Apr 7, 2023 • 8 min read

How Many Calories Should I Eat While Pregnant?

Medically Reviewed by Kim Langdon, MD on 4/7/2023
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It’s time for the dreaded “scale” experience at your obstetrician’s office. Halfway through your pregnancy, you worry—have I gained too much weight? Is my baby getting enough nutrition? How many calories should I eat in the third trimester of pregnancy to have a healthy baby?

Nearly every woman struggles with nutrition at some point during pregnancy. Messages from your healthcare provider and loved ones, and everything you read hammer home the admonishment that healthy eating habits are essential for your baby’s optimal growth and development. All of these are valid; you do need to eat well to have a healthy baby.

Besides vitamins, water, and minerals, you need extra energy in your diet. When we talk about “energy” in nutrition, we mean “calories.” Your baby uses things like vitamins and minerals for many important cellular functions. However, to grow, he or she needs calories in the form of metabolizable carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

So, how many calories should I eat while pregnant? Researchers say that a full-term baby uses 80,000 calories from the time of conception through the birth process. This varies by the baby’s weight, if you are overweight or underweight, and other factors.

The general recommendation is to eat 300 extra calories per day while pregnant. This varies by a number of factors, however, which we’ll go over throughout the rest of this article.

This guide goes over how many calories you need during pregnancy. You’ll see the effects of eating too little or too much while pregnant and gain insight into the number of calories per day doctors recommend at each phase of your pregnancy.

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How many calories should I eat while pregnant?

If a baby consumes 80,000 calories during the 268-day gestational period, how many calories per day does this mean you’ll need to eat?

This translates to an average added caloric intake per day of 300 calories per gestational day. However, because babies weigh so little at the beginning of their lives in utero, the balance of caloric intake is weighed more heavily at the end of your pregnancy compared to the beginning.

There are recommendations for caloric intake and weight gain during each trimester of your pregnancy, however, the exact number of calories needed depends on your body mass index (BMI), level of exercise, and the number of babies you’re carrying.

Let’s look at each trimester to see how many calories are appropriate during each day:

First Trimester

The first trimester of pregnancy requires no more calories than you would eat when not pregnant. This is because the baby does not weigh enough in the womb to take calories from you. The current recommendation for energy consumption during the first trimester of pregnancy is 1800 calories per day.

If you are underweight, however, you should ask your doctor for advice on how many additional calories per day will help you catch up during this crucial time of your baby’s development.

The recommended weight gain in the first trimester is one to five pounds, although if you don’t gain any weight at all, your baby will be unaffected. Dieting during pregnancy, even in the first trimester, is not recommended.

You should also know that losing your appetite during the first trimester is also common, possibly making it difficult to gain weight.

>> Learn more: Best first-trimester foods

Second Trimester

Your BMI determines how many calories you’ll need to eat during pregnancy to gain the recommended weight. Underweight women need to gain more during pregnancy than overweight women. Your ideal weight gain depends on your pre-pregnancy body mass index.

If you don’t know your BMI, you can use an online BMI calculator to see if you are obese, overweight, underweight, or normal weight.

  • Underweight. An underweight woman has a BMI of below 18.5. The total amount of recommended weight in the second trimester of pregnancy if you are underweight is 12 to 16 pounds. This translates to a need for around 500 to 650 extra calories per day. For most women, this is about 2200 to 2350 calories per day.
  • Normal weight. A normal-weight woman has a BMI of between 18.5 and 24.9. The recommended weight gain in the second trimester, if you have a normal pre-pregnancy BMI, is one to one and a half pounds per week or 10 to 15 pounds during this trimester. The current recommendation is to eat around 340 extra calories per day. For most women, this is around 2140 calories per day.
  • Overweight. An overweight woman has a BMI of between 25 and 29.9. In the second trimester, your recommended weight gain if you are overweight is eight to ten pounds. The recommended caloric intake for overweight women is around 2000 to 2100 calories per day.
  • Obese. Obese women have a BMI of more than 30. Your total weight gain should be five to ten pounds. In the second trimester, your recommended caloric intake is around 200 calories more than you’d normally need. This is around 1900 to 2000 calories per day.

Of course, your level of physical activity matters too. If you’re particularly athletic, work with a nutritionist to see how many extra calories you need to consume for your level of activity.

Third Trimester

The third trimester involves a slightly greater weight gain than you’ll see in the second trimester of your pregnancy. Again, the recommended weight gain is based on the weight you were when you became pregnant. Your recommended weight gain can be as little as six pounds or as many as 25 pounds for these last few weeks of pregnancy.

Your caloric intake will need to increase to around 450 calories more than you would typically need. If you are overweight or obese, you won’t add as many calories because you have stored energy to help nourish yourself and your baby.  

  • Underweight. The total amount of recommended weight gain in the third trimester if you are underweight is about 20 to 25 pounds. The number of calories you need to eat during this time is about 2300 to 2400 per day.
  • Normal weight. The recommended weight gain in the third trimester if you have a normal pre-pregnancy BMI is 15 to 20 pounds or around one and a half pounds per week. The current caloric intake in this trimester for normal-weight women is around 450 calories more per day than before pregnancy. For most women, this is around 2250 to 2300 calories per day.
  • Overweight. In the third trimester, your recommended weight gain if you are overweight is around one to one and a half pounds per week or 10 to 15 pounds. Your recommended caloric intake per day is around 2200 to 2250 per day.
  • Obese. In the third trimester, your total weight gain should be six to ten pounds. For most women, this means you’ll still eat around 2200 to 2250 per day. You will likely burn some of your own fat (stored energy) as well.

