Loss Of Appetite During Pregnancy: Causes And Tips To Manage

Loss Of Appetite During Pregnancy Causes And Tips To Manage

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Loss of appetite during pregnancy isn’t uncommon. Several mothers experience pregnancy-related issues, such as nausea, food aversion, and constipation, making them eat less than recommended (1). Generally, occasional appetite loss is benign and subsides by the end of the first trimester. However, if it becomes persistent or worsens, poor appetite can cause malnourishment, affecting the mother and her baby’s health. Hence, it is essential for expecting mothers to know why appetite loss during pregnancy happens and what they can do to overcome it.

Read this post as we tell you about the causes and complications of loss of appetite during pregnancy and what you can do to meet your nutritional needs.

Reasons For Appetite Loss During First Trimester

Morning sickness, nausea, and vomiting are the main reasons for appetite loss in the first trimester. According to the UK National Childbirth Trust (NCT), 50 to 80 percent of expecting mothers experience them early in pregnancy (2). Additionally, sensitivity to strong smells and the development of metallic taste in the mouth are other reasons for food aversion, leading to appetite reduction. Fluctuation in pregnancy hormones levels (leptin and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)) is the possible cause for all these issues.

Generally, reduced appetite in the first trimester doesn’t affect the health of the mother or the baby. However, if they turn severe, they can lead to adverse outcomes. For instance, a mother with hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) experiences persistent and severe nausea and vomiting, leading to poor appetite, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalance (3). So, what can you do to ensure you and your growing fetus get optimum nourishment?

Tips To Meet The Nutritional Needs In The First Trimester

Here are some practical tips to ensure you get the nutrients you need for a healthy pregnancy.

  1. Break the meals: Frequent vomiting or nausea can cause severe food aversion and appetite loss. If you are facing this issue, don’t force-feed yourself. Instead, break your three big meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) into four to five smaller meals and eat at set intervals. This way, the amount of food you eat in a meal is much less, which is beneficial to keep the food down in the stomach. Also, you are eating smaller portions of food at regular intervals, which helps keep your blood sugar levels in good control.
  1. Make healthy choices: Whenever you feel hungry during the day, eat healthy, easily digestible foods, such as bananas, unsweetened yogurts or smoothies, and whole-grain crackers. Eating healthy foods containing plenty of protein, fiber, and other essential nutrients ensures you and your baby get sufficient nourishment.
  1. Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water and other fluids to keep yourself hydrated. It’s vital to fight dehydration that can occur due to reduced food intake. So, drink unsweetened, homemade lemonade, smoothies, and vegetable juices. Coconut water, buttermilk, and infused water are other fluids you can consume in between meals to ensure you get nutrients even if you don’t have sufficient intake.
  1. Avoid foods with a strong smell: If you can’t stand the smell of your favorite food now, you aren’t alone. Food aversion due to a particular smell is fairly common in early and also later stages of pregnancy in some cases. If the smell of a particular food is bothering you, try masking its smell with other aromatic foods or herbs.
  1. Consume prenatal vitamins: Take your prenatal vitamins daily. If you have any insufficiency or deficiency, pay special attention to its fulfillment. Talk to your doctor to know if you need any standalone vitamins or minerals. Additionally, consult a nutritionist and make a well-balanced meal plan suited for your appetite.

Besides, seek prompt medical guidance if you are completely unable to eat. Your healthcare professional may prescribe medicines that can reduce nausea or vomiting and help regain your appetite.

Note: Chronic appetite loss can cause undernutrition, leading to poor fetal growth, low birth weight, and preterm labor.

Reasons For Appetite Loss During Second Trimester

Most women overcome nausea and vomiting by the 14th week of pregnancy (4). However, it may continue for a few more months or until the end of pregnancy for some women. Then, several women experience reduced appetite due to their growing bellies, which press on their stomachs, making them feel full quickly. Rising progesterone levels is another issue that may reduce appetite by making the gastrointestinal movement sluggish and slowing down digestion. Mental health conditions, such as anxiety and prenatal depression, may also affect appetite.

According to research, depression may reduce one’s appetite, especially for healthy food, and increase intake of unhealthy foods (5). Poor diet quality can affect the mother and her unborn baby’s health. Hence, if you feel anxious or depressed, contact your healthcare provider. Don’t shy away from opening up about mental health blues. Instead, get them treated so that they don’t affect your eating habits negatively.

Tips To Meet The Nutritional Needs In The Second Trimester

If you are in your second trimester and still have appetite issues, adhere to your first trimester rituals. In addition, pay attention to specific nutrients that will support your baby’s rapid growth and development during this trimester (6) (7).

  1. Calcium: You need 1000 micrograms (mcg) of calcium per day during pregnancy. The body needs calcium to regulate body fluids and support the growth and development of your baby’s bones and teeth.
  1. Protein: Pregnant women need 71g of protein per day. They require more protein to increase blood supply during pregnancy. Additionally, they need extra protein to support the breast and uterine tissues growth and fetal brain development.
  1. Folate: Women need 600 micrograms (mcg) of folate daily. This micronutrient is required for the development of the baby’s healthy nervous system. Also, it reduces the risk of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.
  1. Iron: Blood volume during pregnancy increases. It happens because your body is making blood for you and your baby. Hence, expecting mothers require 27mg of iron daily.

Besides these, focus on your Omega-3 and Vitamin C intake during pregnancy. You need Omega-3 fats for the healthy development of your baby’s heart, eye, and brain. On the other hand, Vitamin C is vital for facilitating several physiological functions, including your baby’s tooth and bone development.

Reasons For Appetite Loss During Third Trimester

Most pregnant women do not experience nausea and vomiting in the third trimester. Therefore, there is no true appetite loss in the third trimester. However, the growing tummy in the third trimester causes laborious breathing, making eating uncomfortable. Women also experience slow digestion, pregnancy-induced heartburn (acid reflux), and constipation in the third trimester, hampering their appetite further.

Tips To Meet The Nutritional Needs In The Third Trimester

Adhere to healthy eating and active lifestyle practices even in the last trimester. Focus on the following steps in particular to fight digestive issues, such as heartburn and constipation:

  • Eat small portions of food at regular intervals
  • Consume high-protein, high-fiber foods from different food groups
  • Drink plenty of water and fluids
  • Stand and eat if you find it inconvenient to sit while eating

Expecting mothers undergo several changes throughout pregnancy, which could cause temporary loss of appetite. While appetite loss is harmless in most cases, its persistence may pose health risks for both the mother and the baby. Therefore, knowing the reasons for losing appetite during pregnancy can help you overcome those issues and maintain optimum nutritional status.


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Swati Patwal

Swati Patwal is a clinical nutritionist and toddler mom with over eight years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She started her career as a CSR project coordinator for a healthy eating and active lifestyle project catering to school children. Then she worked as a nutrition faculty and clinical nutrition coach in different organizations. Her interest in scientific writing... more