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Pregnancy is a time of great joy and excitement, but many women also suffer from unpleasant side effects such as nausea and general malaise. These are caused by changes in the body during pregnancy causing women to worry that their babies are not eating enough to get all the nutrients they need.
However, if you eat an overall healthy diet and achieve the expected pregnancy weight gain, you are likely eating well during pregnancy. But what happens if you don’t eat enough while pregnant?
Read on to learn more about our recommendations for gaining weight and whether you’re eating enough during pregnancy. Women need to make many changes before and during pregnancy. For example, quitting alcohol and smoking, and cutting down on caffeine.
Let’s check out some of the key food groups that are a must-have during pregnancy, learn more about what happens if you don’t eat enough while pregnant, and the symptoms of not eating enough while pregnant.
Key Food Groups During Pregnancy
A healthy diet for pregnant women is very similar to a healthy diet recommended for the general population. Here are a few must-eat and must not eat food groups:
Pregnant mothers should take care to include the following food groups in their diet:
- Whole grains, like quinoa, oatmeal, brown rice, and whole wheat bread
- Fruits, including oranges, apples, berries, and bananas
- Vegetables, such as leafy greens, green beans, carrots, celery, squash, and cauliflower
- Dairy or dairy substitutes, which include low-fat yogurt, cheeses, and cow’s milk or versions of these products made from a nut, oat, or soy kinds of milk
- Quality sources of protein, such as beans, meats, tofu, eggs, and fish
- Healthy fats, such as olive oil, avocado, seeds, and nuts
- 8-12 cups of water per day
Must Not Eat
Beverages and foods to avoid during pregnancy include:
- Beverages with high amounts of caffeine, such as energy drinks or large amounts of coffee
- Fish/seafood with high mercury levels. This includes tilefish, shark, king mackerel, and swordfish.
- Sugar-sweetened beverages
- Undercooked meats and eggs
- Deli meats
- Unpasteurized milk
- Soft unpasteurized cheeses (examples: queso fresco, gorgonzola, feta, brie)
- Raw sprouts
- Raw fish and shellfish
- Unpasteurized juices
What Do You Need The Most During Pregnancy?
Nutrients and calories are two things you need to keep track of in your pregnancy diet plans. Here’s more about them:
A pregnant woman’s overall healthy diet is similar to that of the general population, but her calorie needs increase during pregnancy. Although not required, energy requirements increase during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.
- Early Pregnancy: No Extra Calories Needed
- Mid Pregnancy: 340 Extra Calories Needed
- Late Pregnancy: 450 Extra Calories Needed
No need to closely track calorie intake but if you have any questions or concerns about the correct amount, consult your doctor or registered dietitian. If you are unable to eat enough because of discomfort or nausea, try eating small meals and frequent snacks instead of three large meals a day.
Some women may find it easier to drink smoothies or nutritional shakes to get extra calories and nutrients Here’s more about the nutrient needs of a pregnant woman:
Although it is important to consume adequate amounts of protein, macronutrient needs (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) do not change significantly during pregnancy. 0.88 grams. For a 150 lb (~68 kg) woman, that’s about 60 grams of protein per day.
Taking a prenatal vitamin during pregnancy is recommended to prevent micronutrient deficiencies and to ensure that your baby receives all the micronutrients it needs to thrive. It’s more so important for pregnant women with a strict vegetarian, anemia, a vegan, poor diet in general, or substance abuse problems. Important nutrients include calcium and iodine.
Healthy Weight Gain During Pregnancy
Pregnancy can be tough on your body weight. But hey, what’s better than seeing a healthy munchkin in your arms? A pregnant woman typically has to gain 11.5-16 kg during pregnancy. But, because weight gain needs are different for each pregnancy and each individual, you should discuss this with your healthcare team. Interestingly, regular pregnancy weight checks are not as common in other developed countries as they are in the United States.
Why Do You Not Feel Hungry During Pregnancy?
Once you discover the happy news, there’s probably a ton that will go on in your mind and body alike. Let’s discuss some of the reasons for not feeling hungry during each stage of pregnancy.
Loss of appetite is often accompanied by morning sickness, which affects most pregnant women. Nausea and vomiting are two important signs of morning sickness. Vomiting and nausea (no matter their intensity) could affect food intake and appetite during pregnancy
While it is normal for a pregnant woman to want to eat every few hours if you have nausea you may have to deal with food aversions during your initial weeks of pregnancy. Research has shown that the rise and fall of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) during pregnancy could bring about a loss of appetite.
