You may be one of those women who has battled with weight issues most of her life – and now here you are, pregnant, and finally at the one point in your life when you can gain and gain and gain and not have to feel guilty at all, right? Unfortunately, no, it’s not that easy. During pregnancy your body will go through a number of physiological and hormonal changes that will naturally put on some pounds, but in the midst of morning sickness and cravings, it is important to follow what your doctor or midwife says regarding weight gain, exercise, and nutrition.
So what do I mean by energy balance? Energy balance and energy imbalance are situations governed by how much energy we take in and how much energy we use or “spend”. Yes, you can take the time to count the calories in everything you eat and calculate your daily energy expenditure down to minutes spent standing, sitting, walking, etc.; but energy balance can easily be determined based on the change in your weight over time. In an energy-balanced situation, your weight should stay relatively the same. Energy imbalance can go both ways – if you take in more calories than you spend, the scale goes up, and if you take in fewer calories than you spend, the scale goes down. So what does this have to do with pregnancy? A lot!
The weight you should gain during pregnancy, known as gestational weight gain, is based on your pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI) to create an ideal environment for baby’s growth and to minimize health risks for mom. According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), underweight women should gain 28-40 pounds, normal weight women should gain 25-35 pounds, overweight women should gain 15-25 pounds, and obese women should gain 11-20 pounds. This pregnancy gain basically keeps you in energy balance.
Although very common, gaining too much or too little can have negative health outcomes for both you and baby. We expect you to gain weight during pregnancy, but that doesn’t mean you get to ditch the gym bag at the door and bust out the ice cream while watching your favorite shows every night. Gaining weight is healthy, but gaining the wrong kind of weight is harder to lose after baby is born. By continuing a consistent exercise routine and eating slightly more, your naturally changing hormones will help you to gain appropriately and lose it quickly postpartum.
Many women think of pregnancy as the time when you can “eat for two,” which doubles caloric intake and results in excessive weight gain, often leading to negative health outcomes including metabolic diseases, obesity, and other complications. Realistically you should consume the healthiest, most nutrient dense foods that include adequate protein, iron, folic acid, healthy fats, whole grains, and lots of fruits and veggies. Other foods just provide “empty calories” and promote excess weight gain that will stick around longer after pregnancy. Really, most women should only be eating about an extra 300 calories a day. Want to know what is right for you? Your healthcare provider is a great resource, but also check in with a nutritionist or check out www.choosemyplate.gov, which provides specific information about prenatal nutrition habits and weight gain suggestions.
The other aspect of energy balance is your fitness habits. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) suggests moderate physical activity for 30 minutes at least 5, if not more, days of the week. This exercise should consist of low impact exercise that has no risk of impact or your falling and includes some modifications during the last trimester. Improving strength, maintaining cardiovascular shape, and eating healthy should still be components of your daily routine, and may even be more important than before. If you exercised before pregnancy, you should be able to follow the same routine until you have musculoskeletal limitations. If you are new to exercise, it may be best to work with a fitness professional to ensure safety. Always speak to your healthcare provider before starting a new fitness routine, and err on the side of caution.
Your lifestyle during pregnancy should be the healthiest it can be to ensure long-term health for you and your new baby.
This Blog post was originally written by Erica for Isis Parenting in 2012. Click here to see the original post and many more great things still left from Isis Parenting.