Eat Right Pregnancy is the perfect time to start eating better, says Yvonne S. Thornton, M.D., M.P.H., a professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Cornell University Weill Medical College in New York. You’ll never be more motivated, and the more you learn about nutrition now, the less likely you’ll head into your next pregnancy heavier than ever.
Some experts believe that to prevent birth defects, overweight women need extra pre-conception intake of folate, also known as folic acid. Once pregnant, Phelan advises shooting for 1,800 to 2,200 high-quality calories daily, depending on height and target weight. “Many overweight women don’t gain all that much on a healthy pregnancy diet because they’re no longer eating empty calories,” she says.
Manage Weight Gain There’s nothing I can do about my weight now, many an overweight pregnant woman has thought. I’ll worry about it after my baby is born. But while pregnancy is no time to diet, it’s also not a green light for overindulgence. “The eating-for-two mentality has contributed to the obesity crisis,” Thornton says. “Pregnancy only takes 300 extra calories per day.” That’s the equivalent of just three cups of nonfat milk.
If you’re used to overeating, limiting yourself to the neighborhood of 2,000 calories daily may seem like dieting, but if you think of it instead as a prenatal nutrition program, you’ll be more likely to stick to it.
Current medical guidelines recommend a prenatal weight gain of 15 to 25 pounds for overweight women and up to 15 pounds for those who are obese. However, some experts are questioning whether the guidelines encourage women of all sizes to put on too many pounds. “Gaining 25 pounds during pregnancy if you’re already overweight is too much,” Thornton says. “A 15-pound limit should be the goal.”
The good news is that being overweight before pregnancy doesn’t guarantee staying heavy forever. Swedish researchers found women who are overweight before conceiving have no higher risk of retaining their extra weight postpartum than normal-weight women.
Despite the 65 or so pounds Christy McDonald gained during her pregnancies, she’s on her way back to her ideal weight with a focus on good nutrition and walking and cycling with her daughters in tow. “I’ve stopped worrying about what I should do for exercise and started fitting it in when I can. I’m taking baby steps,” she says, “but I’ll get there.”