Pregnancy cravings are the stuff of legend. Expectant mamas have reported jonesing for everything from pickles and ice cream to peanut butter on hot dogs.

But it’s not just hunger for off-the-wall food combos that can increase during pregnancy. Throughout your 9 months of baby-growing, you may find you’re simply hungrier in general — for anything, all the time.

Clearly, your body is working overtime to make a fully formed human, so it’s not a bad thing if your appetite prompts you to eat more right now. In fact, it’s totally natural!

However, if you feel like a grumbling tummy is driving you to eat for a crowd instead of eating for two — which is not even technically the advice you want to follow — it can be frustrating.

And since it’s important to stay within a healthy range of weight gain during pregnancy, you may wonder how to keep cravings under control.

Here’s a look at how to handle increased hunger during pregnancy.

It doesn’t take a medical degree to understand that building a tiny human requires a lot of work — and therefore, extra energy from food.

During pregnancy, your body is performing a veritable three-ring circus of activity, increasing your blood volume by as much as 100 (but typically closer to 45) percent, growing your uterus from the size of a pear to the size of a basketball, and knitting together a 6- to 10-pound infant.

Even though you may not be aware of all the amazing functions happening inside you, you’re using up extra calories, which naturally increases your hunger.

Changing hormones can also affect your hunger levels. According to research, fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone drive increased appetite, adding to the pregnancy munchies package.

Can increased appetite be an early sign of pregnancy?

Tender breasts, nausea, and (of course) a missed period are all classic signs of early pregnancy. Can you add a hankering for a four-course meal to that list? Possibly.

While feeling ravenous may be an early indicator of pregnancy, it’s unlikely for this to be your only symptom. In fact, many women find their appetite actually decreases in the first trimester, as morning sickness makes the sight and smell of food unappealing.

It’s important to remember, too, that feeing hungry could also be a symptom of PMS. Just like hormone spikes affect your appetite in pregnancy, they can do the same before or during your period.

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If morning sickness had you queasy during your first trimester, your appetite may see a major turnaround upon entering your second trimester.

“I’ve found that this varies greatly from woman to woman, but on average I would say the majority of my clients begin to notice a marked increase in their hunger around the halfway mark or 20 weeks,” says dietitian and lactation consultant Meghan McMillan, MS, RDN, CSP, IBCLC, of Mama and Sweet Pea Nutrition. “There are, however, many women who experience it right off the bat.”

Though some expectant moms feel extra hungry right up until delivery, it’s not uncommon for increased appetite to drop off at the tail end of pregnancy. As your growing uterus crowds out your organs, including your stomach, eating to fullness can feel uncomfortable.

Plus, third trimester heartburn may put a damper on your interest in food, especially spicy or acidic options.

Based on your circumstances, such as your weight status when you got pregnant and whether you’re having a single baby or multiples, your doctor or dietitian can guide you on how many extra calories to take in per trimester.

But — surprise! — for most people, an increase in calorie needs doesn’t come until later in pregnancy.

“We often hear the term ‘eating for two,’ but this is really misleading,” says McMillan. “In actuality, the increase in calorie needs is much less than many women think. The guidelines tell us that there are no increased calorie needs during the first trimester. It’s not until the second trimester that the energy requirements increase by around 300 calories per day during the second trimester and then increases to around 400 calories per day in the third trimester for a singleton pregnancy. This increase then remains the same through the rest of the pregnancy.”

Remember, too, that 300 calories can get used up pretty quickly. Your daily extra allotment isn’t carte blanche to load up on unwholesome extras like ice cream and potato chips.

A 300-calorie increase might look like a fruit and yogurt smoothie ora quarter-cup of hummus and a dozen whole wheat pita chips.

Feel like you can’t stop snacking? An insatiable hunger can be a serious challenge during pregnancy — but there are ways to keep cravings at bay.

First, focus on planning filling meals. “To help manage their hunger, I encourage [clients] to make meals that are satisfying and filling,” says McMillan. “To do this, they should focus on including three key nutrients at each meal: protein, fiber, and healthy fats.”

Opt for lean protein choices like chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, beans, and soy foods. To boost fiber, include whole grains, fruits, and veggies. And to get more healthy fats, reach for olive oil, avocado, yogurt, and nuts.

It’s okay — even smart! — to work in some snacks throughout the day, as long as you’re making nourishing choices. “Listen to your body when it comes to snacking,” says McMillan. “Many pregnant women do need to incorporate a snack or two into their day.”

With snacks, McMillan again emphasizes keeping macronutrients in mind. “I help my clients keep their hunger at bay by encouraging them to include a protein or healthy fat, in addition to a carbohydrate, with every snack. Some examples include an apple with peanut butter, full-fat plain Greek yogurt with blueberries, or tuna salad with whole grain crackers. Not only are they tasty, but they will help keep them feeling fuller for longer.”

Finally, don’t forget to stay hydrated! Dehydration can show up as hunger, so keep your water bottle handy and sip often. (Bonus: extra fluid can help prevent the dreaded pregnancy constipation.)

Related: Your guide to a healthy diet and good nutrition during pregnancy

As tempting as it may be to reach for empty calories when you’re hungry, it’s important to use your extra allotment of food wisely while pregnant. Give these healthy suggestions a try.

Instead of…Try…
Soda, energy drinks, sweetened coffee drinksSparkling water with a splash of juice
Chips, pretzels, and other salty snacksPopcorn, whole wheat pita chips dipped in guacamole, salty roasted chickpeas
Sweetened cerealOatmeal, homemade granola
Ice creamYogurt with fresh berries and honey, chia pudding
Cookies and pastriesDark chocolate, fresh fruit with peanut butter
White pastaWhole wheat or chickpea pasta, grains like quinoa and farro
Processed meats like pepperoni and deli meatChicken, salmon, tuna (be sure to thoroughly cook fish)

Your body is performing some pretty monumental tasks over the 9 months of pregnancy. Hunger can serve as a reminder of all it’s working to accomplish, as well as a hint that your job is to nourish it well.

Even if a constant appetite feels frustrating, remember that it’s not forever. In this relatively brief window of life, staying mindful of your food choices, planning ahead for meals and snacks, and keeping up with your hydration can help you stay satisfied and healthy.