Counting Calories During Pregnancy: What to Know

Posted On: January 27, 2022 By CIW

Reviewed by: Casey Sieden MS, RD, CDN, DCES

When you are pregnant, it’s natural to want to do the best you can for your health and your baby’s. One area where women tend to spend some of their time worrying, however, is regarding what happens in the kitchen. The truth is that your eating patterns will change during pregnancy because of a variety of factors, and this is completely normal. However, it is important to find the right balance between becoming preoccupied with it and not caring at all. Here’s what to know about one of the most common questions women find themselves asking during pregnancy— “Should I be counting calories?”

Is it safe to count calories during pregnancy?

With all the physical and emotional changes of pregnancy, combined with doctor’s appointments and preparing for your baby’s arrival (possibly while still working and possibly taking care of other children) pregnant women have a lot to keep track of! However, one less thing that most pregnant women need to keep tabs on is counting calories. While calorie counting may be encouraged or recommended for certain women (for example, those who have difficulty gaining weight or twin pregnancies) it’s likely not necessary for most pregnant women to be counting calories daily for their entire pregnancy. Calorie counting is a “safe” practice, but for many women, it can lead to unnecessary preoccupation with food choices and a focus on weight that may not be warranted or healthy in pregnancy. Rather than counting calories, objective measures such as a woman’s weight trend during pregnancy, the baby’s weight and measurements, and an assessment of the woman’s overall diet quality can be much more useful indicators of health than the calories consumed.

How many calories do I need during each trimester?

As recommended by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the first trimester does not require consumption of any additional calories above a woman’s baseline calculated needs. It is recommended that she consume an additional 340 calories in the second trimester, and 450 additional calories during the third trimester. Meeting your calorie and nutrient needs can help to prevent preterm birth, small for gestational age, and overall improve the health of mother and baby. There is some research that demonstrates that gaining more than the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy can also lead to a baby who is large for gestational age, which can lead to delivery complications. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the relationship between mother’s weight gain and her overall health and fetal outcomes is complex, and there are many other factors to consider when it comes to prenatal health.

For help determining your baseline caloric needs, you should meet with a registered dietitian who can take into account your specific health history and any factors that might affect your pregnancy. You can also track your pregnancy weight gain with your health care provider to ensure that you are meeting the recommended weight goals for a healthy pregnancy.

What should my daily meal plan look like?

Every woman will be different when it comes to meal planning during pregnancy! Generally speaking, a pregnant woman should aim for 3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day. Meals should be comprised of 2-3 cups of vegetables, about 4-5 ounces of lean protein, about 1 cup of starch (ideally whole grains, legumes, or a starchy vegetable), and a source of dietary fat (specifically poly– or mono-unsaturated fats.) Women are encouraged to consume 2-3 servings of fruit per day and 1-2 servings of dairy. You should also prioritize foods rich in iron, vitamin D, choline, folic acid, calcium, and iodine. Furthermore, be sure to keep yourself hydrated and try to consume at least 8 glasses of water a day.

If you’re looking for help creating a more specific meal plan, you can meet with a registered dietician to ensure you and your baby are getting the appropriate nutrients and vitamins that you need.

Physical activity during pregnancy

If you are concerned about managing your weight during pregnancy, physical activity can help. According to the CDC, pregnant women should partake in some form of physical activity for 150 minutes each week, which can be broken down to about 30 minutes of movement most days. Exercise during pregnancy offers many benefits, including reducing the risk of too much weight gain, gestational diabetes, and symptoms of postpartum depression.

Moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as power walking, water aerobics, and some forms of yoga are considered safe options for healthy pregnant women. Those who partake in high-intensity aerobic exercise such as running can usually continue with this exercise for as long as it remains comfortable and safe.  Be sure to speak with your doctor before starting any exercise routine while you are pregnant to ensure that it is safe for you and your baby.

If you are given the clear to exercise from your doctor, be sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated before, during, and after your workout, avoid becoming overheated, and avoid standing still or lying flat on your back as much as you can, as this can cause your blood pressure to decrease. If you ever feel dizzy, have shortness of breath, muscle weakness, or vaginal bleeding, you should stop exercising and seek professional advice.

Schedule an Appointment

It can seem overwhelming to try and eat right during pregnancy and maintain a healthy weight, but we are here to help you along your journey. Our team is dedicated to providing excellent, evidence-based medical care to each of our patients. Using cutting-edge technology combined with compassionate care, you can trust that you are in good hands with us. Give our office a call to partner with our team of maternal fetal medicine specialists and our prenatal dietitian who can guide you through the right steps. To meet with our team and our registered dietician, we invite you to contact our New York City office by calling or filling out our online form.

Carnegie Imaging for Women blogs are intended for educational purposes only and do not replace certified professional care. Medical conditions vary and change frequently. Please ask your doctor any questions you may have regarding your condition to receive a proper diagnosis or risk analysis. Thank you!

Comments are closed.