Author's opinion

Hunger Early Pregnancy: Causes, Tips To Handle In 2024

Alexandra Gregg, RD, Former Writer

Published at 08:08

Dr G. Michael DiLeo, MD

Medical reviewer

Your body is working overtime growing a tiny human, which is no small task. Photo: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

Have you had insatiable hunger ever since you found out you were pregnant? If so, you are not alone. Many women suffer intense pregnancy hunger. Your body is working overtime growing a tiny human, which is no small task.

Your body is not only growing a small human but also increasing your blood volume, the size of your uterus, and hormone levels.[1] So if you are currently experiencing hunger during pregnancy, don’t worry. Instead, read on to find out why and how to handle it.

Is It Normal To Be Extra Hungry In Early Pregnancy?

So when it comes to hunger in early pregnancy when does it start? You may notice increased hunger pangs from the beginning of your healthy pregnancy and wonder if it’s normal to be extra hungry early. And even though every person is different, an increased appetite during pregnancy is very common. This is mainly due to all the hormonal fluctuations[2] in your body.

Hunger Early Pregnancy In The First Trimester

You may wonder “Why am I always hungry first trimester?” All of these changes have survival benefits for our species. These changes include:

  • Craving more calories (to make up for the extra physiology pregnancy creates) 
  • Alteration in the blood flow 
  • Changes in taste buds (to make you desire things you need or need to avoid because they might be dangerous.

Unfortunately, these fluctuations can also make you nauseous or sensitive to certain odors. (Tastebuds and smell share the same nerves.) This excellent pregnancy side effect is called morning sickness. (Excellent, because nausea indicates a healthy amount of hCG–the pregnancy hormone–in your body.)

Unfortunately, the word “morning” is a terrible description as it can occur anytime, day or night. Morning sickness makes it difficult to eat healthy options, and it can begin as early as one month after conception.

Some tricks that might help with this include eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day to keep yourself from getting overly full with overeating or excessively hungry between meals. In addition, one of the hormones increasing at this time is progesterone which slows the speed of food through your stomach, leading to that overly full feeling.

Another reason for increased appetite early pregnancy is that your body needs constant energy to help grow this tiny baby (who is getting less tiny every day!). The first trimester is when the following fetal developments[3] take place:

  • Spinal cord
  • Brain
  • Heart and cardiovascular system
  • Eyes
  • Ears 
  • Fingers
  • Arms
  • Legs
  • Toes
  • Intestines
  • Liver

That’s a lot of work for your body! It works all day and needs a healthy diet and nutrients for all of this development.

Is Hunger An Early Sign Of Pregnancy?

As with most things, pregnancy symptoms can vary from person to person. Some women have lots of symptoms, while some have none.

The typical classic signs of pregnancy include:

  • Missed period
  • Sore or swollen breasts
  • Increased need to pee
  • Fatigue
  • Morning sickness
  • Nausea 

As stated, these are the classic symptoms of pregnancy. Increased appetite can be a symptom but is unlikely to be the only symptom. Most women see a combination of classic symptoms during early pregnancy.

When Does Appetite Increase In Pregnancy?

When Does Appetite Increase In Pregnancy?
You should always choose nutrient-dense foods to help your developing baby. Photo: LightField Studios/Shutterstock

Again this depends on the woman, but on average most women notice they are hungry all the time around 20 weeks (i.e., well into the middle of their second trimester). This could be especially true as “catch-up” if nausea plagued your first trimester; your body will try to get in all the nutrients it can once you’re able to keep food down.

The second trimester is usually when women feel their best. There is less nausea, and fatigue, and breast tenderness is also down. Furthermore, pregnancy weight gain is common, and the pregnant belly begins to show beyond the baby bump seen just after the end of the first trimester. At this point, the hormone rise slows and becomes more level, and all these things contribute to a happier mama.

In the third trimester, you may see your appetite drop off again. This is because acid reflux, constipation, and shortness of breath occur in most women.

In addition, it’s getting crowded inside your abdomen, and your stomach is pressed on to feel full or become directly irritated; also, your diaphragm has less room to move, preventing deep breaths. All of these symptoms can make your appetite much less.

To help with acid reflux, steer clear of spicy foods as they can increase reflux. And of course, if you smoke, stop for this and many other crucial reasons, same with alcohol. Finally, for constipation, make sure you stay hydrated. This means you need to get more than 90 ounces of water daily.

The amount of calories you need each trimester depends on a few things, like what you weighed before pregnancy and your age.

However, regardless of weight or age, you should always choose nutrient-dense foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to help your developing baby. In addition, it’s typically a good idea to take a one-a-day prenatal multivitamin supplement to ensure you receive all the nutrients you need.

In general, women at a healthy weight before pregnancy generally require the following guidelines:

  • First trimester–no extra calories are needed 
  • Second trimester–extra 340 calories a day are needed
  • Third trimester–an extra 450 calories a day are needed

The most common phrase regarding food and pregnancy is, “You’re eating for two now!” When in actuality, you’re eating for three:

  • Maintenance of your nutrition for your increasing blood supply, hormones, and other changes in your body
  • Nourishment for your growing baby
  • Energy for the maternal-child combination has its physiology–the pregnancy itself.

