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Sorry, expectant moms: ‘Eating for two’ isn’t really a thing

OHSU dietician offers tips, pregnancy benefits to staying on track this holiday season (and beyond)
pregnant woman seated on floor, laughing, holding 2 cupcakes
Contrary to popular belief, pregnant women don’t need to increase their calorie intake until the second trimester of pregnancy, and only 300 extra calories a day is adequate. (Getty Images)

Another scoop of stuffing? A second piece of pie?

Why not! After all, I am pregnant…

While “eating for two” may sound like a pregnancy bonus, particularly during the holiday season, research studies have shown that the practice of dramatically increasing calorie count isn’t necessary for the proper nutrition of mom or baby.

In fact, it could result in serious consequences.

headshot of christie naze, dark hair, smiling at camera
Christie Naze, R.D., C.D.E.

Christie Naze, R.D., C.D.E, a clinical dietician at the OHSU Center for Women’s Health, said women don’t need to increase their calorie intake until the second trimester of pregnancy. Even then, only 300 extra calories per day is adequate to fuel both their body and nourish their unborn child.

“A typical Western-style diet, or one that is high in fats and added sugars, is associated with increased risk of gestational diabetes, hypertension and excess weight gain,” Naze said. “Healthier dietary patterns help a woman’s body more successfully meet the challenges of pregnancy.”

Additionally, a mother’s prenatal diet may play a role in influencing her child’s longer-term health habits, as well as developmental milestones.

headshot of elinor sullivan, long dark hair, smiling at camera
Elinor Sullivan, Ph.D.

A recent study of non-human primates, conducted by Elinor Sullivan, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Division of Neuroscience at the Oregon National Primate Research Center at OHSU, determined that offspring born to mothers who consumed higher-fat diets during pregnancy are at higher risk for disorders such as anxiety, depression or ADHD.

So, how can soon-to-be moms ensure a proper diet despite daily temptations to indulge their already growing bellies? Naze suggests the idea of “thinking for two, instead of eating for two:”

  • Consider diet quality. The majority of extra calories consumed during pregnancy should come from nutrient-dense choices from all food groups, including whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats such as nuts or avocados.
  • Limit sugary, processed foods and beverages, including juices.
  • Develop a healthy balance with food intake and physical activity to help achieve the right amount of weight gain for your unique pregnancy.
  • Place a visual, such as My Pregnancy Plate, on your refrigerator to remind you of all of the delicious, and nutritious, food options that can be a part of a healthy pregnancy diet. 
Graphic showing a plate showing the best things for women to eat while pregnant

The most important thing to remember, said Naze, is to be kind and compassionate to yourself.

“At the end of the day, don’t sweat the sweets! It’s OK to enjoy calorie-rich foods in moderation, particularly during special occasions and holidays. Just work to balance your indulgences with physical activity such as a post-feast walk. Then, develop a plan to return to healthy habits as soon as possible in order to optimize the immediate and long-term health of you and your growing family.”

OHSU researchers, led by Elinor Sullivan, Ph.D., and Joel Nigg, Ph.D., are currently enrolling participants in a clinical study, known as PEACH – Prenatal Environment and Child Health --  that will further examine how maternal diet during pregnancy may affect child brain development and behavior.

Additional information, and enrollment details, is available here.

The PEACH study is funded by the National Institutes of Health (R01 MH117177).

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