Overweight women need to gain less (15 to 20 pounds or 7 to 9 kilograms or less, depending on their pre-pregnancy weight).
Underweight women will need to gain more (28 to 40 pounds or 13 to 18 kilograms).
You should gain more weight if you are having more than 1 baby. Women having twins need to gain 37 to 54 pounds (16.5 to 24.5 kilograms).
A balanced, nutrient-rich diet, along with exercise, is the basis for a healthy pregnancy. For most pregnant women, the right amount of calories is:
1,800 calories per day in the 1st trimester
2,200 calories per day in the 2nd trimester
2,400 calories per day in the 3rd trimester
Proper pregnancy nutrition can be hard to maintain when you’re constantly feeling hungry, craving “bad” foods and “eating for two.” But many healthy foods can fulfill those pesky cravings and help you control weight gain during pregnancy. Maintaining a healthy diet and knowing what to eat and what not to eat during pregnancy are important not only to avoid excessive weight gain but also because what you eat affects the overall health of you and your baby.
“As moms-to-be embark on this exciting phase of their lives and bring a new life into the world, your health and managing a healthy weight gain during pregnancy is of the utmost importance,” says Dr. Liz Applegate, nationally renowned nutrition and fitness expert. “Research reveals that excessive weight gain can set the stage for weight struggles for mom persisting well beyond ‘baby years.'”
Weight gain during pregnancy is different for every mom, but the optimal amount of weight gain for women who have a healthy body mass index — defined as between 18.5 and 24.9 — is 25 to 35 pounds. If a woman starts out underweight, the amount of gain should be more; if she is overweight, the amount should be less.
A common misconception about eating while pregnant stems from the idea that a woman is “eating for two.” A pregnant woman does not have to double her caloric intake and portions. Women should only consume an extra 200 to 300 calories per day — and that’s only during the second and third trimesters.
“Proper weight gain promotes normal development of the developing baby,” Applegate says. “Being overweight or obese during pregnancy can increase the risk of developing gestational diabetes, problems with blood pressure and complications with delivery, such as preterm birth.”
Managing sweet cravings
Sweet cravings are common during pregnancy because of changes in hormonal levels, and research shows that women with gestational diabetes experience more intense cravings.
“Incorporating low- and no-calorie sweeteners is a safe and helpful way to satisfy sweet desires without unwanted calories,” Applegate says.
The FDA has deemed some low- or zero-calorie sweeteners, including sucralose (Splenda), aspartame (Equal), saccharin (Sweet’N Low), and stevia (Truvia), safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Applegate recommends using one of these sweeteners in iced tea or a sugar-free yogurt topped with berries, which includes calcium, vitamin C and other nutrients.
Approximately 200 milligrams or less of caffiene is safe to consume daily, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. This is equivalent to a 12-ounce brewed coffee or four cans of Diet Coke.
“A mom-to-be can feel comfortable about enjoying this moderate amount of caffeine during the day but should avoid caffeine intake later in the day so as not to disrupt sleeping,” Applegate says.
Another key aspect of staying healthy during pregnancy is exercise. The goal for all adults, whether they are pregnant or not, is 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise. The most important thing to remember is that you can continue with the same level of activity you performed before becoming pregnant, but pay attention to what your body is telling you.
“Women who are very athletic, such as serious runners and dancers, can continue with their activities, but should modify according to how they feel,” Applegate says. “Any cramping, dizziness or nausea should signal a woman to slow down or stop the activity.” Contact sports, though, should be avoided.
Seafood during pregnancy
Another misconception is that pregnant women should steer clear from fish and seafood because of mercury, a metal contaminant found in fish. However, Applegate believes you should view fish as a “critical part” of your pregnancy diet.
Fish supplies omega-3 fats, which are essential for brain and eye development in babies, improve heart health, and possibly reduce anxiety and depression for moms.
The USDA Diet Guidelines and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding women consume at least 8 to 12 ounces of fish per week.
