Making Nutrition Work During Pregnancy

By Kary Woodruff

It turns out pregnant women do not actually need extra calories in the first trimester, and only an additional 300 daily calories during the second and third trimesters. So, what does this additional food look like?

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In looking at a pregnant woman’s diet, the old saying, “I’m eating for 2” doesn’t quite hold up. Just weeks away from delivering my second baby in 18 months, I have had some first hand experience with pregnancy eating. It turns out pregnant women do not actually need extra calories in the first trimester, and only an additional 300 daily calories during the second and third trimesters. When it comes to vitamins and minerals, pregnant women need slightly more protein, calcium, folic acid, and iron.

So, what does this additional food look like? For me, in addition to my normal meals, it ideally comes in the form of a Greek yogurt with my afternoon fruit, and a handful of nuts on my way home from work. I was a tad bit disappointed that my extra pregnancy calories didn’t mean a thick slice of carrot cake every night (sigh).

With all that goes on during pregnancy – morning/all-day sickness, food aversions/cravings, sensitivity to smell, headaches, (and the list goes on) – my Greek yogurt and nuts don’t always happen. Here are some tips I have learned to make the most of my intake, even amidst pregnancy sickness, working full-time, and taking care of a one-year old:

  • Have different snacks available. Greek yogurt doesn’t always sound appealing, but often a string cheese with whole wheat crackers will hit the spot and still give me the needed protein and calcium. So be prepared!
  • Try different ways of preparing foods. I usually love dark leafy green salads, a great source of folic acid, which is essential for fetal brain development, so I was shocked and disappointed the first time my pregnant body turned its nose up at a nutrient-rich salad. However, I learned that steamed spinach worked great for me. So don’t be afraid to try new cooking methods!
  • Be choosy about sourcing your food. During pregnancy I unintentionally increased my red meat intake because it sounded appealing – probably my body helping me to get a great source of iron. Red meat can also be a contributor of saturated fat, something we want to limit in our diets. So look for lean (90-95% lean) beef, ideally grass fed which has a higher Omega-3 content.
  • Hydrate! Doctors recommend 12 8-ounce glasses of fluids a day. Normally this is easy, but nausea can really make consuming adequate fluids a challenge. I have found that iced herbal teas, water flavored with lemon/lime, or water with a splash of cranberry juice can really help the fluids go down
  • Think fiber. Constipation can be a common side effect of pregnancy, so fluids and fiber become extra important. Whole grains, fresh fruits & vegetables, and legumes are all great sources. There were times when none of these ingredients were appealing, and I have occasionally found that fiber bars and prunes can stand in in a pinch.
  • Small, frequent meals can be crucial for those experiencing nausea and/or low-blood sugar. So think about splitting breakfast, for example, into 2 parts – an English muffin with almond butter when you wake up, then a fruit smoothie a couple of hours later, and so on.

Finally, be kind to yourself. As a dietitian, I know how important nutrition is for me and for my growing baby. It was hard at first when I didn’t want all the healthy foods I normally crave. Know that if you’re doing the best you can, you are most likely providing a loving and nurturing environment for your baby!