How much should you eat when pregnant?
What to Know
- When to increase your food intake (and with what kinds of foods), and when not to
- Easy snack and meal ideas to meet your increased calorie needs
Growing a baby is hard work, and your body needs calories and nutrients to do the job well. But, surprisingly, you don’t need to eat much more than usual. Although it may be tempting to “eat for two”, it’s more important for baby’s and your own health to “think for two” and upgrade your dietary choices without overdoing your total dietary intake. A pregnant body becomes more efficient, utilizing more of the nutrients in the foods you eat. So it’s a great time to go for higher quality foods, making nutrient dense choices that will nourish your body and baby’s growth and development in the best way possible.
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While all nutrient needs increase throughout pregnancy, in the first trimester your body does not yet need additional calories to support your baby (a developing fetus is small!). In the second and third trimester, your caloric needs do increase. If you were a healthy weight before you became pregnant, you will need about 340 additional calories per day during your second trimester and about 450 additional calories per day during your third trimester; if you were under or overweight prior to getting pregnant, those numbers will go up or down accordingly. Gaining the right amount of weight can help decrease risks of pregnancy complications and offers lasting benefits for you and your baby (see Achieving healthy weight gain in pregnancy and why it’s good for you and your baby).
The recommendations for weight gain during pregnancy are based on your pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI). Calculate your BMI by dividing your pre-pregnancy weight in kilograms by your height in meters, squared (or just use an online BMI calculator). Here are some general weight gain recommendations (note that BMI calculations offer guidelines but are not perfect indicators so always talk with your health care provider about the best weight gain plan for you):
- If you were underweight before you became pregnant (BMI < 18.5), your recommended total weight gain is 28-40 pounds
- If you were normal weight before you became pregnant (BMI 18.5-24.9), your recommended total weight gain is 25-35 pounds (37-54 pounds for twins)
- If you were overweight before you became pregnant (BMI 25-29.9), your recommended total weight gain is 15-25 pounds (31-50 pounds for twins)
- If you were obese before you became pregnant (BMI > 30), your recommended total weight gain is 11-20 pounds (25-42 pounds for twins)
- If you are carrying more than one baby you should talk with your healthcare provider about your specific weight gain needs.
So what do all of these numbers mean in terms of how much you should eat? In the first trimester, continue to eat the same amount of food as before you became pregnant, but focus on eating for quality (think whole foods, minimally processed) to meet your increased need for nutrients. In the second and third trimesters, start to increase the amount of food you eat each day by increasing the size of your regular meals or adding in a snack.
What to Do
First trimester goals
Now is a great time to make healthy updates to your diet. Incorporate a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts low-fat dairy, 100% whole grains and lean protein. Minimize empty calories (foods that are high calorie and low nutrient) like soda, fried foods and highly refined grains as well as foods with added sugars.
Remember, your caloric needs do not increase during the first trimester (unless you’re carrying more than one baby).
Second trimester goals
Your appetite is likely increasing and you should start to add calories – about 340 calories – to your daily diet in the second trimester. But 340 calories does not equate to very much additional food, and you may find that increasing your food intake by this amount happens naturally by just responding to your hunger and fullness cues. You can incorporate more calories by increasing the size of your meals or adding additional snacks. Here are example healthy foods that will add 340 calories to your daily diet:
- 1 cup lentil soup with 1 whole grain roll
- 2 ounces cheese with a small apple or 1 cup grapes
- 2 whole grain rice cakes with 2 tablespoons nut butter
- ½ avocado smeared on a whole grain English muffin with 1 cup berries
- ½ cup trail mix (make your own or look for products that only contain nuts, seeds and dried fruits – always read labels and check serving size information on store-bought products)
- 2 cups salad greens with 1 cup sliced vegetables (peppers, carrots), ¼ cup dried currants or raisins and 2 tablespoons dressing
- 6 ounce container of unsweetened low-fat yogurt (or non-dairy yogurt), a medium apple with a tablespoon of nut butter
- 2 scrambled eggs on a piece of 100% whole grain toast with sliced tomato
Third trimester goals
Add around 450 calories to your daily diet during the third trimester. You may find that it’s becoming harder to eat as much as you used to in one sitting due to your growing belly. Eat small frequent meals or add in additional snacks to keep yourself comfortable while continuing to get all of the nutrients you and your baby need. Here are some healthy ways to add 450 calories to your diet:
- ½ cup trail mix with 1 cup of unsweetened yogurt (or non-dairy yogurt)
- 1 sweet potato with ½ cup black beans, ¼ avocado and salsa and a side of 1-2 cups salad greens with 2 tablespoons dressing
- 1 cup roasted vegetables (try carrots, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash or a combination!), topped with 2 tablespoons pine nuts, 3 ounces salmon and 1/3 cup whole grain rice
- A peanut butter (or other nut butter) and banana sandwich made with 1 banana, 2 tablespoons nut butter and 2 slices 100% whole grain bread
- 1 ounce almonds, a cup of skim milk, sliced raw vegetables with ¼ cup hummus and a small piece of fruit
- Turkey sandwich with 2 ounces turkey from a roasted turkey or turkey breast (it’s advisable to avoid deli turkey slices given the severity of listeria in pregnant women), 1 ounce cheese and two slices of 100% whole grain bread
Quickly estimate calories to keep your weight gain on track, but don’t drive yourself crazy
Here is a quick calorie cheat sheet:
- One ounce protein (poultry, meat, fish) = 35-75 calories depending on fat content
- One cup fat-free or low-fat dairy = 90 calories
- One cup cooked vegetables = 50 calories
- One cup raw vegetables = 25 calories
- One small piece of fruit or 1 cup berries or melon = 60 calories
- One slice of whole grain bread, 1/3 cup rice or beans, ½ cup pasta = 80 calories
Tune into your hunger and fullness cues and choose mostly fresh, whole foods. As long as your weight gain is on track you’re doing just fine, without having to be a stickler for calorie counting.
Make adjustments as needed
If you’re not gaining enough weight, try eating a little more and chat with a Happy Mama Mentor to get ideas for how to bolster your nutrient and calorie intake. If you are gaining too much weight, try to eat a little less and chat with a Happy Mama Mentor to get ideas for how to increase food volume while reducing calories. Stay in tune with your body to find the right balance for you and discuss with your health care provider.
Eat regular meals and 2-3 snacks each day to keep calories in check and cravings at bay.
Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, low fat dairy, low mercury fish and lean meats.
Make sure you have healthy and appealing food at your disposal and the tools you need to safely enjoy them (for example, a microwave for reheating). Always pack snacks while out and about and keep your favorite healthy foods stocked at home.
Speak to your health care provider with any concerns
If you have any concerns about your weight gain or how much you’re eating, speak to your health care provider. Keep in mind that our calorie recommendations are general guidelines and you may need to eat more or less depending on your specific situation.
“Pregnancy Weight Gain” American Pregnancy Association. Date accessed 16 July 2018.