Weight gain & pregnancy... what's the right amount?

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This is a common question that I hear from all of my pregnant clients.  And let me guess: You’re also wondering why you’re so hungry and how much you should be eating, right?

According to Catherine Cram, MS., the average weight gain during pregnancy in our society is between 24 and 33 pounds (11-15 kgs).  Let me break it down for you.  When you get pregnant you’ll have a massive increase in blood volume and fluid retention (hello, amniotic fluid).   This will account for about 9-15 lbs of weight.  Add on the placenta, maternal fat or fat your body creates to store more calories (usually on your hips, thighs, and butt), your boobs growing at a rate you didn’t know possible, and of course your baby!    The amount of weight you gain boils down to genetics, the culture you live in, and mostly what you’re eating and how often you exercise.  Other factors that affect your weight include morning sickness and food cravings.  I spent the first four months of my first pregnancy sick and craving bland food, like lemon ice pops, baked beans, and BLTs on rye toast.  Not things I would normally eat but that’s what my body wanted.  The bottom line is, considering all of these variables, the amount of weight you will gain, is different for every pregnant woman. If you’re looking for the hard numbers, a good rule of thumb is this: If you’re underweight, you should plan to gain about 30-40 pounds; for a woman of normal weight, 25-35 pounds; if overweight, 15-25 pounds and for those women who are 5’2” or shorter, your goal weight gain should be around 15-25 pounds.

Think of yourself as the nutrient source for your baby: every day your baby grows exponentially, and needs those nutrients to do so. Your baby is literally taking all the nutrients that you put in your body and sucking them right up.  During pregnancy your body’s metabolism increases about 15-20% just during rest alone.  This is not the time to diet or cut back on calories.   If you’re not eating enough food, then neither you nor your baby will have the strength to do what your bodies need to do.  Generally speaking, moms-to-be who exercise regularly and eat a whole food diet will have healthy weight gains.

When I was pregnant with our daughter, I was working a lot of hours, mostly on my feet, and by the time I arrived at home in the evening, I was exhausted.  It was winter time so I mostly ate soup for dinner because I wanted something soothing, healthy and quick.  I certainly wasn’t counting calories or measuring out my food.  In the first few months of my pregnancy I craved a lot of carbohydrates because I had terrible morning sickness, however I was extremely active and exercised a lot.  Our baby was born four weeks early but she was 6.3 lbs.  I gained right around 33 lbs but probably would’ve been closer to 38-40 lbs had I gone full term.  The important take-away here is to listen to your own body.  You have to do what works for you.

So how much should I eat, you’re asking?  The answer is really dependent on how active you are and what your body is telling you.  While you will absolutely need to consume more calories each day, you are not really “eating for two,” as much as you’d like to think you are. If you’re exercising regularly, you should be eating an extra 500 calories; If you’re inactive, you should increase your caloric intake by only about 300 calories.  We are not talking about gobbling down your favorite cupcake from Magnolia Bakery or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food, unless it’s your Birthday, then by all means go ahead and dig in!  These extra calories should be whole foods made up of healthy fats, lean proteins, and vitamins and minerals from fruits and veggies.  Adding a few healthy snacks throughout the day, like apples with almond butter or a green smoothie, will keep you and your little one going.

But there’s no need to drive yourself crazy stepping on the scale everyday unless you have a medical concern, like gestational diabetes when you’ll need to monitor your weight.  Girl, show off that belly!  Embrace your new shape and realize the miracle you are creating. Keep your focus on eating moderately and healthy and exercising on a regular basis.  Pregnancy is a time for self-care and love.