Nutrition in pregnancy

There is some information of the various stages of growth. You can read it out of interest or skip it and read what you would like to read eor interest you most.

What happens from week 5 to 7 and what nutrients you need.

By the end of week 5, the embryo is 5 to 8 mm from crown to tail.

  • The arms develop more than the legs and you can start seeing rudimentary hands.
  • The pituitary gland starts forming now (this is the gland that make hormones for your ovaries, testes, kidneys, growth hormones, hormones for the thyroid, pancreatic cells etc, this is stimulated by the hypothalamus which is a gland that is the center in command of the instuctions really).
  • At this stage also the heart blood vessels starts to develop more. The primitive aorta, which is the main artery, divides in aorta e pulmonary vein, forming the two heart chambers, before developing into the 4 heart chambers.
  • The genital glands, ovaries and testes can be seen, and a duct which becomes the kidney and the bladder is now more visible (the duct of Muller).
  • The bony developments of the lower jaw (the mandible) and the collar bones are also visible now. At this stage the brain and the spinal cord develop very quickly now, starting with the dorsal root and the neurons formation.
  • The autonomic nervous system starts to develop and by the end of week 6 the 5 brain vesicles of the brain are complete and the meningeal membranes are also visible.
  • Week 6 also the skull, the cartilage develops in the spinal column, the skull and the ribs are more visible. The tongue, larynx, teeth, rudimentary glands, the kidneys, the bladder and the genitals are present.
  • From week 5 and ½ and 7 the intra-uterine reflexes emerges into the womb. This is usually connected to the withdrawal of noxious stimuli.
  • At week 7 you can start seeing a tiny movement of the hands, the internal organs are visible and there is a differentiation of the genital organs. Till this week, the developing of the sex organs of the female and male are the same.
  • During this week ossification of skull, ribs and scapula arms and legs and the hard palate of the mouth happens. It is here that if there is a problem with the closing of the hard palate, it can results in the Cleft Palate deformity. This can be prevented by intake of folic acid, B vitamins and minerals and can also be operated on after birth.
  • At this stage, there is a continuation of the brain and spinal cord developments, with the start of the spinal cord differentiation into sensory, motor nerves fibres. The important of essential fatty acids can be understood by the fast development of the brain and nerves, even though now the body does not use massive amount of it, it is important that the mother has got plenty for her own body function as the baby will take whatever it can if in short supply.
  • It is also important at any stage that you avoid drinking a lot of alcohol as the B vitamins are used to manage the alcohol in the mother body and therefore will be less available for the embryo to use.
  • Most mums have enough of these nutrients anyway the majority of time, but quite few very young girls that are still growing themselves and do not eat properly or drink too much might be in danger of being too low on the folate and B vitamins and/or essential fatty acid.
  • The calcium that the embryo needs it is not a lot at this time but in the later months the requirement goes much higher and again it is the mother that will be affected if the calcium is low. Only in extreme cases the baby will be affected as well.
  • Hormones here becomes much higher as the baby needs to grow, the good fats are as essential as the minerals and minerals to make sure that you have enough to make them. Again most western mothers have enough of the good fat but many can be still quite low.

 Stage – 8th weeks till 12 weeks

  • From the end of week 8 all the organs are formed and continue to refine throughout the end of the gestation. Hands and feet can be seen more clearly.
  • The whole nervous system has developed.
  • The foetal phase starts from the 9th -12 weeks to the end of the pregnancy. At the end of the 12th week the foetal legs are about 1 inch long and the tail is almost disappeared leaving the coccyx instead. Facial changes also occurs which makes the foetus look like a human.
  • The lower and upper eyelids will be still fused till month 6th.
  • The internal ears and outside ears are in place now.
  • Also the fingernails and toenails will be in place by the end of this month.
  • The genital structures will be more differentiated and will continue to do so till the end of the gestation, such as mammary glands, prostate gland and testes are present.
  • The intestine starts to form into the abdominal cavity. The urethra and the anus start to differentiate into their own structure.
  • By now also the skull bones are showing points of ossification from which bone formation will spread.
  • The canal where the spinal cord goes is now formed.
  • The nervous system carries on refining and sending messages to various places for a further development. By the end of week 12 the foetal stage starts.
  • At this stage all the B vitamins which are water soluble (it means they are eliminated via urine and you need to have them in your diet every day), will be used to make the all the energy that the fast growing baby needs. Till now the imprint of the baby has been formed and the rest of the months is about defining that imprint and growing in weight and length.

