It has been estimated that a pregnancy requires about 80,000 calories above a woman's normal intake. Averaged throughout the 40 weeks of pregnancy, this is roughly 300 calories more per day, though you may find you need less in the first trimester and more in the third. If you find that you are having a hard time eating a little more, either because of nausea or heartburn, eating six small meals may be helpful.
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Calorie Needs of Pregnancy
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, most pregnant women need between 2,200 and 2,900 calories per day. As your pregnancy develops, your calorie needs increase. During the first trimester, when your weight gain is the slowest, you generally do not need to eat more than usual. During your second trimester you may need an extra 340 calories per day and up to 450 during your third trimester.
The Institute of Medicine established weight-gain recommendations for women during pregnancy based on their pregnancy body mass index before becoming pregnant. The basis of this is to encourage women to gain an adequate amount of weight to support the growth and development of your baby without gaining too much weight, which can be difficult to lose later. Women who are at a normal BMI prior to pregnancy should gain between 25 to 35 pounds, and underweight women need to gain a little more and overweight women a little less. Be sure to talk to your health care provider about your weight-gain recommendations.
Benefits of Six Small Meals
At various points throughout your pregnancy, you may feel better eating six small meals instead of three larger meals. Early in your pregnancy, morning sickness can be curbed by ensuring your stomach isn't empty. Having small amounts of food every few hours can minimize nausea. Later in your pregnancy, as your baby takes up more space, you may find heartburn to be a frequent problem. Eating smaller meals more often minimizes the discomfort of having a full stomach. Some women feel better drinking their beverages in between meals rather than with a meal if heartburn becomes a significant problem.
If the idea of planning small meals is too cumbersome, consider dividing your regular meal into smaller parts. For example, if you planned on having grilled chicken, a baked potato, steamed broccoli with cheese and mixed berries for your dinner, you could have the potato with broccoli and cheese for a midafternoon meal and enjoy the chicken with a few berries for dinner. Breakfast may include whole-wheat toast with nut butter and sliced bananas followed by a midmorning snack of high-protein Greek yogurt and an apple. Other small meals could be hummus with mixed veggies, a hard-boiled egg with whole-grain crackers, string or cheddar cheese with a pear, a soft pretzel with mustard and fresh grapes, refried beans spread on a whole-wheat tortilla or even a late-night bowl of oatmeal with blueberries. Eating a wide variety of foods will ensure a balance of nutrients.