Should You Be “Eating For Two” During Pregnancy? An Expert Weighs In

A new survey out of the UK suggests that over two thirds of mums-to-be aren’t aware of how much they should be eating during pregnancy.

Commissioned by the National Charity Partnership, the poll found that more than 63 per cent of respondents felt pressure to eat larger meals than usual. But according to experts, that misconception could be having adverse consequences for both mum and bub.

Melanie McGrice, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia told Women’s Health that Australian women have similarly incorrect ideas about the quantity of food they should be consuming when they’re expecting.

“I find that most women have no idea what kind of dietary changes that they need to make, in terms of quality and quantity, they seem to be very aware of avoiding certain foods for listeria but unsure about the quantity of foods they should be consuming,” Melanie says.

The popular “eating for two” myth is particularly unhelpful.

“I think we should be eating for two in terms of nutrition but definitely not in terms of quantity,” Melanie says.  

“We need to remember that by the end of the first trimester your baby is only the size of a plum and even at full term, babies are only about three and a half kilograms so they’re not going to need a whole other persons kilojoule requirements.”

“Sometimes I do see that, people feel like they can eat seconds and that they can double their intake and they certainly can’t do that.”

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In fact, over 50% of Australian women are gaining more weight than recommended during their pregnancy. The number of kilograms that should be gained during pregnancy is dependant on your BMI at conception. If you’re underweight it’s between 12.5kg and 18kg, normal weight it’s 11.5kg to 16kg and if you’re overweight you should only be gaining between 7kgs and 11.5kgs.

Melanie says that putting on excess weight can make it difficult to return to a healthy weight once the baby is born, but of even bigger concern is that your baby is much more likely to develop childhood obesity. Women need to be particularly careful during the first trimester.

“In the first trimester the quantity of food doesn’t really need to be increased much at all unless the woman is underweight at conception.”

“So we really aim for between none, to a maximum of two kilograms of weight gain during the first trimester and the research shows that when women gain too much weight during the first trimester, that excess weight gain is more of a problem than at any other time throughout the pregnancy.”

But if you can’t ignore your new-found hankering for hot chips, Melanie says there’s a good reason for that.

“The most common, legitimate craving is for salt or salty foods, the reason for that is because we increase our blood stores significantly during pregnancy, by about 150% because obviously we need blood for our placenta and to feed our baby.”

“With the additional blood stores we need to drink a lot more fluid during pregnancy. So when people get dehydrated, because they’re not getting that extra fluid, often they’ll crave salty food which then encourages us to drink more fluid.”

And when it comes the quality of nutritional choices, Melanie says there’s one thing many mums are missing out on.

“There’s lots of nutritious foods that can help with pregnancy but if I could choose one it would be fish,” she told Women’s Health.

“I find a lot of women avoid fish during pregnancy because the fear of listeria and mercury so we really need to be looking for low mercury fish and cooking it properly to minimise risk. Salmon is a really good choice because it’s low mercury and high in omega three, just ensure it is cooked through.”

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