If you’ve just discovered that you are pregnant, you may be confused by how much you should be eating. If you’re in the first trimester and experiencing morning sickness, you may just be wondering HOW to eat!
During a normal healthy pregnancy, it is recommended that pregnant women gain 25-35 pounds. However, please read Healthy Weight Gain During Pregnancy for more information. At the end of the article, I’ve provided a free bonus 7 day meal plan for pregnancy to help you plan out your pregnancy meals.
First for someone of normal weight to decide how many calories you should be eating while pregnant, you should use your pre-pregnancy MAINTENANCE calories (not weight loss) which is the amount of calories you could eat daily without gaining or losing weight. If you don’t know this number, use this calculator, which also factors in your activity level.
In the first trimester, you don’t necessarily need any additional calories. If you are unable to exercise due to morning sickness, you can temporarily subtract the additional calorie allowance until you are able to be active again. The first trimester can be a difficult time to get down the vegetables and protein that are recommended, but don’t feel too badly about this. The body has a built-in safeguard, the baby’s yolk sack, to protect the baby during this time and keep it nourished. The baby doesn’t begin to use the placenta for nutrition until around 10-12 weeks. Drink as much water as you possibly can to stay hydrated, and be sure to call your doctor if you become dehydrated! Eat whatever you can stomach, even if it’s not vegetables and greens — anything high in fiber is going to be really hard to digest during these first few months. You might try a smoothie with greek yogurt, frozen fruit, and spinach (you can’t taste it): sipping this will give you some vital nutrients and be a little easier for your stomach to take. Just be sure to avoid anything containing artificial colors or dyes, hydrogenated oils or trans fats, and additives/chemicals/preservatives. There are lots of safe options out there that are still easy on the stomach, particularly at a health food store like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. I survived on Whole Foods Brand saltines, lots of soup and purees, and green smoothies. Don’t forget to also take your prenatal vitamins, I found that taking them right before bed was easiest on my stomach.
If you get very few calories and nowhere close to what you need on any given day because of morning sickness, it’s perfectly fine to compensate and have high calorie days during the times that you do feel better so that you don’t lose too much weight and stay nourished yourself!
In the second trimester, you should add an additional 300-350 calories per day. So if you were eating 1700 calories per day before, add 300 and you will be eating 2000 calories per day. By now you should start to feel better and ready to begin eating again! You might still have food aversions leftover from all the nausea, but try experimenting with healthier choices and see what you can begin to tolerate. Because the baby is now eating what you eat (through the now functioning placenta), nutrition will become more and more important. I found that stuffing a whole bunch of veggies and greens into a whole wheat pita was exactly what I needed to get back to tolerating veggies. I puree steamed cauliflower with garlic and onion and eat it like mashed potatoes. Texture seems to be the key to getting past the aversions.
Fruit is also your friend! Strawberries dipped in greek yogurt mixed with cinnamon and vanilla feels like a sinful treat but has tons of nutrients and protein. Bananas with almond butter, watermelon smoothies, grapefruit drizzled with raw honey, frozen blueberries, apples and cheese are just a few highly nutritious snacks that also taste heavenly.
If you have strong cravings for unhealthy foods, first see if you can substitute something healthier to satisfy that craving. When I crave sweets, fruit with greek yogurt dip almost always does the trick for me. I don’t limit myself on fruit so I don’t feel deprived. If I just have to have ice cream, I choose one with no high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, or chemicals, like Ben & Jerry’s.
During the third trimester, you still need an additional 300 calories for your growing baby, but maybe as much as 450. Your stomach will probably be feeling crowded and heartburn may be a big problem. Break up your meals into several small ones, and try drinking milk when your heartburn flairs up. It may feel difficult to get this amount of calories in, especially if you’re eating nothing but whole foods and lots of fruits and vegetables. Add in some nuts, nut butter, avocado, and/or whole grains to each meal or snack, and this should take care of the deficit.
I also would recommend supplementing with this fish oil at least once a week, as studies have found fish oil supplements to lower your chance of post-partum depression as well as help form your baby’s brain. Read more about my fish oil recommendation here.
Remember: It’s not necessary to count every calorie during pregnancy. As long as you are getting all of the nutrients you and your baby need to be healthy, eating well-rounded, whole food based meals, and you are gaining the right amount of weight, you are doing just fine.
If you are overweight or underweight, you will need to check with your doctor on how many additional calories you need.
To give you a better idea of what healthy eating during pregnancy would look like in real life, I’ve put together a free bonus for you. This can be a great starting point for filling your daily calorie requirements up with healthy foods. Download your free 7 day sample pregnancy meal plan by clicking here!