Women Gain Too Much Weight While Pregnant

Too many women are packing on excessive pounds during pregnancy, according to a new study, which is risky for mom and baby. The good news? A diet is not the answer.

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If you're pulling the "eating for two" card, you might need to find another excuse to eat that Cronut. A new study in Obstetrics and Gynecology found that nearly half of all women gain too much weight during pregnancy, which can lead to health issues for both mother and baby. "When a woman gains too much weight during pregnancy, it increases the risk of her baby being born too large, which can contribute to subsequent obesity in the child as well as delivery complications such as vaginal tears, excess bleeding and an increased need for a Caesarean section," explains study co-author Andrea Sharma, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the Center for Disease Control's Maternal and Infant Health Branch. "Also, it can be harder for the mother to lose excess weight gained during pregnancy which can put her at a greater risk for obesity."

According to the Institute of Medicine, women who are underweight to begin with (BMI less than 18.5) should gain 28 to 40 pounds during pregnancy; those who start at a normal weight (BMI between 18.5-24.9) should gain 25 to 35 pounds; those who are overweight (BMI 25-29.9) should gain 15 to 25 pounds; and those who are obese (BMI 30 or greater) should gain 11 to 20 pounds. While a few pounds above the threshold is probably fine, it seems many women are gaining more pounds than recommended.

For the study, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed data representative of all women who gave birth to a full-term baby in 2010 or 2011 in 28 states. They found that 47% of women gained too much weight during pregnancy. Also, women who were overweight or obese before conception were nearly three times more likely to gain more weight than the recommendations as compared with those women who started pregnancy at a normal weight (though women with the highest BMIs were also almost twice as likely to gain too little weight.)

Why are women gaining too much weight? Well, again, the whole idea that pregnant women should be doubling their portions is a likely culprit. "Pregnancy certainly does not equate to 'eating for two'; in fact, the extra caloric requirements are actually relatively small," says Sharma. "In general, a woman doesn't need any additional calories during the first trimester. During the second trimester, she only needs an additional 340 calories, and she only needs an extra 450 calories during the third trimester. To give you an idea, an additional 350 calories is approximately equal to adding a snack consisting of one medium apple, one cup of non-fat Greek yogurt and a handful of almonds."

Another factor: Many pregnant women don't exercise as much as they should. "We come from a culture where exercise during pregnancy hasn't been encouraged, but we have to change that," says Sharma. "Women with uncomplicated pregnancies should get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity during pregnancy. They can work to achieve this goal by taking brisk 10 to 20 minute walks throughout the week."

Another problem with excessive weight gain during pregnancy is that many women don't lose all of their baby weight, which can then lead to even further health complications, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

The key is to work with your doctor to not only determine how much you should gain during pregnancy but to also figure out the best way for you to stay on track, like scheduling a weekly weigh-in. The good news? Dieting is not recommended during pregnancy, says Sharma. However, women who are expecting should eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains while limiting added sugars, fried foods, fatty meats, and other unhealthy fats.

If you've already gained more than you should, speak to your doctor about getting back on track. There may still be time to pick up a prenatal exercise routine or change your eating habits. Also, there are plenty of healthy ways to drop that baby weight after D-day.