It is common to hear about pregnant people getting a pass to eat any and everything. Afterall, pregnant people eat for two, right? While a popular saying, it is a bit of a myth that continues to be passed along.
As doulas, we will often be asked about pregnancy nutrition. It is important we can provide our clients with safe, evidence-based information.
While pregnant people do need additional calories during pregnancy, they do not need to double their calories. When we hear about eating for two, it can make it sound like pregnant people need a significant increase in calories.
However, if a pregnant person doubles their caloric intake, as if they are eating for two, they increase their risk for some pregnancy complications. Some extra calories are needed, but not enough for two people.
Should Pregnant People Eat For Two?
Every person’s unique caloric needs are unique. However, a general guide is approximately 2000 calories per day. When we look at nutritional values, labels use 2000 calorie diet for simplicity.
A pregnant person does not need to consume 4000 calories per day. Consuming that many calories, unless there is a medical reason or they are extremely, extremely actives, could increase the risk of certain pregnancy complications.
A pregnant person should eat approximately 300 extra calories per day on top of their pre-pregnancy daily intake. So, if a person consumed the average 2000 calorie diet, they would want to consume about 2300 calories per day during pregnancy. If they are smaller or more sedentary, perhaps their pre-pregnancy intake was 1700 calories, and they now need about 2000.
Simply put, a pregnant people should not eat for two. There is not a massive caloric increase needed during pregnancy.
Does Caloric Needs Change In Different Trimesters?
For simplicity’s sake, many suggest approximately 300 calories extra per day during pregnancy. However, the needs vary slightly in different trimesters. The 300 calories per day is the average.
During the first trimester, the need is not very high. It also is not uncommon for some pregnant people to consume less calories due to pregnancy sickness. Nausea and vomiting during pregnancy can make it difficult for some to eat their typical calories let alone extras.
Some sources suggest there is no need for additional calories during the first trimester. Other sources suggest about 70-100 extra calories per day. Either way, it is not a whole lot.
During the second trimester, around 300 extra calories per day is recommended. The third trimester is up to 400-450 extra calories per day. Keep in mind that these exact numbers can vary slightly depending on the source you look at.
Pregnant people do not need to count regularly count calories unless instructed by their provider. The numbers give people an idea of what they need to consume.
Should Pregnant People Simply Eat to Hunger?
Intuitive eating can be a wonderful practice during pregnancy. There may be days where one feels ravenous and other days, they have very little appetite. Eating to hunger can be a great way to balance.
If one is making healthy food choices, such as vegetables, fruits, healthy proteins, and whole grains, simply eating to hunger is unlikely to lead to excess intake. One might be concerned about eating to hunger if they are consuming a lot of processed foods or foods high in excessive sodium and empty calories.
If your client has major dietary concerns, questions about weight gain specific to their pregnancy, or possible nutrition deficiencies, it is important to refer them to a qualified professional. A registered dietician can help them find the appropriate balance.
As a doula, you can provide basic information such as healthy sources of protein or basic recipes for healthy dishes. We can educate our clients about the benefits of a well-balanced diet and how that can aid in a healthy pregnancy and birth.
What Is The Risk of Eating For Two During Pregnancy?
When someone consumes excessive calories which leads to increased weight gain, they could be at an increased risk of cardiovascular conditions and gestational diabetes.
While both cardiovascular and gestational diabetes risks increase with pregnancy and anyone can experience them, gaining a lot during pregnancy can increase the risk of both.
If one has gestational diabetes but their sugars are well maintained, they are unlikely to have additional complications. However, if one has gestational diabetes but their sugars are not well controlled, they run the risk of a baby large for gestational age. This can impact the type of birth they have.
With basic nutrition information, we can empower our clients to have a healthy pregnancy and hopefully the birth they desire.