnancy, I am yet to regain the lust for food I had prior to falling pregnant. Though my enjoyment has certainly increased with each passing day. I’ll have pasta usually at least once a week, and put away rather impressive portions. In fact, my dinner portions overall have increased as a way to get my those extra calories. My desire for desserts is pretty non-existent (which was not the case prior to pregnancy), so I’m looking to extra serves of pasta, steak, fish, potatoes and things like butter, avocado and cheese for added calories (as well as bigger breakfast portions as I mentioned above).
So if it’s not pasta with bolognaise, tuna or chicken and pesto it’s steak, potatoes and other vegetables, or Ben will make a stirfry with chicken or pork mince or beef rump, plus a load of veg on a bed of white or wild rice, whatever we’re vibing. Some days I may defrost a sausage roll or pie we’re bought from Johnny Ripe and serve that with salad, other times it’s an abundance bowl type meal with a Mexican or Middle Eastern slant (for a Mexican-style bowl it’s often wild rice, corn, avocado, salsa, roasted vegetables and beef mince with spices, for a Middle Eastern-style one see this post). The meal below has been pretty common these past few months - steak with roasted potatoes, plus steamed broccoli and parsnip mash with bagna cauda.
Evening snack Unless feeling too full, I’ve had a piece of fruit after dinner - usually citrus, sometimes an apple or organic dried apricots (brown beauties all the way, no neon orange!), with or without a bit of cheddar cheese on the side. Sometimes I’ll be hungry and not feel like eating (who am I?!!) so I’ll down a few spoonfuls or yoghurt or some nut butter and hope it tides me over until the morning, which it tends to do quite well. I wish I enjoyed plain milk, as I could just have a glass of that before bed! But come 9:30pm who can be bothered making a smoothie? And a hot chocolate would impact my sleep (I know, I’ve tried). I need to start a late night smoothie delivery service for pregnant ladies...
Fluid I’ve been great at drinking water throughout the day and when I get up to use the toilet at night. After struggling with fluids at the start of my pregnancy, I’m now definitely getting in 2 litres a day. I keep coffee to a weak latte 2-3 times a week, purely for enjoyment. And most days I’ll have a green tea (unless it’s a coffee day).
I’ve been loving sniffing Ben’s wine, as I truly miss it! Champagne too. But I don’t miss it enough to have a glass myself. There's no safe known consumption level when it comes to alcohol, as studies of the sort are unethical, and so abstinence is your best bet. I’ve had a total of maybe 3 or 4 sips of Ben’s red wine throughout my entire pregnancy (when eating a meal of bolognaise or going out for steak, when red wine is particularly lovely), and I’m cool with that.
So there we go, folks! I hope this has given you some insight and tips regarding nourishing yourself during the second trimester. What better time to practice listening to your body and learning what it needs? Remember to not hesitate in getting help if you need it, intuitive eating can be a tricky skill to master and honestly there's a lot to think about regarding nutrition at this time. And you don't want to be stressed about it. There is no point feeling unsure or guilty about food, especially when you're nourishing a little person (or people!) in addition to yourself.
I'm currently just into week 29, so there'll be a bit of a wait until I'm ready to talk about pregnancy eats during the third trimester. Though it will no doubt be quite similar to this post. Lots of nutrient-rich foods, eating oranges at night on the couch and awholelotta asking Ben to make me stirfries and steak.