loss of appetite

What Causes Loss Of Appetite During Pregnancy?

Loss of appetite during pregnancy can be a common occurrence. It is essential to know the potential causes so you can take appropriate steps. 

Factors that may cause loss of appetite include nausea, and increased sensitivity to smells and tastes, hormonal changes that affect your sense of taste, weight gain or lack thereof as well as sleep deprivation. 

This article will cover some potential causes and solutions for getting your appetite back on track! 

Appetite Changes And Food Aversions During Pregnancy

Appetite changes and feelings of nausea or morning sickness are prominent features of pregnancy. 

Sometimes women will have food cravings, and some women will experience a food aversion — a strong dislike of certain foods. While these appetite changes might be pretty standard, they can make healthy eating during pregnancy a challenge.

What Causes Loss Of Appetite In The First Trimester? 

Loss of appetite often comes hand-in-hand with morning sickness, and nausea and vomiting affect an estimated 75 per cent of pregnant women. So when you’re bent over a toilet on the regular, it’s no wonder your appetite is a bit shy.

Morning sickness maybe your body’s instinctual way of protecting the fetus from potentially harmful foods — explaining some of those food aversions women commonly experience.

Increasing pregnancy hormones (including estrogen and hCG — the ones responsible for making you cry at that car commercial) also play a role in increasing nausea and your sensitivity to smell while decreasing your appetite. You may even have a metallic taste in your mouth.

How Can I Meet My Nutritional Needs In The First Trimester If I’ve Lost My Appetite?

Here are some tips to get the pregnancy nutrients you and your baby need if you’re not very hungry early on:

Drink up. Ensuring you consume enough liquids is more important than aiming for a specific caloric intake. 

Though it depends on you and your lifestyle, try to aim for around eight to 10 8-ounce glasses a day from all sources, including vegetables and fruits (just be mindful of your sugar intake on the latter). 

Warm water with lemon or ginger, ginger ale or ginger tea can be suitable substitutes for plain water if you’re nauseous. 

However, always check in with your doctor before sipping any herbal tea or other drink, as some are off-limits during pregnancy.

Please don’t overdo it. Instead, eat six small meals a day (your body will probably let off hunger signals every two hours), which will satisfy your small appetite — instead of force-feeding yourself larger portions of food.

Eat lightly. For the moments during the day when your appetite makes a brief appearance, consume as much protein and complex carbs as you can, which will keep your blood sugar stable, and you fuller for a bit longer. 

Fruits such as bananas may also be more accessible to the stomach, pair with a spoonful of yogurt for added calcium and protein. But, of course, whole grain or plain crackers are almost always your friends.

Avoid strong-smelling foods. That includes spicy and fatty dishes — which may mean skipping fast-food staples like burgers, fries and chicken nuggets. Instead, opt for a salad with grilled chicken or salmon, if you can stomach it.

Use your good taste. Sure, variety is usually the spice of an excellent nutritional life. But if spinach makes you queasy while you can stomach kale, by all means, eat the kale. You’ll get back to the spinach soon enough.

Change the temperature. Many women prefer their foods and drinks chilled when they’re pregnant, while others like it hot. If you fit one of those categories, adjust your diet accordingly.

Take your vitamins. Make taking your prenatal vitamins as routine as brushing your teeth. 

Ideally, start taking it at least a month before conception, or at a minimum, to help fill in temporary nutritional gaps at the time of birth.

Get additional help. To help combat nausea, talk to your doctor about taking a particular prenatal vitamin with extra B6. 

Or ask about prescription medications, which contain a combination of vitamin B and antihistamine that may help decrease nausea and increase your appetite.

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Loss Of Appetite During Pregnancy In The Second Trimester 

What Causes Loss Of Appetite In The Second Trimester? 

Many women find that this is the golden period of pregnancy — you’re showing and glowing but without the watermelon-sized baby bump yet.

Even better news: Many pregnant moms find that their appetite returns; gone are the mornings (and afternoons … and evenings) spent doubled over in the ladies’ room. 

You may be more ravenous these days than ever (so this is what it means to eat for two!).

That said, not everyone has that seemingly insatiable second-trimester appetite. So if you find you’re still queasy and not very hungry a lot of the time, keep up your routine from the first trimester. 

Also, joint starting toward the end of the second trimester: Feeling fuller and short of breath soon after eating because of your growing baby and uterus, which affects your appetite.

loss of appetite

How Can I Meet My Nutritional Needs In The Second Trimester If I’ve Lost My Appetite?

