Pregnancy weight gain: The truth
Pregnancy weight gain is unavoidable and actually helps you and your baby because your baby gets all of its nutrients from you through the umbilical cord.
These days we are 'treated' to images of celebrities with perfect bumps who ping back to a size zero the minute they give birth. The reality for most mums, is that we don't have a nutritionist on hand during our pregnancies, or an army of personal trainers or stylists to make us look beautiful when we leave the house. Instead we have a crying baby who refuses to sleep at night and a wardrobe of clothes that no longer fit.
The fact is, pregnancy weight gain is unavoidable and actually helps you and your baby because your baby gets all of its nutrients from you through the umbilical cord. This means that if you are not eating properly, nor is your baby. All your body's organs are being put under pressure, including your heart which pumps extra blood to the placenta during pregnancy and your legs and back, which have to support your growing bump.
Research shows that eating too little whilst you are pregnant, so dieting or starving yourself, puts your baby at risk of premature birth or being born with a low-birth weight. In addition to this, eating too much, especially of the wrong foods can put your baby at risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and blood pressure problems later in life.
So how much should I be eating?
The general rule of thumb is, try not to think of pregnancy as an excuse for 'eating for two' but instead upping your calorie intake to 250-300 calories per day. For those of you who don't count your calories and have no idea of what 300 calories are, here is a quick hint:
300 calorie meals:
- Cereal, milk and a banana
- Porridge and a banana (no sugar on top!)
- A baked potato, sour cream and fresh fruit for desert
- One bowl of soup, a small salad and wholewheat crackers
- A small grilled breast of chicken and green beans
- Chicken salad with low-fat dressing
- Scrambled eggs and wholewheat toast
- Grilled fish, peas and mash potato (this is probably just over 300 cals)
- Chicken with steamed broccoli
- Tuna salad
- Bagel with low fat cream cheese
How much weight am I likely to put on?
Once you've worked out how much you should or shouldn't be eating, you'll probably be anxious to know how much weight you are likely to gain during pregnancy. Again this is an average amount and it is worth bearing in mind that all women are different. However, most women put on around 1.8kg (4lbs) in the first trimester, 0.5kg (1lb) a week in the second trimester and 4.6kg (10lbs) in the third trimester. If you find you differ from this, don't panic, all women are different. Many women follow the one, two, three rule - so if you are overweight you will put on one stone during pregnancy, normal weight you will put on two stone and underweight you will put on three stone. Weight gain in general can also be hereditary so although you may have a different diet to your mother, it may be worth asking her what happened to her weight when she was pregnant.
Where does all that pregnancy weight go?
Luckily for us (and please do cling on to this thought as you weigh yourself) the weight you put on during pregnancy is not all body fat. It roughly comprises of:
- Muscle development = 3.2 kg
- Increased body fluid = 1.8 kg
- Increased blood = 1.4 - 1.8 kg
- Breast growth = 0.5 - 0.9 kg
- Enlarged uterus = 0.9 kg
- Amniotic fluid = 0.9 kg
- The placenta = 0.7 kg
- Your baby = 2.7 - 3.6 kg
- Total = 12.0 - 13.8 kg
All of these conditions will start to recede sometime after you have had your baby (with the exception of enlarged breasts if you are breastfeeding). If you do breastfeed, your body will maintain a certain amount of weight until you stop because your body keeps some fat in store so that breastmilk can be made even if for some reason your food supply dries up.
Breastfeeding and weight loss
Some of the extra weight you put on during pregnancy is actually your body stocking up in the expectation that you'll burn it off as you breastfeed. Breastfeeding does actually burn off around 100 to 500 calories a day, averaging at 300, which is why you have to maintain a healthy diet when breast feeding. Breastfeeding and weight loss depends on each mother, and how much milk your baby drinks. Some mums lose the weight rapidly, and others will not shed that last few pounds until they have started the weaning process at around six months.
Losing that extra pregnancy weight
All mums will differ in their methods of losing that post-pregnancy weight, but there are a few simple rules you can follow:
Don't even think about losing any weight or restricting what you eat until after your six week check where your doctor can give you the go-ahead. If you are breastfeeding don't try to lose that pregnancy weight until your baby is two months old. Starting to diet too close to the birth can affect your breast milk supply and therefore your baby's so make sure your milk supply is established and your baby is feeding well before you start changing your diet.
Don't rely on breastfeeding alone to lose weight, you can also do some simple exercises and follow a healthy diet:
- Swap pastries and croissants for wholewheat bread or bagels
- Swap battered fish for poached, grilled or steamed (or grilled breaded fish)
- Swap sugar-coated breakfast cereals for wholegrain cereals or porridge
- Swap cakes, biscuits and ice cream for sorbets, fresh fruit and fruit smoothies
- Swap sauces based on cheese or cream for sauces based on tomatoes or vegetables
- Swap salads drizzled with oily, buttery or mayonaise dressings for olive oil, balsamic vinegar or ask for your dressing on the side so you can add yourself
- Swap chips for baked, boiled or mashed potatoes
- Swap a fancy starter in a restaurant for a salad
- Swap daytime snacks of bread for bananas, raisons or carrot sticks
- Swap your fizzy drink for water or fruit juice
- Swap ordering chips with a meal to ordering a side of vegetables or a salad
And remember the essentials...
- Try to drink 1.2 litres of water a day (roughly 6-8 glasses of water)
- Try to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day (this can mean raw, frozen, cooked or tinned and drinking any amount of fruit juice counts as one portion)
- Starchy foods like potatoes are important because they contain vitamin B, fibre, calcium and iron.
- Try to eat at least two portions of fish a week, including oily fish like salmon or mackerel
- Meat is a great source of protein but try to choose the leaner cuts or cut off any fat you can see before cooking and don't add too much more oil - meat will produce its own oil
- Try to drink a glass of milk a few times a week, or have milk with your cereal so that you get a healthy supply of calcium. You can also get calcium from cheese, yogurt and fromage frais
- Eating saturated fats isn't great (think cakes, biscuits, cheese, pastries) but eating unsaturated fats is good for you because it provides a good source of essential fatty acids. Stick to: oily fish, avocado, sunflower, rapeseed and olive oil.
In addition to eating well, you must also make sure you do about twenty minutes of gentle exercise a day. You don't have to go mad, but a stroll around the park with your buggy, gentle swimming or post natal yoga once a week can really help to shed those pounds.