Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Katja Leccisi, Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, Canada
Photos: Steph Willetts
Eating well during pregnancy: pregnancy weight gain.
Good nutrition means eating a well-balanced and varied diet of foods in as close to their natural state as possible.
When you first found out you were pregnant, did you have an idea of how much weight you might gain, and why? Did you ever worry about whether you were gaining too little or too much weight? And wonder how much of what foods you “should” be eating?
During pregnancy, weight gain is used as a general indicator of maternal health, as well as that of the developing baby, which is why your health care provider usually asks you to step on the scale at your prenatal visits.
Why does your pregnancy weight gain matter? Health Canada states:
“Women who have healthy babies gain varying amounts of weight during pregnancy. However, observational data consistently show that women who gain the recommended amount of weight have better pregnancy outcomes than others. This does not mean that every woman who gains more or less than the recommended amount of weight will have an unhealthy pregnancy. Many other factors (such as smoking, maternal age, and underlying illness) can affect pregnancy outcomes.”
Very often there is little weight gain during the first trimester of pregnancy, but as your pregnancy progresses, the placenta, amniotic fluid, and your growing baby will account for about 35% of your weight gain, while the rest of the weight gain is from increased blood and fluids, tissues of the breast and uterus, and fat stores.
In 2009, the Institute of Medicine issued new guidelines for maternal pregnancy weight gain. These guidelines have since been widely adopted, including by Health Canada and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The recommended weight gain is based on a woman’s pre-pregnancy weight status, as reflected in her Body Mass Index, or BMI.
BMI = pre-pregnancy weight in kilograms
(height in metres)2
BMI = pre-pregnancy weight in pounds x 703
(height in inches)2
Find an online BMI calculator here
And here are the current pregnancy weight gain recommendations:
|Pre-pregnancy weight Recommended weight gain|
|BMI < 18.5||28 to 40 lb. (about 13 to 18 kg)|
|BMI 18.5 to 24.9||25 to 35 lb. (about 11 to 16 kg)|
|BMI 25 to 29.9||15 to 25 lb. (about 7 to 11 kg)|
|BMI 30 or more||11 to 20 lb. (about 5 to 9 kg)|
Table adapted from the recommendations for total and rate of weight gain during pregnancy and by pregnancy BMI.
But how do the guidelines relate to how we eat during pregnancy? How do we achieve this recommended weight gain?
Do you need to “eat for two”?
While it’s true that a pregnant woman’s body is carrying a growing little person, the “eating for two” concept is not quite accurate.
The key to appropriate weight gain during pregnancy is listening to your own body. Very simply, eat when you are hungry and stop eating when you feel satisfied. Be conscious of what sorts of foods you choose to eat, aiming to fuel your body with mostly nutritious foods.
Pregnancy is not a time to diet or severely restrict food intake. But it is a perfect opportunity to improve the way you eat. After all, you want to put all the chances on your side of giving birth to a healthy, term baby. And thinking ahead, as a parent, you will be a role model for your children: they will learn to eat by watching and imitating you.
In my definition, being a healthy eater means taking pleasure in eating and being conscious, or mindful, of what, why, and how much you eat. It means eating the right amount of food for your own body’s needs by listening to your internal signals of hunger and satiety. In addition, healthy eating includes enjoying many different foods, so you are likely to get all the nutrients you need, for yourself and for your baby. A bonus: the diversity of foods you eat exposes your baby in utero to a variety of flavors. And, of course, healthy eating can certainly include some odd food combinations to indulge crazy pregnancy food cravings!
During the first trimester of pregnancy, nutritional needs only increase minimally. You don’t really need to eat anything “extra” at all, but you will most likely want to take a prenatal vitamin and mineral supplement, which includes folic acid and iron. Talk to your health care provider about this.
(My next feature on breastfeedingtoday will talk specifically about iron and preventing anemia.)
Eating as usual, during the first trimester can be a challenge, with the common nausea that many women experience.
During your second and third trimesters, your nutrient needs do increase, but perhaps by less than you think. Your energy needs actually only increase, on average, by about 300 calories. Now remember, this is the “average” so continue to listen to your body. But as a point of reference, what do 300 calories look like? It’s an extra two to three servings from any of the food groups each day. For example, an extra piece of toast and a piece of cheese; or an extra glass of milk, cracker and peanut butter; or a banana and a small milk-based smoothie. Ideally these “extras” should come from nutritious foods, so they contribute to your baby’s overall growth and development.
To help prevent fatigue, try eating at regular intervals (avoid skipping meals): remember, your baby is “eating” via your amniotic fluid 24 hours a day, so keep yourself and him or her well fueled.
If you are having a difficult time eating your usual amounts of food because of continued nausea or vomiting, if you lose weight, stop gaining weight, or if your weight gain spikes, be sure to talk to your health care provider. You might also consider consulting with a registered dietitian-nutritionist who regularly works with pregnant women, to help guide you to meet your, and your growing baby’s, nutrient needs.
Katja Leccisi, MS, RDN, author of How to Feed Your Kids: Four Steps to Raising Healthy Eaters, is a registered dietitian-nutritionist in both Canada and the USA. She has more than 20 years’ experience working with families and educators in clinical, community, and workshop settings in both countries. She lives in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, Canada. Visit her at www.Leccisi.com.
More from Katja: Eating Well during Pregnancy: Coping with Morning Sickness Nausea