The average pregnant woman is advised to gain no more than 25 to 35 pounds, yet the average newborn weighs only about 7 1/2. So what's with those extra pounds? They're distributed to areas vital to your developing fetus: your uterus, amniotic fluid and placenta, to name a few (see "Where Do the Calories Go?" on the left). But experts say enough is enough. "If you gain significant weight above and beyond what you need for the pregnancy, you're just gaining fat," says Heather Blazier, RD, a clinical dietitian who specializes in pregnancy nutrition at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. "And being overweight during pregnancy increases your risk for gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, hypertension, and labor and delivery complications," she adds.
In addition, gaining too much during pregnancy is linked to overweight in early childhood (see "What, Me Worry?" ). To help keep your pregnancy weight within the recommended range without dieting, put to use these five smart strategies advocated by pregnancy-nutrition experts.
1. Let Them Eat Chocolate!
"Pregnant women report food cravings they never experienced when they weren't pregnant," says Jennifer Ramos Galluzzi, Ph.D., an assistant professor of nutrition and science at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport, Conn. The way to deal with them? "Allow yourself a small piece of whatever you crave so you don't binge later on," she suggests.
Besides eating no more than a single serving, opt for healthful accompaniments. "If you feel that you must have that double cheeseburger, start by ordering the single, and choose skim milk instead of soda," Blazier says. Pairing indulgences with healthful options will help keep calories in check.
If it's chocolate you must have, go for a CocoaVia Original Chocolate Bar (cocoavia.com), a surprisingly good source of calcium and folic acid—essential pregnancy nutrients—in just 100 calories per serving (one bar).
2. Know Your Portion Sizes
Although the 300 additional calories you need during the second and third trimesters may sound like a lot, it amounts to a single serving of low-fat yogurt and a piece of fruit. Since calories add up quickly, get your extra 300 from foods that provide the nutrients you need such as calcium, fiber, iron and protein. Some good examples include fruits, vegetables, fortified cereals and low-fat dairy products.