Let’s talk about something that is often taboo: weight gain. Let me start by saying that there is a wide range of what’s normal during pregnancy. What I’m sharing here are the guidelines from trusted medical sources (American Pregnancy Association, CDC, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) but they’re just that – guidelines. It is important to collaborate with your healthcare provider to discuss the factors that may affect your individual weight gain goals during pregnancy like if you are high-risk and your weight before you got pregnant. Your weight never reflects your value and the conversation about your weight belongs between you and your healthcare provider and no one else!
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So, with that said, how do you figure out how much weight you should gain during pregnancy? It is determined using your BMI (Body Mass Index) which is a measurement of fat calculated by finding a ratio between your height and weight. The resulting number is used to determine if you are underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese. You can use an online calculator like this one to find your BMI. Keep in mind that our body types are all so different and it is impossible to fully describe someone’s body through a general calculation like this, so it is just an estimation and not something to get totally wrapped up in. Here is a breakdown of what you should gain during pregnancy based on your BMI:
|BMI||Weight gain during pregnancy (in lbs.)||Weight gain for a twin pregnancy (in lbs.)|
|<18.5% – Underweight||28-40||50-62|
|18.5% – 24.9% – Normal||25-35||37-54|
|25% – 29.9% – Overweight||15-25||31-50|
|>30 – Obese||11-20||25-42|
Why do we need to gain weight within these ranges?
Not gaining enough weight during pregnancy can be associated with babies that are born smaller which can sometimes mean difficulties breastfeeding, increased risk for illnesses, or developmental delays.
Gaining too much weight during pregnancy is sometimes associated with bigger babies and can also be associated with complications like gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and sometimes cesarean delivery. Gaining too much weight during pregnancy can also affect the weight that stays around after baby is born.
These are risks on the extreme ends of the spectrum and don’t always accompany weight gain outside the recommended range, but they are important to consider. There are many reasons that some women gain less or more than the recommended amount. If you are feeling well and your healthcare provider has no concerns, it is very common and okay to be above or below the range for your pre-pregnancy weight.
In fact, 48% of women gain more weight than the recommended weight for their BMI range.
21% gain less than the recommended weight for their range.
Only 32% gain the actual amount of weight in the recommended range. That’s right! Only ⅓ of pregnant women.
Instead of focusing solely on the number on the scale, it is helpful to focus on what you’re eating instead of how much or how little. The right nutrition is the key to having a well rounded diet which is what will get the right nutrition to your baby. This can be so hard to do when you’re experiencing strong pregnancy cravings! I craved Mexican food so much during the first trimester of my pregnancy which lead to Taco Bell 5 times a week (or more! Eek!). There are ways to work with your cravings while still eating healthy foods. I began making my own tacos at home which still satisfied my cravings but without all the unhealthy ingredients you’ll find in fast food options like Taco Bell.
“But I’m eating for two!” I hear you! The hunger and cravings may make you feel that way, but this is a myth. In the first trimester, you do not require ANY extra calories. And by the second trimester, you typically need about 340 extra calories. By the end of your pregnancy, you need about 450 extra calories a day. This may seem like a lot, but 450 calories goes by quickly and you can find some examples of what that looks like at the CDC website.
If you’ve counted calories before, it is likely that you were working towards a weight loss goal. While weight loss calorie ranges are usually 1200-1400 per day, pregnancy is not the time to cut calories. First trimester recommendations are around 1800 calories per day. During the second trimester it goes up to about 2200 and then up to about 2400 calories per day during the third trimester. Remember to try to choose nutrient dense foods including dairy, grains, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats and avoid empty calories like processed foods and sugar.
For the average weight woman, you’d expect to gain around 30 pounds over the course of your pregnancy. That sounds like a lot, but there is a lot that goes on in your body to account for that weight. Let’s take a look at the different components of weight gain during pregnancy:
7.5 lbs – Your Baby’s weight at delivery (approximately)
1.5 lbs – Placenta
4.0 lbs – Extra fluids
2.0 lbs – Uterus
2.0 lbs – Breast tissue
4.0 lbs – Increased blood volume
7.0 lbs – Maternal Fat Stores
2.0 lbs – Amniotic Fluid
So while 30 or more pounds may seem like a lot, most of it is related directly to the baby itself and the organs and body functions required to grow the baby. The weight described here will be gained over the course of your whole pregnancy. It is typically recommended to gain 1-5lbs during the first trimester and then 1-2lbs per week in the second and third trimesters. These are just averages so talk to your healthcare provider as they may adjust these based on your individual circumstances.
Those first weeks of pregnancy can feel like a lifetime while you’re experiencing all the excitement of the first trimester and even seeing some weight gain, but it will likely be at least 12 weeks or even well into the second trimester before you begin seeing your cute bump emerge. This is especially true if it is your first pregnancy. Moms in their second or subsequent pregnancies may begin showing sooner because their uterus has stretched before.
Along with a focus on healthy calorie intake, it is important to stay active during your pregnancy. About 30 minutes per day or 2.5 hours a week is recommended and it can be broken up in ways that work for you. Physical activity is healthy and safe for most low-risk pregnant women. It can help keep your body active, reduce swelling, improve blood circulation, and has a whole host of other benefits. For more about safe physical activity during pregnancy, check out this podcast with pregnancy fitness guru Sara Haley. Exercise is something that I wish I would have done better myself during my own pregnancy so I know it can be a challenge. It doesn’t come naturally to all of us and it can be hard to stay committed during pregnancy fatigue but it is something that will keep both you and your baby healthy during and after pregnancy.
Weight gain is such a sensitive area for many of us, especially if you struggled with it before pregnancy. It can be hard to let our bodies gain the weight necessary to support our babies and their growth. Our bodies undergo so many changes throughout pregnancy and it can be hard to accept at times. It is, however, a natural and necessary part of pregnancy. If you’re struggling in any way around weight gain during pregnancy, please talk to your healthcare provider. They are equipped to provide support for you both physically and emotionally.
I hope this information will help give you a reference point for how to expect your body to change throughout pregnancy. Remember to listen to your body and always check in with your healthcare provider about your unique needs. Here’s to healthy bodies growing healthy babies!
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American Pregnancy Association “Weight Gain during your Pregnancy”: https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/pregnancy-weight-gain/
CDC “Weight Gain during Pregnancy”: https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/pregnancy-weight-gain.htm
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This post was transcribed by Jodi Piscitelli with J.Piscitelli VA Services. If you would like to work with Jodi, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.