Maintaining Weight During Pregnancy

You surely have planned well for your pregnancy in every possible way. This included getting down to a good and healthy weight before and during gestation. But for most women, this is not realistic. Pregnancy should be an exciting time, but it can also turn into a weight dilemma. This is because of the inevitable weight gain associated with having a baby. 

Most women would relish the opportunity to satisfy their cravings and munch on sweet, comfort foods, which are often full of empty calories. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, 47% of moms in the US gain too much weight during pregnancy (1). 

While women may think that eating for two during pregnancy is healthy, it can lead to overeating and other health problems, including heart diseases and diabetes. Luckily, losing some weight during pregnancy can be safe and beneficial, especially for women who are overweight and obese. 

In this article, we’ll discuss how much weight should you gain based on your pre-pregnancy weight and your unique health condition, how you can lose weight safely while pregnant, and tips on what food you should eat and avoid.

How to Check Your Pre-Pregnancy Weight? 

Checking if you are at a healthy weight before pregnancy is very important. You can do this by calculating your body mass index (BMI). While there can be variations, especially for those who are exceptionally fit and muscular, this designation is often accurate for most patients. 

How Much Weight Gain Is Normal and Healthy During Pregnancy? 

Generally, pregnancy will not cause you to gain weight during the first trimester, which is the first 14 weeks after your last menstrual period. Experts say that women who start at a healthy weight may gain 25 to 35 pounds throughout pregnancy. Those who are overweight from the beginning should gain no more than 15 to 25 pounds. Obese women before conceiving should gain no more than 11 to 20 pounds (2).

To ensure health and safety, it is best to gain 5 pounds in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy and then one pound per week thereafter. 

Weight Distribution During Pregnancy 

For sure, you’ve been wondering where does all that pregnancy weight goes? The weight you gain is fairly distributed. Bodily fluids and blood contribute most to your weight, averaging approximately 4 kilograms. Your baby may weigh as much as 3 to 3.5 kg by the end of pregnancy. Fat along with other nutrients also constitutes nearly 3kg.  Of course, there will be enlargement of the breasts and the uterus, which gives you an additional 2 kg. 

What Are the Risk of Excess Pregnancy Weight Gain? 

Women whose weight gain during pregnancy is outside the recommended ranges are at risk of several adverse maternal outcomes, including (3): 

  • Problems monitoring fetal development 
  • Pregnancy-related hypertension
  • Gestational diabetes, which may result in a larger baby, making vaginal delivery difficult
  • Pre-eclampsia, which can lower blood flow to the baby 
  • Sleep apnea, which may cause fatigue and high blood pressure
  • UTI
  • Complications during labor and delivery 
  • Induced labor
  • Unsuccessful breastfeeding
  • Postpartum weight retention or obesity 

There are also risks to the unborn baby: 

  • Possibility of a miscarriage
  • The baby may be born larger than the normal size, which can lead to obesity later in life
  • Neural tube defects 
  • Heart disease 
  • Diabetes

Is It Safe to Lose Weight During Pregnancy? 

It is not recommended for pregnant women to go on crash diets or significantly decrease their calorie intake. Weight loss can bring about cellular changes in the fetus. 

A healthy and balanced diet which constitutes of whole foods and fiber-rich products is essential during pregnancy. It is best to speak to a doctor about the dietary changes you need to do to lead a healthy lifestyle. Fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins are highly recommended! Limit your intake of processed and sugary foods, as well as liquid calories. 

What Are The Best Foods to Eat When You Are Pregnant? 

1. Dairy Products

Pregnant women must consume extra protein and calcium to meet the needs of the growing fetus (4, 5). Dairy products contain two types of important protein – whey and casein. 

Yogurt, specifically Greek yogurt, is beneficial for expecting mothers (6). It has more calcium than other varieties. Others have probiotic bacteria, which can be helpful for digestion and is suitable for lactose intolerant (7, 8, 9).  

Probiotic supplements may also help reduce your risks of allergies, vaginal infections, gestational diabetes, and pre-eclampsia (10). 