A baby needs lots of nutrients, and since calorie intake can add up fast, you must economize with your food choices. So make sure to choose lots of fresh foods and avoid junk food with empty calories.

An excellent example of a 300-calorie snack might be a half cup of trail mix or ten whole wheat crackers with a serving of peanut butter and a half cup of fruit.

How To Handle Constant Hunger During Pregnancy?

How To Handle Constant Hunger During Pregnancy?
Avoid hunger pangs by staying hydrated, getting a good amount of lean protein, and being smart in eating habits. Photo: Just Life/Shutterstock

So what can you do when you feel hungry constantly? First, ensure you are hydrated! It is typical for pregnant women to notice consistent hunger when they may be just dehydrated. Dehydration symptoms mirror hunger symptoms and, therefore, both can be confused with one another.

Second, focus on getting a lot of lean protein at each meal. Research[4] has shown us that protein makes people feel satiated for longer compared to carbs and fat.

Some good lean protein sources include:

  • Low-mercury fish
  • Eggs
  • Beans
  • Chicken
  • Turkey   

Pregnant women should aim for the recommended daily protein intake.[5] If you are having trouble getting enough protein, check out our recommendations for the best pregnancy-safe protein powders.

Third, snack smart when you feel hungry. There is a lot to keep in mind when it comes to snacking. Sugar passes freely from you to your baby, mucking up fetal insulin levels and creating developmental problems.

You will need nutrient-dense foods that are healthy and balanced to ensure the proper growth and development of your little one. Admittedly, nausea and loss of appetite can get tricky.

Choose healthy snacks high in vitamins and minerals to ensure you get proper nutrition and essential nutrients. Here are some great examples of healthy foods:

  • Fresh fruit with whole-fat Greek yogurt (keep added sugars in yogurt to less than 6 grams)
  • Fresh vegetables with hummus
  • Cottage cheese and fruit or vegetables
  • If nauseated, try saltines or whole-grain bread
  • If you are having heartburn, try bananas, celery, cucumber, or nuts

Lastly, select nutrient-dense, fiber-rich foods high in folic acid and vitamin C when choosing what to eat. High-fiber foods will also help with constipation and keep you feeling fuller for longer. 

In addition, folic acid in the first trimester helps to lower the risk of spina bifida in children, and vitamin C helps your body to make collagen which is not only crucial for your baby’s body structure but also protects against damage to your ligaments which can get weakened from your progesterone.  

  • Foods high in folic acid[6] include dark leafy greens, fresh fruits, and beans.  
  • Foods high in vitamin C[7] include broccoli, oranges, orange juice, kiwi, and strawberries.    

Conclusion

What your body is going through is pretty amazing. When you think about it, you are pretty much Wonder Woman! If you are super hungry first trimester, you are neither unusual nor alone. You are growing an entire tiny human in just over nine months, which is pretty amazing and needs some extra energy. 

If you start getting frustrated with your constant hunger, remember everything your body is going through. Also, don’t fret because this is a finite time, and it’s such an honor and blessing to be able to carry a child. Some individuals never experience the joy and excitement of witnessing a baby’s growth, either by choice or–tragically–due to infertility; thus, you are blessed to experience it. However, staying focused on making healthy decisions goes beyond just you and your baby to the generations to come.

Resources

MANA adheres to strict sourcing guidelines and abstains from utilizing tertiary references. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research from reputable medical associations and institutions to ensure the accuracy of our articles. For more information regarding our editorial process, please refer to the provided resources.

  • Priya Soma-Pillay, Nelson‐Piercy, C., Heli Tolppanen and Alexandre Mebazaa (2016). Physiological changes in pregnancy. Cardiovascular journal of South Africa : official journal for Southern Africa Cardiac Society [and] South African Society of Cardiac Practitioners, [online] 27(2), pp.89–94. doi:https://doi.org/10.5830/cvja-2016-021.
  • Kumar, P. and Magon, N. (2012). Hormones in pregnancy. Nigerian medical journal : journal of the Nigeria Medical Association, [online] 53(4), pp.179–179. doi:https://doi.org/10.4103/0300-1652.107549.
  • Cartwright, J.E. and Whitley, G. (2017). Strategies for investigating the maternal-fetal interface in the first trimester of pregnancy: What can we learn about pathology? Placenta, [online] 60, pp.145–149. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.placenta.2017.05.003.
  • Halton, T.L. and Hu, F.B. (2004). The Effects of High Protein Diets on Thermogenesis, Satiety and Weight Loss: A Critical Review. Journal of The American College of Nutrition, [online] 23(5), pp.373–385. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/07315724.2004.10719381.
  • Nutrition.org. (2023). Home Page: The Journal of Nutrition. [online] Available at: https://jn.nutrition.org/
  • Nih.gov. (2016). Office of Dietary Supplements – Folate. [online] Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/
  • Nih.gov. (2020). Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin C. [online] Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/#h3