Do’s and don’ts during the first trimester of pregnancy

A high-risk pregnancy physician offers tips for a healthy start for you and baby

healthy habits help your baby thrive in first trimester of pregnancy

You’re pregnant! Take some time to jump for joy and feel grateful for this blessing before diving into the world of parental responsibilities.

Your work as a new parent starts now. While you can’t protect against every complication, you can follow these helpful tips to have a healthy, happy first trimester.

Free downloads: Pregnancy guidebooks by trimester

The DO’S

Do think of food as fuel.

Contrary to the old saying, you’re not actually eating for two. You will need more calories and nutrition later in your pregnancy, but there’s no need to double your intake now.

Instead of quantity, focus on the quality of your food. Fuel your body with healthy food. If possible, choose organic food and eat from local food sources if you can. This limits your exposure to pesticides.

Do focus on folate.

You should be taking 600 micrograms of folic acid a day in the first trimester of pregnancy. If you were not already taking folic acid supplements in advance of getting pregnant, start immediately.

This helps prevent two common and serious birth defects: spina bifida and anencephaly. It’s even recommended by some organizations that all women ages 15 to 45 take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily – not just those who are pregnant.

Once your pregnancy is confirmed, your physician will probably recommend you take a prenatal vitamin. These vitamins are designed to meet the recommendations for folic acid intake.

Speaking of prenatal vitamins…

Do take your prenatal vitamins.

These vitamins supply the folate you need, and they also help cover your needs for calcium, iron and zinc. They also provide the appropriate amounts of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). These two types of omega-3 fats help your baby’s brain develop.

Not a fan of the big pills? Talk to your OB provider about an alternative vitamin regimen.

Read more: The ABCs of vitamins in pregnancy

Do eat the rainbow.

While you’re meal planning or feeling snacky, try to eat colorful foods. Reach for dark green spinach, orange carrots, red apples, yellow bananas, blueberries, etc.

Brightly colored foods offer the most nutrients and antioxidants. And having a varied diet will expose your baby to a range of tastes and flavors. Your baby eats what you eat through the amniotic fluid, so if you eat a wide variety of foods, your baby will also.

Do sleep.

Your body is going through tremendous changes and is developing an entirely new life-providing system for your baby. As it grows the placenta, you will likely find yourself beyond exhausted some days. Plus, you’re going through monumental hormonal and emotional changes.

Take naps when you can. If you work, try scheduling a little bit of rest time into your lunch hour.

You may need to sleep more than you’re used to at night. Set bedtimes and stick to them to gift your body a solid eight to nine hours of sleep each night.

Do exercise.

Regular exercise helps you combat the fatigue and mood and hormonal changes that happen in the first trimester. It also helps prevent weight gain and battle insomnia.

If you don’t have regular exercise already built into your routine, no sweat! There are several ways you can adopt a more active lifestyle, even during pregnancy. But before you begin any new exercise routine, contact your OB provider. Your provider can suggest options specific to your needs, considering your current state of health and what is best for your baby.

Do get a flu shot.

Pregnant people can safely get a flu shot – and they’re highly encouraged to do so. According to the CDC, the flu is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant people than in those who are not pregnant.

Because of changes to your immune system, heart and lungs, you’re more prone to serious illness from the flu. Also, some evidence shows that getting the flu while pregnant can raise your risk of complications, including premature labor. The flu vaccine reduces that risk.

Even better, the flu vaccine can also protect your baby from contracting the flu after birth. When you get vaccinated during pregnancy, you’re passing on antibodies to your child. The vaccine will help protect your baby against the flu for the first few months after birth.

Do get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Like the flu, COVID-19 is dangerous to pregnant people and their babies. Pregnant people who get COVID-19 are more likely to need hospitalization and intensive care. They’re also more at risk for preterm delivery, stillbirth and pre-eclampsia.

Research has shown that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe for those who are pregnant, planning on becoming pregnant or want to get pregnant in the future.

Talk to a provider you trust if you’re nervous about getting vaccinated while pregnant. Your provider can answer your questions and address any concerns you may have.

Learn more about COVID-19 vaccines and pregnancy.

Do visit the dentist.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says that teeth cleaning and dental X-rays are safe for pregnant people. In fact, OB/GYNs are now advised to do oral health assessments during an initial prenatal visit and to encourage dental visits during pregnancy.

The ACOG reports that 40% of pregnant Americans have some degree of periodontal disease and that the physical changes from pregnancy can affect the gums and teeth. A dental visit can identify any potential dental needs early.

Do stay hydrated.

Hydration helps prevent preterm labor. It also helps prevent headaches, kidney stones and dizziness. If you’re already battling constipation and hemorrhoids, staying hydrated can help fight these conditions.

If your urine is light yellow to clear, you’re getting enough hydration. If it’s dark yellow, you need to increase your water intake.

