For many moms, gaining enough— but not too much— weight during pregnancy is often a source of confusion and anxiety.
Experts agree some women pay too much attention to their diets and may even end up losing weight. On the other hand, those who subscribe to the eating-for-two mentality are at risk for complications during pregnancy, labor and deliver and can set themselves and their babies up for a lifetime of health problems.
Here are tips on how to to gain weight during pregnancy in a safe, healthy way.
1. Stop worrying.
Between “morning” sickness that really lasts all day, cravings, changes in appetite and fluctuating energy levels, it can be a challenge to eat healthy. You may wonder if you’re eating too much, not enough or the right way.
Take a deep breath. All that worry can create stress and anxiety that’s likely worse for your pregnancy than the calories. Instead, try to balance how you feel with what you put in your mouth.
“Make sure you can get in nutritious foods but in a way that you find pleasurable and enjoyable,” said Rebecca Scritchfield, a Washington D.C.-based registered dietitian nutritionist.
2. Focus on nutrition, not quantity.
Trying to eat every nutrient and get the right amounts can drive any woman crazy. Nevertheless, there are some you should emphasis in your diet for a healthy pregnancy. These include folic acid— ideally before you get pregnant to prevent neural tube defects in the first few weeks— plus iron, calcium, vitamin D, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids for your baby’s brain development. Also, be sure to take a prenatal vitamin every day.
3. Leave it on the table.
Instead of telling yourself you can’t eat certain foods, “listen to your body and answer a craving but still make choices that are good for both you and baby,” Scritchfield said. Rather than filling up your bowl to the top with pasta, have a half of a cup, and add some chickpeas and vegetables for extra fiber to fill you up.
4. Don’t scrutinize the scale.
According to a recent study in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, approximately 47 percent of women gain too much weight during pregnancy. The Institute of Medicine’s recommendations state that women with a normal BMI before pregnancy should gain between 25 and 35 pounds; overweight women 15 to 25 pounds and those who are obese, 11 to 20. If you’re having multiples, the recommendations are higher. Although it’s a good guideline to follow, “BMI is one measure of population trends— it’s not meant for individuals,” Scritchfield said.
What’s more, some women gain a lot of weight during the first trimester and then taper off or vice-versa. Instead of paying attention to weekly gains, look at your weight trends and average.
“Don’t freak out too much over the scale because this is not a time to go on a diet,” said Tamara S. Melton, an Atlanta-based registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND).
5. Eat regularly.
Plan for three meals each day and always carry healthy snacks with you. An apple and a handful of nuts or sliced peppers and hummus are good choices.
“You never know when pregnancy hunger is going to strike or when you feel you need a boost of energy,” Scritchfield said.
6. Don’t count every calorie.
If your pre-pregnancy BMI was in normal range, you should get an extra 340 calories in the second trimester and 450 in the third. Yet have a cup of ice cream and you’ve already blown your allowance for the day. Although you shouldn’t eat for two, you don’t have to track every last bite either.
7. Be flexible.
Sure, the only thing that quells your tummy might be macaroni and cheese, but large portion sizes can pack on the pounds. It’s OK to indulge once in awhile but find creative ways to get healthy fare in too. For example, if you can’t stomach the thought of broccoli, puree it into a lightened up cream of broccoli soup instead.
8. Re-think cravings.
Pregnancy food cravings are completely normal and can be biological or simply because you smell delicious food. You might also develop new, unusual cravings. Yet if you’re stressed out, diving into a bag of chips isn’t the answer.
So the next time you have a craving ask yourself,“Is this the right time to answer this craving? Will I enjoy it right now?”
“You don’t have to answer every single craving every time,” Scritchfield said.
If you’re calm and want to indulge in a treat, go for it. If not, try to replace your negative emotions with something positive like prenatal yoga.
9. Talk to an expert.
Eating healthy foods, the right-sized portions and exercising regularly are the best ways to safely gain weight during pregnancy. Yet like anything else, it’s always a good idea to have a chat with your doctor.
“If you do feel like you’re gaining too much weight and you’re concerned about it, bring it up to the doctor because a lot of times doctors don’t bring it up,” Melton said.
Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.