Weight Gain during Pregnancy

The amount of weight a woman should gain during her pregnancy has long been an issue for discussion. There are many different viewpoints; some physicians feel that the optimum weight for a woman should be as little as 15 pounds, while others suggest 40 pounds is appropriate. They contend that if too much weight is gained during pregnancy, the baby will be too large and a difficult delivery will result. Other physicians feel it is important to have a pregnant woman follow an unrestricted diet – after all, she is "eating for two." Given these two views, what should a pregnant woman really do?

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists recommends a weight gain of 25 to 35 pounds during a nine-month pregnancy. Women who are underweight should gain a little more, whereas women who are substantially overweight should only gain approximately 20 pounds. It is imperative, however, that women be careful to eat nutritious foods so that they receive adequate nutrients for the baby and themselves as well.

For most women, putting on extra weight is no problem. The focus should be, however, not to gain an excessive amount but gain only what is really necessary for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy infant. If too much weight is gained, multiple physical problems can result, causing excessive discomfort in a woman’s back and legs from the added burden of carrying those extra pounds. The extra weight can also result in elevated blood pressure and an overload of work on a pregnant woman’s heart. This can lead to dangerous situations both for the mother and baby. Finally, all of those extra pounds can result in a more difficult labor and delivery, and after the baby is born they are much more difficult to lose!

Women who are advised to gain only 20 pounds during their pregnancy need to closely monitor their diets, ensuring that their calories come from nutritious foods, not from "empty calorie" groups. If an unborn infant does not receive adequate nutrition from the mother, that infant will not be able to develop normally. All of the infant’s organs need to receive adequate nutrition to develop and grow, and these can only be received from the mother.

Whatever weight gain your physician or care-giver has deemed desirable for you during your pregnancy, your diet should include foods that:

• provide adequate nourishment to enhance tissue development in the unborn infant

• supply necessary energy for day-to-day activities

• provide nourishment to certain organs in the mothers body that can become overworked during pregnancy, i.e., the intestines and kidneys.

Eating properly is essential for a healthy pregnancy. For moms-to-be to acquire essential nutrients, it is important to consume foods from each of the basic food groups. This means eating foods with an adequate (but not excessive) number of calories. It is important to plan your meals and take advantage of the wide variety of foods that can supply all of the essential vitamins, carbohydrates, proteins and minerals, like calcium or Vitamin C.

Avoid foods with "empty calories," or those with little nutritional value like french fries or potato chips. It’s a good idea to cut down on salt and avoid using any sugar substitutes. Staying away from foods that contain nitrites (which are added to fish and meats) is a good idea as well.

No matter how many pounds your doctor or caregiver has suggested-20, 30, or 35, it is important to remember that calories should come from nutritional food sources. After all, your baby is depending on you to furnish him with the things he needs to grow into a healthy and happy infant, even before he is born. Don’t let him down.

Editorial by Jackie Lapetino, RNC, BSN, and Manager of the New Life Unit at Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Illinois.