Meet the Experts: Jessica Monroe, AKA the Prenatal RD, is a PhD and registered dietitian who specializes in fertility and pregnancy nutrition. Carly Hartwig is a holistic reproductive health advocate and fertility awareness educator through CLWC.
Roughly one zillion thoughts race through your head when you see those two pink lines, along with a whirlwind of emotions (hey, consider that a little preview of the hormonal roller coaster to come!). Learning that you’re about to become a mother is truly life-changing news, and it’s completely normal to feel, well, slightly unprepared, no matter how many books you’ve read or podcasts you’ve binged. It’s always helpful to have an immediate next step or two, and there are definitely a few things you’ll want to get squared away after you’ve made those all-important phone calls and texts to everyone who matters. Once you take care of that, start checking things off this little list, and you’ll be well on your way to a healthy and minimally stressful pregnancy. (And congrats! We’re so happy for you!)
1. Find an OB
Whether you have an obstetrician lined up or you’re starting from scratch, make a point of getting in touch pronto. Most OBs schedule that oh-so-exciting first prenatal appointment between six and nine weeks, and the sooner you call, the more flexibility you have for accommodating their schedule (and yours!). A few caveats—if you’re over age 35, you have a history of miscarriage, or you’ve been working with your provider for fertility treatments like IVF, they’ll likely want to see you earlier.
What to expect at your first prenatal appointment:
Every provider is different, but you can generally expect some version of the following:
- A bunch of paperwork covering your medical, surgical, and gynecological/obstetrical history. Specifically, you’ll be asked for the dae of your last period, which your doc will use to figure out your due date, so do your best to figure that out before your appointment. They’ll also ask about any family history of genetic disorders.
- A physical exam, a urine test, and very possibly an ultrasound to hear the heartbeat—which is, in a word, amazing.
- Q&A. You’ll have a chance to ask questions about anything and everything, so it’s helpful to jot down those as they come to you and take in a list.
This is the beginning of an ongoing relationship so it’s really important that you feel comfortable with your OB. If you’re getting any red flags, listen to your gut and explore your options for care with someone else.
2. Start Taking Prenatal Vitamins
If you’re familiar with Beli at all, you know that we’re all about getting on the prenatal vitamin train early (and that applies to men, too). But don’t panic if you haven’t started prenatal vitamins just yet. Going forward, your baby is going to be sapping you in more ways than one, and it begins with drawing all those essential vitamins and minerals necessary for proper growth and development (folate and choline, we’re looking at you!). Your prenatal vitamin is the best way to ensure you’re both getting sufficient amounts of everything you need, including but not limited to the following:
- Folate gets a lot of airtime, and for good reason. During the earliest stage of pregnancy, folate is absolutely essential for supporting proper brain and spinal development and minimizing the risks of specific birth defects. Actually, a daily dose of at least 600 mcg of this essential B vitamin is recommended during the preconception stage as well. That’s one of the reasons experts advise women hoping to become pregnant to start taking prenatal vitamins at least three months before they hope to conceive—it’s a great way of ensuring you have an adequate supply at the moment of conception.
- Choline is just as important as folate for minimizing birth defects, and it plays a very important role in better brain and cognitive outcomes down the road. One study (1) associated low maternal choline intake (less than 290 mg per day) with a doubled risk of neural tube defects. Despite its importance, choline is either noticeably absent or just not included in sufficient amounts from many of the most popular prenatal vitamins on the market. Experts recommend a daily amount of 450 mg before and during pregnancy, and 550 mg per day while breastfeeding.
- Magnesium is essential all the time, but even more so during pregnancy. Your baby will use this mineral for proper growth and development before and after delivery, and research (2) finds that magnesium also directly influences fetal programming. Daily recommendations are between 350 and 400 mg during pregnancy.
While you’ll get many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants from your diet, let’s be real—every diet comes up short somewhere. That’s where your prenatal vitamin comes in. These potent little guys are designed to supplement your diet and fill in those nutritional gaps to ensure that all of your bases are covered.
Of course, like anything, prenatal vitamins aren’t all equal, and it’s important to find a prenatal vitamin that actually does its one job right. Fortunately, Beli is making things easy. We referenced all of the available research on fertility and prenatal health, deferred to the experts in the field (the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association, specifically), and formulated the cleanest and most effective prenatal vitamin possible. Beli for Women is one of very few prenatals on the market meeting current recommendations from the ACOG and the AMA for choline, folate, iodine, magnesium, and vitamin D. It’s made with the most potent and absorbable forms of vitamins and minerals, with zero fillers or GMO ingredients, in a very doable serving size of just three capsules. It’s free of gluten and allergens and all Beli prenatals are manufactured in cGMP and FDA-registered facilities in the U.S. Plus, they’ve earned the Purity Award from the Clean Label Project.
