Nutrition Basics During Pregnancy – What, When, How Much Should You Be Eating


Pregnancy is a lot.

So many things to think about, research, learn, prepare for.

Not to mention the changes your body goes through to grow a human and prepare for childbirth.

There is so much research out there about pregnancy, but a lot of it is actually outdated.

Using blanket statements like “eating for two” or “don’t lift more than 50lbs” are actually now being thrown out because of new, updated research.

That is why today I want to talk about Nutrition during pregnancy. Nutrition is a big deal all the time, a huge beast that needs to be tamed, but during pregnancy it can be even more overwhelming and complicated.

I promise not to confuse you or give you misleading information. Only the straight forward, step by step approach you can follow during your 9 months of baby growin’!

How Much Should You Eat During Pregnancy

You have probably heard people, maybe even doctors say “you are eating for two now” or “you should be eating ___ more calories now”.

Heck – there is even mom shaming happening when other women think pregnant women aren’t eating enough. Like it is a competition and moms think all pregnant women should gain as much weight as they did or they are doing it wrong.

People be wild, social media be wild.

Well, new research out is saying that none of this is true. In fact, weight gain during pregnancy has a lot to do with your health and weight you were at before getting pregnant.

A general consensus shows that women should gain anywhere from 25-35lbs during pregnancy.

If a woman is under weight prior to pregnancy, it is recommended they gain 28-40lbs.

If a woman is overweight or obese, it is recommended they gain 15-25lbs.

Notice how individual weight gain is going to be from one person to another.

Let’s break down the total weight gain during pregnancy, and where it goes in terms of the baby.

3.3lbs blood volume

3.3lbs extracellular fluid

1.1lbs breasts

2.2lbs uterus

2.2lbs amniotic fluid

1.3lbs placenta

7.5lbs fetus

For a fetal total of 11lbs & maternal total of 9.9lbs.

Now, this does not mean you should only gain 10lbs.

Fat is going to be necessary to keep mom and baby healthy during the 9 months in utero.

Okay, so how much should pregnant women be eating?

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, women generally don’t require more calories during the first trimester.

During the second trimester, 340 calories above baseline are necessary.

During the third trimester, 450 calories are necessary above baseline.

And 500 calories while breastfeeding.

“Baseline” just means above maintenance. So whatever amount of calories for you to keep a stable weight, that is baseline.

Typically this is going to be anywhere from 1,800-2,300 calories per day (depending on activity level, it could be higher).

So – pregnancy doesn’t mean eating a ton more calories because the baby is sucking all of them from you. It just means listening to your body, eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full.

The body is smart – it will tell you when it needs more food and when it doesn’t.

What Should You Eat During Pregnancy

I am sure you, or someone you know, has struggled with eating during pregnancy.

Between nausea, vomiting, food aversions…it can be a rough week, trimester, or even full pregnancy.

Not to mention, many people struggle with how much to eat, being worried they are going to gain too much weight and then struggle to get it off after baby is born.

So first things first, the best approach during pregnancy is NOT tracking or counting calories.

This can lead to obsession and poor habits, so it is best to focus more on general portion sizes.

Protein the size of your palm.

Vegetables or fruit the size of your fist.

Carbohydrates the size of a cupped handful.

Healthy fats the size of your thumb.

So – what exactly should you be eating in these categories, and why are they needed?

Protein – we need protein for most body processes, pregnant or not. So making sure you are getting quality protein at each meal, and even snack, is important. If you can’t stomach meat, you can opt for a protein supplement or plant based protein options.

Fruits & Vegetables – these are packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that can improve health and decrease inflammation. Adding in a serving of one, or both, to your meals is going to help keep you and baby healthy, while also making sure you are getting adequate nutrients.

Healthy Fats – a serving at each meal is going to be best. These help with brain function and fullness for mom, while also supporting brain development and eye health for baby.

Carbohydrates – these provide the body with energy, promote healthy hormone levels and replenish glycogen stores after a workout. We want to aim for these to be sources from whole foods like whole grains, potatoes, oatmeal etc.

