Pregnant women in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy need extra calories each day to fuel their new baby’s growth, but many women consume far more calories than they need. Excessive eating leads to unnecessary weight gain that can be hard to lose after delivery. Although you shouldn't restrict your calories during pregnancy, in most cases, you can help tame constant hunger by making the correct food choices.
The Role of Hormones
As with many pregnancy symptoms, you might be able to blame your hunger during pregnancy on hormones. Increased progesterone levels during pregnancy may affect two hormones that play an important role in hunger mediation -- leptin and ghrelin. Leptin, produced by fat cells, helps suppress hunger pangs, while ghrelin, produced by the stomach, stimulates hunger. During pregnancy, your body does not respond as well to signals from leptin that you are full. Ghrelin levels rise during the first half of pregnancy and decrease during the second half, according to the textbook "Nutrition in the Childbearing Years."
Overestimating Your Calorie Needs
During the first trimester of pregnancy, you don't need any additional calories to fuel your baby's growth. In the second and third trimester, you need a calorie increase of approximately 15 percent to supply your nutritional needs and your baby's. If you normally consume 2,000 calories and maintain your weight, you will need an additional 300 calories in the second and third trimesters.
Some women perceive pregnancy as an excuse to indulge in many of their favorite foods without restraint or caution. Eating small portions of your favorite foods can be part of a healthy pregnancy diet, but overindulgence can lead to digestive problems and extreme weight gain which can be hard to lose after giving birth.
Making the Right Food Choices
Control pregnancy hunger pains with nutrient-rich, low-calorie foods such as lean meats, whole grains, beans, eggs and dairy products. Aim for a protein intake of 60 grams per day during pregnancy, to repair your tissues and to help build your baby's body tissues. Foods high in refined sugar or highly processed foods often metabolize quickly, leaving pregnant women feeling shaky and hungry far more quickly than nutritious whole foods. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain fiber, which will help you feel full longer and will also provide the vitamins and minerals you need.
Risks of Gaining Too Much
Gaining too much weight during pregnancy can increase your risk of developing gestational diabetes and high blood pressure and can exacerbate pregnancy discomforts such as back pain, fatigue, varicose veins and leg cramps. Gestational diabetes can also increase your risk of having a Cesarean delivery, if your baby also gains excess weight and becomes too large to safely navigate the birth canal.
- Handbook of Behavior, Food and Nutrition; Victor R. Preedy, et al.
- Nutrition in the Childbearing Years; Emma Derbyshire
- Maternal, Neonatal, and Women's Health Nursing; Lynna Y. Littleton, Joan Engebretson
- Breastfeeding and Human Lactation; Jan Riordan, Karen Wambach