What You Need to Know About Prenatal Weight Change

Pregnancy can seem like the perfect excuse to eat what you want without worrying about the repercussions. Admittedly, it is important to gain some weight, but that doesn’t mean you can give in to every craving you have. But, just as gaining too much weight can lead to complications, insufficient weight gain can cause problems during pregnancy as well. Here’s a look at the risks of inappropriate weight gain and loss during pregnancy. 

Prenatal Weight Gain

It’s difficult to know what a healthy amount of weight to gain during pregnancy is, even for women who actively try to watch their diet and weight. Starting from a relatively “perfect” weight, most experts suggest 25-35 pounds of weight gain -- but being over or underweight can impact this number. On average, experts recommend increasing caloric intake by about 300 in the first trimester. It’s important to consider not only current physical condition, but other aspects of the pregnancy, such as if the mother is carrying multiples, and other factors related to maternal genetic background.
In some cases, women whose own mother gained a lot of weight when pregnant are more likely to gain a similar amount. Additionally, women with a tendency to gain weight easily pre-pregnancy may have more difficulty controlling their weight during pregnancy. Talk to your obstetrician or midwife about the right amount of weight gain for you. Even if you extend the effort to avoid the scale at home, you’ll still have regular weigh-ins during your doctor visits. 

Effects of Increased Weight Gain

Pregnant or not, a lot of weight gain can have serious consequences. When you’re pregnant, specifically, those consequences can also impact your baby. Gaining too much weight can increase your risk of developing gestational diabetes, a form of diabetes specific to pregnant women. Prenatal obesity may also lead to heart problems, which can affect both mother and baby. 
Added weight may also make the pregnancy itself more difficult and uncomfortable by causing additional cramping, aches, and fatigue. Labor and delivery tends to be harder as well, and it’s possible prenatal obesity can require a cesarean section, rather than a vaginal delivery. After delivery, the weight doesn’t leave as easily as it came on, and you may experience difficulty managing your weight for years to come.

Effects of Insufficient Weight Gain

Not gaining enough weight isn’t as common as gaining too much, but it does happen and also has complications. If you’re eating well and not gaining enough weight, there could be an underlying health condition interfering with your body’s ability to use the food you eat. If you aren’t eating well, you and your baby may both become malnourished. As your baby develops, your body sends nutrients to the fetus first, and you get the leftovers. As a result, malnutrition generally appears in the mother first, but can also lead to low birth weight or preterm labor, as well as other complications. 

Managing a Healthy Weight

Again, it’s important to have a discussion with your doctor early in pregnancy about how much weight gain is appropriate for you. Make sure to eat healthy foods from a variety of food groups, particularly those rich in nutrients, like folic acid and calcium. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week, and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. If you’re concerned about the amount of weight you are (or are not) gaining, talk to your doctor about healthy solutions. 
Last Updated: November 13, 2017