Weight gain is a normal part of any healthy pregnancy. The changes in the body due to the alteration of hormones and appetite, along with the growing fetus, contribute to weight gain and should not be a cause for concern. Even though you are “eating for two”, pregnancy weight gain should be moderate. Excessive weight gain that causes you to be overweight or even obese can put your health at risk and even complicate your pregnancy. Conversely, being underweight is also associated with health risks.

Gaining Weight During Pregnancy

How Much is the Right Amount?

What amount of weight gain during pregnancy can be considered to be the right amount? Everybody knows that you need to gain weight during pregnancy. In fact, putting on the extra kilos is inevitable, but how will you know if you are gaining the right amount of weight? Is it too much or is it too little?

There is no hard and fast rule that can be applied to all women. How much weight gain is right for you will depend primarily on your BMI and weight before pregnancy, as well as other circumstances such as if you are pregnant with twins or if you suffer from diabetes.

In the first trimester of pregnancy you may even lose weight, often as a result of morning sickness, but that should not be a cause for concern unless the weight loss is excessive. What is more important is that from the second trimester onwards you should show a steady weight gain. This will indicate that your baby is getting the correct amount of nutrients on a regular basis.

Guidelines for Pregnancy Weight Gain

As a rule, it is generally accepted that a weight gain between 10 and 12.5 kilograms (22 to 28 pounds) during pregnancy is adequate. However, your healthcare provider will be the best person to guide you regarding your individual requirement.You have to be careful to ensure that your weight gain during pregnancy is neither too much nor too little. Either extreme can cause problems for you and your baby.

If you are overweight:

You will be considered to be overweight if your BMI is between 25 and 29.9. BMI is a measure of your weight in relation to your height. However, you will still need to gain weight during pregnancy by eating a healthy diet so that you can supply the correct amount of nutrients to your baby. Dieting is not an option during pregnancy.

The recommended weight gain during pregnancy for women who are overweight is usually between 7 to 11 kg (15 to 25 pounds). You have to be careful to see that you do not exceed this limit. Another point to remember is that, this weight gain should come from healthy eating and not fast foods. On an average, you should gain 0.2 to 0.3 kg (0.5 to 0.7 lb) per week from the second trimester onwards.

If you are obese:

You will be considered as obese if your BMI is 30 or more. Although you are still advised to gain weight, it will be to a lesser degree – 5 to 9 kg (11 to 20 lbs). The weekly gain should be 0.2 to 0.3 kg.

If your weight is normal:

If your BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9 before pregnancy, your weight is absolutely within normal limits. You should ideally gain between 11 to 16 kg (25 to 35 lbs) during pregnancy, at a rate of 0.4 to 0.5 kg (0.8 to 1 lb) per week.

If you are underweight:

With BMI less than 18.5 you will be considered to be underweight. You will need to gain some extra weight during pregnancy so that your baby’s growth is adequate. A weight gain of 13 to 18 kg (28 to 40 lbs) is usually recommended, with a steady gain of 0.5 to 0.6 kg (1 to 1.3 lbs) per week being ideal.

If you are carrying twins:

You will definitely need to gain more weight than normal, but it should not be double the normal amount as is sometimes thought.

Overweight and Obesity During Pregnancy

There is a fine line between being obese and being overweight but the associated risks during pregnancy are almost the same for both. When you have a BMI (body mass index) – which is a measure of your weight in relation to your height – of 30 and above, you are said to be obese, but a person with a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered to be overweight.

Either way, it means that you weigh more than you should. Obesity is considered as a pregnancy risk factor and women need to be informed about the complications that are possible if they are overweight during pregnancy.You may have been overweight before you got pregnant or your obesity could be due to excessive weight gain during pregnancy.

Obesity, at any time in your life, is associated with various health risks. It increases your risk of suffering from heart disease, stroke, diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure) and arthritis. Eating disorders and depression occur quite often. Obesity may be a cause for infertility. Additional problems can arise, relating to you and your baby, once you do become pregnant.

Risks of Being Overweight/Obese During Pregnancy

So what are the risks of being overweight or obese during pregnancy? Excess weight can cause many health problems for you and your baby.

Health Risks For Your Baby:

  1. Recent studies have shown that obese mothers are more likely to give birth to babies with congenital heart defects and this risk increases in direct proportion to the level of obesity.
  2. Growth abnormalities in the baby.
  3. Obesity increases the risk of giving birth to a baby with neural tube defects such as spina bifida, cleft lip and cleft palate. Taking folic acid supplements may not be enough to prevent this.
  4. Big baby (macrosomia), often causing difficulty during labor and delivery.
  5. Birth injuries.
  6. Stillbirths.
  7. Increased chances of suffering from childhood obesity.
  8. Children are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life
  9. Preterm delivery.

Health Risks for the Mother

  1. Gestational diabetes.
  2. Pregnancy hypertension
  3. Pre-eclampsia and eclampsia.
  4. Higher rate of early miscarriage.
  5. Increased risk of thromboembolism (blood clots).
  6. Difficult delivery
  7. More chances of undergoing a Cesarean section.
  8. Post-operative complications
  9. Postpartum infection
  10. Obesity is associated with decreased incidence of breastfeeding.

How to Prevent Pregnancy Obesity

Pre-pregnancy counseling is very important to emphasize the risks of obesity during pregnancy. The need for vitamin and mineral supplements, including folic acid should be explained and screening done for hypertension and diabetes. If you are planning a pregnancy and are overweight, it would be better for you and your baby if you could lose weight before conception.

In the pre-pregnancy stage you can try different measures for losing weight such as diet control and vigorous exercise. Dieting to lose weight once you conceive is usually not advisable. The focus is rather on moderate exercises such as walking or swimming to prevent drastic weight gain. Remember, even if you are overweight or obese a certain amount of weight gain is mandatory during the nine months of pregnancy. With a healthy diet and moderate exercise you can prevent excessive weight gain during pregnancy.