In a perfect world, you had planned for your pregnancy in every way possible. This included getting down to your ideal weight beforehand. But for many women, this isn’t realistic. Pregnancy, while an exciting time, can turn into a weight dilemma for women who are already overweight. This is because of the inevitable weight gain associated with having a baby.
Fortunately, growing research suggests that losing some weight during pregnancy might be possible — and even beneficial — for some women who are extremely overweight or obese (have a BMI over 30).
Losing weight, on the other hand, isn’t appropriate for pregnant women who were at a healthy weight before pregnancy. If you believe you can benefit from weight loss during pregnancy, talk to your doctor about how to do so safely without affecting your baby.
Even before they’re born, your future baby relies on you in numerous ways. Your body nourishes and carries them for about 40 weeks, helping them grow and develop. Having excess weight can cause problems during pregnancy because it can get in the way of these processes.
Being obese while pregnant may lead to:
- premature birth
- cesarean delivery
- heart defects in baby
- gestational diabetes in mother (and type 2 diabetes later in life)
- high blood pressure in mother
- preeclampsia: severe form of high blood pressure that can also affect other organs like the kidneys
- sleep apnea
- blood clots (especially in your legs)
- infections in mother
Despite such dangers, your best approach to weight loss is through a consistent, yet gradual plan with a focus on healthier lifestyle changes. Gradual weight loss is best for your body and your baby.
If your doctor recommends that you lose weight, here’s how to do so safely during pregnancy.
1. Know how much weight you need to gain
Being overweight during pregnancy can sometimes change the focus to only losing weight. But the fact is, you’ll still gain some weight, and it is important to know how much a healthy amount of is. After all, there is a human growing inside of you!
Follow these pregnancy weight gain guidelines from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, based on your weight before you became pregnant:
- obese (BMI of 30 or more): gain 11 to 20 pounds
- BMI between 25 and 29.9: 15 to 25 pounds
- normal weight (18.5 to 24.9 BMI): can gain between 25 and 35 pounds
2. Cut down on calories
The first way you can lose excess weight is by reducing your daily calorie intake. Eating more calories than you burn off is the most common cause of weight gain. It takes a 3,500-calorie deficit to lose 1 pound. Over the span of a week, this equates to about 500 calories per day to cut out.
Before you slash this many calories from your diet, be sure to keep a log and figure out just how many calories you really eat. You can talk to a dietitian to discuss food plans. You can also look up nutritional labels for foods from stores or restaurants to get a sense of how many calories are in each food.
Keep in mind that pregnant women should eat no fewer than 1,700 calories per day. This is the minimum and helps to ensure that both you and your baby are getting enough energy and nutrients on a regular basis.
If you normally consume far more calories than this, consider cutting down gradually. For example, you can:
- eat smaller portions
- cut out condiments
- swap unhealthy fats (like butter) for a plant-based version (try olive oil)
- trade baked goods for fruit
- fill up on vegetables instead of traditional carbs
- cut out soda, and opt for water instead
- avoid large amounts of junk food, like chips or candy
Take a daily prenatal vitamin to ensure that you are getting all of the nutrients you and your baby need. Folate is especially important, as it helps decrease the risk for birth defects.
3. Exercise 30 minutes daily
Some women are afraid to exercise out of fear of it harming their babies. But this definitely isn’t true. While some exercises, such as situps, can possibly be harmful, exercise overall is extremely beneficial.
It can help you maintain your weight, reduce birth defects, and even ease some of the aches and pains you experience during pregnancy.
The current recommendation isn’t different from nonpregnant women: 30 minutes of activity per day. If this is too much for you to start, consider breaking up the 30 minutes into shorter blocks of time throughout the day.
Some of the best exercises for pregnant women are:
- prenatal yoga
On the flip side, you should avoid any activities that:
- rely on balance, such as bike riding or skiing
- are performed in the heat
- cause pain
- make you dizzy
- are done on your back (after 12 weeks of pregnancy)
4. Address weight concerns early
While you’ll certainly gain weight naturally from your pregnancy, the majority of this weight gain happens in the second and third trimesters. Your baby also grows rapidly during the last two months of pregnancy. You can’t control weight gain attributed to your baby and supporting elements like the placenta, so it’s best to address any weight issues earlier in pregnancy.
Some success in weight intervention among pregnant women has been reported through a study published in the journal Obesity.Researchers found that women who received advice between weeks 7 and 21 of pregnancy were less likely to gain excess weight during the third trimester. The same group of women studied also benefited from weekly support group meetings.
This is just one example of when early planning helped to stave off excess weight gain. If you want to lose weight, or control the amount of weight you gain overall during your pregnancy, be sure to have your doctor help you come up with a plan early on. Your doctor can also refer you to a dietitian for more advice and meal planning.
For most pregnant women, weight management is safer than any form of significant weight loss. Despite the benefits of having a lower BMI during pregnancy, losing weight isn’t appropriate for all women.
Part of the concern comes from the methods of traditional weight loss: calorie cutting and exercise. It’s important to watch your calorie intake and to exercise during pregnancy. But overdoing it to an extreme could potentially harm your baby. This is why most doctors don’t recommend weight loss during pregnancy, unless you’re significantly overweight. Discuss any questions or concerns you have with your doctor.
Your doctor can help you make the safest decision for you and your baby. You can always revisit an overall healthy weight loss plan after your baby is born.