Appetite Loss During Pregnancy: Why It Occurs + How to Face It

Learn everything you need to know about appetite loss during pregnancy, from what causes it to how to make sure you're still getting the nutrients you need.

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by
Caitlin Beale, MS, RDN
— Signos
Health & Nutrition Writer
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
February 29, 2024
February 26, 2023
— Updated:

Table of Contents

Navigating pregnancy can be hard enough without having to contend with the challenges of appetite loss. With an overwhelming number of articles and lists about what to eat during pregnancy, it can be a surprise if you just have no desire for food—but you're not alone. Appetite loss during pregnancy is common and is caused by hormonal changes, nausea, or food aversions.

So what can you do to ensure a healthy pregnancy when even thinking about food makes you feel worse? In this article, you'll learn why appetite loss happens, tips to feel better to get the nutrition you need, and when to know it's time to reach out for extra support.

What Causes Loss of Appetite During Pregnancy?

  • Pregnancy hormones. As hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG, a hormone produced by the placenta) increase, appetite can fluctuate. These hormones affect appetite and can influence food cravings and aversions.
  • Nausea and vomiting. It's estimated that 70 to 80 percent of all women will experience some degree of nausea or vomiting during pregnancy. While called "morning sickness," the truth is that nausea and vomiting can happen any time of day, ranging from mild to debilitating. 

Scientists aren't entirely sure why morning sickness happens, but some believe it's caused by shifting hormones, especially hCG. 1 For most women, nausea and vomiting only lead to loss of appetite in the first trimester. Still, sometimes it can last beyond early pregnancy.

  • Heartburn. If you've experienced gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or heartburn, you know how uncomfortable it can be. Unfortunately, with hormonal changes, an expanding uterus, and slower digestion, up to 80 percent of pregnant women experience heartburn during pregnancy. 

Heartburn symptoms can include burning in your throat or chest, an acidic taste in your mouth, and difficulty swallowing, making eating unpleasant.

  • Food aversions. Eggs, coffee, raw veggies, and animal protein are common food aversions experienced during pregnancy. The sudden, intense dislike of certain foods can make meal planning difficult and affect your appetite. They're most common in the first trimester but can sometimes last throughout the pregnancy, making it harder to get the nutrition you need.
  • Depression. Loss of appetite can be linked to depression—during pregnancy or anytime. Low energy, changing hormones, and lack of pleasure can all be reasons for a decreased appetite. 

Missing out on vital nutrients can affect infant growth and development. Depression during pregnancy also raises the risk of postpartum depression, so getting support from a mental health professional is essential.

  • Disordered eating habits. The body is amazing as it grows and adapts to your baby's needs. But some women may feel uncomfortable or anxious about weight changes, especially if they have a history of disordered eating. This anxiety can lead to restrictive food behaviors and, in turn, loss of appetite. 

If you are concerned that your eating habits have become unhealthy, resources like the National Eating Disorders Organization are available to help.

  • Enhanced sense of smell. Suddenly your favorite dish or a co-worker's perfume can make you nauseous. Increased sensitivity to certain smells is common during pregnancy. As appetite, taste, and smell are all closely linked, this heightened sensitivity can make eating less desirable.
  • Constipation. Bloating and constipation are common but uncomfortable blessings of pregnancy. As digestion slows—partially due to the pregnancy hormone progesterone—constipation can affect appetite or make you feel full quickly (especially in the third trimester when your belly and uterus take up more space).

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How to Deal With Appetite Loss During Pregnancy

You can use all of the tips below at any point, but here are some ways to support a lack of appetite during pregnancy broken up by trimester:

First Trimester

  • Eat as soon as you wake up. You might not feel like it, but eating something small (even a few bites) can help reduce nausea. Keep crackers or toast by your bed to nourish your body as soon as you wake up. 
  • Experiment with different foods. If your expectation was salads, fish, and all the kale during pregnancy, but the reality is saltine crackers or peanut butter straight from the jar, let it be. Yes, nutrition matters, but give yourself some grace and know that most of the time, first-trimester nausea passes. In the meantime, try experimenting with different foods while doing your best to include a carb, protein, and fat when you can stomach a meal.
  • Be conscious of smells. If your sense of smell is over-the-top, stick to bland foods that don't have strong odors (and ask your partner to do the same if they cook).
  • Sip ginger tea or try ginger chews. Ginger is a fantastic anti-nausea aid, and studies have found that ginger can reduce symptoms of nausea in pregnant women. Sipping ginger tea can be comforting and soothing, but chews (or even ginger supplements) are a great way to help calm your stomach if you need an on-the-go option. 
  • Consider food-based or chewable vitamins. Prenatal vitamins are non-negotiable to fill nutrient gaps, especially if your appetite is low. But some options can be harder on your stomach. You may want to experiment with food-based vitamins or a chewable prenatal that are sometimes easier on your stomach.

Second Trimester 

  • Think protein, protein, protein. Your protein intake needs to increase to support mom and baby during pregnancy, but this nutrient can also help keep blood sugar stable and lower nausea.  Options include eggs, legumes, seeds, nuts and nut butter, chicken, tofu, and dairy. Protein bars are an option, too, if it helps you eat more (just look for one without a lot of added sugar). 
  • Get outside (and move your body if possible). Fresh air and sunshine can help lift your mood. Physical activity—think gentle walking or yoga—could also address the loss of appetite in the second trimester by helping you work up an appetite.
  • Smoothies. Nutrient-dense smoothies can be a great way to get the nourishment you need if you eat less than you'd like. Build your smoothie in the same way you'd build a filling plate: use a protein source (powder, yogurt, nut butter, etc.), a high-fiber carb (berries, cauliflower, etc.), and a healthy fat (seeds, nut butter, avocados). 