You can see how much work the body needs to do to make a baby, and it is an amazing gift to be able to even consider that. Nutritionally the more you are prepared the better that growing will be for the baby and especially for you to be left healthy and ready to take care of the baby with no deficiency of any kind.

Essential oils are found in a more bio-available form (it means the body uses them more readily) in oily fish. Even just once a week of salmon, trout, sardines, krill may be enough. The vegetarian form is still good but you need a bit more nutrients and more steps for the body to make the EPA and the DHA to use for the brain and nerves. At the later stage of the pregnancy it is worth to take extra in supplement for you and the baby till the end of breast feeding if possible.

Main vitamins and minerals that have a major role in our body and the growing foetus:

B1 is needed in higher dosage in the last trimester, this is for energy production. As well as membrane and nerve conduction, which is the nerve communication and function. Find in whole grains, meat, legumes, yeast and wheat germ. (deficiency causes beriberi, loss of appetite and weight loss).

  • B2 – Riboflavin is essential for the homeostasis (eg. Regulation of temperature, balancing acid and alkaline status of the body) and liver clearance of oestrogen and progesterone, metabolism and energy production. Dairy products, eggs, meat and legumes are good source of B2.
  • B3 . This vitamin is produce by the body in pregnancy, in order to do so extra B2 and B6 is needed. (most of the B vitamins are used in the energy formation). Good sources are tuna, halibut, beef, chicken, turkey, pork and other meats, cereal grains, seeds and legumes. (about 200 enzymes uses B3, so about B3 has got 300 reason for being important at any time in pregnancy or not).
  • B5 – essential for the formation of energy from carbohydrate (it is found in meats, egg yolk, legumes, whole grain, cereals, mushrooms, broccoli and avocados.
  • Biotin is again one vitamin for the energy production. It is found in liver, soybeans, egg yolk, cereals, legumes, nuts and it is produced by the friendly bacteria in the colon but not sure if it is absorbed as the colon as got poor absorption, same as vitamin K it is produced by the intestinal tract but not much absorbed into the body but may have functions in the intestinal tract itself.
  • B6 is very important in pregnancy, breastfeeding or at time of stress. B6 is used for many function in the body, one of them is GABA which is a feel good factor, extracting glucose from muscle to give extra energy in time of need, formation of B3 (together with vitamin B2). As well as working with B6, folate works together with B12, which is an essential step for the formation and division of cells. Also transporting iron and deficiency can lead to low iron transportation and therefore pernicious anemia in adult and child. Good sources of B6 are bananas, navy beans, walnuts (for vegetarians), and for non vegetarian stirloin steak, salmon, chicken and fish (fish less).
  • B6, folate and B12 works together for the reduction of homocysteine which is connected with the health of the adult life.
  • Folate and B6 are essential for cell division and this step is major during pregnancy, that is why it is important to take extra folate before you get pregnant especially with women not eating any green leafy vegetables as it is mainly found in greens (folate is found in broccoli, spinach, brussel sprouts, asparagus, turnip green, lima beans and liver. Folate also helps with the formation of amino acids (amino acids are the building block of protein).
  • Bioavailable B12 is only in animal sources are meat, fish, eggs, dairy. Yeast is an alternative source for vegetarian and some vegan.
  • Minerals here are very important for the function of the vitamins and their roles. Zinc is particular important for the thyroid function. Zinc works with the DNA and RNA enzymes (genetic make up and function). Zinc is essential for about more than 300 enzymes. (zinc is found in meat and fish and pumpkin which is a good source of zinc if you care vegetarian or vegan.

