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Hunger Pangs During Pregnancy

Hunger Pangs During Pregnancy


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Hunger Pangs During Pregnancy

You’ve heard all about weird pregnancy cravings like pickles and ice cream (for me it was frosted donuts, and unfortunately my job sat next to a bakery—but that’s another story). You probably don’t hear as much about the ravenous hunger that often comes with pregnancy.


But if you never feel full, start contemplating lunch the instant you finish breakfast, and basically just want to eat every second of the day, you’re not alone.


Clearly, cravings plus insatiable hunger can easily equal excess weight gain. But gaining too much weight during pregnancy can lead to hypertension, gestational diabetes, and sometimes complications with labor and delivery.


So, how can you manage your hunger pangs while staying healthy and happy (instead of hangry)? Grab a nutritious snack and settle in—I’ll tell you everything you need to know about those pesky hunger pangs!

 hunger pains during pregnancy

Why Am I Always Hungry During Pregnancy?

Have you ever felt extremely hungry after an intense workout? That’s because when you use energy and burn calories, your body requires fuel in the form of more calories. The same concept applies to pregnancy.


Since your body is working extra hard, you need extra fuel to keep going. The food you eat is giving your body the energy to grow your baby (and the placenta), even when you’re fast asleep. And speaking of that growing baby, he or she needs nutrients to develop bone, muscle, and other tissues.


In early pregnancy, nonstop hunger may also be a response to nonstop vomiting. If the food you eat isn’t being absorbed into your body, your body’s going to demand more—loudly and insistently. 


When Does Your Appetite Typically Increase During Pregnancy?

Some women experience appetite increases during the first trimester. For most women, though, hunger usually reaches its peak during the second trimester.


At this point, you’re (hopefully) feeling less nauseous and queasy, which can lead to spikes in appetite. Plus, your baby is getting bigger and needing more nutrients.


How To Manage Hunger Pains During Pregnancy?

Hunger pangs are sometimes called “hunger pains.” And that’s not just because the words sound similar. Hunger pangs can hurt! This pain is caused by the stomach contracting when it’s empty, an action that’s triggered by the hormone ghrelin.


Ghrelin is released when the stomach is empty. Ghrelin levels can also rise when you eat too few calories or too many greasy, fatty foods. And when your insulin levels go down, ghrelin levels spike. That’s why junk food fills you up only briefly, just for hunger to strike again within an hour.


With this info in mind, here are a few strategies to manage your hunger pangs—and pains—during pregnancy.   

  • Stay hydrated. Sometimes, your body confuses dehydration with hunger. And right now, your body needs to be hydrated more than ever. Advice on how much water to drink varies, but aim for eight to twelve 8-ounce glasses daily. Skip the sugary sodas, which will make your hunger pangs worse.
  • Eat small meals throughout the day. Mini meals throughout the day benefit pregnant mamas for a few reasons. Your belly will never feel totally empty, keeping those hunger pains at bay. Plus, you’re less likely to overeat, which can worsen other unpleasant pregnancy symptoms like bloating, cramping, and heartburn.
  • Keep healthy snacks on hand. When you’re at your hungriest, you’re most likely to give into your worst cravings. You’re also likely to go for easy, convenient foods that will fill you up fast. To avoid binging on junk (and summoning ghrelin), stay prepared with an arsenal of healthy snacks. Choose snacks that are both nutritious and easy, like peanut butter and apple slices, baby carrots with hummus, and trail mix.
  • Eat complex carbs, protein, fiber, and healthy fat. Foods that will fill you up for the long run (or at least longer) are complex carbs, proteins, foods that are high in fiber, and healthy fats. These include whole grains, oatmeal, eggs, fruits, nut butter, dairy, salad, vegetable soup, etc. Turn to these foods at the grocery store so your kitchen is full of healthy, filling options.
  • Increase your calorie intake, but don’t eat for two. As you attempt to avoid sugary, greasy cravings, well-meaning friends cheerfully tell you, “It’s OK, you’re eating for two!” But doctors caution that “eating for two” doesn’t mean doubling your usual calorie intake. During the first trimester, most moms don’t need additional calories. Once you enter the second trimester, you only need about 340 extra calories, then 450 in the third trimester. Still, make sure you’re getting those extra calories, or you may feel serious hunger pains.


What Else Can I Do About Increased Appetite When I’m Pregnant?

If you’re still hungry, you’re probably still tempted to give yourself a free pass and eat whatever you want. Trust me, I’ve been there. Here are some other tips for staying healthy instead of hungry:

  • Get more sleep. Sleep deprivation also increases levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin. That’s right: Lack of sleep is linked to overeating. I know, it’s not the best news for sleepy, hungry expectant moms. Still, there a few strategies you can try to improve your sleep. Develop a relaxing bedtime routine, avoid screens for an hour prior to bed, keep a consistent bedtime and wake time, and consider purchasing a maternity pillow. If you improve your sleep, you’ll reduce your appetite.
  • Enjoy an existing hobby or find a new one. If your mind isn’t occupied, you’re probably daydreaming about food. Enjoy a musical or artistic hobby, read books, make something for your future child, work on puzzles, etc. Basically, do anything that distracts from visions of cheese fries dancing through your head.
  • Get outdoors. Similarly, just getting some fresh air and enjoying nature can take your mind off food. Go for a relaxing walk or spend the day at a favorite nature site.
  • Pay attention to weight gain. If your weight gain was minimal in the first trimester, your voracious appetite may be your body urging you to catch up. But remember that gaining weight too fast can be dangerous, and talk to your doctor if you’re worried about rapid weight gain.
  • Treat yourself occasionally. When you constantly deprive yourself of the foods you’re craving, you may set yourself up for a junk food binge (like scarfing frosted donuts in the parking lot of your job). Instead, treat yourself occasionally. Eat a few bites of your favorite food daily, or treat yourself to the whole enchilada (or personal pizza, or ice cream sundae) once a week.


When Will My Pregnancy Appetite Decrease?

Hang in there! Your pregnancy appetite and hunger pangs will likely decrease sometime during the third trimester. Your baby is now taking up so much space that there’s little room left for your loud, complaining stomach. Even if you do get hungry, you’ll probably fill up much faster.


But remember that your body does need extra calories during the third trimester—about 450 extra, to be exact. It helps to eat five or six smaller meals a day, preferably packed with nutrients.


With an out-of-control appetite that asserts itself with painful hunger pangs, it’s easy to give into your every craving during pregnancy. Treating yourself too much, though, can have serious consequences down the line. Manage your appetite and hunger pangs with these tips, and you’ll have a healthier, happier pregnancy.


But don’t be afraid to go for a donut every once in a while—you deserve it, mama!


MedlinePlus, Eating right during pregnancy, October 2019.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Weight Gain During PregnancyJanuary 17, 2019.

Office On Women's Health, Staying healthy and safe, March 2019.

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Nutrition During Pregnancy, February 2018.

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  • Ashley Cullins
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