Traditionally, doctors have said that pregnancy is not the time to strive for extreme weight loss. However, when children are born to obese women, they may have significantly greater risk of developing congenital heart defects, neural tube defects and other very serious health issues. And of course, obesity isn’t just a health risk to the newborn child, it’s also dangerous for the mother herself.
Most women struggle to lose all of the weight they put on during pregnancy, increasing the health risks for those already battling obesity. So in light of these new developments, have the rules changed? Can you safely lose weight while pregnant?
In short, the answer is no — not enough research has been performed to prove it is 100% safe for even obese women to lose weight during pregnancy.
But no matter what your current weight is, you can develop good diet and exercise habits to help minimize the amount of weight you gain and, most importantly, help ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy.
How Much Weight Gain is Normal?
In order to guard against unhealthy weight gain, it’s important to first understand how much is normal. Typically, a woman with a normal BMI (Body Mass Index) before getting pregnant should safely gain between 25 to 35 pounds during the course of the pregnancy. Underweight women should expect to gain around 28 to 40 pounds, while overweight women may only need to put on an additional 15 to 25 pounds.
Keep in mind that every woman is different, and remember that (even if you’re already a mom) every pregnancy is also different. Consult your physician to learn how much weight gain is appropriate for your pregnancy.
7 Diet Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy
After you determine how much pregnancy weight you should gain, work to keep it in check by eating a healthy, balanced diet. Follow the tips we’ve listed below to help manage your pregnancy weight:
1. Don’t Eat for Two
First, get the age-old idea out of your head that you’re “eating for two.” On average, a pregnant woman only needs around 300 additional calories each day, which is the equivalent of a very small extra meal.
2. Never Skip Breakfast
You’ve probably heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and this is especially true during pregnancy. As you sleep, your metabolism slows down because you aren’t eating, so breakfast helps fire it up again the following morning. A steadily firing metabolism is crucial to preventing a lot of extra pregnancy weight gain.
3. Eat More Fiber
Unfortunately, constipation is an all too common side effect of pregnancy. To stay comfortable and keep your digestion on track, it’s important to eat more fiber-rich foods. Try to get a good variety of fresh vegetables and fruits, such as carrots, cabbage, bananas, grapes and other greens.
4. Increase Iron + Vitamin C Intake
Pregnant women need approximately twice the amount of iron as everyone else. Iron can be found in meat, fish and poultry, but there are many iron-rich, plant-based foods as well. For example: artichokes, green beans and kidney beans.
In order to help your body absorb the extra iron more efficiently, you should also try to consume more Vitamin C. Try pairing the two nutrients together in one meal. For instance, eat a bowl of iron-fortified cereal with sliced strawberries on top for breakfast.
5. Avoid Soft Cheese and Processed Meat
Processed meats and high-fat dairy products are never very healthy options, especially not for pregnant women. Soft cheeses like Brie, blue-veined and Mexican style are unpasteurized and may cause a serious infection, while overly processed meats may harbor bacteria that is unhealthy for your baby.
6. Cut Down on Caffeine
Too much caffeine can raise your heart rate, increase your blood pressure and quickly lead to dehydration. Limit your caffeine intake to 300 milligrams (or about two cups of coffee) per day.
7. Stay Hydrated
Hydration is always important, but it’s even more crucial when it comes to pregnancy. As a woman’s blood volume increases with her baby’s growth, more fluids are needed in order to safely maintain it. Hydration also helps promote digestion and alleviate constipation.
5 Tips for Safe Exercise during Pregnancy
While it may not be safe for every woman to lose weight while pregnant, experts do maintain that most pregnant women can benefit from incorporating some form of exercise into their daily routine.
1. Check with Your Doctor First
If you were physically active prior to giving birth, you can usually stick to the same types of exercises you were doing before. However, if you want to start working out now to minimize weight gain, consult with your doctor first. They can help you plan a safe, effective routine.
2. Avoid Contact Sports
Don’t put yourself or your baby at risk by participating in dangerous activities or contact sports. Avoid anything that might knock you off balance; so skiing, horseback riding and even mountain biking should be avoided until after your baby is born.
Here are some safe exercises to try instead:
- Power walking
- Running (This depends on your skill level. If you were a dedicated runner before, most doctors maintain that you may continue running for as far into your pregnancy as you are comfortable.)
- Stationary bicycling
- Moderate weight lifting
3. Always Warm Up and Cool Down
It can be hard enough to find the time to work out, let alone warm up and cool down properly. However, warming up your joints and muscles is key to safe exercise. If you skip out, you risk straining your body which could lead to injuring yourself or your baby.
Don’t risk it: take 5-10 minutes to stretch out and warm up or cool down before and after every workout session.
4. Stay Active and Keep Moving
Standing in one position for a prolonged period of time reduces blood flow to the uterus, causing it to pool up in your legs and making you feel dizzy. Remember to take a few extra steps between weight lifting sets or switch to the next yoga position a little sooner than you usually would.
5. Make Exercise a Habit!
If you have the green light from your healthcare provider, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that you can safely partake in 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise on most days of the week.
If you didn’t exercise prior to pregnancy, now is the time to make it a lifelong habit! This will not only help you reduce the amount of weight you gain while pregnant, it will be much easier for you to work off the baby weight afterward.
Can You Safely Lose Weight While Pregnant?
While weight loss during pregnancy is not recommended for most women, there are several steps you can take to limit your weight gain without risking your baby’s health. Consulting with your doctor, following the recommended diet and exercising regularly are all key steps to take toward living a healthy life… and having a healthy pregnancy.