I’m not sure where the idea started that pregnant women were “eating for two” started, but I would like to kick the person responsible. It’s a notion that’s proven hard to kill, and it does a major disservice to women and their children.
Yes, women do need more calories during pregnancy than they would otherwise, but it’s not as many as you may think, and not right at first. Even when it is time to ramp up a bit, not just any ol’ calories will do. As always, quality counts.
Think about it logically: A tall muscular guy needs more calories than a short, slender woman. A 12-year-old needs more calories than a 4-year-old. So why would anyone think that a growing fetus needs as many calories as his mother, a grown woman, does? At best, we’re talking about eating for one and one-fourth or one and one-fifth!
In fact, during the first trimester of pregnancy, calorie needs don’t increase at all, provided that the mother-to-be was already eating an adequate amount of calories (i.e., pregnancy is not the time to be dieting or otherwise restricting calories). That’s because in the embryonic and early fetal stages, baby-to-be doesn’t need much in the way of calories. What it does need is nutrients (i.e., vitamins and minerals). So, the two main first-trimester changes are:
- Making sure food choices are rich in nutrients.
- Doing the best you can if you find yourself struggling with morning sickness.
Both of those changes are strongly tied to why pre-pregnancy (or pre-conception) nutrition is so important. There are key nutrients that are vital very early in pregnancy, and being a well-nourished mama-to-be means you can ride out normal morning sickness without fretting too much about the fact you can only tolerate toast and plain rice!
The second and third trimesters do take some extra calories. But again, not as many as you might think. In the second trimester, the average pregnant women (is there such a thing?) needs an extra 350 calories a day. In the third trimester, that increases a little, to about 450 calories.
Where do these extra calories go?
- To the growing baby.
- To the extra tissue (placenta, breast, and uterus) and blood the mother’s body has to manufacture.
- To the increased energy it takes to move around in a larger body with a shifting center of gravity!
Even though eating a nutritious diet has special importance before and during early pregnancy, it is still important to choose your calories wisely as pregnancy progresses. Use those extra calories as a way to enjoy foods that are nutrient-packed as well as being delicious.
Next week, I'll talk about optimal weight gain during pregnancy.