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Pregnancy Isn't an Excuse to Overeat

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"Many of the women seen at obesity clinics, when asked when they started gaining weight, say, 'It all started when I started having kids,'" Olson says. "What's going on during childbearing years is contributing to obesity."

Some researchers have even laid blame partially on the Institute of Medicine for raising the recommendations for pregnancy weight gain about six years ago. The standards allow 15 pounds of weight gain during pregnancy if you are already in the obese weight group; 15-25 for those who are overweight; 25-35 for normal weight; and 28-40 for those who are considered thin.

In a paper several years ago, John W.C. Johnson, MD, and Michael K. Yancey, MD, wrote that the objectives of the new guidelines reportedly were to decrease deaths, prematurity, and poor growth of babies.

No evidence exists that less maternal weight gain affects these outcomes, they wrote in the January 1996 American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, adding that increased weight gain during pregnancy could cause serious health consequences for the mother.

Olson says that one of the most disturbing findings of her study was that 56% of the women who became obese during the study could have avoided it by staying within the guidelines for pregnancy weight gains.

The two most important factors in not packing on the pounds while you're pregnant are the same as in any healthy lifestyle: Don't eat too many calories and, if your doctor permits, try to burn up enough through exercise.

The only difference is that you need to add about 300 calories a day while you're pregnant, Olson says. But that doesn't justify a daily pigout -- three cups of skim milk contain almost 300 calories.

Rose Landon, RD, an outpatient dietitian with Harris Methodist Fort Worth Hospital, says milk is a good choice because pregnancy menus call for four cups of milk a day. Experts recommend 1% or skim/nonfat milk to get the extra boost of calcium.

It's also important to eat three healthy meals a day and three snacks. "This is so you aren't eating a huge amount at once, which can also contribute to weight gain," Landon tells WebMD. These meals should be full of fiber, fruits, and vegetables that will provide folic acid and vitamins C and A -- all important to mom and baby. But stay away from alcohol and fatty, fried, and processed foods, she recommends.

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