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Healthy Weight Gain During Pregnancy

Female eating food

By Lila Bruk, Registered Dietitian 

Many women struggle to come to terms with the weight gain necessary during pregnancy - especially for those who have spent a large part of their lives trying to keep their weight down. It’s important to recognise the benefit of weight gain during pregnancy and that it does have an essential role to play in a healthy pregnancy. 

How much weight should you gain during pregnancy? 

Ideal weight gain based on pre-pregnancy BMI throughout pregnancy:
BMI <18.5: 13 to 18kg
BMI 18.5 to 24.9: 11.5 to 16kg
BMI >25: 7 to 11kg

For those with a pre-pregnancy BMI between 18.5 and 24.9, this weight gain would translate to approximately 1 to 2kg gained in the first trimester and then 0.5kg per week for the rest of the pregnancy. Having said that, every woman’s weight gain pattern during pregnancy is very much specific to the individual, thus it may vary slightly from this amount depending on the individual.

What is the weight gain made up of?

Baby: Approx. 3.5 kg
Placenta: 1 to 1.5 kg
Amniotic fluid: 1 to 1.5 kg
Breast tissue: 1 to 1.5 kg
Blood supply: 2 kg
Fat stores: Approx 2 to 4 kg
Uterus growth: 1 to 2.5 kg

As you can see the weight gain during pregnancy definitely does serve an important purpose and is necessary for the baby and the mother’s optimal health. The weight gain also assists in providing energy stores for breastfeeding.

Risks of inadequate weight gain during pregnancy 

If a woman tries to restrict her calories excessively to limit weight gain, there is not only the concern that there may not be sufficient calories for the growth of the baby, but also that by overly restricting her dietary intake, there may be an insufficient intake of the various vitamins and minerals needed for the baby’s optimal health and development. Inadequate weight gain during pregnancy can lead to the baby having a low birth weight and having a higher risk of complications at birth.

A poor dietary intake during pregnancy can also lead to health problems (e.g. such as osteoporosis) for the mother in the future.

Risks of excessive weight gain during pregnancy:

Having said, it is also important to not “eat for two” by consuming an excessive number of calories. Many women use the excuse of pregnancy to overeat or to indulge in those foods they would otherwise avoid. However, the extra calories that one needs during pregnancy is essentially equivalent to a peanut butter sandwich and a glass of milk. 

Excessive weight gain can lead to health problems that threaten the health of the baby and the mother (e.g. gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia, labour complications). Many women also find that if they gain excessive weight gain during pregnancy, it is much harder to lose this excess weight after the baby is born. 

Balanced eating during pregnancy 

During pregnancy, needs to consider the quality in addition to the quantity of the calories of one chooses:
Choose fresh fruits and vegetables, fibre-rich grains (e.g. brown rice, oats) lean proteins (e.g. chicken, fish, legumes, eggs), healthy fats (e.g. nuts, olive oil, olives, avocadoes and seeds) and dairy-rich foods (e.g. milk, yoghurt). 
Avoid refined starches (e.g. white rice, white bread), deep-fried foods and highly processed foods (e.g. instant noodles). 

Therefore, the best strategy during pregnancy is to make balanced food choices to allow for the correct weight gain, which in turn will ensure a happy, healthy pregnancy for both of you!

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