Pregnancy Diet: How To Eat When You're Pregnant
Everything to Know About Eating While Pregnant
August 1, 2022

Everything to Know About Eating While Pregnant

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Everything to Know About Eating While Pregnant.
Everything to Know About Eating While Pregnant

At any given point in your pregnancy, you may have a completely different relationship with food. From nauseous and food-averse in the first trimester to ravenous at all hours of the day in the second trimester to experiencing both the weirdest cravings and the worst heartburn ever in your third trimester, your fluctuating appetite can be fairly annoying—and it’s all totally normal.

And through it all, you may be hearing advice from all sides about what other people think you should eat (and what you shouldn’t). But you’ve got enough on your plate already (pun intended), so we talked with a professional dietician to get the real expert advice you need to eat well during your pregnancy.

How many calories should you eat while pregnant?

The specific number of calories you should eat while pregnant varies depending on your pre-pregnancy weight/BMI, how much weight you’ve gained during pregnancy and what trimester you’re in, registered dietitian Lyndsay Hall says. For example, Hall says, if your pre-pregnancy BMI was 18.5-25 (considered the “healthy” range for adult women), the general guidance is to increase your daily calories by ~350 during the second trimester and ~450 calories during the third trimester. “This is essentially equivalent to an additional snack or a small meal,” Hall says.

Keep in mind: Every person (and every pregnancy) is different, so before you start meal planning, you should talk to your doctor about your specific caloric needs based on your own body.

What foods to eat while pregnant

So you know you’ll need to increase your daily calories throughout your pregnancy, but the average amount of additional calories isn’t a whole lot. In fact, it might be smaller than you’re expecting (it’s not an excuse to eat an additional large meal every day for nine months).

And while you have caloric needs for your growing baby, you also have nutritional needs. You don’t need to change your entire diet; just aim to include some key nutrients if you don’t already regularly do so. Specifically, dieticians and nutritionists recommended your diet to include:

  • High-fiber foods: whole grains like whole wheat bread or pasta, popcorn, oats and quinoa; fruits like berries, apples, bananas and oranges; vegetables like carrots, broccoli, artichokes and potatoes
  • Protein-rich foods: Meat, eggs, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, peanuts and peanut butter, pumpkin seeds
  • Healthy fats: Avocados, cheese, dark chocolate, eggs, salmon, nuts, olive oil, full-fat dairy
  • Dairy or calcium-fortified non-dairy alternatives

“This will ensure that, in addition to your prenatal vitamin, you are meeting all of your macro- and micronutrient needs to support a healthy pregnancy,” Hall says.

How often should you eat during the day while pregnant?

Unless advised otherwise by a healthcare provider, three square meals a day is still totally fine for pregnant people, though you may find yourself eating smaller meals and snacks more often throughout the day as your pregnancy progresses in order to keep up with your caloric needs. “I typically recommend eating every three to four hours, or as needed,” Hall says. But, Hall says, keep in mind that “this might change depending on if there are any co-existing conditions warranting adjustments to [your] eating schedule,” like morning sickness or gestational diabetes.

Just like with caloric intake, the frequency of meals and snacks will vary from person to person and depends greatly on your individual weight gain and what trimester you’re in. But don’t base your entire diet on numbers. “Overall, it is important to utilize hunger and satiety cues as well,” Hall says. “Listen to your body; they are pretty good at directing us when we let them!”

How to eat when you have morning sickness

Growing another human being means you need to consume enough calories to support their adequate growth, and undereating to the point where you’re at a chronic caloric deficit could lead to complications like anemia for you and low birth weight for baby. But what if you just don’t want to eat? Or worse, your nausea and vomiting are so bad that you can’t keep anything down?

The expert advice: think small. Hall suggests eating small meals very frequently, along the lines of every two to three hours, “as smaller amounts of food are more tolerable and easier to consume when you are not feeling very hungry and your stomach is unsettled.”

And if you can, try to choose energy-dense foods so you can pack as many calories in the smallest portion possible. “The benefit of including energy-dense foods, which are essentially calorie-dense foods, is that they can allow someone to consume more calories in a smaller volume,” Hall says. Calorie-dense foods that are great for pregnancy nutrition are:

  • Nuts and seeds (or nut/seed butters)
  • Avocado
  • Olive oil (drizzle over a light salad)
  • Cheese
  • Higher fat milk and/or yogurt

Hall suggests making smoothies as well, as they’re a great way to combine a lot of those foods into one compact, easy-to-consume package, and cold foods will likely be easier for your stomach to tolerate.

