The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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Cravings and aversions
There’s no proof that food cravings mean you need more of a certain nutrient or that aversions are your body’s way of protecting the fetus from toxins. Still, food cravings, the subject of countless pickles-and-ice-cream jokes, are, as many pregnant women can tell you, really no laughing matter.
“Most women start out with wonderful intentions, but once those hormones kick in, good nutrition doesn’t always come easy,” Ward says. Food cravings often accompany morning sickness; both often are simply a side effect of pregnancy. The key is to keep cravings under control. If you must have potato chips, for example, opt for a single-serving bag.
On the flip side of the craving coin are food aversions. It’s not unusual for some nutritious foods such as broccoli, once enthusiastically consumed before pregnancy, to make your stomach turn over just thinking about them now that you are expecting. If your aversion is to something like coffee, nothing’s lost; but if vegetables now make you sick, you’ll have to make up the loss by eating more of other nutritious foods that may be better tolerated, such as fruit.
Fear of weight gain
If you’re overly worried about eating too much, you just might not be eating enough. During the first trimester, your calorie needs increase very little, but your pregnant body requires an additional 300 calories a day during the last two trimesters. That means if you required 1,800 calories a day before you were pregnant, you’ll need 2,100 calories daily once you reach your fourth month. Breastfeeding demands even more — an extra 500 calories a day over your prepregnancy needs. But the increase is not a license to pig out; it just provides a little leeway in your usually lean eating plan.
“Pregnancy is not the time to worry about weight control,” Ward says. “Instead, it’s the one time when you should really listen to your body, and if you’re hungry, you should eat.” Of course, there are limits to how much weight gain is healthy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that women who are of normal weight before they conceive gain about 25–35 pounds during pregnancy. Overweight women should gain 15–25 pounds; underweight women, 28–40 pounds; and women carrying twins, 35–45 pounds.
A meal plan you can live with
Our five-day eating plan features easy-to-prepare dishes that will provide all the nutrients you and your baby need for the whole nine months. But it was also created with variety and satisfaction in mind, to accommodate the possibility of new food cravings and aversions. Specifically, it’s relatively low in fat to allow for those all-too-common cravings for high-fat foods but offers plenty of healthy treats to satisfy the yen for sweets. The recipes included are simple and require few ingredients, but when you’re in the mood for something special, maybe even a bit exotic, you might want to try the recipes in “Three Chef-Moms and Their Favorite Pregnancy Recipes."
You don’t need to slavishly follow this plan to derive its benefits; if you don’t feel like a certain food at one meal, feel free to substitute another similar to it. Just do your best to get the nutrients you need over the course of a day or even several. As nutritionist Elizabeth Ward says, “Challenge yourself to eat better each day if you can. But if you can’t, don’t be too hard on yourself.”