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How to manage appetite loss during pregnancy

Causes, symptoms, and advice

If you experience appetite loss while pregnant, you're not alone. This article tells you everything you need to know about appetite loss during pregnancy, including causes, symptoms, and how to treat it.

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Last updated on November 28, 2022, and last reviewed by an expert on November 20, 2022.

Many women experience appetite loss during pregnancy.

You may occasionally find food unappealing or feel hungry but can’t bring yourself to eat.

If you’re dealing with these symptoms, you may want to know possible reasons for your appetite loss, tips for treating it, and when to see a health professional.

This article explains all you need to know about appetite loss during pregnancy.

What causes appetite loss during pregnancy?

It’s normal for your appetite to fluctuate, especially as your body undergoes numerous changes during pregnancy.

If you lose your appetite, you may experience a general disinterest in all foods or a lack of desire to eat. Keep in mind that appetite loss differs from an aversion to a few specific foods, which is also fairly common during pregnancy.

Several factors may cause appetite loss during pregnancy, such as the following.

Nausea and vomiting

Nausea and vomiting are common during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester — though some women may experience these symptoms throughout their pregnancy.

Both mild and extreme nausea and vomiting during pregnancy can significantly affect food intake and appetite.

Research has shown that fluctuations in the hormones leptin and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) during pregnancy may lead to decreased appetite and more nausea and vomiting.

A study of 2,270 pregnant women demonstrated that among women with moderate or severe nausea and vomiting, 42% and 70% reported reduced food intake in early pregnancy, respectively.

If you’re experiencing appetite loss due to nausea and vomiting, try to avoid fatty or spicy foods, drink fluids separately from your meals, and eat small, more frequent meals.

You may more easily tolerate dry, salty snacks like pretzels and crackers and bland foods like baked chicken breast.

However, you may need to see a health professional if you experience more severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.

Mental health conditions

Various mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression, may affect your appetite.

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Pregnant women may be more prone to mental health issues due to various physical and biochemical changes. In particular, depression may lead to altered eating habits, including decreased appetite and a reduced intake of nutrient-dense foods.

In a study of 94 pregnant women, 51% of those diagnosed with depression had a poor dietary intake, which increased to 71% after 6 months.

What’s more, depression during pregnancy is linked to a decreased appetite for healthy foods, an increased appetite for unhealthy foods, and lower intakes of essential nutrients like folate, fatty acids, iron, and zinc. This may negatively affect fetal and maternal health.

Mental health disorders commonly go undiagnosed during pregnancy due to the shame that some pregnant women feel talking about them. If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, it’s essential to consult a trusted health professional.

Medications

Certain medications that are safe to use during pregnancy may cause side effects like decreased appetite.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Zoloft and Prozac are sometimes prescribed to pregnant women diagnosed with depression or anxiety.

SSRIs can cause decreased appetite. Some pregnant women have reported a complete loss of appetite, early fullness, and weight loss after starting fluoxetine (Prozac) for depression.

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Olanzapine and buprenorphine are other drugs that may lead to decreased appetite.

Disordered eating

Some pregnant women may experience eating disorders, including anorexia and bulimia. Experts estimate that the prevalence of disordered eating in pregnant women is 0.6–27.8%.

Disordered eating can lead to changes in appetite, a phobia of weight gain, and decreased food intake.

If you’re pregnant and have an eating disorder, ask your healthcare provider for treatment options.

Other potential causes

Pregnant women may also experience appetite loss due to medical conditions like tumors, delayed stomach emptying, heartburn, and Addison’s disease.

Furthermore, high-stress levels may affect maternal health and cause a loss of appetite.

Additionally, pregnancy-related changes to taste and smell, nutrient deficiencies in vitamin B12 and iron, and general discomfort from carrying a baby may cause appetite loss in some pregnant women.

Summary: Nausea and vomiting are some of the most common causes of appetite loss during pregnancy, though numerous other factors exist.

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 prioritize

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

The following foods are simple to make, small in portion size, filling, and easy on your stomach:

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.

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Severe nausea and vomiting may require different treatment methods, including medications and intravenous (IV) fluids.

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

You can also consult your healthcare provider for individualized treatment.

Summary: If you’re experiencing appetite loss during pregnancy, you should prioritize bland, filling foods that are rich in nutrients.

When to be concerned

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

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

Additionally, 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, as well as the health of your growing baby.

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 behavioral problems in children.

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

Pregnant women with chronically poor appetites run a risk of anemia, fetal growth abnormalities, and preterm birth.

Summary: Chronic appetite loss during pregnancy can lead to undernutrition, which can cause many adverse health effects for you and your baby.

Summary

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.

Keep in mind 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.

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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.

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