“The best fish and seafood to consume are salmon, shrimp, catfish, pollock and canned fish, such as light tuna and wild-caught salmon. [They] can provide a convenient option,” Applegate says. “Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid four exotic fish: shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish, which are not commonly eaten or available in the U.S., as these fish tend to contain higher amounts of mercury.”
Dangerous foods during pregnancy
Foods that present risk for food-borne illness, such as raw seafood, sprouts and certain dairy and meats, should not be consumed. When consuming dairy, Applegate advises to check the label to make sure the items are made with pasteurized milk and milk products.
“Soft cheeses, such as Brie, Camembert and Mexican-style cheeses, are typically unpasteurized and may pose a risk for food-borne illness called listeriosis,” Applegate says. “Pregnant women are more susceptible to this form of food-borne illness than the general population. This illness may result in miscarriage and premature delivery.”
Some everyday foods with a risk for bacterial contamination and listeriosis include meats such as hot dogs and cold cuts; eggs; raw seafood; and sprouts.
Eating healthy during pregnancy also makes for an easier weight-loss journey after delivery. Maintaining a proper diet doesn’t have to stop after your baby is born.
“Your eating habits during pregnancy and after childbirth set the stage for your new baby and family,” Applegate says. “Establishing healthy eating patterns now will benefit all your loved ones.”
Some women are already overweight when they get pregnant. Other women gain weight too quickly during their pregnancy. Either way, a pregnant woman should not go on a diet or try to lose weight during pregnancy.
It is better to focus on eating the right foods and staying active. If you do not gain enough weight during pregnancy, you and your baby may have problems.
Still, you can make changes in your diet to get the nutrients you need without gaining too much weight. Talk to your health care provider to get help with planning a healthy diet.
Below are some healthy eating tips to help you get started.
Fresh fruits and vegetables make good snacks. They are full of vitamins and low in calories and fat.
Eat breads, crackers, and cereals made with whole grains.
Choose reduced-fat dairy products. You need at least 4 servings of milk products every day. However, using skim, 1%, or 2% milk will greatly reduce the amount of calories and fat you eat. Also choose low-fat or fat-free cheese or yogurt.
Foods to avoid:
Naturally sweetened is better than foods and drinks with added sugar or artificial sweeteners.
Food and drinks that list sugar or corn syrup as one of the first ingredients are not good choices.
Many sweetened drinks are high in calories. Read the label and watch out for drinks that are high in sugar. Substitute water for sodas and fruit drinks.
Avoid junk-food snacks, such as chips, candy, cake, cookies, and ice cream. The best way to keep from eating junk food or other unhealthy snacks is to not have these foods in your house.
Go light on fats. Fats include cooking oils, margarine, butter, gravy, sauces, mayonnaise, regular salad dressings, lard, sour cream, and cream cheese. Try the lower-fat versions of these foods.
Knowing the amount of calories, fat, and salt in your food can help you eat healthier.
Most restaurants have menus and nutrition facts on their websites. Use these to plan ahead.
In general, eat at places that offer salads, soups, and vegetables.
Avoid fast food.
Cooking at home:
Prepare meals using low-fat cooking methods.
Frying foods in oil or butter will increase the calories and fat of the meal.
Baking, broiling, grilling, or boiling are healthier, lower-fat methods of cooking.
Moderate exercise, as recommended by your provider, can help burn extra calories.
Walking or swimming are generally safe, effective exercises for pregnant women.
Be sure to talk to your provider before starting an exercise program.
Body Image During Pregnancy
If you have struggled with your weight in the past, it may be hard to accept that it is ok to gain weight now. It is normal to feel anxious as the numbers on the scale edge up.
Keep in mind that you need to gain weight for a healthy pregnancy. The extra pounds will come off after you have had your baby. However, if you gain a lot more weight than is recommended, your baby will also be bigger. That can sometimes lead to problems with delivery. A healthy diet and regular exercise are your best ways to ensure a healthy pregnancy and baby.