The first trimester of pregnancy is a time folks experience mental health issues like anxiety, mood swings, and depression. Pregnancy-related anxiety and depression can also lead to decreased appetite and reduced intake of nutritious foods. It is not uncommon to skip meals during this stage of pregnancy. Constant mood swings combined with morning sickness can also make you reluctant to eat. Also, foods that you liked before pregnancy may not work for you. It takes a few weeks for a pregnant woman to get used to the taste.
The second trimester (midterm) is considered the best time of pregnancy as the morning sickness usually goes away and energy levels are restored. Nonetheless, many mothers suffer from anorexia during this time. This happens because the uterus grows and begins to put pressure on the stomach.
- During this phase, levels of the hormone progesterone increase. This can contribute to constipation and that leads to a loss of appetite too.
- Certain medications are safe during pregnancy but may contribute to loss of appetite. It can also be caused by not being able to eat.
To effectively control anorexia in the third trimester, it is best to choose nutritious snacks every few hours. Inadequate food intake may prevent the baby from gaining enough weight. Mothers who have a strong fear of gaining weight tend to consciously restrict their diet during this stage of pregnancy. Doing so not only puts the baby at risk but also causes problems with postpartum recovery.
The third trimester of pregnancy is a time of rapid fetal growth, and if you don’t eat enough, your baby may not gain enough weight. However, most women do not feel hungry even in the third trimester of pregnancy.
- At this point, the uterus is beginning to reach its maximum capacity. It puts a lot of pressure on your stomach and small intestine and lowers a pregnant woman’s appetite.
- Progesterone levels peak in the third trimester of pregnancy, and progesterone-induced constipation contributes to anorexia.
Mothers who have a strong fear of gaining weight tend to consciously restrict their diet during this stage of pregnancy. Doing this not only puts the baby at risk but also poses problems for postpartum recovery.
So, What Happens If You Don’t Eat Enough While Pregnant?
Symptoms of not eating enough while pregnant include the following. Make sure you watch out for these signs before you get some serious health issues:
- Low Weight Gain (less than 10 kg)
- Persistent Hunger (not being full ever)
- Being Constipated
- Extreme Fatigue
- Feeling Cold Constantly
- Brittle Nails and Hair Loss
- Disrupted Sleep
- Mood Swings
- Low Immunity
- Unhealthy Skin
The Bottom Line on What Happens If You Don’t Eat Enough While Pregnant
You may not feel hungry when the fetus’ growth is pressing against your tummy and intestines. But you must make sure you eat every two hours whether you are hungry or not. Snacking is the best way to keep you full and ensure your little human gets all the nutrients they need. Here’s a small list of what you could add to your pregnancy weekly plan:
- Protein-rich snacks: Greek yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, roasted chickpeas, crackers and cheese, and turkey, sliced chicken, or cold ham
- Fiber-packed veggies: Green beans, sweet potatoes, raw spinach salad, and baby carrots (raw or steamed)
- Sweet bites: Oatmeal, fresh berries, dried fruit, and cold dairy products (plain cottage cheese, anyone?)
- Grains/starches: Quinoa, baked or mashed potato, brown rice, macaroni, and cheese, and pasta
- Soup: Chicken rice soup and chicken noodle soup
- Liquids: Healthy smoothies and simple broths
Eat, eat, and eat whenever you hear the hunger calling! That should be your motto during those 9 months of carrying a child. Symptoms of not eating enough while pregnant can cause the following issues:
- Malnutrition can cause a ton of complications in pregnancy, including low birth weight, poor fetal growth, and maternal weight loss.
- It has also been associated with poor mental functioning and behavioral problems in children.
Here’s what you can do when you have a loss of appetite during pregnancy!
FAQs: What Happens If You Don’t Eat Enough While Pregnant?
1. How do you know if you're eating enough while pregnant?
2. How long can I go without eating while pregnant?
3. What happens to the fetus when the mother is hungry?
4. How many times should a pregnant woman eat?
5. What stage of pregnancy are you most hungry?
1. Human Chorionic Gonadotropin – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf
2. Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy – PMC
3. Gestational weight gain outside the Institute of Medicine recommendations and adverse pregnancy outcomes: analysis using individual participant data from randomized trials – PMC