"You're eating for two" may be a cute adage, but it shouldn't give you license to eat too much -- or the wrong foods -- while pregnant. According to the National Academy of Sciences, pregnant women should gain between 15 and 35 pounds.
The reality is you need only 100 extra calories a day during your first trimester, and 300 extra calories a day in the next two. That means adding the equivalent of an extra glass of milk in the first trimester; a glass of milk, an apple, and a couple of graham crackers in the second and third.
More important than how much you gain is what you eat. Everything you take into your body during pregnancy sets the foundation for building your baby. Studies show that improper nutrition during pregnancy can affect your child's risk for developing problems as an adult, including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.
Too Much or Too Little
The pattern in which you gain weight is also important. It is perfectly normal not to gain any weight until a week or two after you've missed your period. Doctors have found that when women gain weight too quickly early in their pregnancies, they usually keep gaining at a higher rate than normal. Weight gain should be gradual throughout your pregnancy. Shoot for two to four pounds during the first trimester and close to a pound a week in the second and third trimesters.
Watch out for sudden weight gain or loss. If you are experiencing a great deal of nausea and vomiting, you may need help to make sure you're getting proper nutrition. Sudden weight gain can signal rising blood pressure. Call your healthcare provider if you experience either of these scenarios.
Women who gain too little weight risk having a premature baby or one with low birth weight. Newborn complications are related to low birth weight; studies show that weighing too little at birth can predispose your child to diabetes later in life.
Too much weight gain can mean problems for you as well as the baby. Severely overweight women are more prone to hypertension and gestational diabetes, and are more likely to have a cesarean section. Their babies are also usually bigger. Some studies have shown that larger baby girls are at a greater risk for breast cancer when they become adults.
The best way to keep your weight gain on target is to eat a varied diet with an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables. Select foods with important pregnancy nutrients: calcium, folic acid, fiber, and iron. And avoid the empty calories found in fast foods, junk foods, and sweets. Splurging on a scoop of ice cream now and then is all right, but try to keep it to a minimum.
Many pregnant women find that they feel better when they eat several small meals a day instead of three large ones. Moderate exercise is also a great way to keep weight gain on target.
Remember that the weight you're gaining is mostly from the growth of the baby and other changes in your body due to your pregnancy. Only about four to five pounds is stored fat. Your uterus, placenta, breasts, amniotic fluid, and extra blood volume add to the weight. So don't be obsessed with the scale. Instead, focus on eating lots of healthy foods. Your baby will be the better for it.