“If you need help fitting it all together,” says Natasha Eziquiel-Shriro, RDN, one of Zaya Care’s dietitians, “we’ll show you how a nutritionist can help make sense of the science and put it in practical terms you can work with.”

>> Book a prenatal nutritionist that accepts your insurance

Why it’s important to eat enough calories during pregnancy

Even if you’re overweight or obese, dieting and losing weight is never recommended during pregnancy.

Part of the reasoning behind this is that even if you have excess calories stored in your body as fat, you don’t have nutrients there as well. Your baby needs vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients from whole fruits, grains, and vegetables every day because you don’t store these nutrients the way you store caloric energy in the form of fat.

There are risks of undernutrition and overnutrition in pregnancy. If you are undernourished by not eating enough during your pregnancy, you risk these complications:

  • Gestational anemia. If you’re anemic from not getting enough of the nutrients needed to make blood cells, not only will you be tired, but your baby will also have too little blood, and the oxygen carried in it, to grow normally.
  • Low birth weight. Your baby will have insufficient nutrients and calories to grow adequately. This can affect your baby’s metabolism for their lifetime.
  • Prematurity. The placenta may not have enough nutrients to help nourish your baby. This can result in signals to your system to deliver the baby prematurely. A premature baby may suffer from many complications.
  • Gestational hypertension. The same factors that cause the placenta to have insufficient nutrients can also promote high blood pressure during your pregnancy.
  • Miscarriage. It is possible for a baby to die in utero due to poor nutrition or a deficiency in essential nutrients.

The dangers of overnutrition—eating too much—during pregnancy are strikingly similar to those seen when you eat too little. Similar outcomes include miscarriage, hypertension, and fetal growth disturbances.

The baby may be born too small if the placenta fails, but it is more often given too many calories, resulting in a poor fit inside the birth canal. This can lead to cesarean section, stillbirth, or birth trauma.

The pregnancy complications seen with overnutrition also include a greater risk of hemorrhaging and wound or postpartum infections (after a cesarean section). In both under and overnutrition during pregnancy, the metabolism of your baby may be affected for its entire life.

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How to know if you’re not eating enough while pregnant

“Surprisingly, undereating during pregnancy can go under the radar—especially if morning sickness, loss of appetite, or restrictive diet habits have been the norm,” says Natasha Eziquiel-Shriro, RDN. The best way to know if you’re eating enough during pregnancy is to invest in a scale and weigh yourself weekly.

Remember the total weight gain recommended for you during your pregnancy. Because your weight gain isn’t linear throughout the 40 weeks of gestation, you won’t need to gain much weight early in pregnancy unless your doctor recommends it.

You can also watch out for symptoms of not eating enough during pregnancy. “Other than stepping on the scale, you can look out for signs like feeling dizzy, weak, or fatigued,” adds Eziquiel-Shriro, RDN.

And remember that eating enough during pregnancy isn’t just about weight or calories. You need nutrients to help your baby grow and develop. Prenatal vitamins supplement, but don’t replace, healthy food intake.

“The goal should be to focus on fiber from whole grains, beans vegetables, or fruits and include healthy fats like avocado or avocado oil, nuts or seeds, olive oil, and coconut,” says Eziquiel-Shriro, RDN. You also need protein during pregnancy. She suggests “including a low-fat protein in most meals or snacks.”

She recommends limiting processed foods with a ton of unknown ingredients. “That’s where the empty calories are,” she warns. “Foods that are stripped of nutrients maybe provide comfort but not much else.”

>> Read more: Best foods to eat while pregnant

How a prenatal nutritionist can help you make sure you’re eating enough

Being pregnant adds a new dimension to your former eating habits. If you want to learn better ways of eating during pregnancy and beyond, think about seeking the advice of a prenatal nutritionist.

The nutritionist can assist you in determining your BMI and making the right choices for your pregnancy mealtimes. They can tell you which foods will benefit you the most and which foods you should avoid. Your nutritionist can also help with things like portion sizes and calorie counting.

Your nutritionist is likely to be skilled in pregnancy-related issues like eating on the go and eating for twins or multiples. They can assist you in planning meals for you and your family, so you can begin to see the benefits in your life and the potential for better health for your baby now and after its birth.

They can also help with other issues that come up such as gestational diabetes, pregnancy-related heartburn and acid reflux, and managing an eating disorder during pregnancy. Once you give birth, they can even support your postpartum weight loss journey.

Here at Zaya Care, we can match you with a prenatal nutritionist that accepts your insurance and offers your preferred visit type (online, in-person, over the phone, etc.).

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Christine Traxler MD is a family physician, lifelong writer, and author with a special interest in mental health, women’s healthcare, and the physical after-effects of psychological trauma. As a contributing writer and editor for numerous organizations, she brings a holistic focus to her work that emphasizes healing and wellness through daily self-care, connecting with others, and setting stepwise goals toward achieving more balanced and authentic lives.