A number of changes occur during pregnancy, in addition a number of these changes can have an impact on mom and baby’s health and well-being. Among these changes is mom’s prenatal weight gain.
While weight gain during pregnancy is a given, it can also have a direct impact on the current and future health of both the pregnant mother and her baby. Research shows that weight gain among women is ever increasing, not only is that causing a rise in obesity rates in general, it is also resulting in an increase in obesity during pregnancy and pre-conception. Studies published by the Center of Disease Control (CDC) found that only about one-third (32 percent) of women gained the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy and most women gained weight outside the recommendations (21 percent too little, and 48 percent too much).
So, why is there such a concern regarding weight gain for women looking to conceive or for those who are already pregnant? Studies show that there are a number of health risks and conditions that are the result of too much weight gain pre-conception and during pregnancy that can affect both mom and baby.
Not only is there a number of risks that can be determined by gestational weight increase or decrease, a relationship between gestational weight and birth weight has been found as well.
The Link Between Pregnancy Weight Gain and Birth Weight
Birth weight is just that, the weight of the baby at the time of delivery. This birth weight is often seen as an important indicator of maturity and to an extent, physical development and health. The birth weight of an infant generally is dependent upon both the duration of the pregnancy and the rate and extent of fetal growth. On average, a low birth weight is anything less than 5.5 pounds while a high birth weight is considered anything more than 8.8 pounds.
Although babies born at the lower end of the birth weight continuum have greater mortality risks, there are maternal and infant risks for birth weights that are on the higher end of the continuum.
Some low birth weight babies may be more at risk for certain health problems or have a higher risk of becoming sick or developing infections. In addition, a low birth weight baby may also suffer from long-term problems such as delayed motor and social development or learning disabilities.
High birth weight babies on the other hand, can be at a higher risk of birth injuries and problems with blood sugar.
Optimal Pregnancy Weight Gain
Weight gain during pregnancy—in the right amount—is necessary in order to give birth to a healthy baby. The proper amount of weight depends primarily on your build before pregnancy, whether you are of regular size or plus-size can play an important factor in determining weight gain ranges. Women sometimes justify weight gain in pregnancy by claiming they are eating for two. However, having a healthy lifestyle makes it easy for you to manage pregnancy weight gain and your baby’s health. It also makes it easy to manage your weight before and after giving birth.
It is because of the increased health and birth risks, that pregnant women need to maintain healthy weights in order to give birth to healthy infants and avoid unnecessary risks down the road. Maintaining proper and healthy weight will result in birth weights within normal ranges and with little or no preexisting health concerns. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has a particular pregnancy body mass index that act as guide for pregnant women with all weight types irrespective of age, parity, smoking history, race or creed.
Generally, a woman who was within the normal weight range prior to getting pregnant should gain between 25 to 35 pounds over the course of her pregnancy. Typically, this breaks down to about two to four pounds during the first three months of pregnancy and about one pound per week during the rest of her pregnancy. For those women who are expecting twins weight gain should fall between 35 to 45 pounds during the length of the pregnancy. Like all healthy concerns and changes however, it is important to ask your doctor how much weight gain is a healthy amount for your pregnancy so you can be sure of the correct weight gain limits and range based on your circumstance.
As per the studies and recommendations of The Institute of Medicine (IOM), the perfect way to keep a healthy pregnancy weight is by using your BMI to know how much to gain and how much to lose to remain within the recommended weight bracket.
The Cause of Weight Gain During Pregnancy
There are various causes of weight gain during pregnancy. Hormonal changes, a lack of physical exercise, and an increase in food consumption can all be contributing factors to pregnancy weight gain. However, weight gain during pregnancy isn’t just baby’s growth and an increased supply of food.
“Pregnancy certainly does not equate to ‘eating for two’; in fact, the extra caloric requirements are actually relatively small,” says Andrea Sharma, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the Center for Disease Control’s Maternal and Infant Health Branch. “In general, a woman doesn’t need any additional calories during the first trimester. During the second trimester, she only needs an additional 340 calories, and she only needs an extra 450 calories during the third trimester. To give you an idea, an additional 350 calories is approximately equal to adding a snack consisting of one medium apple, one cup of non-fat Greek yogurt and a handful of almonds.”
