Pregnancy hunger: How to handle increased appetite in pregnancy

pregnant woman taking food out of the fridge
Photo credit: Sarah Hebenstreit for BabyCenter

Just had breakfast, and you're already hungry for lunch? You're not alone. It's not uncommon to feel hungry all the time in pregnancy. Here's why – and how you can harness your hunger to have a healthy pregnancy.

Always hungry while pregnant? Here's why

If you feel like you're always hungry during pregnancy, it's for good reason: Your body is working hard to support your baby, and that requires plenty of energy. As well as nourishing your growing baby, your meals are fueling your body's pregnancy changes – which include a much higher blood volume, your growing breasts and uterus, and increased fat stores. No wonder you're famished!

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Beginning in the second trimester, most healthy pregnant women need to eat around 300 to 350 more calories per day than before conceiving. In the third trimester, that requirement increases to 450 additional calories every day. Try your best to stick to pregnancy weight gain guidelines, which vary based on your starting weight before pregnancy.

When pregnancy hunger starts and peaks

You can expect pregnancy hunger to both start and peak in the second trimester.

During the first trimester, nausea and vomiting (morning sickness) may keep you from feeling like eating much of anything at all. That's fine: your baby is tiny at this point, and you don't need to eat any extra calories. It's typical to gain about 3 to 5 pounds in the first trimester (and it's okay if you don't gain any weight at all).

After week 14 of pregnancy, or the start of the second trimester, you'll usually begin to feel welcome relief from morning sickness – and your appetite may come roaring back. From here on out, your baby's growing fast and needs nutrients to create bone, muscle, and other tissues.

In the third trimester, pregnancy hunger tends to taper off as your baby crowds your internal organs, including your stomach. You'll still need to eat more calories than you did before pregnancy, which means you'll likely want to eat smaller, more frequent meals to satisfy your nutritional needs.

How to handle increased appetite in pregnancy

Pregnancy hunger is a perfectly normal and healthy response to making a baby. The goal is to satisfy yourself and provide the right amount of nutrients for your developing baby.  

You just don't want an increased appetite during pregnancy to lead to filling up on foods that have little nutritional value or gaining too much weight.

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Here are some tips to help manage pregnancy hunger:

  • Eat often. Have something to eat every three hours or so, which should keep you from getting so hungry you overdo it at any one meal. Try six smaller meals throughout the day instead of three large ones (which may also help tackle any heartburn you're experiencing).
  • Focus on protein, fiber, and healthy (unsaturated) fat. Include foods that have a mix of all three nutrients in every meal. They'll keep your blood sugar on an even keel and hunger at bay.
  • Cut back or eliminate nutritionally empty foods. Drinks with added sugar as well as fast foods and highly processed packaged foods (such as cookies, white bread, chips, and soda) add calories without benefitting you or your baby.
  • Drink enough water. Aim for about eight to twelve 8-ounce cups of water per day. Water aids with digestion and helps nutrients disperse throughout the body, among other benefits
  • Rule out other causes of hunger. Sometimes you might confuse thirst, stress, or boredom for hunger.
  • Prioritize sleep as much as possible. Ideally aim for 7 to 9 hours per night. Being very tired can impact your hunger hormones and make you feel ravenous.
  • Eat slowly and avoid distractions while you eat. Eating quickly while watching TV or scrolling on your phone can make you less likely to notice signals from your brain that you're feeling full.

Satisfying your pregnancy hunger

To ensure that you're getting important nutrients while satisfying your hunger, choose nutrient-dense foods with multiple benefits. Focus on:

  • vegetables and fruits, which will ideally make up half your plate at mealtime
  • whole grains, such as whole grain bread and pasta, oats, quinoa, barley, brown rice, and bulgur
  • low-fat dairy, including yogurt, milk, and cheese
  • protein foods, especially beans, legumes, fish, eggs, and lean poultry and meat

Use these tips to pack more nutrition into your meals and snacks:

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  • Use ripe avocado as a spread on sandwiches instead of mayonnaise and on bagels instead of cream cheese.
  • Dice fruit, like mangos, and have it with yogurt or on top of a green salad.
  • Cook quinoa and use it as a side dish or hot cereal. You can even add it to muffins and quiches.
  • Double the veggies called for in any stir-fry recipe to give it extra flavor and bulk with minimal calories.
  • Replace ground turkey or lentils for beef in tacos and meat sauces.
  • Give salads crunch by adding roasted chickpeas instead of croutons.

These healthy snack ideas can also help you get the nutrients you need:

  • Mix 1 cup low-fat Greek yogurt with 1 ounce of nuts (about the amount that fits in your palm).
  • Combine a handful of walnuts with tart dried cherries for an on-the-go snack.
  • Spread 2 tablespoons of peanut butter on apple slices.
  • Top an English muffin with a scrambled egg and spinach.
  • Eat a fruit and nut bar (check the ingredients and skip those that contain lots of added sugar).
  • Have 3/4 cup whole grain cereal or oatmeal with low-fat milk.
  • Blend a smoothie with 1 cup frozen berries, 1/2 cup low-fat yogurt, and 1/2 cup low-fat milk.
  • Top 1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese with sliced melon.
  • Munch on 1/2 cup edamame.
  • Hard boil an egg and have it with a serving of your favorite fruit.
  • Have a handful of whole-wheat crackers with 1 ounce of cheddar cheese.
Follow your baby's amazing development

BabyCenter's editorial team is committed to providing the most helpful and trustworthy pregnancy and parenting information in the world. When creating and updating content, we rely on credible sources: respected health organizations, professional groups of doctors and other experts, and published studies in peer-reviewed journals. We believe you should always know the source of the information you're seeing. Learn more about our editorial and medical review policies.

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Colleen de Bellefonds
Colleen de Bellefonds is a freelance health and lifestyle journalist. She's raising her toddler daughter and newborn son with her French husband in Paris.