Pregnancy is often a time of great happiness and excitement, but many women also struggle with the unpleasant side effects of nausea and general discomfort. Though nausea most commonly occurs in the first trimester, many women struggle with nausea and morning sickness for longer. Due to nausea or physical discomfort from a changing body during pregnancy, women may worry that they’re not eating enough for their baby to get all the necessary nutrients for growth and development. However, if you’re eating a healthy overall diet and meeting your expected rates of pregnancy weight gain, you’re probably eating enough during your pregnancy. Read on to learn more about eating right during pregnancy, pregnancy weight gain recommendations, and how to know if you’re eating enough during pregnancy. If you’re looking for more support, speak with a Nourish dietitian today.
Eating Right During Pregnancy
Women have to make many changes before and during pregnancy, including giving up alcohol, quitting smoking, and reducing caffeine. To make sure their body is as healthy as possible for the baby, they also should eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Nutrition is a critical part of a healthy pregnancy.
Key Food Groups
A healthy diet for a pregnant woman is very similar to the recommended healthy diet for the general population. Pregnant mothers should take care to include the following food groups in their diet:
- Whole grains, like oatmeal, whole wheat bread, brown rice, and quinoa
- Fruits, including apples, oranges, berries, bananas
- Vegetables, such as green beans, leafy greens, carrots, squash, celery, cauliflower
- Dairy or dairy substitutes, which includes low fat cow’s milk, yogurt, and cheeses, or versions of these products made from oat, soy, or nut milks
- Quality sources of protein, such as meats, beans, tofu, fish, and eggs
- Healthy fats, such as avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds
- 8-12 cups of water per day
Foods and beverages to avoid or limit during pregnancy include:
- Beverages with high amounts of caffeine, such as energy drinks or large amounts of coffee
- Fish/seafood with high mercury levels. This includes shark, tilefish, swordfish, and king mackerel
- Sugar sweetened beverages
- Undercooked meats
- Undercooked eggs
- Deli meats
- Unpasteurized milk and soft unpasteurized cheeses (examples: feta, gorgonzola, brie, queso fresco)
- Raw sprouts
- Raw fish and shellfish
- Unpasteurized juices
Calorie Needs During Pregnancy
Though an overall healthy diet for a pregnant woman is similar to the general population, calorie needs increase during pregnancy. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), women don’t need additional calories during the first trimester, but energy needs increase in the second and third trimesters.
First trimester: no additional calories needed
Second trimester: ~340 additional calories needed
Third trimester: ~450 additional calories needed.
Please note that these are estimates and averages and every individual has unique needs. There’s no need to keep specific track of calorie intake, and you should check with your healthcare provider or registered dietitian if you have questions or concerns about how much to eat.
If you’re struggling to eat enough due to discomfort or nausea, try eating smaller, more frequent meals and snacks rather than 3 large meals per day. Some women may find it easier to drink smoothies or nutrition shakes for extra calories and nutrients, too.
Pregnancy Weight Gain Recommendations
In general, women are expected to gain about 25-35 pounds (~11.4-16 kilograms) during pregnancy. However, weight gain needs vary for each pregnancy and person, so you should discuss this with your health care team.
If you’re not comfortable discussing or seeing weight numbers, you should mention this to your health care team so they can help you monitor how your pregnancy is progressing in different terms. Interestingly, routine pregnancy weight checks are not done as frequently in other developed countries as they are in the United States.
Your body makes many changes while you’re pregnant to help grow the baby and support lactation after birth. Pregnancy weight gain comes from:
- Increased blood volume, which helps deliver nutrients and oxygen to the baby
- The placenta and amniotic fluid
- Increasing size of the uterus to support the baby
- The growing fetus
- Deposits of energy and fat to support lactation
- Increased breast tissue to support breastfeeding after birth
Important Nutrients During Pregnancy
Pregnant women should make sure to eat a balanced diet during pregnancy. Macronutrient (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) needs don’t change much during pregnancy, though it’s important to eat adequate amounts of protein. Protein needs are about 0.88 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. For a 150 pound woman (~68 kg), this would be about 60 grams of protein per day.
It’s a good idea to take a prenatal multivitamin while pregnant to prevent deficiencies in key nutrients and make sure the baby has all the micronutrients it needs to thrive. This is especially important in women who have anemia, strict vegetarian or vegan diets, substance abuse issues, or poor eating habits in general.
Critical micronutrients during pregnancy, either from food sources or from a prenatal multivitamin, include:
- Iron: iron deficiency increases the risk of preterm labor, low birth weight, and infant mortality
- Folic acid: helps prevent brain and spinal cord defects
- Choline: important for the baby’s brain and spinal cord development
- Calcium: essential for strong bones and teeth for the mother and baby
- Iodine: required for normal brain development and growth
What Happens If You Don’t Eat Enough While Pregnant?
If you don’t eat enough while pregnant, your own health and the health of the baby are at risk. Healthy behaviors while pregnant increase the chances of having a healthy baby. Anemia is a possible risk of not eating enough, or not eating enough of the right foods while pregnant.
The baby’s growth may be inadequate if your diet is severely lacking in overall calories and nutrients. Undernutrition is also associated with poor health outcomes for the baby later in its life.
Be sure to check with your physician if you think you’re not eating enough or seek help from a registered dietitian who works with pregnant mothers.
What Are The Symptoms Of Not Eating Enough While Pregnant?
Some of the symptoms of not eating enough during pregnancy are the same as in the general population.
Symptoms of inadequate food intake can include:
- Frequent hunger
- Low energy levels
- Tiring easily
For pregnant women, the same symptoms are possible, but rate of weight gain is an additional marker to watch. If you’re below your weight gain targets, you might not be eating enough overall calories or food. However, weight gain recommendations and energy needs vary based on each individual.
Not all pregnancies or bodies are the same. If you want to optimize your nutrition during your pregnancy for your baby’s and your own health, Nourish can help. We connect you with registered dietitians who are leading experts in prenatal nutrition.
Nourish registered dietitians work with you to create an individualized prenatal nutrition plan to help support a healthy pregnancy. Our dietitians collaborate with your healthcare team for a multidisciplinary approach.
Our services are covered by insurance and 100% remote. Don’t wait to optimize your health for you and your baby – start with Nourish today.