Dieting for weight loss during pregnancy is a very commonly asked question by expecting moms who are a bit concerned about their weight during pregnancy, and to give the best information possible around this topic, we have invited Shoshana Pritzker, who is a Registered Dietitian who works mostly with moms and toddlers, and who has also overlooked the Nutrition area and calorie calculator of the Mother Strong League Pregnancy Edition.
I’ve relaunched the Mother Strong League and this time I’ve included specific pregnancy programs! This means you can better take care of YOU and BABY. Click here to learn more about the new program. (And get a sneaky discount!)
I am going to start by addressing something that you might not like: Gaining weight during pregnancy is inevitable! You’re going to gain weight during pregnancy. And it can be tempting to diet during pregnancy – but the fact is, restricting calories or specific food groups while pregnant can be dangerous for you and most importantly for your baby. During pregnancy, your nutrient needs increase to provide ample calories and nourishment required for the baby’s growth and development. Skimping out on eating could mean the difference between a healthy baby or not.
Why is Nutrition Important During Pregnancy?
What’s most important to remember during pregnancy is that you provide the building blocks for growing a healthy baby. And the only way you can do that well is by taking in the appropriate amounts of food every single day. That doesn’t mean you have to gain an excessive amount of weight – you’re not eating for two. But it does mean that dieting to lose weight is not a good idea.
Maintaining healthy nutrition during pregnancy will reduce the amount of weight you gain during pregnancy, it might make delivery easier, improve the health of the baby, and it might help you recover faster after the baby is born.
Your calories during the first trimester shouldn’t change; while in the 2nd trimester you’re increasing by 300 calories (the equivalent of an apple and peanut butter), and by ~450 calories during the 3rd trimester (the size of a small meal).
What Nutrients Are Most Important?
While you do need more calories during pregnancy, it’s the macronutrients and micronutrients that really make a difference. Macronutrients are made up of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. While micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals that help our bodies function properly. During pregnancy, your macronutrient and micronutrient needs increase, specifically iron, folic acid, and calcium, as these nutrients are key factors for your baby’s growth and development.
A well-balanced diet rich in whole, nutrient-dense foods can easily provide the nutrition you and your baby need to thrive through pregnancy. An easy way to ensure you’re getting enough of each is to include food from each macronutrient group with each meal: protein, carbohydrate, and fats while tossing in fruits and veggies on the side.
Protein is essential for your baby’s brain development and proper growth of fetal tissue. But protein also plays a role in increasing your blood flow to your baby, which carries essential nutrients. Without adequate protein in your diet, you’re increasing your child’s risk for developmental complications. Good protein sources include lean meats, chicken, turkey, eggs, dairy, fish, shellfish, beans, legumes, and even soy.
It’s important to include healthy fats in your diet because they’re necessary to carry fat-soluble vitamins to you and baby that are important for growth and development. Healthy fat sources include olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, nut butters, low-fat dairy, and even butter.
Your prenatal vitamin will include calcium and folic acid. Calcium is important for your baby’s bone growth, while folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects. On the other hand, iron is generally not included in your prenatal vitamin, so ensuring you’re eating plenty of iron-rich foods is important. Iron helps ensure enough oxygen is carried to the baby. Whole-food sources of iron include dark, leafy green veggies, lean beef and poultry, eggs, enriched grains and cereals, citrus fruits, and dried fruits.
What is the risk of dieting to lose weight while pregnant?
Not eating enough during pregnancy puts you and baby at risk for malnutrition. For you this is temporary, for baby, it could lead to long-term health effects including learning disabilities, hearing, and visual impairments. Plus, you’re putting the baby at greater risk for pre-term birth and delivering a small for gestational age baby (SGA).
Research shows that delivering an SGA baby puts them at greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and heart disease later in life. Finally, not gaining enough weight during pregnancy can increase the risk of infant mortality. None of these things are desirable outcomes for a temporary period in your life.
What is a healthy weight gain during pregnancy?
