When you become pregnant, your body undergoes a myriad of physical and hormonal changes that lead to all kinds of signs and symptoms. It is common (and completely normal) to experience increased hunger during pregnancy.
In addition to changes in your appetite, you might notice odd cravings and eating habits that last into the postpartum period, sometimes called the fourth trimester. For some women, weight gain can be worrisome and cause additional stress during their pregnancy and health issues after they deliver. However, hunger during pregnancy is normal, and a qualified healthcare provider can help you manage your hunger in healthy ways that support your baby’s growth and development as well as your well-being beyond delivery.
If you are worried that your hunger could be caused by something else or you worry that it may not be healthy for you or your baby, schedule an appointment with an obstetrician at Tidewater Physicians for Women. We can rule out – or diagnose – any underlying condition and make recommendations for a healthy pregnancy.
If you feel like hungry nearly all the time, you are in good company. One of the most common complaints or concerns we hear from expectant mothers is that they are always hungry, and the hunger and food cravings make it harder than ever to make health-conscious dietary choices. Cravings rarely lead to fresh fruits and veggies, but with appropriate help, it is totally possible to satisfy your cravings while fueling your body.
Understanding the factors contributing to your hunger is the first step in managing it. While it is common to believe that pregnancy alone is responsible, there are a myriad of reasons you might be experiencing an appetite increase — and not all of them are related to your pregnancy symptoms.
You’re pregnant! If you are experiencing the early signs of pregnancy like tender breasts or a missed period or have had a positive home pregnancy test, pregnancy is the most likely culprit for your increase in hunger.
Changing hormones — specifically fluctuations in progesterone and estrogen — lead to an increase in appetite. This is likely your body’s way of letting you know that you need more calories to meet your baby’s demands for nourishment. Most women will need to take in about 300 more calories per day while pregnant during the first and second trimesters and 500 more calories per day during the third trimester.
Did you know that when your body is under a great deal of stress, it thinks you need more food to meet the demand? As a result, it sends out hunger signals, making you stressed out…and hungry. Pregnancy can be a particularly stressful time for many women as they adjust to their changing bodies and hormonal fluctuations, prepare to support a child (or another child) financially, make childcare arrangements, and make major life decisions about their role as a parent, their home, and more.
Certain medications are known to cause an increase in appetite, such as steroids, some antidepressants, and anti-seizure drugs. In some cases, if your medications are the culprit, there might be a suitable substitute that provides the same therapeutic effect without the side effects. Visit with your obstetrician about your suspicions; he or she may be able to recommend comparable medications while ensuring that any new medication does not pose an undue risk to your unborn child.
You might be hungry all the time because you are not eating the right foods to fill up and stay full. Protein, complex carbohydrates, and fat are important components of a healthy, filling diet.
Pregnancy cravings can make it easy to choose empty calories; that is, foods that fill you up temporarily but fail to provide nourishment, needed nutrition, or lasting fullness. These foods (chips, candy, and ice cream are examples) are often to blame for increased hunger (for all people, whether pregnant or not).
Pregnancy hunger usually starts and peaks in the second trimester for two reasons: many women are just getting over morning sickness and the lack of appetite that comes with the first trimester, and the baby’s growth is increasing more rapidly during this time.
For most women, the worst hunger, craving, and hunger pangs occur during the second trimester when their bodies need additional calories and the baby is not yet putting pressure on their internal organs and making them feel full.
Although you need more calories during the third trimester than you need in early pregnancy, the growing baby can put pressure on your stomach and make it harder to eat a full meal. During this time, eating frequent small meals that are rich in whole grains, healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables will ensure you meet your caloric requirements.
Appetite suppressants, diet pills, and weight loss medications are not safe to take during pregnancy. Instead, visit with your obstetrician about your concerns. He or she can help you:
If you have taken appetite suppressants, let your obstetrician know right away.
While hunger is an important way that your body encourages you to get the 300-350 extra calories you need to support your baby’s growth, it can be frustrating for expectant mothers who are trying to manage their weight or who are gaining more than expected.
While you should never starve yourself during the course of your pregnancy or take weight loss medications, managing your weight is important for your long-term health and wellness. There are steps you can take to help manage your hunger so it is a helpful signal and not an uncontrollable urge.
It is very common for the human body to confuse hunger and thirst, and just like your body and baby demand more calories during pregnancy, they also demand increased fluids. Pregnant women need 12-13 cups of water to support increased blood volume during pregnancy.
Choosing healthy snacks can help prevent you from over-indulging when you feel hungry. It is easy to sit down with a few potato chips and eat the whole bag, but you are much less likely to grab an apple and accidentally eat ten. Some healthy substitutes for indulgent snacks include:
If you are worried that your hunger or eating habits are not normal and may be harming your developing baby, seek medical advice from an obstetrician who specializes in women’s health and nutrition. He or she can:
Don’t lose sleep over your appetite, cravings, or weight gain during this transformational time in your life. It is completely normal to be hungrier than usual. You need more calories when pregnant than you needed before, and there are all kinds of tips and tricks that can help you make healthy choices despite the challenges that come with pregnancy. The team at Tidewater Physicians for Women is here to provide support and expertise without judgment, whether you are trying to conceive, pregnant, or postpartum. Call our office at 757-461-3890.