Third Trimester

  • Try smaller meals. Eating small meals more frequently can help with nausea and keep your energy up. Skipping meals can cause low blood sugar, which can also trigger nausea. Loss of appetite in the third trimester is often related to feeling full quickly because there's only so much space left, so smaller meals can help.
  • Drink fluids. Staying hydrated is extra important while pregnant, especially in the third trimester. Dehydration could mess with your appetite and even trigger false contractions called Braxton Hicks. If you have trouble drinking plain water, try spicing it up with fresh fruit or herbs like mint and basil. 
  • Try cold foods. If your appetite is still low, cold foods such as popsicles, yogurt, frozen fruit, or smoothies may be easier to digest than hot dishes. Colder foods tend to have less of a smell than warm foods, which could help if you're sensitive to odors.

8 Foods to Eat While Pregnant

If you're nauseous or sick, sometimes you just have to do what you can to make it through. As nausea subsides or appetite improves, include these nourishing foods in your meals for optimal health and energy throughout pregnancy. 

  • Iron-rich foods: dark leafy greens, eggs, and legumes
  • Healthy fats: avocados, olive oil, nuts, and seeds
  • Low glycemic carbs: whole grains, such as quinoa, oats, and brown rice
  • Protein: nuts, eggs, fish, and beans 
  • Blood sugar-balancing fruits: berries, apples, and oranges
  • Calcium-rich foods: dark leafy greens, yogurt, and cheese 
  • Vitamin C-rich options: bell peppers, citrus fruits, and strawberries
  • Fermented foods: pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi

When to Reach Out to a Professional

Food aversions, nausea, and vomiting are all common in pregnancy—to an extent. If vomiting is severe enough to interfere with your ability to eat and drink, it's time to get help from your doctor. Sometimes this can mean IV fluids or medication to ensure you're getting enough to support you and your growing baby.

Weight loss is always a red flag. Depending on your starting weight, you may have different recommendations for total weight gain, but if you notice you're losing weight or your appetite is too low despite trying different strategies, reach out to your healthcare team.

Learn About Mindful Eating with Signos' Expert Advice

Signos helps you understand how food impacts your body before, during, and after pregnancy. You can use the information from a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to get a snapshot of your glycemic control.

Blood sugar balance is especially important during pregnancy, so learning how your body responds to your meals, exercise, sleep, and stress can help you make informed food choices. If you can't eat because of low appetite during pregnancy, you can monitor your blood sugar levels and tweak your diet if necessary. 

It's a good idea to check in with your OB if you plan to use a CGM while pregnant, but Signos' personalized advice can help you make mindful choices about your diet and nutrition. You can find out if Signos is a good fit for your life by taking a three-minute quiz.

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References

  1. Lee, N. M., & Saha, S. (2011). Nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. Gastroenterology clinics of North America, 40(2), 309–vii. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gtc.2011.03.009
  2. Bustos, M., Venkataramanan, R., & Caritis, S. (2017). Nausea and vomiting of pregnancy - What's new?. Autonomic neuroscience : basic & clinical, 202, 62–72. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.autneu.2016.05.002
  3. Law, R., Maltepe, C., Bozzo, P., & Einarson, A. (2010). Treatment of heartburn and acid reflux associated with nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien, 56(2), 143–144.
  4. Jahan, N., Went, T. R., Sultan, W., Sapkota, A., Khurshid, H., Qureshi, I. A., & Alfonso, M. (2021). Untreated Depression During Pregnancy and Its Effect on Pregnancy Outcomes: A Systematic Review. Cureus, 13(8), e17251. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.17251
  5. Rungsiprakarn, P., Laopaiboon, M., Sangkomkamhang, U. S., Lumbiganon, P., & Pratt, J. J. (2015). Interventions for treating constipation in pregnancy. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 2015(9), CD011448. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD011448.pub2
  6. Lete, I., & Allué, J. (2016). The Effectiveness of Ginger in the Prevention of Nausea and Vomiting during Pregnancy and Chemotherapy. Integrative medicine insights, 11, 11–17. https://doi.org/10.4137/IMI.S36273
  7. Elango, R., & Ball, R. O. (2016). Protein and Amino Acid Requirements during Pregnancy. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 7(4), 839S–44S. https://doi.org/10.3945/an.115.011817
  8. Jednak, M. A., Shadigian, E. M., Kim, M. S., Woods, M. L., Hooper, F. G., Owyang, C., & Hasler, W. L. (1999). Protein meals reduce nausea and gastric slow wave dysrhythmic activity in first trimester pregnancy. The American journal of physiology, 277(4), G855–G861. https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpgi.1999.277.4.G855
  9. Raines, D. A., & Cooper, D. B. (2022). Braxton Hicks Contractions. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing.

About the author

Caitlin Beale is a registered dietitian and nutrition writer with a master’s degree in nutrition. She has a background in acute care, integrative wellness, and clinical nutrition.

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