  • Iodine is essential only for the Thyroid function and unless otherwise stated by your doctor it is best to have sea fish and seaweeds to get the extra iodine to help the thyroid function during pregnancy and post-pregnancy too Iron is essential for transportation of oxygen and during pregnancy you need extra iron especially the last trimester (iron should be testes always before taking extra if low or border low including the ferritin level which indicate the storage level, should be taken).
  • Calcium essential for bones formation as the main function. Other activities are working with the vitamin K for blood clotting and muscle contraction. It is found in dairy products, sardines, clams, turnip, mustard greens, broccoli, legumes, dried fruits, green leafy vegetables, almond nuts and tahini (sesame paste) (1.200mg is needed in the last stage of pregnancy from 6 to 9 months).
  • Magnesium: Function of magnesium is still with bones, it works with calcium and phosphorus to build the bones bed (like the cement for the bones). The others major function of magnesium is muscle relaxation after the contraction and nerve relaxation. It is very useful in panic attacks or if feeling very nervous or unable to sleep, also has got a role in DNA formation and degradation and a function in DNA and RNA transcription (the writing of the genetic pool of the protein and other transcripts for the body function). It is found in nuts, legumes, dark green leafy vegetables, cocoa, whole grain, spices and seafoods, blackstrap molasses, corn, peas, carrots and brown rice. (300mg to 500mg is needed during pregnancy).
  • Many other mineral have their function in the body at all times, potassium, sodium, chromium, copper, manganese, molybdenum and selenium. These minerals are needed in smaller amount (apart from potassium and sodium) but are very essential. They are found in mushrooms, prunes, asparagus, meat, whole grains, shellsfish, legumes, eggs, fish, iodized salt (iodine), sunflower seeds, wheat bran, lettuce, beet tops, blueberries, pineapple,  (manganese), molybdenum (soybeans), buckwheat, oats, rice, diary, Brazil nuts (selenium). Water is important in all the stages at least 2 liters a day and especially mineral water which contain all the minerals as well as calcium and magnesium in higher quantity.

The above minerals are needed in a higher quantity from the 6th to 8th month. Fat and essential fats are needed from the 8 till the 9th month.


  • 6th month: now the fingernails and toe nails starts growing, more ossification of the bones occurs and still the nervous system carries on developing.


  • 7th month: bone growth is seen such as the sacrum. The male testes usually descend now. The eyelid can open now. This month is about growing and developing the body structures and organizing them.


  • 8th month: the subcutaneous fat starts accumulating. The ossification points of the spine are present and mainly this month is about the baby growing.


  • Vitamin C increase in requirement for collagen formation, nerve formation, serotonin formation (the sense of feeling good) and some hormones synthesis too, as well as the anti-oxidant activity that is needed for all the energy formation. Vitamin C works also with the immune system as an anti-oxidant and some major activity of the immune system. Vitamin C it is not stored in the body therefore we need to eat it every few hours during the day to make sure that we have enough. Using lemons, lime on food or eating the following food will help: most fruits, highest in oranges, berries, kiwi, yellow, red and green peppers, broccoli (raw), asparagus, cantaloupe, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, grapefruit and kale.


  • Vitamin A. Is a fat-soluble vitamin, it has got an important role in cellular development, important for vision especially at night, cellular differentiation, growth, reproduction, bone development and immune system.  High dosage of vitamin A (20,000- 50,000 i.u.) is teratogenic (cause birth malformation or harm to the the fetus). If you are using Acutane (isotretinoin) for acne stop immediately and consult your doctor at once. But also low level cause problems. The best thing to do during pregnancy if in doubt or worried is to eat extra orange vegetable food such as: The beta-carotene (the vegetable form of vitamin A) is not toxic even at high dosage (2). Vitamin A can be found in liver, cod liver oil. The vegetarian form is found in orange vegetable foods, e.g. Carrots, squash, pumpkin, papaya, tomatoes, as well as green leafy vegetables. The vegetarian form needs zinc for the conversion to Retinoid form of vitamin A (what the body uses mostly).


