Pregnancy is one of the most beautiful experiences a mother can go through. It can also be a little daunting knowing that what you do during this period will literally contribute to shaping your baby and setting them up for their life outside the womb.
Research has shown that the most influential factor on a baby’s development in uterus outside of genetics is nutrition. Nutrition influences a baby’s growth, normal physical and mental development and will affect gestational weight gain (GWG). GWG is basically a fancy group of words to describe the amount of weight gained during pregnancy.
Why is GWG important?
A mother who does not gain enough weight during pregnancy risks that chance that her baby will be born underweight, which in turn puts the baby at risk for preterm birth, medical complications, illnesses, and neurodevelopmental problems.
Similarly, a mother who gains more than the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy risks postpartum weight retention, cesarean delivery, pregnancy-induced hypertension and large-for-gestational-age infants (aka large babies). Very large babies are more likely to develop diabetes, heart disease, obesity and high blood pressure later in life.
New research shows that to improve maternal and child health outcomes, women should not only gain within recommended ranges during pregnancy, but also be within a normal BMI (body mass index) range before they conceive as well. Prepregnancy overweight and obesity affect the risk of structural birth defects, pre-eclampsia, and gestational diabetes among others. Meeting the challenge of beginning a pregnancy at healthy weight means that many women will need preconception counseling, which may include plans for weight loss (or weight gain).
Proper weight gain during pregnancy becomes especially complicated with a multiple pregnancy (twins, triplets etc), where the risk of carrying low or very low birthweight infants increases dramatically. Expert guidance from a Dietitian can help women improve and maximize their intake of “at risk nutrients” such as iron, folate, essential fatty acids,calcium and ensure adequate energy intake to meet weight gain targets.
What can you do?
While every woman and course of pregnancy is different, there are a few things you can keep in mind when striving to acheive healthy pregnancy weight gain.
1. Begin with a healthy pre-pregnancy weight
If you know you would like to get pregnant anytime within the next year, it’s best to start preparing your body early for housing a baby! This is much easier said than done. Steps to prepare include not just taking a multivitamin with the minimal amounts of minerals to support pregnancy, but also developing good eating habits and perhaps tackling the goal of weight loss (or gain) to help you get within your recommended weight range.
It’s important to note that during pregnancy is NOT the time to diet! This is an important time where severe calorie restriction can do more harm than good, and can leave you depleted of important nutrients such as iron, folic acid, and other vitamins and minerals. What does need to be focused on instead is making healthier choices and developing good eating habits to sustain you through a healthy pregnancy as well as after the baby is born.
2. Ensure you are eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods throughout the day.
For a single baby pregnancy, you caloric intake throughout the day really doesn’t increase that much. Recommendations are set for 340 extra calories per day in your second trimester, and 450 extra calories/day in your third trimester (if starting pregnancy at a healthy weight). This means, that every snack or meal you choose needs to count! Make sure that you are eating foods packed with lots of vitamins and minerals to ensure that you are getting all you and your baby needs, without having to add on too many extra calories.
Examples include things like complex carbohydrates (think whole grain rice and bread, quinoa, sweet potato, etc), lots of fruits and vegetables, and lean protein (lean meats, eggs, dairy, beans and pulses)! For a list of nutrient dense snacks that are great during pregnancy, click here.
3. Continue (or start) being physically active during pregnancy
With the exception of contact sports, keep doing whatever you were already doing! As your belly grows and you enter the later stages of pregnancy you may have to modify some of you movements to accomodate and maintain safe positioning, but other than that there really isn’t much of a limit as to what you can’t do to stay physically active during pregnancy!
Things like walking, areobics, dancing, swimming, yoga, and weight training (may have to reduce weights/reps) are great for keeping fit, toned and healthy for you and your baby!
4. Seek expert nutritional advice!
Seeing a Registered Dietitian will help clear up the nonsense nutrition advice from the truth, will allow you set goals that will work within your lifestyle, and will give you the support and tools you need to see those goals through. RDs are able to tailor preconception and prenatal diets to fit a woman’s needs, and help manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, overweight, and underweight.
Contact me anytime for a free 15 min telephone consult to discuss your issues and see if I can help!