March 31, 2022/Diet, Food & Fitness

Weight Gain During Pregnancy: How Much Is Too Much?

Adding too many pounds too early can increase your risk of gestational diabetes

Three pregnant individuals sitting cross-legged on the ground holding their bellies

Gaining weight during your pregnancy is perfectly normal. But it’s important for the health of you and your baby to avoid gaining too much weight in the months leading up to delivery.

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Excessive weight gain during pregnancy — especially during the first trimester — can dramatically increase your risk of gestational diabetes and developing the complications that come with it.

So, what’s the right amount of weight to add during pregnancy? Diabetes specialists Sue Cotey, RN, CDCES, and Andrea Harris, RN, CDCES, have the answer.

Healthy weight gain during pregnancy

Let’s start with a basic reality about pregnancy weight gain: There isn’t a single answer regarding what you should see on your scale. “Pregnancy weight gain is different for everyone,” says Cotey.

If you’re thinner before pregnancy, for instance, you may need to gain 28 to 40 pounds. If you’re overweight, you probably only need to gain between 15 and 25 pounds.

Overall, a good rule of thumb is to limit weight gain to between 25 and 35 pounds.

When should you gain most pregnancy weight?

Think of how your belly grows during pregnancy. Your change in weight follows a similar pattern.

During the first trimester, there usually isn’t that much change. “A few pounds — usually between 1 and 5 — should really be about all you gain during those early weeks,” explains Harris.

Most of the weight gained during pregnancy should come in the second and third trimesters. (That’s when your baby is growing the most, after all.) In general, you’ll gain about a pound a week during this period.

The risks of too much pregnancy weight

So, what happens if your weight gain climbs higher than it should? Studies show that your risk of gestational diabetes increases with those extra pounds, particularly if they come early in pregnancy.

That’s a concern because gestational diabetes increases your risk of:

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It’s not only you who could experience problems, too. Gestational diabetes increases your baby’s risk of having breathing problems, obesity and diabetes. Premature births are more common, as well.

Expect to be tested for gestational diabetes during your pregnancy, usually around weeks 24 to 28, to see if hormonal changes are pushing up your blood sugar levels.

Should you try to lose weight while pregnant?

For most, the answer is no — but there may be some exceptions. It’s best to talk with your healthcare provider before starting any weight-loss plan during pregnancy.

Ahead of pregnancy, though, it’s often OK to drop a few pounds if you’re above a healthy weight, says Cotey. Research has found that people classified as being overweight before their second pregnancy can reduce their risk of gestational diabetes if they lose weight.

Tips for a healthy pregnancy

Start by planning ahead. Work to reach a healthy weight ahead of your pregnancy, says Harris. Aim for a BMI (body mass index) of less than 25. If you’re not quite there, aim for lower than 30. Anything higher than that increases your risk for gestational diabetes.

During your pregnancy, make sure to:

Maintain an exercise routine

One way to improve your health and reduce the risk of gestational diabetes is to incorporate regular physical activity into your life. This can help you lose weight and reduce insulin resistance.

It’s especially important to exercise if you had gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy.

Staying active and fit while pregnant can help your body better handle the demands placed, too.

Watch your diet

You’re not technically “eating for two,” so don’t start doubling up on servings because you’re pregnant. Your caloric intake should increase slightly in your second trimester, but only by about 300 extra calories per day. This can equate to:

  • 2 cups of low-fat milk.
  • An apple and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter.
  • A whole-wheat pita and a 1/4 cup of hummus.

After your baby is born, you’ll need about 500 extra calories a day if you’re breastfeeding.

Weight loss after pregnancy

Don’t rush to get back to your pre-baby weight. Be patient and gentle with yourself about your weight loss goals after delivery. Your body goes through many changes during pregnancy that could take up to a year to reverse.

Look to begin exercising at six weeks postpartum (after giving birth), with a goal of losing one or two pounds each week.

When in doubt, ask questions

If you have concerns about your weight before, during or after pregnancy, talk to your healthcare provider or consult a registered dietitian. Together, you can come up with a healthy diet and exercise plan.

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