A general breakdown of the weight gain during pregnancy is as follows:
- Baby: 8 pounds
- Placenta: 2-3 pounds
- Amniotic fluid: 2-3 pounds
- Breast tissue: 2-3 pounds
- Blood supply: 4 pounds
- Stored fat for delivery and breastfeeding: 5-9 pounds
- Larger uterus: 2-5 pounds
- Total: 25-35 pounds
Risks of Too Much Weight Gain During Pregnancy
An increase in weight among pregnant women can cause a number of pregnancy complications and has been found to lead to gestational diabetes in mothers which can lead to a greater risk of bigger babies, infant breathing problems and children who are overweight or develop diabetes, preeclampsia, hypertension, and the need for a cesarean delivery.
For moms-to-be, greater weight gain levels during pregnancy can also lead to a greater risk of developing diabetes and an increase in pregnancy symptoms such as varicose veins, heartburn, leg cramps, backaches, hemorrhoids, and more.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight During Pregnancy
Once discussing proper weight gain levels with your doctor, there are a number of healthy approaches to ensure you gain weight in a healthy manner to ensure a healthy pregnancy. Eating healthy, regular exercise, and even consulting the help of dieticians or professionals can help you establish healthy habits that can be carried on throughout your pregnancy.
Meal-Planning Tips for Healthy Pregnancy Weight Gain
- If you haven’t given up your morning cup of coffee or tea, consider trading the milk or heavy creamers in for nonfat milk or try flavoring your drink with natural spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, or vanilla bean.
- Slim down your cereal bowl by switching from two percent milk to skim and trade half of your cereal for a whole-grain kind with high-fiber. You can dress up your grain cereals with fresh berries and fruit for a new taste.
- Cut back on the baked goods. Bakery muffins can weigh in at 400 calories or more. Try only eating half a pastry in a sitting or substituting it with some nonfat yogurt with fresh fruit and a pinch of cinnamon.
- Keep an eye out for the spreads you use. A dollop of full-fat mayonnaise adds nearly 100 calories and 10 grams of fat. Go for mustard, seasonings or lite dressings which have loads of flavor and only a trace number of calories.
- Can’t resist fast-food or extra sides of fries? Go right ahead but ask for a small order and split it with a buddy.
- Swap a side dish or higher-calorie ingredients, including pasta, rice, and meat, for vegetables once a day and you’ll trim calories and depending on the swap, add nutrients. For instance, replace half the beef in your lasagna or fajitas with mushrooms. Or half the spaghetti noodles with veggie noodles. You’ll still have some of the original ingredient but only half the calories worth.
- Season your sides differently. If you tend to top off your steamed broccoli with a tablespoon of butter, replace the added 100 calories by flavoring them with herbs or some lemon juice.
- Avoid boredom or habit snacking. People who snack while they’re watching TV take in more calories than people who don’t. Be mindful of what you’re eating, and you’ll be more accountable for how much you’re consuming.
- Say hello to sorbet! Did you know that a small raspberry sorbet can have less than 50 – 75 percent of the calories a raspberry ice cream has!
Exercise Tips for Healthy Pregnancy Weight Gain
Unless you’re experiencing a complication such as placenta previa or your doctor says otherwise, most women are able to continue their pre-pregnancy exercise routine during their pregnancy, and for those who weren’t active before they conceived, early pregnancy is a great time to start.
Staying fit during pregnancy is huge benefit to your health and can even help ease delivery, and regardless of your fitness levels, low or moderate levels of exercise are most recommended.
- Walking is the ultimate low-impact exercise that most any pregnant woman can perform. It makes you move your entire body and is a great way to stay fit while you’re pregnant with no harsh impacts or movements.
- Yoga and Pilates increases circulation, flexibility and can make the delivery process easier. It can also help pregnant women maintain balance and reduce mental and physical stress by requiring very little strain on the joints.
- Swimming is a great low-impact aerobic activity that allows you to stay active and doesn’t put strain on your joints.
- Using elliptical machines or a stationary bike can help keep you fit when pregnant without adding unnecessary strain on the body, just be sure to warm up beforehand.
- Strength training can also be included in prenatal fitness routines with parameters such as modified movements and proper form and setting safe weight limitations.
To ensure you are gaining a healthy amount of weight, try avoiding excessive caloric increases, cutting back on salty and sugary foods with healthy alternatives, using fats in moderation, and taking part in regular moderate exercise.