3 Tips for Healthy Weight Gain During Pregnancy
During pregnancy, it can be difficult to know when weight gain is healthy and expected, and when it’s too much. Kristin Andolaro and Shawn Swift, registered dietitians at the Virtua Women's Center, explain how to keep pregnancy weight gain in check.
It’s not about “eating for two”
The popular idea that pregnant women must “eat for two” isn’t accurate. During the first trimester, pregnant women don’t actually need to eat any more than the calories typically recommended for their weight/activity level. In the second trimester, women with a body-mass index (BMI) in the “normal” range (between 18.5-24.9) typically only need to add about 340 calories per day, and in the third trimester, that number only goes up to about 450. This can vary depending on a person’s pre-pregnancy weight and BMI, and overweight or obese women may require less.
Focus on nutrition, not calories
As the baby develops and the body changes, nutritional needs increase significantly. Swapping out processed foods for vitamin-rich whole foods is a great way to increase nutrition without increasing calories. Replace white bread with whole-grain bread, fruit juice with whole fruits, soda or sweet tea with water, and iceberg lettuce with dark leafy greens. MyPlate.gov also has recommendations for balancing nutritional needs throughout pregnancy. Dietitians stress the importance of eating more fiber, which is best paired with drinking more fluids to prevent constipation.
Maintaining a routine of low-impact exercise like walking or swimming for 30 minutes a day is a great way to manage weight gain during pregnancy. In addition, exercise contributes to heart health, increases energy, promotes muscle tone, and relieves constipation. Just remember: exercise during pregnancy is about healthy weight gain, and not about weight loss.
Risks of unhealthy weight gain
Poor nutrition or excessive weight gain can be a significant danger during pregnancy. Excessive weight gain can lead to back and leg pain, fatigue, varicose veins, preeclampsia, complications with delivery, and also additional weight to lose after baby is born. Poor or inadequate nutrition can lead to anemia, pica (non-food cravings), low birth weight or early birth.
Talk to your doctor
While steps can be taken to maximize health and nutrition during pregnancy, ultimately, every pregnancy is different. There’s no formula to guarantee how much weight you will gain or what complications may arise during your pregnancy. Talk to your doctor about what’s healthy for you.
Updated February 28, 2022