“Everything grows rounder and wider and weirder, and I sit here in the middle of it all and wonder who in the world you will turn out to be.” - Carrie Fisher
For some mothers to be, pregnancy is a time of pure joy. Many women report feeling healthy, energetic and strong throughout their pregnancy. Others, claim to feel only nauseous, tired and fat. The pregnancy experience varies greatly by a woman and by pregnancy. While every woman gains weight while pregnant, the thinking about how much weight is appropriate and within healthy guidelines has changed over the years. Even as recently as the 1970’s women were warned against gaining more than 15 pounds during pregnancy, These days, doctors focus much more on the health of the mother and her unborn baby and recommendations for weight gain amounts vary based on the mother’s pre-pregnancy weight.
According to the March of Dimes (MOD), a non-profit organization with a mission of helping moms to have full-term pregnancies and give birth to healthy babies, it’s important that mother begin their pregnancies at a healthy weight. Being overweight or underweight before getting pregnant can lead to complications which may put both mother and baby at risk. MOD also advises that gaining too much or too little weight during pregnancy can be harmful. According to their website, gaining too little weight can cause premature birth, meaning the baby is born before 37 weeks. Gaining too little weight can also cause a baby to be born with low birth weight, or less than five pounds, eight ounces.
Gaining too much weight though, the organization states can also cause significant problems for mother and baby. If too much weight is gained complications can include premature birth or a condition known as fetal macrosomia. This occurs when the baby weighs more than eight pounds, 13 ounces. The condition can lead to problems during labor and heavy bleeding. Finally, gaining too much weight can put mothers at risk for developing gestational diabetes and hypertension both of which can be very serious if left untreated. Women who gain too much weight are also more likely to need a cesarean section (also known as c-section) a surgical birth.
Guidelines to pregnancy weight gain
So how much weight should a mother gain in order to remain healthy and increase the chances of giving birth to a full term, healthy baby? The answer varies based on a mother’s health and something called body mass index or BMI. BMI is calculated based on an individual’s height and weight and measures percentage of body fat. You can calculate your BMI using this BMI calculator.
To help you determine if your BMI is within a healthy range, the American Cancer Society offers the following guidelines.
- Underweight: BMI is less than 18.5.
- Normal weight: BMI is 18.5 to 24.9.
- Overweight: BMI is 25 to 29.9.
- Obese: BMI is 30 or more.
According to the March of Dimes a woman who is pregnant with one baby should gain anywhere between 11 and 40 pounds based on her BMI at the start of her pregnancy. For example a woman in America within the healthy BMI range of 18.5 to 24.9 should gain between 25-35 pounds during her pregnancy. The number is higher for those pregnant with twins. However, for a woman with a higher BMI the amount of recommended weight gain is less. For an obese woman with a BMI of 30 or more, it is suggested that she gain between 11 and 20 pounds over the course of her pregnancy.
Eating a healthy diet is always important, but never more so than during pregnancy. It is important for pregnant women to eat a diet rich in a variety of fruit and vegetables. Pregnant women should also consume whole grains such as whole grain bread and bulgur, rice, corn, oats and more. Moms to be should also eat lean proteins such as turkey, chicken and fish, and healthy fats like olive oil and avocado. In addition, it is important to consume certain nutrients during pregnancy. These are folate and folic acid, calcium, vitamin D and iron. Many women take special vitamins during pregnancy as recommended by their doctors to ensure they are consuming these critical nutrients.
Timelines of pregnancy weight gain by month
While doctors do utilize various charts to gauge and compare the amount of weight gained by women throughout their pregnancies, it is important to know that these are just guidelines and everyone is different. Women do not gain weight at consistent rates throughout their pregnancies. Therefore variations from these charts are no need to panic. Be sure to discuss your weight, your diet and your health with your OB/GYN.
If we use the example mentioned above, a healthy woman in America with a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 who is pregnant with one child, who will gain about 25-35 pounds over the course of her pregnancy, her monthly weight gain calendar could look something like this according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG.)
Months 1 and 2 - no weight gain
Month 3 - up to 4 pounds gained
Months 4 - 9 up to 4.3 pounds gained per month
TOTAL = 30 pounds
Losing the weight gain post pregnancy
Many women fear that following birth, they will struggle to lose the weight gained over the course of the pregnancy. While some women do struggle, others lose the weight more easily. Here are some tips and tricks which may help stimulate weight loss.
1. Don't cut too many calories
It may sound obvious but drastic crash diets and calorie restriction is not a smart move for anyone, and especially not for new moms. Women who are breastfeeding and caring for a newborn require calories to remain healthy and active. If normally consuming 2000 calories per day, consider cutting out 300 calories per day and burning an additional 200 through a moderate exercise to achieve weight loss.
2. Consider breastfeeding
While breastfeeding has many benefits for babies, some women feel that breastfeeding initially makes it harder for them to lose weight after giving birth. However, in the long term breastfeeding may actually help women lose more weight. This makes sense as producing breast milk requires fat and calories.
3. Drink more water
This is a good weight loss tip for any woman (or man) who wants to lose weight. Hydration is critical for proper digestion and elimination. Also, dehydration can make us think we are hungry when in fact, we are actually in need of water. Be sure to drink water though...sugary drinks like soda and fruit juice can lead to unwanted weight gain.
Taking your baby to the mall, around the block or to the park all adds up to a little bit of extra movement which can gently and easily help you to lose weight without strenuous exercise.
5. Trick yourself
One new mom we know said that she didn’t allow herself to buy any new clothes so her only choices were maternity wear and pre-pregnancy clothing. This allowed her to gauge her weight loss without the scale and set a goal to lose weight before her maternity leave ended.
When it comes to pregnancy weight gain many of us tend to fall into one of two categories. The first is the mom to be who is afraid to gain too much weight and tries everything within her power not to do so. While being disciplined and healthy are good things, it’s important to gain enough weight to ensure a healthy, full-term baby.
On the other hand, there is sometimes a tendency to splurge, eat unhealthy foods or larger portions while pregnant. We’ve all heard the phrase "eating for two." While an occasional treat or large meal won’t hurt mom or baby, being pregnant is not a license to go wild. It’s certainly understandable that feeling tired or fat can cause a bit of depression and food cravings certainly don’t help. But it’s important to manage your weight gain and to stay within healthy guidelines.
If you’re planning to become pregnant, it can also be helpful to focus on achieving a healthy weight and good fitness level before conception. This will allow you to develop healthy habits which will last throughout your pregnancy and beyond. Finally, maintaining a healthy diet and good exercise habits allows you to set a healthy example for your child, a gift that will last a lifetime.