Healthy weight gain is an important (and natural!) part of any pregnancy. How much you should aim to gain will largely depend on your pre-pregnancy weight. But generally speaking, most healthy weight women will need to shoot for 25-35 pounds over the course of 40 weeks, with most of that weight gained during the second and third trimesters. The further along you get in your pregnancy, the more calories you’ll need to take in to sustain both you and your baby.
During the first trimester — roughly the first 13 weeks (or 3 months) — of the pregnancy, things are just getting going, so weight gain is minimal. In fact, most women might put on only a few pounds, if any, and won’t need to take in any extra calories. But what you eat is just as important (if not more so) than how much.
Babies are growing really quickly during those first few months. By the end of the first trimester, the baby might only be an inch or so long, but he or she already has all of their major organs in place. With each passing day, a tiny human is taking shape, and that requires certain vitamins and nutrients to ensure the baby’s body systems form correctly. That’s why doctors often recommend pregnant women take prenatal supplements, to ensure they get enough of things like folic acid and vitamin D. Many women, however, are able to get most (if not all) of the key nutrients they need from a healthy, balanced diet.
ACOG recommends pregnant women who were a healthy weight prior to pregnancy and don’t get more than 30 minutes of exercise per day should try to take in about 1,800 calories daily, with special consideration for each the five major food groups (grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy, and proteins) with only small amounts of oils and fats.
First Trimester Food Recommendations
6 ounces of grains — An ounce equals one slice of bread, 0.5 cup of cooked rice or pasta, 3 cups of popcorn, or five whole-wheat crackers. Shoot for whole grains whenever you can to take in even more nutrients.
2.5 cups of vegetables — Dark leafy greens are especially important during the first trimester because they are a good source of folic acid — an essential nutrient that can help prevent birth defects. Just remember that 2 cups of leafy veggies equals about 1 cup of vegetables, so make sure portions are generous.
1.5 cups of fruit — One cup of fruit is roughly the same as a small apple, a large orange, or eight large strawberries. Your plate should be loaded high with fruits and veggies, but remember your body (and baby!) needs more veggies than fruit.
3 cups of dairy — Dairy is full of calcium and vitamin D, which helps build strong teeth and bones. A single cup of milk or yogurt is pretty straightforward, but cheese can be more difficult to gauge. Two small slices of cheese, or a 0.3 cup shredded, is about the equivalent of one cup.
5 ounces of protein — Small fish (like salmon) can be an excellent source of low-calorie protein that also packs in some healthy fatty acids that may be good for brain development. Try to get 2-3 servings a week if you can, but it’s important to mix up your proteins to get a good variety. While weighing meat is simple enough, other sources of protein look a little different. One egg, 0.5 ounce of nuts, or 1 tablespoon of peanut butter are all the equivalent of about one ounce of protein.
5 teaspoons of fats and oils — Healthy fats like those found in nuts, avocados, or fish, can be good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, which can help with brain development, so long as they are eaten in moderation. Try to avoid unhealthy fats found in fried or processed food, whenever possible.
Note: Overweight or obese women might need fewer calories per day while pregnant. Talk to your doctor about how much weight you should gain during your pregnancy, as well as how many extra calories a day you will need for both you and your baby.