If you’re still experiencing appetite loss, continue those first-trimester rituals: 

  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Eat small portions and smaller but more frequent meals.
  • Stand up while eating.
  • Avoid strong-smelling, fatty and spicy foods.
  • Make smart nutritional swaps.
  • Take your prenatal vitamin daily to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you and your baby need.
  • Once your tummy settles, and your appetite is more regular, it’s an excellent time to focus on getting enough of the most essential nutrients, including:
  • Calcium: 1,200 mg a day (including what you get from your prenatal vitamin)
  • Protein: 75 g a day
  • Folate: 400 to 600 mcg from all sources (if you choose high-fibre foods like legumes and green leafy veggies, it may help with pregnancy constipation)
  • Omega 3: 200 to 300 mg daily from all sources to boost baby’s brainpower (try for two servings of pregnancy-safe fish a week as soon as you can stomach it)

Loss Of Appetite During Pregnancy In The Third Trimester 

What Causes Loss Of Appetite In The Third Trimester? 

During the final months of your pregnancy, nausea has most likely disappeared — and been replaced by your growing belly. 

Your appetite may be fully back with a vengeance, but often after only a few bites, you feel full and short of breath (which may have begun toward the end of the second trimester).

That’s because your growing uterus leaves little room for the rest of your organs, including your stomach. 

Add to that the onset of pregnancy-induced heartburn caused by this displacement (which can turn spicy or fried foods and citrus fruits into your enemy), along with hormonally-induced constipation (which can make things slow down so much you don’t feel like filling up again).

While the third trimester brings less appetite loss than you experienced in the first trimester and more appetite hindrance, eating well can still be pretty tricky, though it’s still essential.

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How Can I Meet My Nutritional Needs In The Third Trimester If I’ve Lost My Appetite?

Think small. Just as you did during the first 12 weeks, aim for small meals throughout the day, so you stay full and get enough of the essential nutrients. 

You won’t eat much more as your stomach is quickly being squished, but you will likely have more luck if you graze throughout the day.

And especially now that your nausea is gone, check that your meals pack a nutritional punch rather than just consuming empty calories.

Fill up on fibre. Continuing to eat plenty of fibre-rich foods (think leafy greens, whole grain bread, avocados, asparagus and sunflower seeds) will ease constipation and keep all systems a-go.

Try standing up when you eat. It may be more comfortable to eat while you’re standing rather than sitting, so you’re putting less pressure on your already growing tummy.

Drink lots of liquids (also suitable if you’re stopped up) like you did in the first trimester.

Keep taking your prenatal vitamins. This is still very important and helps you get the vitamins and minerals you and your baby need even when you cannot eat.

You may often feel like eating is yet another thing to check off your to-do list. That’s normal. But it’s a small to-do with a big payoff: a healthy, thriving baby.

Is It Normal To Lose Your Appetite During Pregnancy?

Yes, it is normal to experience a loss of appetite or a change in food preferences during pregnancy, and these may play a part in how much your weight changes during pregnancy.

Research shows that around 6 in 10 women experience food aversion while pregnant.

The reasons for these changes are still unknown, but some experts suggest there is a range of hormonal, psychological or cultural causes.

What Is The Difference Between Low Appetite And Food Aversion?

While food aversions involve a strong dislike of specific foods, low appetite can occur due to a more generalised feeling of nausea that is sometimes also associated with vomiting.

When Are Food Aversions Likely To Start And End?

Low appetite resulting from generalised nausea can take hold at any time of day (it’s not necessarily ‘morning sickness’) and tends to peak between week six and week 14 of pregnancy. 

Food aversions are more likely to come and go but generally settle down as the pregnancy progresses.

For this reason, if you’ve gone off a particular food that is important for your diet, you can always check back in a couple of weeks, and your aversion may have passed. 

On the other hand, if your nausea is preventing you from getting enough nutrition, or if you are vomiting and not able to keep fluids down or if you are losing weight, it’s time to see your doctor.

What Food Are Aversions Common?

Common food aversions include:

  • alcohol
  • coffee/tea
  • meat
  • fatty food
  • spicy food
  • eggs

Pregnant women with nausea generally prefer bland and sweet foods during pregnancy over flavoursome and strongly spiced foods.

What Causes Food Aversions?

While the cause of food aversions during pregnancy isn’t clear, hormonal changes could affect the food you find appealing, particularly early in your pregnancy. 

