Pregnancy weight gain: Let's talk about it
Read time: Approx. 4 minutes 30 seconds
…SUCH A TOUCHY TOPIC!
So, let’s start this off right: This has absolutely nothing to do with appearance and everything to do with the immediate and longterm health of both momma and baby. As if we don’t have enough going on throughout pregnancy, weight gain can be a huge stressor. I’m writing this because it doesn’t have to be.
Despite good intentions, a lot of pregnancy (and general nutrition) advice and beliefs are based on how people feel rather than what’s evidence-based… All that I’ll share here is purely a means of education, so you can make informed choices in your current or future pregnancy.
Pregnant or not, amidst this beautiful #bodypositivity movement that’s currently taking place, some are ignoring the real risks associated with excess body fat. Whenever we first became consumed with being skinny for appearance sake, we simultaneously veered away from what’s healthy. And we’ve yet to fully return to health being central to how we care for our body.
Food choices are still too personal, too emotional, and too attached to everything except “what does my body need to function well, today and for years to come?”
That’s what I want to draw us back to.
In the mid 1900’s studies began to take place on the health effects of underfeeding during pregnancy. It was then that we started to learn that prenatal nutrition not only affects mom and baby’s weight, but it also has lifelong health implications.
Today, underfeeding is no longer the issue at hand… Over 60% of women between the ages of 20-39 are overweight or obese in America. So now we’re learning a lot about the effects being overweight or obese has on pregnancy.
Some of what we’ve learned and are still learning about…
Momma’s diet has a long-lasting impact on her baby’s chance of developing mental health disorders, impaired social behaviors, lower cognitive abilities, increased response to stress, and altered reward-related behaviors.
Rat mothers who eat a high-fat diet during pregnancy are likely to have offspring that crave highly palatable food (processed foods engineered to target the brain’s most basic pleasure response). In turn, creating an intergenerational cycle of eating these types of foods and perpetuating obesity from one generation to the next.
Maternal overeating can increase the child’s risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic and psychological disorders.
The more weight mothers gained during pregnancy, the higher the odds were that their children would be obese by the time they were adults.
Appetite control and hormonal regulation of fat tissue development and metabolism are programmed while baby is in the womb.
Source: Dr. Nicole M. Avena, “What to Eat When You’re Pregnant”
I want to stress that the risks associated with being overweight before or during pregnancy are not entirely about weight and body fat percentage alone. Nutrient deficiencies, poor cardiovascular health, and insulin resistance are among some of the health factors that we’ve found tend to go hand in hand with being overweight - giving way to a whole host of other health risks. Overweight has become an umbrella, so to speak, but just because you tick that one box doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to tick more. It means that the chance you will is a higher than someone who isn’t overweight. And we need to be honest about that and navigate pregnancy well informed and with a nutrition and exercise plan that looks out for both mom and baby.
How much weight gain is recommended during pregnancy?
The Institute of Medicine’s guidelines for pregnancy weight gain is the most evidence-based and considers the outcomes of both mother and child during and after delivery and the trade-offs between them.
Unfortunately, BMI can be incredibly inaccurate because it doesn’t account for muscle mass. If you think your BMI is inaccurate then go to your local gym and have your body fat % measured.
This blog is maxed out with information… And some of it can be overwhelming and perhaps a bit scary. That’s usually how a lot of nutrition and health goals feel.
When my clients come to me with a goal, it’s my job to take that goal out of their hands (and head) and I give them practical behavior goals that navigate them to their outcome goal. It’s also important to note that I only have them focus on one behavior at a time for the sake of sustainability.
So, let’s jump to it.
General behavior goals for a healthy pregancy:
Take a prenatal vitamin, prenatal probiotic, and omega-3 supplement.
(Recommended supplements linked)
Drink at least 3 liters of water a day.
Eat a “palm” size portion of lean protein, 2 “fists” of vegetables, 1-2 “cupped handfuls” of smart carbohydrates, and 1 “thumb” size portion of healthy fats at each meal. Break this into smaller quantities by eating more frequently, if you can’t stomach it all at once.
Only eat when you’re hungry.
Eat slowly and mindfully.
Stop eating when you’re comfortably full, not stuffed.
Keep less then healthy sugary or fried foods to an occasional treat, not a daily staple.
Weigh yourself once a week and chart your weight gain in comparison to the recommendations.