How Many Calories Do You Need During Pregnancy?
Does eating for two really mean you get to eat twice as much of everything?
Unfortunately for food lovers, the baby-making math doesn’t quite work that way. Keep in mind that one of the two you’re eating for is a tiny growing fetus (just pea-sized or smaller, in fact, during the first trimester).
If you were at a normal weight before becoming pregnant, here’s what you will need:
- First trimester: You actually won’t likely need any additional calories during your first trimester. Instead, you should focus on choosing nutritious foods that keep your energy up while supporting your baby’s development.
- Second trimester: Up your daily calorie intake by 300 to 350 calories per day — that’s the equivalent of, say, two glasses of skim milk and a bowl of oatmeal (not the all-you-can-eat sundae bar you were envisioning).
- Third trimester: You’ll need an extra 500 calories per day.
- If you’re carrying multiples: Add an additional 300 calories per day for each baby.
Of course, there are other exceptions to this formula (for example, if you’re a teenager or were significantly underweight, to begin with, you’ll probably need more calories). And if you were overweight or obese before getting pregnant, you might need to aim for a somewhat lower caloric intake during pregnancy (of course while you still meet all nutrient requirements and focus on high-quality foods full of baby-building nutrients). So be sure to check with your practitioner to outline your daily caloric needs.
HOW CAN YOU TELL IF YOU’RE GETTING THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF CALORIES?
Now that you know how many calories you need, is it the time to break out the old calculator and start counting? Absolutely not. The best way to watch what you eat isn’t to keep tabs on every bite (who has the time or the patience for that, anyway?). Instead, watch the scale. If you conceived at a normal weight, during pregnancy you should gain about three to four pounds during the first trimester, then about one pound per week in the second and third trimesters. Of course, these recommendations also vary based on your pre-pregnancy BMI and other factors, so be sure to ask your practitioner for your personalized recommendations.
There are steps you can take to get your weight gain back on track:
- If you’re not gaining enough weight, especially once you hit your second trimester (when morning sickness and food aversions subside), you’re likely not getting enough of your Daily Dozen (i.e., the 12 types of foods that are prime for a healthy pregnancy: protein, calcium, vitamin C foods, green leafy and yellow vegetables and fruits, other fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes, iron-rich foods, the right amount of fats and salty foods, water and other fluids, and your prenatal vitamin supplements). If you fall into this category, try adding additional servings of the Daily Dozen each day, such as lean protein, calcium-rich foods and whole grains. If you’re still having trouble gaining enough weight, speak with your practitioner, since taking in enough calories over time can slow the growth of your baby.
- If you’re gaining weight too quickly, on the other hand, you’re likely getting more calories than you need — and it can have negative health consequences for you and your baby including gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and preterm birth. So make some healthy adjustments to your diet (i.e. eliminate processed, calorie-dense but nutrient-scarce foods) while ensuring you’re not cutting out the valuable nutrients that your baby needs.