Just as important as what we put into Beli prenatal vitamins is what we intentionally left out. Our prenatals are formulated without vitamin A, which can be harmful in the earliest stages of pregnancy. In excess amounts (3), vitamin A is associated with congenital birth abnormalities, and many women receive adequate amounts of vitamin A in their diet. We also exclude DHA, not because it’s not important during pregnancy, but rather because it’s not shelf stable when combined with other nutrients. It’s best accessed through food or with a separate supplement.
3. Get a Handle on Nutrition
Your pregnancy will directly affect your nutrition. Clearly, alcohol is off limits, but don’t freak out if you had a glass of wine last night and just got that positive pregnancy test today. Most women don’t realize they’re pregnant for at least a few weeks after conceiving, which means many of them are likely to consume some amount of alcohol in early pregnancy. Fortunately, the risks at this stage are pretty low, so just make sure to skip the booze going forward.
Jessica Monroe, PhD and RD, gave us a rundown on what else you’ll need to avoid and why:
- Unpasteurized dairy and juice, which can lead to food-borne illness.
- Unwashed produce, which can carry problematic bacteria and put women at risk of toxoplasmosis.
- Deli meats, soft cheeses, and salad bars, with caveats. Jessica says deli meats are fine if they've been heated and soft cheeses are an option if they're made with pasteurized dairy (which is typical in the U.S.). As for salads, make sure to stay on top of any recalls (romaine lettuce is common) and avoid salads bars in which greens have been sitting out for a while.
- Undercooked meats and fish, which can be a source of bacteria and parasites and increase your risk of food-borne illness.
- High-mercury fish, which include swordfish, mackerel, orange roughy, marlin, and shark. Instead, opt for salmon, tilapia, and cod, all of which are lower in mercury and considered safe and beneficial during pregnancy.
Caffeine. Don’t freak out! Caffeine does cross the placenta, so you’ll definitely want to curb your latte habit somewhat. The ACOG recommends that pregnant women keep their caffeine intake under 200 milligrams a day. That’s roughly two cups of regular brewed coffee, but keep in mind that caffeine can also be found in chocolate, tea, soda, and certain medications.
This is also a great time to prioritize protein. Not only does your growing baby need protein for all sorts of fundamental processes, you’ll benefit from extra protein to build breast and uterine tissue to support your baby. Women who get adequate amounts of protein during pregnancy also help ensure a healthy birth weight, and they may even enjoy a more comfortable pregnancy. Protein can help reduce swelling and fluid retention (4), and collagen protein in particular can also support skin elasticity—just want you want around now! Plus, a great collagen protein is super easy to mix into smoothies if morning sickness is already becoming an issue.
4. Be Mindful of Environmental Toxins
That mama bear instinct kicks in early, and doing what you can to protect your growing baby by limiting your exposure to household toxins is wise. In addition to cleaning up your diet, speak with your doctor about any medications, herbal supplements, or steroid/retinol creams you may be currently using.
Carly Hartwig, holistic reproductive health advocate and fertility awareness educator through CLWC, recommends switching to clean cosmetics and skincare products, including mineral sunscreen, to minimize your exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals like phthalates and parabens, which are linked to reproductive issues. She advises being mindful of cleaning products too.
“Avoiding products with bleach and fragrance is a great place to start,” she says. “Fortunately you can clean your home effectively without both. Branch Basics is my favorite cleaning product and I love that you can clean your whole house with just one concentrate. It’s completely free from added fragrance too which is great, especially since many pregnant mamas become extra sensitive to scents. If you want to disinfect, Force of Nature is a great EPA-registered disinfectant that’s completely free from toxins. It converts salt, water and vinegar into a powerful disinfectant.”
Wondering what else you can do to clean up your lifestyle now that you’re expecting? Check out these 5 tips from Carly.
5. Catch Some Dang ZZZ’s
It’s completely normal to feel more tired than you ever have in your entire life, particularly during the first trimester, because your body is working so hard on seriously important stuff, including placental formation. If you’re tired, sleep! Indulge in naps, go to bed early, and give your body the break it needs. Sufficient sleep really is one of the best ways you can support yourself and your growing baby in the first trimester, and it will help set you up for what’s to come.
Early pregnancy is a thrilling experience, and you don’t need to go nuts to kick things off on the right foot. Make your first prenatal appointment, prioritize those prenatal vitamins every darn day, up your protein intake, and embrace all the excitement just ahead. You’ve got this!
- Shaw, G. et al. (2004). Periconceptional Dietary Intake of Choline and Betaine and Neural Tube Defects in Offspring. https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/160/2/102/76495?login=false
- Fanni, D. et al. (2020). The Role of Magnesium in Pregnancy and in Fetal Programming of Adult Diseases. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8360883/
- Dibley, M. et al. (n.d.). Safety and toxicity of vitamin A supplements in pregnancy.https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/156482650102200304
- Gómez-Cantarino, S. et al. (2020). Prevalence of Hypoproteinemia and Hypoalbuminemia in Pregnant Women from Three Different Socioeconomic Populations. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32872263/