2. Salmon 

Salmon contains high amounts of essential omega-3 fatty acids. The long-chain omega 3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, are needed to help build the brain and eyes of your baby (11). These are abundant in seafood, but intake should be limited to twice weekly to avoid mercury and other contaminants (12). 

Salmon is also rich in vitamin D, which is important for bone health and immune function (13). 

3. Broccoli and Dark, Leafy Vegetables

Broccoli and other dark, leafy greens like spinach and kale, are excellent sources of folate, iron, potassium, fiber and vitamins A, C, and K. They are also rich in antioxidants.

Consuming these veggies can help reduce the risk of low birth weight (14, 15). Its high fiber content is also helpful with digestion (16). 

4. Lean Meat 

Pork, beef, and chicken are excellent sources of high-quality protein. Beef and pork are also rich in choline, iron, and other B vitamins, which are needed in greater amounts during pregnancy. 

Iron is specifically important in delivering oxygen to all cells in the body. A decrease in iron levels during pregnancy may cause anemia, which increases the risks of premature delivery and low birth weight (17). 

5. Whole Grains 

Consuming whole grains will help you meet your increased calorie demands, especially during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. Unlike refined grains, these are packed with fiber, vitamins, and plant compounds. Quinoa and oats also contain protein. 

6. Berries 

Berries are not only delicious but also nutritious! They offer a lot of flavor and nutrition, minus the calories! They are packed with water, healthy carbs, vitamin C, and antioxidants. Vitamin C helps your body absorb more iron. It is also important for immune function and skin health (18, 19). 

7. Eggs 

Who doesn’t eat eggs? These are considered the ultimate health food as they contain a little bit of almost everything! One large egg contains approximately 77 calories, as well as protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. It’s also rich in choline, which is important for brain development (20). 

What to Avoid During Pregnancy? 

Paying close attention to what you eat is very important during pregnancy. While some foods can be consumed in moderation, others should be dodged completely. 

1. Raw or Undercooked Eggs, Fish, and Meat

Salmonella is often present in raw eggs. In rare and severe cases, the infection may cause cramps in the uterus, leading to premature delivery or stillbirth (21). Try to avoid eating poached eggs, lightly scrambled eggs, homemade mayonnaise, salad dressings, and icings. Always cook eggs thoroughly or choose pasteurized eggs. 

Raw fish, especially shellfish, may cause different types of infections. These can be bacterial, viral, or parasitic. Common causative agents include Vibrio, Salmonella, norovirus, and Listeria. While some may only affect the mother, others may easily be passed on to the fetus with serious complications (22, 23). 

Pregnant women are more susceptible to Listeria infections. They are 20 times more at risk than the general population (24). This bacteria is present in soil and contaminated plants and water. Contamination of raw fish occurs during processing, which includes smoking and drying. Listeria can pass through the placenta and affect the unborn fetus, even if the mother is asymptomatic. This may lead to premature delivery, miscarriage, and stillbirth (25). You must completely avoid raw fish like sushi and shellfish. 

Eating raw or undercooked meat may increase your risk of infections caused by Toxoplasma, E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria (26, 27, 28). These bacteria may threaten your fetus’ health, which may cause stillbirth or severe neurological conditions like blindness, epilepsy, and intellectual disability (29). 

While whole cuts of meat like beef, lamb, and veal may be safe to eat when completely cooked on the outside, cut meat like burgers, patties, minced meat, pork, and poultry, should never be eaten raw or undercooked. 

Hot dogs, deli meat, and lunch meat are also dangerous. These types of meat are often contaminated during processing or storage. Pregnant women should not eat processed foods unless they have been cooked or heated. 

2. Unpasteurized Milk, Cheese, and Fruit Juice

Raw milk and unpasteurized cheese are normally contaminated with Listeria, E. coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter. The same is true for unpasteurized juice. These infections can cause life-threatening consequences for the fetus (30, 31, 32). 

Pasteurization is the best way to kill these harmful bacteria, without altering its nutritional content and value (33). To reduce the risk of infections, always choose pasteurized milk, cheese, and juices.  

3. Unwashed Fruits and Vegetables

Unwashed or unpeeled fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of bacteria and parasites like Toxoplasma, E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria (34). Contamination can occur during harvesting, processing, storage, delivery, and retail. 

