The Right Weight for a Healthier Pregnancy

How much added weight is too much?

pregnant woman dressed in black holding her belly

If you are thinking of becoming pregnant or are already pregnant, your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and delivery are higher when you gain the right amount of weight.

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Some people think that because you’re eating for two, your calorie intake should be doubled. But that’s not quite true. 

Yes, you are eating for two, but there are guidelines regarding the amount of weight you should gain to ensure a healthy pregnancy for both you and your developing baby. 

By the numbers: safe weight gain during pregnancy

How do you know how much weight is safe to gain during your pregnancy? First, calculate your body mass index (BMI).

For your individual BMI, the National Institutes of Health recommends the following:

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  • If your BMI is equal to or less than 18.5, then you are underweight and your weight gain should be between 28 to 40 pounds. 
  • If your BMI is within the normal range (19-24.9), a weight gain of 25 to 35 pounds is ideal.
  • If you are overweight (BMI 25-29.9), then your weight gain should be less, from 15 to 25 pounds. 
  • If you are obese (BMI 30 or more), then gaining between 11 to 20 pounds is sufficient.

Health risks of too much weight gain

The amount of weight you gain is important because being overweight or obese can predispose you to developing diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes), which can cause complications for both you and the baby. 

You are also at greater risk for developing high blood pressure during pregnancy (gestational hypertension) and a condition called pre-eclampsia, which is the onset of high blood pressure and proteins in your urine and can eventually lead to seizures. 

A new study finds increased risk for preterm delivery

Being overweight or obese — especially with the development of any of the above complications — can also cause your baby to be born too early.

A new Swedish study, which included more than 1.5 million deliveries, showed that being overweight or obese during pregnancy increased the risk for preterm delivery, with babies being born as early as 22 weeks gestational age.  Because many of the baby’s organs have not been completely developed by this time, he or she is at risk for having long-term disabilities, or even of dying.

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What does this mean for you and your baby?  The more weight you gain over the recommended guidelines, the higher your risk is for delivering your baby before your due date. 

Be proactive in maintaining a healthy weight

Here’s a start in preventing some of the complications I’ve talked about if you are already overweight or obese:

  • Ask your doctor to refer you to a dietician who can help you eat the right amount of calories during pregnancy,  and to stay on track with weight gain as your baby develops
  • Exercise regularly to improve strength, flexibility and endurance — and to help balance your caloric intake   

So, if you are not yet pregnant but thinking of having a baby — and you are overweight or obese — now is the perfect time to begin making lifestyle changes in preparation for a healthier pregnancy.

More information

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Karen Cooper, DO

Karen Cooper, DO, Director of Be Well Moms℠ in the Women's Health Institute, is board-certified in family medicine and specializes in medical weight management.
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