Advice on weight gain during pregnancy with emphasis on the importance of diet and exercise in keeping your body healthy for your baby.
Weight gain during pregnancy is not only inevitable, it's also necessary. While the phrase 'eating for two' shouldn't be taken literally (you only need approximately 200 extra calories a day), while you are pregnant you are the soul provider of the vitamins, minerals and nutrients your baby needs to grow. Throughout the duration of your pregnancy your body naturally puts the needs of your baby before its own. For this reason, it is essential that you eat a nutritious, well balanced diet not only to ensure that your baby develops healthily, but also to ensure that your body is nourished enough to carry, deliver and care for a new baby.
There was a time when a lot of emphasis was placed on maternal weight gain during pregnancy. This was mainly because midwives used this as an indication of baby's growth and development. However, since the introduction of more sophisticated and accurate measures such as ultrasound, this practice has tailed off. Now, while an eye is kept on weight increase, it is no longer carefully monitored, unless a specific health problem dictates otherwise.
When you attend your first antenatal appointment, the midwife is likely to measure your height and weight and use this to calculate your BMI (body mass index). This figure will help the midwife to establish whether your pre-pregnancy weight was healthy for your size and enable her to make recommendations relating to your ideal weight gain over the course of your pregnancy.
Recommended weight gain
There are four major BMI categories in which you are likely to fall:
- Underweight - BMI less than 18.5 - If you are classed as being underweight your health care provider is likely to recommend that you gain between 28 and 40lbs during your pregnancy. Even if you have been particularly conscious about your figure prior to pregnancy it is important to put this weight on as it will help your baby to grow healthily and provide you with the energy stores you need to delivery and feed a new baby. Research has suggested that women who do not follow a healthy pregnancy diet and fail to put on sufficient weight are more likely to deliver smaller babies who require more medical attention. If you are finding it difficult to put on weight then you should discuss this with your health care provider.
- Normal - BMI 18.5 - 25 - If your pre (or early) pregnancy weight is classed as 'normal' this means that your weight is in the ideal range for your height and you should aim to gain between 25 and 35lbs during the course of your pregnancy. You should aim to gain approximately 5lbs in the first trimester and then about 1lb per week for the rest of your pregnancy. It is important to aim for a steady weight increase as this will ensure your baby receives the spread of nutrients he or she needs. If you notice any sudden increases or decreases in your weight then you should notify your health care provider as this could be a sign of complications. Many women find it helpful to keep a weight diary throughout their pregnancy so that they can monitor both their own and their baby's progress. Weigh yourself on the same day each week - mornings tend to be best - and remember to account for small fluctuations due to water retention.
- Overweight - BMI 25 - 30 - If you are classed as being overweight you will need to put on less weight during pregnancy as you are already likely to have sufficient energy stores to help ensure your baby has all the nutrients needed. For this reason you are likely to gain between 15 and 25lbs during pregnancy. If you were trying to lose weight before you fell pregnant any strict diets should be abandoned, pregnancy is not the time for calorie counting. Instead you should focus on a healthy diet and plenty of gentle exercise to help control weight gain - talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program.
- Obese - BMI 30+ - If you are classed as obese with a BMI of 30 or more you should expect to gain less than 15lbs during pregnancy as you already have the maternal energy reserves to help your baby develop. If you had a poor diet before you became pregnant you should focus on eating healthily and taking part in gentle exercise such as walking or yoga. This will also help reduce the risk of developing gestational diabetes, high blood pressure or complications with delivery. If you are concerned about your weight or your diet your doctor will be able to advise you.
The above advice only applies to those carrying single babies, for those expecting twins or multiples you should expect to put on more weight simply because you have double the baby to nourish and carry.
While you should aim to maintain a healthy weight gain for your size throughout pregnancy, your focus should be on what you eat rather than how much. Current recommendations suggest that you only need between 200 - 300 extra calories a day which roughly equates to a banana and a pot of yogurt. While pregnancy may seem the perfect time to 'let yourself go' and make the most of eating whatever you fancy, do remember that it is much better for your baby if you stick to a balanced meal plan based on 3 nutritious meals and regular healthy snacks. This will also help to keep your blood sugar levels steady, giving you more energy too.
You should ensure that you eat plenty of varied fruit and vegetables, lean protein and wholegrain carbohydrates and drink plenty of water. Remember it is ok to treat yourself too - but just try and have 1 donut rather than the whole box - your thighs will thank you for it once your baby arrives!