RD, LDN, CBS
Certified in Maternal and Infant Nutrition from Cornell, Angela’s mission is to help people reach their wellness goals. She also helps run a program that teaches pregnant women about how a healthy lifestyle optimizes prenatal and postnatal care.
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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.
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):
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.
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:
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:
Quickly estimate calories to keep your weight gain on track, but don’t drive yourself crazy
Here is a quick calorie cheat sheet:
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.
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