Doctor listening to woman's lungs.
By Maria Montoya, MD

Are Pregnant Women Really Eating for Two? Not Quite

Headshot Maria Montoya.
Maria Montoya, MD

One of the most common myths around pregnancy and nutrition is the notion of “eating for two” while pregnant. While your baby’s nutrition does depend on you, you don’t need to double the amount that you eat during pregnancy. In fact, eating twice as much can put you at increased risk of pregnancy complications.

Unfortunately, many women tend to overeat during pregnancy. According to a 2015 government report, 47% of American moms gain too much weight during pregnancy. In New Mexico, it is 49%.

Of course, gaining weight during pregnancy is expected. For many people, it's tough to figure out the right balance, and if you feel stuck, you’re not alone. A British survey found that nearly 70% of pregnant women were not sure how many extra calories they needed to consume during pregnancy.

We've put together some general guidelines below. But remember—each woman and each pregnancy have different nutritional needs. Your OB/GYN provider can help you determine how many extra calories to eat and how much weight to gain, starting with your pre-pregnancy health, weight and particular pregnancy needs.

How Many Extra Calories Should You Eat?

If you’re a healthy weight, you don’t need to consume any additional calories in the first trimester.

Your doctor may recommend eating an extra 200 to 400 calories a day in the second trimester and about 500 calories a day in the third trimester. You may need less if you’re overweight or more if you are underweight. More will be recommended if you’re expecting twins or triplets.

It may sound like a lot, but 350 calories isn’t much. It’s the equivalent of avocado toast or a peanut butter sandwich on wheat bread.

Breastfeeding actually requires eating more extra calories than during pregnancy—it takes a lot of energy to make enough milk for the baby. Breastfeeding moms should eat 450 to 500 extra calories a day.

Donyelle breastfeeding her baby while doing yoga.

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How Much Weight Should You Gain During Pregnancy?

Your pre-pregnancy weight also will help determine how much you should gain during pregnancy. We generally start with checking your body mass index (BMI), which is based on your height and weight. For most women, a healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9.

These are the general guidelines for pregnancy weight gain. Please note that women with a lot of muscle mass may have a higher BMI, which can be normal for their build.

So, it's important to follow your doctor's recommendations based on your own unique needs:

  • Underweight (BMI below 18.5): Gain 28 to 40 pounds.
  • Healthy weight (BMI of 18.5 to 24.9): Gain between 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy.
  • Overweight (BMI of 25 to 30): Gain 15 to 25 pounds.
  • Obese (BMI over 30): Gain approximately 10 pounds.

Weight gain should be spread out throughout your pregnancy. If your BMI is within the normal range at the beginning of your pregnancy, you should aim to gain five pounds in the first 20 weeks and one pound a week after that.

Overeating can lead to gaining too much weight during pregnancy, which can have negative consequences for you and your baby. Along with making it more difficult to lose weight after your baby is born, excess weight increases the risk of:

Tips for Healthy Eating During Pregnancy

Keep your weight and nutrition on the right track by starting with a few simple steps:

  • Talk with your prenatal care provider: Your OB/GYN or midwife can help you make a nutrition plan or refer you to a dietitian to explore healthy food choices.
  • Fill up on healthy calories: Avoid empty calories. There is an increasing body of evidence that shows that maternal diet has a huge factor on offspring microbiome, which can make the baby more or less susceptible to illness. Substitute empty calories with foods that pack more nutrition per calorie. Choose snacks like unsweetened yogurt, dark, leafy greens, or nuts.
  • Enjoy treats sparingly: You don't have to give up all your favorites. But make sure you enjoy treats like ice cream or potato chips only sparingly—not every day. Think of satisfying alternatives, natural cocoa, fat-rich unsweetened yogurt or avocados.
  • Get active: We recommend 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise daily. Make exercise a regular part of your pregnancy. Talk to your health care provider about healthy, pregnancy-safe activities to get you moving. This could be as simple as parking a little farther away from the store and walking or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

Remember, while you technically are “eating for two” during pregnancy, you’re not eating for two full-grown adults. Making healthy food choices, staying active, and controlling weight gain will go a long way toward keeping you and your baby healthy.

To find out whether you or a loved one might benefit from Ob/Gyn care, call 505-272-2245.

Categories: Women's Health