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If you’re confused about pregnancy weight gain, it’s no wonder: In one recent study, 49 percent of doctors gave their pregnant patients the wrong advice, and 27 percent gave no advice at all. And up to half of normal-weight women, and nearly two-thirds of overweight ones, gain too much during pregnancy. What’s more, it’s no longer enough to worry about how much to gain: When you put on “baby fat” affects how much you’ll hang onto afterward.
Pregnancy is not the time to diet, but neither is it an excuse to go whole-hog, so to speak. Babies born to women who don’t eat enough are at risk of low birth weight; they also may be prone to diabetes in adulthood. On the other hand, gaining too much weight can make for a bigger baby, and studies show that the larger the baby girl, the greater her breast cancer risk in adulthood.
Excess poundage can cost you dearly, too. Obese women are more likely to develop chronic hypertension and diabetes, have trouble getting around in late pregnancy and undergo more Cesarean sections. (Note, however, that some of these problems are related to high prepregnancy weight.)
Timing is everything
Most women don’t add that first pound until four to six weeks after their last period. After that, you and your doctor will need to monitor your weight gain. “Women who gain a lot during pregnancy usually start in the first trimester,” says Stephan Rössner, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of health-behavior research at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.
In the first trimester, you need only 100 calories more per day — an extra glass of milk, say, or an apple — for a total weight gain of about 3 to 6 pounds. During the next two trimesters, you’ll need 300 extra calories daily — an apple, a stick of string cheese and a carton of yogurt, for example — for a weekly gain of a pound or two.
Gain some, lose some
Regular exercise lessens the amount of fat you put on later in pregnancy and influences how many pounds you’ll ultimately keep. “Women who engage in regular leisure-time activity are more likely to revert to their prepregnancy weight,” Rössner says.
As for breastfeeding, it may speed weight loss, but at present there’s no evidence that it has a lasting effect. The key to long-term weight loss is still exercise. Just be aware that losing too quickly can compromise your milk supply; a reasonable goal is no more than 1 to 2 pounds per week.
If you follow the experts’ advice, you’ll probably be no more than a pound or two over your prepregnancy weight on your baby’s first birthday.