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Keep Yourself and Your Baby Safer By Practicing Weight Management During Pregnancy

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For most of us, our relationship with food is always complicated—but never more so than during pregnancy. To make things worse, people typically encourage you to eat everything you desire when you’re pregnant, and as much as you’d like to eat. “The baby wants it,” they’ll say, or “After all, you’re eating for two now.”

The reality of the situation is much different, however. For most women, the maximum amount of safe weight gain in pregnancy is 20 to 25 pounds. (That number is based on pre-pregnancy BMI, so your doctor may recommend a different goal for you.) If you exceed that range of weight gain, you risk complications for yourself and your baby.

These risks including having a baby who is too large, which increases the chances you’ll need a C-section or makes vaginal delivery more difficult and dangerous. Being born larger raises the risk that your baby will be overweight as a child and may be more likely to develop diabetes in childhood.

So how do you keep your weight in check during pregnancy? There are two sides to this answer: nutrition and exercise. While many women feel it is natural—and even necessary—to eat more during pregnancy, the truth is that the average women needs just 300 more calories a day to support a healthy pregnancy. That’s the equivalent of a couple of medium-sized apples, 2-1/2 oranges, 9 ounces of turkey deli meat or 2 ounces of chocolate. In other words, it’s not a lot of additional food to add to your diet.

In fact, since many women already eat more calories than they need every day, physicians often recommend that their pregnant patients continue to eat their normal diet, without adding any foods. The only difference is that pregnant patients are typically counseled to eat six small meals a day instead of the typical three.

During pregnancy, it’s particularly important to eat a healthy diet, both to keep your weight gain in a safe range and to provide your growing baby the full array of nutrients he or she needs to develop properly. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables and lean protein, such as grilled chicken. Limit high-carb foods—potatoes, bread, tortillas, muffins, cereal and bagels, to name a few—to just one or two servings a day. An overbalance of carbohydrates, which is extremely easy to do in our American diet, results in weight gain for both mom and baby.

The other great way to keep your weight gain in check during pregnancy is exercise. Your mother, grandmother or other older relatives and friends probably recall being told to stop all exercise during pregnancy. In recent years, medical researchers have discovered this is faulty advice that can actually cause harm.

Instead, you should continue your exercise routine throughout your pregnancy. In fact, if you’re not already physically active, this would be a fantastic time to start—for your health and the health of your baby. Aim to get 20-30 minutes of moderate exercise five to seven days a week. If you’re new to exercise, start slowly and work your way up.

Great forms of exercise during pregnancy include walking, swimming, riding a stationary bike, low-impact aerobics and yoga. The only types of exercise you should stay away from are anything that carries a significant risk of falling and any exercise in a heated environment, such as hot yoga or hot Pilates. (Women who have a fever during pregnancy have a greater risk of having a child who develops cerebral palsy, so there is a concern about any kind of environment that raises the body’s core temperature substantially.)

In addition, if there are other issues that can be made worse by exercise—such as vaginal bleeding or pre-term contractions—you should talk with your doctor about whether or not exercise is safe for you. Otherwise, there is no indication that exercise puts you at elevated risk for pre-term labor, miscarriage or early delivery.

With good nutrition and exercise, you can give your baby the best possible start in the world while keeping yourself fit and ready to take on the task of being a mom to a newborn.

Sarah Garcia, DO, is a specialist in obstetrics & gynecology with Simi Obstetrics & Gynecology in Simi Valley. She is also on the medical staff at Simi Valley Hospital.