There are a lot of comparisons and measurements going on during pregnancy. How many weeks are you? Are you measuring big or small? Does your belly appear big or small? And the whopper – how much weight have you gained?
This topic is probably one of the hottest on the pregnancy forums and often discussed among friends and family members of pregnant women. I’m subscribed to a “My Pregnancy” forum/app where I was assigned to the “September 2015” birth group. In the group, women ask questions of their fellow pregnant “friends” and some of the most common questions are, “How much weight have you gained?” and “I’ve gained X amount at X number of weeks, is it too much or too little!?” The focus on weight gain is driven by the fact that there are “standards” for weight gain which which have been provided by various health organizations and are plastered all over the internet. Each article you read has a caveat “this is the average,” yet many women (and doctors) put too much weight on these guidelines.
I am not immune from this and I’ve had my own small battles throughout my pregnancy. As of now, at 35 weeks pregnant, I have gained 35 pounds. The recommended amount for a women with an average BMI (mine was 19.9 before getting pregnant, with “normal” being 18.5-24.9), is 25-35 pounds for the entire pregnancy. It’s safe to say that I’ll be exceeding this recommended weight gain range (although I have heard it’s not uncommon to lose a few pounds in the last month) and I’m OK with it. When thinking about weight gain in pregnancy before becoming pregnant, I always assumed that since I would work out and eat healthy, I’d gain on the lower end of the range. But sometimes our bodies just do what they need to do and there’s no point to try to stop it.
At this point in my pregnancy, I feel really good. I’ve been working out consistently (about an average of 5-6 times a week plus plenty of walking on top of that. I eat mostly healthy (with a few more indulgences than prior to pregnancy and way more carbs in the first trimester due to non-stop nausea) with plenty of fruits and veggies (at least 6-8 servings most days).I feel confident in the way my body looks and as my belly gets bigger, my confidence actually gets stronger (the hardest part personally for me was in the “not quite showing” phase when you just feel like you look a bit chubby, not necessarily pregnant). Are there a few softer, fuller areas outside of my growing belly? Yes. Have I sent frantic texts to my mama friends asking them how much weight they had gained by XYZ number of weeks, wondering why I was gaining more than expected and looking for reassurance? Yes. Do I sometimes worry how easily it’ll be to lose the weight after baby comes? Yes. But do I think that my weight gain is “unhealthy” because I’m going outside of the recommended guidelines? Absolutely not.
And the guidelines about weight gain aren’t just limited to an overall number. Each trimester has a specific weight gain recommendation. Should I have starved myself or force fed myself vegetables during the first trimester despite overwhelming nausea to stop the 8 lb weight gain (recommended amount in first trimester is 2-4 lbs at most)? Even asking that question sounds crazy doesn’t it? Yet so many women become obsessed with the scale and the numbers during pregnancy. On my September birth group forum, the weight gain and losses were nowhere near this range – some women in the first trimester lost 15 pounds from constant nausea and vomiting and others gained 15 pounds, likely as result of some combination of fluid retention, increased carbohydrate and comfort food intake to ease constant nausea, and fat storing to prepare the body for childbearing. I read on some forums that some women obsessively weigh themselves daily. Others get reprimanded from their doctors for gaining even 1 pound over the minimum of 25 while other women who gain 60 lbs get absolutely no scolding from their doctors.
Are there good reasons NOT to gain too much weight in pregnancy? Yes. Excess weight gain is associated with conditions such as high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, premature labor, and preclampsyia, but weight gain alone doesn’t mean that you will or will not develop any of these conditions. It’s essential to look past the scale and at the overall habits of the individual before assessing whether weight gain is healthy or unhealthy. On that same token, it’s not realistic to eat 100% healthy all the time – a few extra indulgences during pregnancy are completely normal and probably encouraged as long as the overall diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and proteins. I know I certainly enjoy my nightly ice cream! It’s also not realistic to maintain the same level of fitness that you did prior to pregnancy. As long as you’re getting out to at least walk or move in same way on most days, you’re being active enough to remain healthy.
Everyone gains differently- some gain a lot in the beginning and little at the end, while others lose in the first trimester but make up for it later on. I remember reading Beth Gerdes, the pro triathlete’s experience with weight gain in pregnancy on her blog (post here) – she gained a lot early on and then evened out, but still struggled with it. Reading her honest account of weight gain during pregnancy on her blog made me feel better about my early weight gain in the first trimester (seriously, look at her now – super fit, winning Ironman triathlons and headed to Kona with a healthy little girl, clearly it didn’t matter at all!) and I hope that sharing my experience and thoughts here will help ease some fears of currently pregnant or wanting to become pregnant women.
What are your thoughts on pregnancy weight gain?