Contrary to popular belief, when you’re expecting, you really don’t need to “eat for two.” Yes, you do need to consume extra calories for your growing baby, but the average pregnant woman only needs about 300 more calories a day than before she was pregnant in order to gain the correct amount of weight.
To help our pregnant moms understand how much is too much, too little or just right, here are our guidelines from our years of experience helping women carry and deliver healthy babies.
How much pregnancy weight should you gain?
It depends on where you started out: were you underweight, at a healthy weight, overweight or obese…and are you carrying a single, twins or multiples?
In general, during the first three months (1st trimester) of your pregnancy, you should gain about 2-4 pounds. After that, 1 pound a week during the rest of your pregnancy is advised.
Specifically, here’s what we recommend:
- If you were average weight before getting pregnant: gain 25-35 pounds
- If you were underweight before getting pregnant: gain 28-40 pounds
- If you were overweight before getting pregnant: gain only 15-25 pounds
- If you are expecting twins: gain 35-45 pounds
If you’re having twins
For twins, increase your weight gain target to 1½ pounds per week after the first three months (between 3,000 and 3,500 calories a day). It’s particularly important to gain enough weight when you’re carrying twins because your weight directly affects the babies’ weight. In addition, because twins are often born before their due date, a higher birth weight is crucial for their health, at birth and later on.
Where your extra weight goes during pregnancy
More times than we can count, our pregnant patients ask us, “Where does all the weight I’m gaining actually go?” We actually love this question! In general, the extra pounds support:
- Your baby: 8 pounds
- Placenta: 2-3 pounds
- Amniotic fluid: 2-3 pounds
- Breast tissue: 2-3 pounds
- Blood supply: 4 pounds
- Stored fat for delivery and breastfeeding: 5-9 pounds
- Larger uterus: 2-5 pounds
- Total: 25-35 pounds
Remember: It’s not just eating more, it’s eating the right things
A balanced, health-conscious diet containing a variety of foods can provide pregnant women with enough nutrients for themselves and their developing baby. This should include:
- Whole grains: Breads, cereals, pastas and brown rice.
- Fruits: All types of fruits without added sugars.
- Vegetables: A variety of colorful vegetables, especially green leafy ones such as spinach, kale or collards, with no added salt. Raw sprouts should be avoided.
- Lean protein: Lean protein from meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, peas, peanut butter, soy products and nuts. Avoid eating tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel (possible risk of mercury), and limit white (albacore) tuna to 6 ounces per week. Deli, luncheon meats and hot dogs should be avoided.
- Dairy: This includes milk, cheese, ice cream and yogurt. Unpasteurized milk and some soft cheeses that are made from unpasteurized milk should be avoided.
- Healthy fats: Avocados, nuts and seeds, as well as butter and vegetable oils such as canola and olive oil.
- Folic Acid: Folic acid reduces the risk of birth defects that affect the spinal cord. For this reason, you should consume at least 400 micrograms of folic acid each day. Sources include legumes, green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits. Folate also can be found in fortified foods such as cereals, pastas and bread, as well as vitamin supplements.
- Iron: Maternal iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency during pregnancy. Pregnant women need at least 27 milligrams of iron each day. Good sources of iron include red meat, chicken and fish, fortified cereals, spinach, beans and leafy greens.
- Calcium: It’s very important to get enough calcium for the healthy development of your baby’s teeth, bones, heart, nerves and muscles, as well as to preserve your own health. When a pregnant woman does not consume enough calcium, her body will take it from her bones for the baby. The recommended amount of calcium during pregnancy is 1,300 milligrams per day for women 14-18 years old and 1,000 milligrams per day for women 19-50 years old. That equals at least 3 daily servings of calcium-rich foods such as milk, yogurt, cheese, broccoli or fortified cereals and juices.
How to avoid gaining too much weight while pregnant: 10 tips
- Eat 5-6 small meals a day rather than 3 large ones.
- Keep quick, easy snacks on hand, such as nuts, raisins, cheese and crackers, dried fruit, peanut butter and ice cream or yogurt.
- Spread peanut butter on toast, crackers, apples, bananas or celery. One tablespoon of peanut butter gives you about 100 calories and 7 grams of protein.
- Avoid empty calories and added sugar and salt from soda, candy, chips and fried snacks.
- Avoid fried foods such as French fries, onion rings, mozzarella sticks or breaded chicken patties.
- Cut out sweet or sugary drinks such as soft drinks, fruit punch, fruit drinks, sweetened iced tea, lemonade or powdered drink mixes. Choose water—it’s healthier and contains no extra calories.
- Don’t add salt to foods when cooking. Salt causes you to retain water.
- Limit sweets and high-calorie snacks. Cookies, candies, candy bars, donuts, cakes, syrup, honey and potato chips have a lot of calories and little nutrition.
- Avoid “bad” fats such as margarine, sauces, mayonnaise, lard, sour cream and cream cheese.
- Moderate exercise can help burn excess calories. Walking, biking or swimming is usually safe for pregnant women. Ask your healthcare provider what exercise would be right for you before getting started.
When it comes to pregnancies and babies, we know our stuff
You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Whether this is your first baby or you’ve been through many pregnancies before, rest assured. At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we’ve been helping expecting parents have healthy pregnancies, including how weight to optimally gain, for a long time, and we’re ready to help you with yours. To get our tips, advice and guidance specifically for expecting parents, click here.
Have questions about your pregnancy weight gain? Come see us.
If you are expecting a baby and have concerns about the amount of weight you’re gaining (or not gaining), please make an appointment with one of our Westchester Health Pediatrics pediatricians or a Westchester Health OB/GYN. We’ll help make sure you’re neither overdoing nor underdoing it, and that your baby is getting the right amount of nutrients he/she needs to grow at a healthy rate. Our #1 goal is for you to have a safe pregnancy and deliver a healthy baby. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.