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Pregnancy Isn't an Excuse to Overeat

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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.

Good snacks, Landon says, are a couple of graham crackers with a little peanut butter or a piece of whole wheat toast, a piece of fruit, and a glass of milk.

"People use pregnancy as an excuse to eat everything and anything they want," Landon says. The important thing is to determine the calorie needs according to the weight at the beginning of pregnancy. "We're not trying to get them to lose weight," she says, "just not to gain more than necessary."

As for exercise, the experts say there is no medical reason not to continue most of the activities you participated in prior to pregnancy, unless your doctor believes you have a risk of premature labor or other health considerations.

Landon says that it's also important to cut the extra calories out of the diet once your baby is born and to resume physical activities. If you are breastfeeding, you will need some extra nutrients and calories. Ask your doctor or lactation consultant about losing weight while breastfeeding your baby.

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