Pregnancy Information Center

Information, Symptoms, Treatments and Resources


Managing Weight Gain During Pregnancy


3 strategies for putting on the right amount for you

By Natalie Gingerich Mackenzie

Gaining the right amount of weight during pregnancy is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself and your baby — but fewer than a third of women do. Most put on either too much or too little, which can lead to pregnancy complications, as well as weight-related health challenges for mom and baby long after birth. Unfortunately, forces that feel beyond your control — like cravings, salad aversions and a mother-in-law who’s dead set on you eating for two — can make it seem impossible to stay on track. Fight back with three strategies for managing your pregnancy weight gain.


Rethink “Eating for Two”

Ice cream for two — if only pregnancy could be so indulgent! Your baby doesn’t actually need extra calories in the first trimester. In the second trimester, you can tack on an extra 340 calories daily (like a cup of Cheerios with 2% milk and a banana) and, in the third trimester, an extra 450 calories a day (equal to a sliced apple with peanut butter on whole-wheat toast). Adding extra calories doesn’t mean relaxing on nutrition, though.

In fact, your growing baby needs more vitamins and minerals, including almost 50% more protein and more than triple the iron than before you were pregnant. While a prenatal vitamin can help bridge the gaps, a healthy diet is still the best way to get these nutrients.

Eating more often may be a better way to look at it than “eating for two.” “It’s not as simple as just eating an extra 100 calories at every meal,” says Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN, a dietitian in New York City. Instead, try small, frequent meals; these keep your energy steady and help you avoid stomach woes like heartburn. Overall, skip calories that don’t add to your nutritional bottom line, like soda and junk food or sweets. 


Listen to Your Body

This is easier said than done when all your body wants is carbohydrates, but craving carbs is completely normal, says Cording. “It’s usually tied to energy,” she says. “Fatigue is common in pregnancy, and carbs — especially simple ones — give you a quick dose of energy. I suggest having a little bit of the carb, but in a smaller amount, and as a part of a snack or meal.” Include some protein and fat, which helps with hunger, energy and even mood swings. Boost simple carbs like pretzels and crackers with hummus and peanut butter, for example. 

Keep in mind that your body may be smarter than you think. A new British study suggests that pregnancy hormones may trigger changes in the digestive system that allow your body to absorb more energy and nutrients from the foods you eat, without you eating any more than you usually do. (So far the research has only been conducted on fruit flies, with mice up next, but the researchers are hopeful that the findings will prove true for humans, as well.) In other words, there may be no need to carefully count out the extra calories. Rather, you might just find your body knows best.


Get Moving

In case you haven’t heard, the old advice about not starting a new exercise routine while you’re pregnant is officially passé. These days, experts say that even if you don’t exercise already, pregnancy is a great time to begin, as long as you start slow (as little as 5 minutes) and build up gradually. In fact, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the nonprofit association of women’s health doctors, recommends the exact same amount of exercise for pregnant women as it does for all women — 30 minutes a day, most days of the week. And it’s usually fine to continue most workouts you did before you were pregnant (including things like running), though you may have to modify your routine. 

Burning calories isn’t the only way exercise helps you to manage pregnancy weight gain, either. Certain types of exercise, like prenatal yoga, can give you a leg up on connecting with your body and embracing the changes it’s going through, as well as combat depression and stress, according to a study from the University of Michigan. Exercise can increase your energy, boost your mood, and help you sleep better, all things that may help you stay ahead of your cravings!

Published on November 10, 2015.

Natalie Gingerich Mackenzie is a health and fitness writer and editor, as well as a certified personal trainer through the American Council on Exercise. She regularly contributes to national magazines including Fitness, Shape and SELF, and is the author of Tone Every Inch.

© Studio Firma / Stocksy United
Reviewed by Elisabeth Aron, MD, MPH, FACOG on October 30, 2015.
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