Study Finds Most Women Don't Meet Weight Gain Goals During Pregnancy

According to new research, more than half of all pregnant women gain too much or too little weight. Here's why it's a problem.

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When it comes to weight gain during pregnancy, it's all about finding the right balance. You want to eat enough so that your baby gets proper nourishment, but you don't want to go overboard and put yourself at risk for complications. You want to exercise frequently to reap the (many) benefits, but you also want to listen to your body and take extra precautions. You want to gain enough weight to support the immense challenge of growing a human, but you want to keep that gain within a healthy range (and trust us, we know it can be tough when those nightly ice cream cravings strike).

There are guidelines as to how much weight a woman should gain based on her pre-pregnancy BMI, and we imagine that OB/GYNs communicate these ranges to their patients—but according to new findings, most women aren't hitting these targets.

A new study published in JAMA provides greater insight into how much weight pregnant women are really gaining...and the negative outcomes that can stem from too much or too little weight gain. The researchers observed 1.3 million women, and according to their results, 47 percent of the subjects gained more than the recommended amount, while 23 percent gained less. If this sample is representative of global realities, more than half of all pregnancies aren't quite as healthy as they could be. 

Now, we know that keeping weight gain in check is anything but easy. Whether you're just too exhausted to log enough physical activity or too nauseated to eat much, it can be so hard to control the amount of weight you put on during those 40-ish weeks. But it's not about vanity or size: Monitoring prenatal weight gain is important in predicting outcomes. Women who don't gain enough weight run the risk of delivering premature or low birthweight infants; those who gain more than the recommended amount may be increasing their odds of delivering large infants or requiring C-sections.

We spoke to an expert to get a bit more insight into whether or not he believes pregnant women are missing their weight gain targets—and what they can do to carry out healthier pregnancies.

"I believe that a belief still persists among many pregnant women that they need to proactively increase their food intake in order to nourish their fetus/baby. The reality is that the fetus/placenta are very good at pulling the nutrition they need from the mother’s system, and the natural physiology will generally prioritize baby’s nutrition over that of the mother’s," Joshua U. Klein, MD, chief medical officer at Extend Fertility, told Fit Pregnancy. "As a result, I think many women are still trying to nourish their babies in a way that isn’t really necessary and can lead to additional weight gain that is not healthy for mother or baby—during or even after pregnancy."

According to Dr. Klein, pregnant women should take it upon themselves to monitor weight gain if they're hoping to keep tabs on the situation. "I think a weekly home check-in on weight is an excellent practice for pregnant women. Knowledge is power, and the first step toward tracking healthy weight gain is being aware of the data," he said.

Another great practice for pregnant women? Try to remain as committed to your healthy eating and fitness habits as you were before you got pregnant (it's easier said than done, we know!) and don't be afraid to ask for help.

"Making healthy food choices and staying active with regular cardiovascular activity are just as important during pregnancy as it is outside pregnancy," Dr. Klein said. "Sticking to these habits will help most women stay in a very good range for pregnancy weight. For those with more complicated issues, the OB/GYN and/or a nutritionist specializing in pregnancy are great resources to rely on for guidance."

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