Eating for Two: Weight Influences on Pregnancy

Weight gain during pregnancy helps your baby grow. Gaining weight at a steady rate within recommended boundaries can also lower your chances of having hemorrhoids, varicose veins, stretch marks, backache, fatigue, indigestion, and shortness of breath during pregnancy.

Why is weight gain important during pregnancy?

The extra weight you gain during pregnancy provides nourishment to your developing baby and is also stored for breastfeeding your baby after delivery.

Where does all the extra weight go?

Here is an approximate breakdown of your weight gain:

  • Baby = 7 pounds
  • Placenta = 1-2 pounds
  • Amniotic fluid = 2 pounds
  • Uterine enlargement = 2 pounds
  • Maternal breast tissue = 2 pounds
  • Maternal blood flow = 2 pounds
  • Fluids in maternal tissue = 4 pounds
  • Maternal fat stores = 7 pounds

How much total weight should I gain?

The amount of weight you should gain depends on your weight before pregnancy. You should gain:

  • 25-35 pounds: If you were a healthy weight before pregnancy.
  • 28-49 pounds: If you were underweight before pregnancy.
  • 15-25 pounds: If you were overweight before pregnancy.
  • :11-20 pounds If you were obese before pregnancy.

At what rate should I gain weight during my pregnancy?

How much you should gain depends on your weight before you were pregnant and how far along you are in your pregnancy.

  • Healthy Weight Before Pregnancy
    • 3-4 pounds during the first trimester.
    • About a pound a week to equal 12-14 pounds during the second trimester.
    • About a pound a week during the 7th and 8th months
    • About a pound or two a week during the 9th month
  • Underweight Before Pregnancy
    • 5-6 pounds or more in your first trimester. This also can depend on how underweight you were before pregnancy, if you had an eating disorder and what your doctor's recommendation is.
    • 1-2 pounds a week during the last six months.
  • Overweight Before Pregnancy
    • Very little weight in the first three months, 1-2 pounds.
    • A little less than a pound a week during the last six months.

The goal is to keep weight gain as steady as possible because your baby requires a daily supply of nutrients throughout your pregnancy that comes from what you eat. It is okay for your weight gain to fluctuate a little from week to week. However the following are some red flags to be aware of:

  • Gaining more than 3 pounds in any one week during your second trimester
  • If you gain more than two pounds in any one week during your third trimester.
  • Not gaining weight for more than two weeks in a row anytime during the 4th through 8th months.
  • If you find yourself gaining more weight then you anticipated and you have been trying to stick with a realistic meal plan without taking necessary nutrients away from the baby.
  • If you experience any of these, it is probably best to contact your health care provider.

What if I am carrying twins?

For women giving birth to twins: normal-weight women should gain 37 to 54 pounds; overweight women should gain 31 to 50 pounds; and obese women should gain 25 to 42 pounds. Your appropriate weight gain should be monitored by your healthcare provider.

Does being underweight pose any risks to me or my baby?

Due to morning sickness, many women have trouble gaining weight in the first trimester and worry about what effects this has on their baby's development. Some women loose a little weight in the beginning of their pregnancy. Fortunately, at this time the baby does not need as many calories and nutrients as later in pregnancy.

It is important to gain weight at a steady pace throughout pregnancy. If a woman does not gain weight throughout pregnancy, complications such as a low-birth weight infant or premature delivery could occur. Babies who are born to mothers who do not gain more than 20 pounds are often considered small for gestational age (SGA) meaning they may have been malnourished during pregnancy, and tend to suffer growth restriction in the uterus. This condition puts the baby at risk for a variety of problems later in life, including eating disorders.

Healthy Eating During Pregnancy

A sensible meal plan that is rich in vitamins and minerals are essential for developing a healthy baby. You may want to ask your healthcare provider for food recommendations or seek the help of a dietician in your area.

Women who are underweight during pregnancy tend to eat low-calorie foods and not enough protein. The following are ways to get more calories:

  • Eat breakfast every day. Peanut butter or a slice of cheese on toast can give you an extra protein boost.
  • Snack between meals; yogurt, and dried fruits can provide protein, calcium, and minerals.
  • Try to eat a little more food each day that are high in good fats such as nuts, fatty fish, avocados, and olive oil.
  • Drink juices that are high in vitamin C or beta carotene, such as grapefruit juice, orange juice, papaya nectar, apricot nectar, and carrot juice.
  • Avoid junk food; this added weight is more likely to go to your hips and thighs, not your baby.
  • Consult with your doctor about taking vitamin supplements formulated for pregnancy that contain nutrients.

Can gaining too much weight be harmful?

The following are potential problems with gaining too much weight:

  • Assessment and measurement of the fetus can be more difficult
  • Backaches
  • Leg pain
  • Increased fatigue
  • Varicose veins
  • Vaginal delivery becomes difficult or impossible making cesarean section the only option.
  • Excess weight may be hard to shed

The baby's weight at birth and mother's weight do not always correlate. For example, it is possible for a woman who gains 35 pounds during pregnancy to deliver a 6 pound baby. The quality of food you eat is more significant than the quantity. Also remember pregnancy is not a time to diet because your baby can not survive on calories alone because nutrients are also needed.

How does being obese affect my pregnancy?

Most overweight women have healthy pregnancies and deliver without complications. However, women who put on too much weight during pregnancy risk not only keeping that weight after birth, but also have higher rates of complications, such as developing high blood pressure and gestational diabetes or requiring a C-section. “Preeclampsia is about twice as prevalent among overweight, and about three times as prevalent among obese women, as it is among normal weight women," said Dr. Michael Katz, senior vice president for research at the March of Dimes.

However, it is important to be aware of the potential risks that extra weight can have. Pregnant women who are struggling with obesity may have:

  • An increased risk for gestational diabetes and high blood pressure
  • Irregular ovulation which can make due date estimations difficult.
  • Difficulty with hearing the heartbeat, and reading the size of the uterus
  • Difficulty with delivery if the fetus is much larger than average

Fortunately, appropriate medical and self care can lower the risks of these complications.

Medically you can expect that more tests may be done during pregnancy. These include ultrasounds to measure your baby's size, glucose tolerance test to screen for gestational diabetes, and other diagnostic tests later in pregnancy to monitor your baby's development.

The following self care tips are ways you can make your pregnancy a healthy one for you and your baby:

  • Avoid pregnancy risks such as drinking and smoking
  • Try not to gain too much weight, your doctor will provide recommended weight gain
  • Keep your daily intake of calories to at least 1,800. Be selective about your food choices; choose food sources that contain vitamins, minerals, and protein

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