Skip to main content UVA Health logo of UVA Health
Healthy Balance

Maternity Monday: Prenatal Vitamins & Other First Trimester FAQs

Parenting books and baby blogs are great resources, but they can also supply an overwhelming amount of information for newly expectant mothers. I took a look at some common questions for the first trimester of pregnancy and caught up with Vanessa Gregg, MD, for the answers.

Stories about preconception, pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum
Join us as we journey through preconception, pregnancy, childbirth and beyond in a series we call Maternity Monday.

Do I Need Prenatal Vitamins? 

Yes — prenatal vitamins are beneficial for both the mother’s changing body and the developing fetus. It’s ideal to begin taking prenatal vitamins before conception. Although most women get the nutrients they need via their diet, prenatal vitamins provide that extra boost.

Gregg warns moms that it may take some self-discipline to include all of the major food groups in the diet during pregnancy, especially when you have cravings, but it’s important to try.

What’s Important in Prenatal Vitamins? 

Dr. Gregg tells her patients that one important ingredient in prenatal vitamins is folic acid.

What is that and what are the benefits, you ask? Folic acid:

  • Is a type of B vitamin
  • Helps produce red blood cells to prevent anemia for mother and baby
  • Helps form the neural tube (the brain and spinal cord) to decrease the number of potential defects while the fetus is forming

Before conception, you should take about 400 micrograms of folic acid. Bump up the dose to 600 micrograms during pregnancy. “It’s one thing you can easily do to help have a better outcome,” says Gregg.

Prenatal vitamins also contain many other valuable ingredients, including iron, which many pregnant women need more than they would outside of pregnancy.

Should I Avoid Any Particular Food?

One important thing to be wary of is raw or undercooked food like meat, eggs and fish, as these foods can lead to food-borne illnesses. Some types of fish have higher concentrations of mercury, which has been linked to birth defects.

Prenatal vitamins contain folic acid and other nutrients for expectant moms and their babies.
Look for folic acid in your prenatal vitamin of choice.

Safe options for expectant moms are:

  • Shrimp
  • Salmon
  • Catfish
  • Pollock
  • White (albacore) tuna, limited to about six ounces a week

You should also be cautious of listeria infection, a food-borne illness caused by bacteria. Listeria infection can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth and premature delivery. As a precaution, women should avoid unpasteurized milk products, and heat lunch meats like hot dogs and cold cuts before eating.

Gregg also advises expectant mothers to peel all food skins themselves and thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables. She tells her patients, “If you’re in doubt, skip it and eat something else!”

Am I Really Eating for Two?

You may want to indulge all of your cravings, but there is no increased caloric need within the first trimester. Over the course of a pregnancy, the caloric intake will increase to about 300 extra calories per day — not an outrageous amount!

While it’s important to have a healthy weight gain during pregnancy, the expected weight gain for each mother varies depending upon her pre-pregnancy weight. The average weight gain for a single pregnancy in a woman of normal body weight is between 25 and 35 pounds. But, as Gregg reminds expectant mothers, gaining too little or too much weight can create pregnancy complications later on.  Your obstetrician or other prenatal care provider can advise you as to how much weight gain is appropriate for you.

What Bodily Changes Should I Expect?

There aren’t many changes that occur within the first trimester. Some women may notice a temporary thickening of the hair or hair growth in unexpected areas like their face, chest, abdomen and arms. However, it isn’t until the baby further develops and grows that changes like stretch marks and darkening areas of the skin may occur.

The most common experiences during first trimester are:

  • Fatigue
  • Breast tenderness
  • Morning sickness, the body’s way of processing new hormones

Is There Really Such a Thing as ‘Pregnancy Glow’?

While there isn’t necessarily a medical reason for the “glow,” Gregg certainly believes it exists. However, she attributes it to the rounding of the expectant mother’s face or the positive, excited attitude and outlook she exudes. In addition, hormonal changes of pregnancy may change the texture or oiliness of the skin, which can contribute to the “glow” of pregnancy.

“Pregnancy is an amazing time. It’s phenomenal, the changes the body goes through to accommodate a growing person,” says Gregg. She encourages all her patients to enjoy the experience and look forward to the joy of a new addition to the family.

Reply & View Comments Search Submit

Subscribe for Updates

Get stories & health tips every week