Hydration – this is so important for both during pregnancy and while breastfeeding (but also just everyday life as well). It is recommended women drink 90-100 ounces of water per day, but at least half their body weight in ounces.

So, if you have read other blogs of mine or are familiar with my philosophy on health and fitness, then this doesn’t sound much different than how you should eat when you aren’t pregnant or nursing.

Well rounded meals with a carbohydrate, protein, fat and vegetable. And plenty of water.

When Should You Eat During Pregnancy

The timing of meals during pregnancy, or really any time, doesn’t really matter too much.

Research shows benefits for both 3 meals a day, and also 4-5 meals per it truly just depends on the individual.

You also have to remember that each pregnancy is going to be different, per person and per child.

So eating when you can is going to be the best approach.

And this can change throughout pregnancy. You might start out with 3 big meals and snacks and then transition to 5-6 small meals as baby grows.

You may also have to pay attention to cues other than just being hungry, since that can change throughout pregnancy.

So pay attention to energy levels, nausea, shakiness, irritability. These can all be signs that you need food.

It truly is individual, the most important thing being what you are eating, or that you are just eating in general.

(references and information from Pre- and Postnatal Coaching Certification)

Nutrition Guidelines During Pregnancy

Instead of counting calories or obsessing about what exactly you are eating, I think it is important to have guidelines you can stick to.

So you can listen to your body and go with it, because only YOU know what you need and what is going to be best for you, momma.

But these are just a few simple guidelines you can follow to help you through pregnancy without gaining a ton of weight, or without being totally clueless.

1. Eat slow – this is going to allow you to know when you are full.

2. Eat when hungry, stop when full – seems logical, but is actually hard for people because we are usually taught “clean your plate” as a small child. The best way to do this is eating without distractions, noticing your food (chewing, temperature, texture), pay attention to portion sizes and “stop and savor” meaning you set your fork down and take a minute to taste the food and let it sit. These will help you to not eat to that uncomfortable “stuffed” point.

3. Eat protein, carb, fat, vegetable/fruit at all meals – we know this one, we love this one. Focus on the quality of your food (most of the time) and do the best you can with what you have!

So just a few things to focus on, instead of being totally overwhelmed by all the details.

We have to move the big rocks first, before we focus on the small ones to fill the gaps!

Foods For A Healthy Pregnancy and Delivery

So many wives tales out there about pregnancy, it is kind of intriguing.

Well – I want to share with you some foods that have been known to help through pregnancy and delivery, and yes, most of these do have scientific research behind them.

Salmon Roe – this is the internal egg mass found in female salmon. It is rich in protein, vitamins, omega 3’s and DHA. Studies show this form of phospholipid absorbed 10x better than just fish itself. Research says that eating it anytime during pregnancy is great, if you can stomach it. Otherwise the third trimester, 1 tbsp per day, anywhere from 3-7 days per week.

Liver – This one is hit or miss with researchers recommending it or not, so make a personal choice here. Liver is high in folic acid, vitamin A, and iron. We know these are all necessary nutrients for both mom and baby during pregnancy. It is recommended to consume 1oz per week. Cooking it and then putting in a food processor to make a pate is likely the easiest option, you can then add it to any beef meal without any trace of it’s flavor.

Dates – a wives tale they actually did a study on! Eating 6 dates per day in the last 4 weeks of pregnancy could soften the cervix, shorten early labor, and help with dilation. Take it as it is, make your own decision. But like, dates are real easy to eat and cause no harm by eating them!

Raspberry Leaf Tea – this is believed to help strengthen the uterus and produce contractions. Therefore limiting the chances of going past your due date! The recommend starting to drink this at 32 weeks.

Hopefully this blog is helpful for you on your journey through pregnancy, whether you are currently pregnant or plan to become pregnant.

Please do me a huge favor and share this blog on social media, so many women are unsure of nutrition, so let’s help all the mama’s to be feel more confident on their journey.

Haley Rowe November 10, 2021