  • Vitamin D is essential for the calcium and magnesium absorption but also many other immune function and a lot of its functions are not know yet but seems quite connected with depression as well.  From November till April in England the specific wavelength of light found in ultraviolet light it is not enough to cause the stimulation of formation of vitamin D from the skin (it is made in the sebaceous gland of the skin), so it is important that if you are pregnant you check your level. You can take extra vitamin D3 in supplement or the sources for vitamin D in foods are: dairy products, eggs, liver, salt water fish such as herring, salmon, tuna and sardines (mainly animal products, no plant vitamin D is naturally made but it can be stimulated by irradiation to form vitamin D2).


  • Vitamin K. This vitamin is essential to prevent deficiency of the vitamin in the foetus. Vitamin K is found in all the green leafy vegetables and is produced by the friendly bacteria in the gut and soybeans. This vitamin is important for teeth and bone formation and mineralisation (2,4). Vitamin K together with calcium is essential for blood clotting. Low level or problems with vitamin K can lead to bleeding.


  • Vitamin E– Important is an antioxidant for the fat soluble molecules. Vitamin E deficiency has been associated with pre-eclampsia and accumulation of lipid peroxidase (oxidation of fat molecule), leading to vasoconstriction and consequent pregnancy induced hypertension (2). Vitamin E is found mainly in vegetables oil (wheat germ oil, safflower oil, cold pressed), also in green leafy plant food and avocadoes.


  • Essential fatty acid: are called essential because the body does not make them and you need to get it from food. The omega 3 and 6 are the essential fatty acid. The body from here makes the EPA and DHA which are used for the brain formation, nerve myelin and nerve formation. They are also anti-inflammatory. These oils are essential for mother and baby even after birth. They are found in oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel or in less bioavailable form in seeds such as linseed oils, rapeseed, nuts seeds. AA from saturated fat found in dairy, meat and fish, nuts are also essential for the formation of hormones and brain as well as formation of cells (the outside of the cells needs to have a combination of saturated fats and un-saturated fats (the essential oils and non essential).


  • Good carbohydrates meals, good protein food and good fat are a perfect combination of supply enough energy and nutrient to give the baby and your body a healthy pregnancy, including a faster recovery rate for the mother and the baby after labour. A varied diet will also reduce the chance of the baby to develop sensitivities or allergies to certain food.


The probiotics or friendly bacteria are very helpful here for many reasons, one they protect your colon from other harmful bacteria, two they reduce the chance of constipation in the later stage and the 3rd one is for the baby when they are born naturally to populate their intestinal tract with friendly bacteria too, which helps them in protecting their intestinal tract


What happens physically from conception to 9th months:

  • Second trimester from fourth month the foetus is about 4 and half to 5 cm, and the weight will reach about 500 at this stage. At this stage it seems that the foetus can start turning in the uterus and bring the hands together. The bones of the skull and the ossification of some of the structures will start now so all the nutrients that support this step needs to be there or the baby will take it from the mother. At this stage though the needs is still quite small. Also the nervous system starts developing further, the spinal cord and the brain starts growing very fast at this now.


  • 5th months the baby develops more and more of the nervous system and starts moving a bit more, here is when the mother feels the movements more. Here is also where the sex organs develop further. Myelination of the spinal cord and formation of nerves out from the spinal cord starts developing to and from the brain.


  • 9th month: The baby weight grows even more as well as the length. All ossification are in place and the baby is very active at this stage and the baby prepares for birth. During labour there is a lot of energy that is used if possible organize yourself with high nutritious drinks in liquid forms if possible as you can drink it even during labour if possible.


© Copywrite Maria Esposito BSc (Hons)