Changes to the body are expected during pregnancy, and weight gain is one of the changes most often associated with pregnancy. But excessive weight gain during pregnancy can cause complications for a woman and her baby.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that more than 50 percent of pregnant women are overweight or obese. Many women begin their pregnancy intending to eat healthy throughout their pregnancy. But those good intentions can get pushed aside when morning sickness makes it hard to stomach certain foods. In addition, craving certain foods for no apparent reason can make it hard to stay on course.
Other women may already be overweight at the onset of pregnancy and continue to gain weight. Women who have not lost pregnancy weight from a previous child may begin their subsequent pregnancy at a disadvantage.
Contrary to popular belief, a woman does not need to double her calorie consumption to provide nutrition for her baby. Nor should she gain too much weight. According to BabyCenter and the Institute of Medicine, the amount of weight a woman should gain during her pregnancy depends on her starting weight and her body mass index, or BMI, which measures the relationship between height and weight. If a woman’s pre-pregnancy BMI is in the healthy range, she should gain between 25 and 35 pounds during pregnancy. Underweight women should gain between 28 and 40 pounds. Those who are overweight or obese should gain between 11 and 20 pounds. But the amount of women gaining 40 pounds or more during pregnancy has increased by 29 percent over the last 30 years, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Many of these women did not begin their pregnancies with a healthy BMI.
Gaining too much weight during pregnancy puts a woman and her fetus at risk for complications. Extra pounds can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure, early-stage heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other issues. Preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and postpartum weight retention are other considerations. In terms of the fetus, cesarean delivery, stillbirth, prematurity, congenital anomalies, and childhood obesity are common among babies born to overweight mothers. What’s more, obese women may not be able to elect for anesthesiology, like an epidural or spinal anesthesia, during delivery because obscured physical landmarks and excessive layers of fat can make administration risky. It’s also more difficult for doctors to conduct ultrasounds on obese or overweight women, making it challenging to track the baby’s well-being.
Nutritionists warn that good eating habits during pregnancy should begin as early as the first trimester. Too often pregnant women do not realize they have a problem until they’ve already gained weight. Compounding the issue is that many OB/GYN doctors do not readily discuss appropriate weight gain with pregnant patients. Weight gain may be an afterthought to blood tests, genetic testing and lifestyle options doctors mention early on in the pregnancy.
Many women feel that pregnancy is a chance to eat without regard to diet and a time to enjoy foods that may normally be off-limits. However, this could be a recipe for excessive weight gain. Doctors offer these recommendations for keeping healthy during pregnancy:
- Only consume an extra 300 calories per day and not until the second and third trimesters.
- Aim for 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.
- Stock the refrigerator with healthy, fast snacks.
- Track calorie intake to make yourself more accountable.
- Lose weight before you become pregnant again.
- Talk to a nutritionist if you need help managing meals.
- Make breastfeeding part of your postpartum plan. Breastfeeding burns around 500 calories per day.