In the US, moms normally get weighed at every doctor’s appointment, so try not to focus so much on the number on the scale. Instead, make it a point to fill your days with a variety of nourishing foods and regular physical activity.
|Starting Weight||Body Mass Index||Recommended Weight Gain|
|Underweight||<19.8||28 to 40 pounds|
|Normal weight||19.8 to 26.0||25 to 35 pounds|
|Overweight||26.0 to 29.0||15 to 25 pounds|
|Obese||>29.0||0 to 15 pounds|
**Please note these numbers might vary from women to women
How to Keep Weight Gain In Check During Pregnancy
Your best bet is to address weight concerns before you get pregnant. But if it’s too late for that and you already have a bun in the over, take some time to evaluate your diet and pinpoint where you could make improvements and healthy swaps.
Consider the nutritional value of your food choices and aim to limit high-fat, high-sugar, highly processed foods- as they are easy to overeat without offering a lot of nutritional value- while prioritizing a balance of proteins, complex carbs, and healthy fats.
It’s OK to give in to cravings – just not all the time. Find healthy alternatives to some of your daily desires that would satisfy your craving without setting your calorie intake overboard.
Tips for Pre-Natal Nutrition and Weight Gain:
- Make protein the star of every meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner)
- Eat mini-meals every 2-3 hours (to reduce reflux, improve energy, and control blood sugar)
- Add fruits and veggies to meals to fill you up and provide important fiber
- Aim for at least 100 ounces of water per day; try drinking 1 glass of water every hour
- Don’t be afraid of carbs
- Remember to include healthy fats like avocado, nuts, nut butter, olive oil, cheese, and low-fat dairy
When is it ever OK to lose weight while pregnant?
Losing weight and dieting are two different things. It’s never OK to diet, however, if you are characterized as obese before getting pregnant, losing weight during pregnancy is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, research shows that adopting healthy nutrition habits and losing some weight while pregnant can benefit obese women and their health in the future.
Studies show that women whose pre-pregnancy weight characterized them as obese – with a BMI of 30 or greater – may benefit from losing some weight during pregnancy. But let’s not go overboard. To lose weight the healthy way while pregnant, avoid restricting calories.
Instead, work on implementing healthy habits and a diet packed with nutrient-dense foods in an amount recommended for your height, weight, and age. If you are obese and you do not increase your calories during pregnancy (aka you keep them constant) your body will pull from your fat stores to provide nutrient needs for the baby. That means you could lose body fat while pregnant and even end up weighing less after your baby is born.
Let me be clear – if you attempt this and you are not considered obese, you are putting you and baby at risk. You will absolutely find yourself very hungry, fatigued, and have low blood sugar regularly. Even if you are obese, you should discuss this with your OBGYN prior to starting any new diet (or exercise) routine.
It’s important to maintain healthy lifestyle habits during pregnancy regardless of your starting weight. But pregnancy is not the time to make it about weight loss – it’s not safe for you or baby. Instead, take this time to prepare yourself for the baby and work on adopting healthy habits if you don’t have them already. Before you know it, the baby will be here and your life will revolve around that new little one. Just don’t be in a rush to lose the baby weight right away. Remember, it takes 9 months to grow a baby, and it might take at least 9 months for your body to fully recover.
Shoshana is a Registered Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist on Long Island, NY. She’s passionate about helping moms foster a healthy relationship with food in their littles while mastering their own metabolisms. Shoshana is a #boymom of a 2-year-old and a 7-month-old, and a business owner. So she understands the challenges that arise in the day-to-day of a busy mom.
Follow Shoshana on Instagram @fuelingmamas_and_littles where she shares diet tips for moms and feeding tricks for babies, toddlers, picky eaters, and the whole family! She’s also sharing her son Joshua’s solid foods journey – tune in to follow along!
- Inadequate pregnancy weight gain a risk factor for infant mortality – Click Here
- Pierre-Yves Robillard, Gustaaf Dekker, Malik Boukerrou, Nathalie Le Moullec, Thomas C. Hulsey. Relationship between pre-pregnancy maternal BMI and optimal weight gain in singleton pregnancies. Heliyon, 2018; 4 (5): e00615 DOI: Click Here
- Elsevier. “Very obese women should lose weight during pregnancy for a healthy baby: Current recommendations should be changed for underweight and very obese women.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 May 2018. View Source.
- Low birth weight and SGA – Click Here
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