Maybe you wish you planned for your pregnancy in every way possible — including being at a moderate weight beforehand. But for many people, this isn’t realistic. Pregnancy, while an exciting time, can turn into a weight dilemma for those who are already overweight. This is because of the inevitable weight gain associated with having a baby.
Fortunately, growing research suggests that losing some weight during pregnancy might be possible — and even beneficial — for some people with a high weight, or BMI over 30.
Losing weight, on the other hand, isn’t appropriate during pregnancy for those who were at a moderate weight before pregnancy.
If you believe you can benefit from weight loss during pregnancy, talk with your doctor about how to do so safely without affecting the fetus.
Even before they’re born, your future baby relies on you in numerous ways. Your body nourishes and carries them for about 40 weeks, helping them grow and develop. Having excess weight can cause problems during pregnancy because it can get in the way of these processes.
Having obesity while pregnant may lead to:
- premature birth
- cesarean delivery
- heart defects in the baby
- gestational diabetes (and type 2 diabetes later in life)
- high blood pressure
- preeclampsia, a severe form of high blood pressure that can also affect other organs like the kidneys
- sleep apnea
- blood clots, especially in your legs
Despite such dangers, your best approach to weight loss is through a consistent, yet gradual plan with a focus on healthier lifestyle changes. Gradual weight loss is best for your body and the fetus.
If your doctor recommends that you lose weight, here’s how to do so safely during pregnancy.
1. Know how much weight you need to gain
Being overweight during pregnancy can sometimes change the focus to only losing weight. But the fact is, you’ll still gain some weight, and it is important to know how much is healthy. After all, there is a human growing inside of you.
Follow these pregnancy weight gain guidelines from the National Institutes of Health, based on your weight before you became pregnant:
- obese (BMI of 30 or more): expect to gain 11 to 20 pounds
- BMI between 25 and 29.9: expect to gain 15 to 25 pounds
- normal weight (18.5 to 24.9 BMI): expect to gain between 25 and 35 pounds
- underweight (BMI below 18.5): expect to gain 28 to 40 pounds
2. Cut down on calories
The first way you can lose excess weight is by managing your daily calorie intake. Eating more calories than you burn off is the most common cause of weight gain. It takes a 3,500-calorie deficit to lose 1 pound. Over the span of a week, this equates to about 500 calories per day to cut out.
If you had a suitable weight for your height before pregnancy, you will likely need between 2,200 and 2,900 calories per day during pregnancy. But, this will vary.
- trimester 1: no additional calories
- trimester 2: an extra 340 calories per day
- trimester 3: add around 450 calories per day to your usual intake when not pregnant
Consuming fewer calories can help you lose weight, but be sure to speak with a member of your healthcare team first.
Nutritional labels for foods in stores and restaurants can give an idea of how many calories are in each food.
If you normally consume far more calories than this, consider cutting down gradually. For example, you can:
- eat smaller portions
- cut out condiments
- swap unhealthy fats (like butter) for a plant-based version (try olive oil)
- trade baked goods for fruit
- fill up on vegetables instead of traditional carbs
- cut out soda, and opt for water instead
- avoid large amounts of junk food, like chips or candy
While cutting calories, it’s essential to consume enough to provide energy and nutrients for yourself and your growing fetus.
3. Exercise 30 minutes daily
Some people are afraid to exercise during pregnancy for fear of it harming their babies. But this definitely isn’t true. While some exercises, such as situps, can possibly be harmful, exercise overall is extremely beneficial.
It can help you maintain your weight, reduce birth defects, and even ease some of the aches and pains you experience during pregnancy.
The current recommendation is the same as for those who are not pregnant: 30 minutes of activity per day. If this is too much for you to start, consider breaking up the 30 minutes into shorter blocks of time throughout the day.
Some of the best exercises during pregnancy are:
- prenatal yoga
On the flip side, you should avoid any activities that:
- rely on balance, such as bike riding or skiing
- are performed in the heat
- cause pain
- make you dizzy
- are done on your back (after 12 weeks of pregnancy)
4. Address weight concerns early
While you’ll certainly gain weight naturally from your pregnancy, the majority of this weight gain happens in the second and third trimesters. Your baby also grows rapidly during the last 2 months of pregnancy. You can’t control weight gain attributed to the fetus and supporting elements like the placenta, so it’s best to address any weight issues earlier in pregnancy.
This is just one example of when early planning helps stave off excess weight gain. If you want to lose weight or control the amount of weight you gain overall during your pregnancy, be sure to have your doctor help you come up with a plan early on. Your doctor can also refer you to a dietitian for more advice and meal planning.
For most people, weight management is safer than any form of significant weight loss. Despite the benefits of having a lower BMI during pregnancy, losing weight isn’t appropriate for everyone.
Part of the concern comes from the methods of traditional weight loss: calorie cutting and exercise. It’s important to watch your calorie intake and to exercise during pregnancy. But overdoing it to an extreme could potentially harm your baby. This is why most doctors don’t recommend weight loss during pregnancy, unless you’re significantly overweight. Discuss any questions or concerns you have with your doctor.
Your doctor can help you make the safest decision for you and your baby. You can always revisit a weight loss plan after your baby is born.