Pregnancy and Weight Gain: Balancing the realities and our mentality!
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Yes, of course, you’re supposed to gain some weight during pregnancy.
But, how much?
And, maybe more importantly, how do you reconcile that with past goals around weight and body composition?
Not to mention that, historically, many women have been influenced to be smaller/leaner/invisible and pregnancy changes that! We may have spent much of our lives trying to be in calorie deficits, to lose weight, to exercise for a certain goal, etc. And this shift to pregnancy is DIFFERENT.
For some women, there is a full embrace of your new pregnant body! You’re housing, growing, and supporting a new life! How beautiful!
For other women, they may embrace the beauty that is pregnancy and still struggle with gaining weight and watching their bodies change. Or struggle with this shifts of what their body can or can’t (or shouldn’t) do while pregnant. This is a tough place to be, and I imagine not enough people talk about this struggle because they’re nervous it might reflect that they somehow don’t want to be pregnant or aren’t embracing motherhood or some other belief along those lines.
I’m finding myself somewhere in the middle. I absolutely appreciate the amazingness of pregnancy, growing my baby girl, feeling her move all over the place, and eating to support her.
At the same time, I dislike feeling like I have to pee ALL THE TIME, sleeping is very difficult, I’m very tired, Braxton Hicks are crazy, heartburn is zero fun, and sometimes I have to take breaks while on walks. (I also know that I don’t have it as bad as some other pregnant women!)
To the point above, I also come from a fitness background, where I worked out competitively, cared about my body composition and having defined muscles and abs, pushed my body accomplish certain things, and enjoyed trying to lift heavier or learn new skills. So, from that point of view, it’s also been challenging to let go of some of those perspectives, even if temporarily.
While out on a walk with my Baby Daddy the other day, I said that there are definitely some movements that if I even attempted while pregnant that my body would just say NO. Don’t worry, I’m not attempting to do anything crazy, but it’s just remarkable how limited some things can feel at my 32 weeks pregnant!
I am nervous about gaining “too much weight.”
I’m nervous about not gaining enough weight, or not eating well enough to support my little one.
I am nervous about losing weight postpartum. (At the same time, someone said to me the other day, “You’re probably going to have abs again two weeks after giving birth!” And, while I imagine they meant it as a compliment, I also DON’T want to have that expectation put on me, or to feel like I’m not living up to other people’s ideas of my weight loss/body composition when that doesn’t happen!)
What’s my point here? That women likely experience a gamut of feelings and emotions about pregnancy and the physical, mental, and emotional changes that come with it!
Like, I both LOVE the differences between these photos and, for the reasons stated above, it can be challenging to see too:
So, I’d like to talk a little more specifically about things you can consider about physical changes you might expect when being pregnant, and also how your intake might adjust during that time. Maybe that can help others navigate the feelings and realities that are coming up/might come up for them!
First of all, understand that the pregnancy and postpartum period of life is temporary. And that while it might feel like forever when you’re in it, we’re really talking about 1.5-2 years of impact on your, depending on if/how long you decide to breastfeed. So, while you will likely have to change your activity level, do your best to embrace your changing body, and experience weight gain/loss, reminding yourself that that’s what’s supposed to happen, and that it’s temporary, is huge. I have to remind myself of this regularly.
Secondly, while the pregnancy and postpartum period is definitely not a time for dieting or aiming for weight loss, it’s also important to understand that pregnancy doesn’t automatically equate to a free-for-all as far as food consumption is concerned. You are NOT, in fact, eating for two. Or, at least not two adults.
In general, women should aim to include an extra 300-500 calories per day, approximately, at different points in pregnancy. Check out this chart from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025:
We still want to prioritize protein intake when we’re pregnant, and aim to increase that intake in the second and third trimesters, if possible. Similarly, keep eating those fruits, veggies, whole grains, and whole real foods as best as possible. And, of course, drink your water!
If you’re very nauseous, eat what you can when you can. Worry less about exactly what foods you’re having and, instead, just do what you can to get calories in!
Otherwise, generally, listen to your body’s hunger cues, as they may be different than when you’re not pregnant! Personally, I can’t comfortably eat large meals anymore and have to split them into smaller pieces, and/or include more snacks.
It’s also important to understand that weight we gain during pregnancy is not “just” the weight of the baby. Other physical changes are required to support the pregnancy and postpartum needs for your baby. I mean, each boob can gain 1-2 pounds! (I’ve certainly experienced that gain, and , admittedly, don’t really mind that impact!) Aside from that, here are some other areas where we carry extra weight while pregnant, and that we NEED!
(I also regularly remind myself of the vast increases in blood volume… specifically when I have to take breaks while out on walks!)
How much each individual gains in these areas also depends on your weight before pregnancy. I know I’ve written about, and complained about, the use of BMI to advise me how much weight I “should” gain during pregnancy, it turns out there might be more merit to that than I gave it credit for at the beginning. I still don’t think we should make pregnant women feel bad about their weights, but there is some reality that there might not be as much need to gain weight for things like “stored far for breastfeeding” if you already have some.
We also DO want to gain some weight during pregnancy! Like it or not, agree with it or not, want to be lectured by your doctor about it or not, here is the chart you’ve likely seen:
The book Expecting Better by Emily Oster is excellent and discusses this point further. It’s the best book I’ve read so far about pregnancy (and I think this makes 5?) because it discusses real data, which I appreciate. I highly recommend reading it if you are pregnant, might be pregnant in the future, or are just curious about pregnancy.
Anyway, she discusses at length the question of maternal weight gain, where those weight gain recommendations came from, and she also got a “talking to” from her doctor, like I did, about gaining “too much weight.” So, she dove into what the real research says. Here are the big points I took from her conclusions:
Maternal weight gain matters in the sense that it impacts baby’s weight. If you don’t gain enough weight, the baby might be “small for gestational age” which can lead to complications. Equally, if moms gain more weight and the baby is “large for gestational age” that can also lead to complications, the need for c-sections, or premature birth. However, “complications associated with a very small baby are much more serious than those associated with a very large baby.”
She writes, “On its own, this probably means that you should be more concerned with gaining too little weight than with too much weight.”
“Nothing—not evidence and no basic logic—supports” the 35 pound weight gain recommendation, specifically. “Looking at the numbers carefully, it became clear that they were made with the goal being to maximize the chance of having a ‘normal for gestational age’ baby.”
“In order to make the right recommendations, we need to think about what recommendation does the best job limiting the actual complications. And in this particular case, that might well be an argument for increasing the recommended weight gain, by at least a few pounds.”
This certainly made me feel better… that I wasn’t going to destroy my baby’s health if I gained more than the 25 pounds max which was recommended to me. (I’m currently hovering right around 20 pounds with 7-8 weeks left to go.) And, equally, made me realize the importance of gaining enough weight, because more complications come from underweight babies.
So, we can all take a breath around this topic.
Okay, I kinda feel like this post was a little bit all over the place, so I apologize. My major point is that it can be hard to juggle being pregnant mentally and emotionally, despite the realities of the experience. And that that’s normal.
I hope it is helpful for anyone who is pregnant or might be pregnant some day. And, seriously, get that book…. super helpful.
What do you think about this?
Does anyone have other questions about pregnancy or the postpartum period? These could be about my personal experience or just in general. Please share in the comments or reach out to me directly!
As always, thank you for reading!