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How to Calculate Your Pregnancy Calorie Needs

Katrina Wharton |21, October 2014


Eating for two doesn't mean eating at will and eating anything you please. Pregnant women have specific nutritional needs, and a growing fetus has needs that vary by trimester.

You may know that during pregnancy, the pounds that you add depend on your pre-pregnancy weight. For instance, if you are of regular weight, you should gain 25 to 35 pounds; if you are underweight you should aim for 28 to 40 pounds; if you are overweight, you should only gain 15 to 25. Those who fall into the obese category should consult a doctor, but plan on gaining between 9 and 25 pounds, depending on your circumstance. If you are pregnant with twins, expect to gain between 35 and 45 pounds.

How to Calculate the Number of Calories Requirements When Pregnant

A few formulas exist to help us determine the calorie level needed in light of activity level as well as the condition of pregnancy. Some of the more popular calculations include the Harris-Benedict Equation, and the latest one, the Institute of Medicine Equation, which is based on the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the new food pyramid, MyPyramid.

Calorie needs are based on a person's activity level and their basal metabolic rate, or BMR. The BMR is the number of calories burned if at rest all day. Calorie levels also differ by gender, age and body composition. Factors such as gender, weight, height, and age are factors that determine a person's calorie needs. For this article, we will focus primarily calculating calorie need for a pregnant women using the Harris Benedict Formula.

Step 1: Calculate Your Pre-pregnancy Calorie Needs

BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years)

Calorie Needs During Pregnancy = (BMR * Activity Level) + Extra Pregnancy Calories

Step 2: Determine Your Activity Level

Sedentary (little or no exercise) - 1.2

Lightly active (light exercise/work 1-3 days per week) - 1.375

Moderately active (moderate exercise/work 3-5 days per week) - 1.55

Very active (hard exercise/work 6-7 days a week) - 1.725

Extra active (very hard exercise/work 6-7 days a week) - 1.9

Most people choose lightly active or higher multiplier. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the medical definition of sedentary means "doing or requiring much sitting: characterized by a lack of physical activity." If you are on bed rest, then sedentary is most appropriate.

Step 3: Determine Extra Pregnancy Calorie Needs

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the average pregnant woman should expect to take in 2200 to 2900 calories a day. However, they caution those are not the guidelines for the entire pregnancy. For instance, in the first trimester, a pregnant woman does not need any extra calories at all. In the second trimester, you should try for an additional 340 calories a day to support your baby's development. During your last trimester of pregnancy, an optimum caloric intake would be increase to the 450 calorie range. This would equate roughly to eating a serving of lowfat Greek yogurt (120 Calories), two pieces of whole wheat toast (150 calories), and about 25 almonds (173 Calories).

If you find that you are gaining more than the recommended weight, talk to your doctor about your calorie needs, as adjustments to may be needed.


Your diet needs to be both well-balanced and healthy. Get a variety of vegetables each day, but don't just nibble on carrots and broccoli all day. Make certain you get plenty of calcium, folate, and iron. Keep your proteins up by eating lean meats, legumes and beans and dairy foods. Don't neglect whole grains, which are filling and healthy at the same time. In addition, be sure to take your prenatal vitamin as directed by your doctor.

Also, be certain to drink plenty of water while pregnant. You can get dehydrated easily while pregnant. You get water in your juices, too. However, avoid sugary soft drinks as they just add empty calories and possibly caffeine.

Ways to Stay on a Healthy Track

Learn what you should gain in each trimester, and pay attention at each doctor's visit when you are weighed. Keep track of your weight throughout your pregnancy; don't just rely on your doctor to follow it.

Talk to your physician about your caloric needs and any special dietary concerns you have, such as being a vegetarian, lactose-intolerant or being overweight.

Keep a food diary to make sure you are really following your dietary plan. Sometimes when we record our food intake, it makes us a bit more responsible.

Have a pregnancy buddy. Does your hubby need to get healthier, too? Work out together, plan and cook meals together. You don't want to feel like you are alone and fighting a losing battle. Having a partner can keep you strong.

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