One dangerous parasite that commonly lingers on fruits and vegetables is Toxoplasma. Most patients with Toxoplasmosis are asymptomatic, while others feel like they have a flu, which lasts for a month or more. 

Toxoplasma can affect an unborn baby inside a mother’s womb. While there will be no symptoms at birth, it may cause blindness or intellectual disabilities later on in life. In rare cases, it may also lead to serious eye damage or brain damage at birth. So try not to risk yourself of infection by cleaning, peeling, or cooking your favorite fruits and vegetables (35). 

4. Caffeine and Alcohol

Everybody seems to love coffee, tea, cocoa, and soft drinks. But all of these contain caffeine, which is absorbed and pass through the placenta quickly. High levels can accumulate when taken excessively and may restrict fetal growth and cause low birth weight (36, 37). 

Unborn babies lack the main enzyme needed to metabolize caffeine, thus pregnant women are advised to limit their intake to less than 200 milligrams daily (38).  

Pregnant women should completely avoid drinking alcohol. It can increase your risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. Even just a small amount can greatly impact your baby’s brain development in a negative way (39, 40). It can also lead to fetal alcohol syndrome, which usually presents with heart defects, facial deformities, and intellectual disability (41, 42). 

No level of alcohol has been proven to be safe for expecting women. It is a must to avoid it altogether!

Are There Any Other Ways to Manage Weight During Pregnancy?

Aside from eating a healthy and balanced diet, the best approach to deal with excess weight gain is to follow the tips below: 

1. Know Your Weight Needs 

Even if you are overweight before conceiving, you will still gain some kilos during pregnancy for the well-being of your baby. Measure your current weight, and with the help of a doctor, calculate how much weight is healthy for you to gain. Do your best to stay within that limit. You can do monitoring by weighing yourself at the same time daily using the exact same scale. Limit your weight-watching just once weekly because fluctuations are normal and stepping on the scale daily may only cause you unwanted stress and anxiety. 

2. Check Your Calorie Requirement 

All pregnant women do not need to gain the same amount of weight, so you have to know your calorie requirements. It will most likely increase in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. If you have a normal weight, your average caloric intake must be increased to around 300kcal per day during pregnancy. However, it may still vary depending on your BMI among other things. Again, it is best to discuss this with a doctor to know your specific needs (43). Never do rigorous weight loss regimens such as intermittent fasting. 

3. Exercise Regularly 

Pregnancy should not stop you from being physically active. There are certain exercises that are safe for pregnant women. Exercise is important if you want to manage your weight and prepare your body for the delivery (44). Again, you may ask your doctor or trainer specialized in workouts for pregnant women before planning your own regimen. But generally speaking, it is safe to have around 30 minutes of exercise 4 or 5 times daily. You may try the following at a moderate level: 

  • Walking
  • Dancing
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Yoga

Never do exercises that are taxing. You have to stop working out if you experience any of the following: 

  • Headache 
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain 
  • Muscle weakness
  • Vaginal bleeding 
  • Amniotic fluid leakage 

Pregnant women who have an existing medical condition such as placenta previa, high blood pressure, or threatened miscarriage are advised to avoid exercises unless otherwise approved by a physician. 

4. Stay Well Hydrated 

Keeping yourself hydrated during pregnancy is very important, more so if you are indulging in exercises. Drinking at least one or two liters of water daily can make you feel full and avoid overeating. 

5. Eat Smaller Meals 

If you are feeling hungry all day long, opt for 6 smaller meals instead of 3 big ones. This will help control the total amount of calories you consume in one sitting. Also, taking large meals during pregnancy may cause heartburn and indigestion. 

6. Take Prenatal Vitamins 

Make sure to take your prenatal vitamins as prescribed. This will help you meet your nutritional needs without having to consume more calorie-rich foods than needed. 

The Bottomline 

As mentioned repeatedly, your weight can greatly affect not just your own health, but also your baby. Having a healthy weight during pregnancy is ideal, but if you are overweight or obese, you don’t need to slim down drastically by cutting down calories and exercising excessively. Follow the tips listed above and consult a doctor before deciding on anything. Instead of losing weight, focus on weight management. 














































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