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Can I really eat twice as much now that I'm pregnant?
No. You may sometimes be tempted to eat twice as much, but that's not what the doctor ordered.
Your body becomes more efficient during pregnancy and is able to absorb more of the nutrients you eat. So consuming twice as much doesn't double your chances of having a healthy baby – instead, it's likely to mean excessive weight gain for you, which can put you at risk for pregnancy complications.
While guidelines vary, the Institute of Medicine says if you're a healthy weight, you need no additional calories in the first trimester, 340 extra calories a day in the second trimester, and about 450 extra calories a day in the third trimester. If you're overweight or underweight, you'll need more or less than this depending on your weight gain goal.
It takes only a couple of glasses of low-fat milk and a handful of sunflower seeds or a tuna sandwich to add enough calories for that last trimester. (But you'll need to eat more if you're having more than one baby.)
How can I get all the nutrients I need without eating a lot more calories?
Here are some tips for maximizing nutrition during pregnancy:
- Plan meals and snacks based on the requirements outlined in the USDA Choose My Plate site for pregnant woman or another reliable source, like the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate. Learn more about meal planning for pregnancy.
- To meet your daily needs for protein, calories, carbohydrates, healthy fats, and key vitamins and minerals during pregnancy, eat a variety of foods. Even within a category of foods (like vegetables), look for different colors, types, and textures, for example.
- Try to minimize "extra" foods that have calories but few nutrients – sugary beverages, fried foods, foods with extra fat and sugar. Instead, choose meals and snacks that pack the most nutrition per calorie. Adding a few nutrition-packed snacks – like yogurt, nuts, a hard-boiled egg, some fresh fruits or vegetables – to your daily intake is a great way to get the healthy calories your baby needs.
- Choose foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. Pick whole-grain bread or brown rice over refined white bread or white rice, and fresh fruits or frozen unsweetened fruit over canned fruits in sugar syrup, for example.
- Eat fats, oils, and sweets sparingly. And be sure to choose healthy fats. Can't overcome your cravings for junk food? Discover some healthy – and delicious – alternatives.
How is the food I eat divided between my needs and my baby's?
Doctors don't understand exactly how you and your growing baby divvy up nutrients. Sustenance for your child comes from your diet and from the nutrients already stored in your bones and tissues.
In the past, a developing fetus was thought of as a "perfect parasite," taking all the necessary nourishment from the mother, regardless of her diet. This myth maintained that if your diet was deficient in, say, vitamin C, it didn't matter as far as the baby was concerned, because he could simply siphon the nutrient from you.
Experts now believe that it's the growing baby who suffers if the mother's diet is lacking. Inadequate nutrition during pregnancy is thought to have lifelong effects on a baby's health.
In a nutshell: Your baby's health and growth are directly related to what you eat before and during your pregnancy.
What you eat is important. And when you're tempted to overdo it, remember that you're eating for a baby, not another full-size adult. Choose quality over quantity!