For example, gonadotropin (also known as hCG) is a hormone produced during pregnancy. It is known for causing feelings of nausea, appetite changes and food aversion. 

Pregnancy can also cause greater sensitivity to smell and taste, affecting the foods you prefer to eat.

How Can I Cope With My Food Aversions?

Eating the foods you enjoy, and avoiding foods you don’t feel like eating, is generally a promising approach in pregnancy so long as it’s done in moderation. 

If the foods you don’t have an appetite for include meat or a particular vegetable, consider how you might substitute these for other alternatives. For example, cover meat for nuts.

Another option is to ‘disguise’ leafy green vegetables by blending them into smoothies with fruit. This way, you get the same nutrients and essential vitamins despite your changing food preferences.

Remember that generally, appetite changes during pregnancy are unlikely to harm you or your baby or significantly compromise your nutrition. 

If you are unsure which foods are most important for your diet or have no appetite for foods containing essential nutrients, seek advice.

How To Treat Appetite Loss During Pregnancy

If you’re experiencing appetite loss, you may wonder how to get your eating back on track.

Foods To Prioritise

There are a few foods you can prioritise even if you feel you can’t eat whole meals. These will help ensure adequate nutrient intake for you and your baby.

Many of the following foods are simple to make, small in portion size, filling, and easy on your stomach.

  • Protein-rich snacks: hard-boiled eggs, Greek yogurt, roasted chickpeas, cheese and crackers, and sliced chicken, turkey, or ham served cold
  • Bland, fibre-packed veggies: sweet potatoes, green beans, baby carrots (steamed or raw), and raw spinach salad
  • Sweet, simple bites: fresh berries, oatmeal, dried fruit, and cold dairy products like plain cottage cheese
  • Bland grains/starches: quinoa, brown rice, pasta, macaroni and cheese, and baked or mashed potato
  • Soup: chicken noodle soup and chicken rice soup
  • Liquids: simple broths and healthy smoothies

Other Strategies

If your appetite loss is linked to nausea or vomiting, try eating small, more frequent meals, avoiding spicy and fatty foods, and supplementing with ginger and thiamine. If acupuncture is an option for you, it may also help.

If you have nutrient deficiencies linked to appetite loss, you may need high-dose supplements to restore normal levels. Any accessories should be prescribed and monitored by a medical professional.

You can also consult your healthcare provider for individualised treatment.

When To Be Concerned

If you’re experiencing occasional appetite loss or a loss of appetite for specific foods, there’s usually no need to worry as long as you’re consuming enough nutrients daily.

For example, if you’re eating nutrient-dense meals consistently and your weight gain is appropriate to promote fetal growth, occasional appetite loss should not be a concern.

Some pregnant women may lose their appetite for specific foods, including highly fragrant foods and meat. Yet, this is a relatively common occurrence and not typically a cause for concern.

However, if you’re regularly skipping meals or lose your appetite for more than a day, you should contact your healthcare provider for advice.

This is because it’s crucial to get enough nutrients to support your health and the health of your growing baby.

loss of appetite (2)

Potential Complications Related To Poor Intake During Pregnancy

Undernutrition can lead to pregnancy-related complications, including poor fetal growth, low birth weight, and maternal weight loss. 

It’s also associated with lower mental function and behavioural problems in children.

Both macronutrients and micronutrients are essential to sustain a healthy pregnancy.

Pregnant women with chronically poor appetites risk anemia, fetal growth abnormalities, and preterm birth (32Trusted Source, 33Trusted Source).

The Bottom Line

As your body adjusts to pregnancy, you may find certain foods unappealing or experience a loss of appetite. Sometimes, you can’t bring yourself to eat even if you’re hungry.

Remember that appetite loss is relatively common and often linked to other symptoms like nausea and vomiting. You may find that your appetite fluctuates, which is perfectly normal.

If you lose your appetite but still feel hungry, you can try eating small servings of bland, simple foods that are filling, rich in nutrients, and easy on your stomach.

If you experience chronic or long-lasting appetite loss, consult a health professional.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are many reasons why a woman might have a low appetite during pregnancy

But the good news is that it’s possible to get your nutritional needs met in the first trimester if you’ve lost your appetite by making some minor adjustments to what and how often you eat. For example, try eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day or adding extra protein to increase calorie intake. 

These changes should help boost your energy levels and bring back your taste for food too! 

Remember that any weight loss from dieting must be temporary because women need as much energy as they can muster when pregnant, so please don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re struggling with these issues.

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