Do make sure your medications are safe.

The bottle of aspirin you’ve been using to relieve headaches may not be safe for you to take while pregnant. Before you take anything, check this list of medications that are generally safe to use while pregnant.

If you struggle with allergies, try to negate the need for medication by avoiding your allergy triggers.

Always talk to your provider before starting any medications, herbs or supplements.

Do ask for help.

Are you already more tired than usual during your first trimester of pregnancy? Ask your partner to help out more, maybe picking up a few extra tasks around the house to ease your burden.

You have a support system – take advantage of it. Ask a friend or family member for help. Do what you need to do to ensure you are getting enough rest, for your health and for your growing baby. Having extra help or having fewer tasks to accomplish will give you more time to rest.

The DON’TS

Don’t smoke.

If you’re a smoker, now is the best time to quit. Quitting will give your health a boost and protect the health of your baby. Talk with your provider today about ways to quit.

According to the CDC, smoking while pregnant comes with risks. People who smoke during pregnancy are more at risk of miscarriage. Babies born to those who smoked during pregnancy are at increased risk for birth defects, premature birth, low birth weight and infant death.

These babies also are at greater risk for learning disabilities. Smoking during and after pregnancy is also a risk factor for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). And babies born to people who smoked during pregnancy are more likely to become smokers earlier themselves due to a physiologic nicotine addiction.

What about electronic cigarettes? The CDC says that while the aerosol of e-cigarettes typically has fewer harmful substances than cigarette smoke, e-cigarettes that contain nicotine aren’t safe during pregnancy. The nicotine alone is a health danger for pregnant people and developing babies. It can also damage a developing baby’s brain and lungs.

Don’t drink alcohol.

There is no amount of alcohol that is safe during pregnancy. And there is no time during pregnancy when alcohol does not carry risks.

Drinking alcohol while pregnant can cause problems for a developing baby at any stage. This includes the days and weeks before a person knows they’re pregnant. Drinking alcohol anytime in the first trimester can cause central nervous system problems and abnormal facial features and growth. Drinking alcohol later in a pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). These disorders are a range of behavioral and intellectual disabilities.

Children with FASDs may have:

  • Abnormal facial features
  • Poor coordination and memory
  • Difficulty with attention
  • Learning disabilities and difficulties in school
  • Speech and language delays
  • Lower IQs
  • Poor reasoning and judgment skills
  • Sleep and sucking problems as infants
  • Vision and hearing problems
  • Problems with the heart, kidney or bones

If someone drinks during pregnancy, it is never too late to stop. The sooner they stop, the better the health benefits are for themselves and their baby.

If you need help, talk to your provider right away. There are resources available.

Don’t eat raw meat.

Pregnant people who eat raw or undercooked meat and eggs are at risk of contracting listeriosis and toxoplasmosis. These can lead to serious and life-threatening illnesses and can cause severe birth defects and miscarriage.

Cook your meat and eggs thoroughly before eating.

Don’t visit the sauna.

Avoid the sauna and hot tub. There is a risk of overheating, dehydration and fainting every time you use a sauna, whirlpool, hot tub or steam room. If you’re looking to relax, soak in a hot bath instead.

Don’t drink too much caffeine.

This is an especially tricky one in this first trimester of pregnancy because you are so very tired. But caffeine can cross the placenta and affect your growing baby’s heart rate.

Research suggests that some caffeine is OK in the first trimester – up to about 200 milligrams a day or about two cups of coffee. But some studies suggest that drinking too much caffeine might be associated with a greater risk of miscarriage.

Don’t clean the litter box.

There’s no reason to fear or avoid your pet cat during pregnancy, but leave the litter box to your partner or a friend. There are millions of parasites in feline waste, and one – toxoplasma gondii – is especially dangerous to pregnant people.

Exposure to this parasite can increase your risk of miscarriage or stillbirth. Babies born with this parasite could develop serious health problems, including seizures and mental disabilities. It also can lead to vision problems.

Don’t overeat.

Studies show that half of people gain too much weight during pregnancy. When that happens, the baby is at greater risk of obesity later in life. You will need additional calories in the second and third trimesters, but doctors disagree about whether you need any extra calories in this first trimester.

Eat until you’re satisfied and then stop.

Take care of yourself

This list of do’s and don’ts in the first trimester of pregnancy may seem a bit intimidating. But don’t let it scare you.

Most of these guidelines can be easily summed up: Take care of yourself. Be sure to eat healthy foods, drink lots of water and get enough sleep.

Before you know it, your little one will finally be here. When you hold and snuggle with your newborn, remember to thank yourself for following this list of do’s and don’ts months ago in your first trimester. A healthy, happy baby makes it all worthwhile.

Learn more

Posted In Health Information, Pregnancy, Women's