Nutrition in Pregnancy + Beyond: The Second Trimester

The second trimester (also known as:  the sweet spot)

For most pregnant women, the second trimester marks the emergence of a recognizable baby bump along with the return of energy and appetite.  Time to take advantage of the golden trimester by doing "all the things" (eat, travel, socialize, exercise!), right?  Of course!  Optimism in tow, I set out to do just that.  Here's how I fared.  

THE ISSUES*

  1. "I'll take all the sweets, please."  With my first pregnancy, I experienced intense cravings for very specific foods.  My sudden love affair with sauerkraut was the most surprising, and thankfully it was a relatively healthy (albeit odd) obsession.  With pregnancy #2, my cravings manifested in a broader sense (all the sweets) alongside a mild aversion to more nutrient-dense foods.  Recognizing that ice cream for dinner wouldn't suffice (at least not every day), I navigated ways to accommodate my increased calorie needs in a healthier manner.      
  2. "Bartender, hit me with another tap water."  By the second trimester, I had the energy to hit the town (as aggressively as a pregnant mama can "hit the town"), so I ventured out for dinner and drinks with my husband.  Eight cups of water (and six trips to the bathroom) later, I really wished there was another option!  Social outings sans alcohol are great, but why haven't more bars expanded options to accommodate non-drinking patrons?  I'll pass on the straight sugar-filled cranberry juice and caffeinated cola, thank you.  Show off those mixologist skills with a fancy mocktail, please!  
  3. "I think it's safe. Do you think it's safe?"  While traveling abroad, many mid-dinner conversations with my husband went like this (as if he possessed secret knowledge of the food sources + safety levels).  Faced with plates of appetizing food, I'd suddenly second guess the listed ingredients and preparation methods.  Was everything in the meal pasteurized?  Was the dish completely cooked through?  While adept at navigating food safety + dining out at my local spots, I felt less confident in foreign territory.  Thankfully, I took a few pre-travel steps to prepare.   
  4. "Well, that was embarrassing!"  Around 24 weeks pregnant, I ventured to a local studio for 55 minutes of hip-hop cardio.  It wasn't a prenatal fitness class, but I was confident I could hang.  After all, I'm fairly athletic with mediocre rhythm (sounds promising, right?).  What I didn't account for was all the mirrors.  Oh, the mirrors!  I picked up the routine and kept up aerobically, but my version of dancing with a baby bump was hilariously embarrassing.  The class ended with the instructor taking a group video for her Instagram, during which I hid in the back praying she wouldn't post it (she didn't).  With a blow to my confidence, I quickly tossed on a jacket, darted out of the gym, and decided to refrain from dancing in public for the remainder of my pregnancy.    

THE STRATEGIES

Compared to the first trimester, my second trimester was a walk in the park.  While I did face a few "issues," most were self-imposed and ended with a good laugh instead of serious concerns for my health and/or safety.  Nevertheless, here are a few strategies that I used to deal with my encounters.**  

On cravings + aversions: In the second trimester, energy needs increase by about 340 calories per day.  While my taste buds would happily accept half pints of ice cream to fill those requirements, I needed to find healthier alternatives.  As mentioned in my post on the first trimester, smoothies have played a large role in this pregnancy - satisfying cravings and increasing valuable nutrient intake all in under 5 minutes of prep!  In finding your own strategies for incorporating nutrient-dense foods while meeting increased calorie needs, consider these tips:

  1. Examine the qualities of the foods you crave (are they sweet, salty, crunchy, chewy?).  Then seek healthier alternatives that possess those qualities.  I mostly sought sweets, so I looked to nature's candy (fruit!) to replace the processed, sugar-filled stuff.  An apple with natural peanut butter (no sugar added, of course) provided healthy fats, protein, and carbs while satisfying my sweet tooth.  
  2. Decide how you want to incorporate your extra calories throughout the day.  Is it in the form of an added snack or two, or will you divide up the calories during your regular meals?  Do a little research and practice reading food labels to better understand what 340 calories of your favorite foods looks like.  Try to avoid the tempting addition of daily dessert, which likely meets (or exceeds) the extra caloric needs but falls short on nutritional value.
  3. Nothing looks appealing? Been there, and it's a tough phase.  During this time, I happily relied on meal delivery services (like HelloFresh and Sun Basket) to provide a few healthy meals each week.  They offered variety while removing a bit of the decision-making responsibility on my end.  Since my aversions were only mild, this helped to expand dining choices beyond my go-to meals and to find appetizing foods that I wouldn't usually consider.  

On drinking:  I drink lots of water and am a huge fan of seltzer, but there are times during pregnancy when I wouldn't mind a "special" drink.  While a few restaurants excel in the non-alcoholic cocktail, many of my "mocktail" inquiries received a look of confusion along with the response, "we have juice and soda."  My go-to order became a glass of seltzer with a splash of grapefruit (or a grapefruit wedge) and muddled mint leaves.  Low in sugar yet high in flavor, the drink felt satisfying, refreshing, and exciting.  In creating your own mocktail, try to stick with a seltzer base to avoid excess caffeine and sugar.  Add in fresh fruit or a splash of fruit juice along with fresh herbs to boost flavor.   

On traveling:  Navigating food safety when dining out or traveling can be tricky while pregnant.  During my travels abroad, I wanted to experience the local dishes, but in some cases lacked the knowledge to determine their safety.  If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are some tips:

  1. Be your own advocate by familiarizing yourself with food safety guidelines before traveling or dining out.
  2. Research the menu or popular local dishes ahead of time to get a better sense for ingredients and cooking methods used.
  3. Ask lots of questions!  Explain that you're pregnant and simply looking out for your baby - most restaurants will be very accommodating.  
  4. Pack a few pregnancy-friendly snacks to hold you over while searching for safe + appetizing options.

On confidence:  In my personal experience (remember, I'm a dietitian, not a psychologist), my confidence level fluctuates throughout pregnancy.  Some days I'm on fire ("The female body is AMAZING! I'm a rockstar!"), and other days I need a boost ("I'm wearing my shirt inside out and backwards - how am I going to handle another child!?").  But I find a constant source of confidence in knowing that I'm providing my body + my baby with healthy choices - primarily through food, exercise, and rest.  Of course, I occasionally eat junk food, feel ridiculous in a workout class (and vow never to go again), or stay up late binge-watching a favorite show, but overall, I'm doing pretty well.  If you feel your confidence is waning, try focusing on self care (which benefits baby too!) with simple strategies like increasing fruit + veggie intake, engaging in a little outdoor activity, and getting some well-deserved rest.

To all those in the midst of pregnancy, I hope these tips help to boost your overall wellness during an emotional + transformative time of your life.  Congratulations, mama! You can do this! 

Side notes:

*I recognize how blessed I am to experience two healthy pregnancies. While pregnancy comes with challenges in many forms, those that I faced were absolutely minor and pale in comparison to the joys associated with becoming a mother.  

**As a dietitian, I work to employ evidence-based nutrition practices while recognizing and understanding the unique circumstances of the individual.  If you're interested in personalized prenatal or postpartum nutrition services, please contact me