I see many pregnant women in my practice, and I love working with moms and dads to-be as they are so inspired to live and eat well. But, inevitably, they’ll come to an appointment upset because they’ve been told (or fear) that they’ve “gained too much weight”. Just recently, a first-time Mom was told that if she didn’t slow down her weight gain (by eating less and exercising more at 30 weeks pregnancy) she’d turn into a “chunky monkey.” Yes, you read that correctly. Her total weight gain was 26 lbs, so far from a concern.
How much should you gain?
So, let’s talk about expectations and recommendations. How much weight SHOULD you gain over 40 weeks? The answer is, it all depends. The SOGC (Society of Gynecologists and Obstetricians) recommends starting your pregnancy at a healthy weight and gaining anywhere from 15-45 pounds, depending on individual needs. I think that these guidelines are reasonable and attainable for most, except that they use BMI as the reference point which doesn’t apply to everyone. For example, a very athletic and muscular woman may have an elevated BMI and be categorized as overweight when she isn’t. So, once again, there isn’t a one sized fits all approach.
But, what if you gain less, or more? What are the risks? Being both underweight and overweight can pose a risk to Mom and baby. Complications such as gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia and premature labour are well established. Therefore, encouraging a healthy weight gain through diet and exercise is appropriate and healthy for most pregnant women. But, it’s also unrealistic to expect that all women will fall into the recommended ranges at all times. And, focusing too heavily on weight may lead to unnecessary stress for Mom, Dad and baby.
As with most things, the focus should be on choosing healthy foods most often and encouraging healthy activity. For most women, weight gain will NOT follow a linear pattern in pregnancy, with many peaks and valleys over the 40 weeks. Some lose weight in their first trimester, while others may gain an average of a pound per week.
What SHOULD you do?
- Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. Some women prefer to graze, which is fine and can help manage nausea and heartburn
- Eat protein and healthy fats at most meals. You will feel fuller longer and feel more satisfied.
- Limit processed foods and don’t drink your calories. Juice and pop should be limited.
- Remember that the increase in caloric requirements for most women is between 100-300 calories, which amounts to an extra snack or two.
- DON’T DIET. Pregnancy is not the time to be counting calories.
Weight is simply one measure of health. If Mom and baby are healthy with other measures of growth on track, and weight gain isn’t excessive (or lacking), then let’s focus on that.