If none of that sounds good to you, or you’re having a tough time eating that frequently, don’t worry about it too much. The main goal is to make sure your body is getting enough calories to help your baby grow at an adequate rate. “I encourage those with severe nausea and vomiting to eat what appeals to them,” says Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive services at Yale University School of Medicine. “If the only thing you want is chocolate cake, by all means eat the chocolate cake. The quantity of calories is more important than the quality in this circumstance.”

If your pregnancy-related nausea lasts longer than the first trimester and you’re still not able to keep food down after that point, it’s time to talk with your doctor, Hall says, “as a prescription anti-emetic may be necessary.”

How much weight should a pregnant person gain?

In direct relation to how many calories your doctor recommends, the amount of weight you gain while pregnant as well as the rate at which you gain the weight will depend on your pre-pregnancy weight and BMI.

Looking for some quick guidelines? Hall recommends Health Canada’s Pregnancy Weight Gain Calculator. “This resource outlines rate of weight gain, and displays a graph depicting the amount of expected weight gain for each trimester,” Hall says. But keep in mind that while the calculator can give you a rough estimate of what you can aim for, you should base your actual calorie intake on your doctor’s specific advice, especially if you have any pre-existing nutrient deficiencies or develop any complications during your pregnancy.

Should you diet while pregnant?

No. Weight loss should not be your goal during pregnancy. We get it, we live in a culture where dieting, especially for weight loss, is extremely common, and that can sometimes be tough to reconcile with being expected to gain weight while pregnant. But continuing to gain weight (at a healthy rate as suggested by your doctor) is what’s best for your health and your baby’s health.

“We do not want people losing weight while pregnant,” Hall says, “even those who have a higher pre-pregnancy BMI, as this can result in complications for themselves and their babies, such as pre-term delivery and/or the baby being small for gestational age.”

Should you ignore pregnancy cravings?

Firstly, craving particular foods while pregnant is totally normal and typically nothing to worry about (unless you’re craving things that aren’t food, in which case you should discuss it with your doctor). In fact, one study found that as many as 90% of pregnant people experience cravings at some point. So if you’re suddenly hankering for more food, especially in your second trimester, you’re not alone.

Secondly, indulging occasionally is fine, Hall says. No need to completely ignore those cravings, just don’t go overboard. Keep in mind that you want to gain weight at a steady, healthy rate in accordance with your doctor’s advice, so giving in to a couple slices of pizza or a single pickle won’t harm you, but an entire extra-large combo pizza and a whole jar of pickles every week might lead you to gain more weight than necessary for your baby’s growth.

Also, flat-out ignoring cravings could lead you to seek those calories and nutrients elsewhere. If you can curb less-than-healthy cravings with a more nutritional substitute, that’s great. “But it might be more effective to just have that bowl of chips [you] are craving, rather than try to curb it unsuccessfully with several other snacks,” Hall says.

Is snacking okay while pregnant?

“If you are snacking because you are hungry, then by all means continue to have something, Hall says, “and aim to choose protein-rich snacks more often in order to promote satiety.” You need to get those calories and at least try to get some good nutrients in there, so snack away!

However, if you find yourself snacking without even realizing you’re doing it, or if you’re snacking just out of habit without being hungry at all, then it’s time to break the habit, Hall says. Redirect yourself to another activity that takes the desire for snacking away, or put the snacks out of sight.

And if you’ve absolutely gotta have it, Hall suggests keeping evening and late-night snacking for the weekends or planning an activity around having a snack, like walking to the ice cream shop.

Doing what’s best for you

The biggest thing to keep in mind is that what you eat during your pregnancy will likely look a little different from other pregnant people, or even other pregnancies you’ve had. Your nutritional needs, weight gain needs, and rate of weight gain all depend on your unique body, so be sure to communicate with your doctor about what you’re eating, and they’ll help you make sure you stay healthy and your baby is growing well.

SOURCES:

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