Pregnancy equals weight gain … doesn’t it? Yes, yes it does.
But how MUCH weight should we gain? And more importantly, how can we make sure we don’t gain too much?
From eating for two (it was a sad day when that myth was busted) to only slightly increasing your calories, pregnant women have a hell of a time working out exactly how much weight they should ideally gain.
This is especially tricky if your starting weight tips towards the heavier side of the scale. And with over half of Aussie women kicking off their pregnancies with a BMI reading of ‘overweight’, knowing exactly what to do can be super confusing.
‘Controlled weight gain’ is where it’s at
Now, there might finally be an answer with the findings from new research in the US. The MOMFIT study found that it’s both safe and effective to restrict or control weight gain in women who are obese or overweight and pregnant.
The risks for overweight or obese women and their babies include diabetes, preeclampsia, hypertension and birth defects.
What does that mean? Basically, the study found that it’s not a bad thing to control your calorie intake and keep a tight hold on your weight if you identify as being overweight. Let’s get one thing straight. This is NOT about weight loss, but controlled weight gain to prevent the whole range of issues that can come from having a high BMI during pregnancy.
“Weight loss during pregnancy is not encouraged. Rather, we aimed for controlled weight gain by developing healthy diet habits and increasing physical activity that could be sustained long term,” says study author Linda Van Horn, professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Diabetes Australia recommends that women with a higher BMI gain between 5-11.5kg during pregnancy, depending on their starting weight. This differs to the 11.5-16kg recommended for women with a ‘normal’ BMI. While this makes sense, actually gaining the right amount of weight can be a challenge (read: nightmare!)
Forming healthy habits for life
This was where the MOMFIT study really drilled down to find out exactly how overweight pregnant women can keep their weight gain under control.
The solution? Developing healthy diet habits that can continue well beyond pregnancy. MOMFIT paired each of its participants with a nutritionist who worked out the right number of calories for their individual needs. They also provided online and over-the-phone support. Women were advised to follow a diet high in fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, fish and lean protein.
“The overarching goal of MOMFIT was to help the mum make these changes while she was still pregnant, a time when many women are more motivated to do what is right for their babies, and then maintain these new behaviours and become a role model for the family and better informed about how to feed them,” Prof Van Horn says.
Women in the study used the Lose It! app to track their daily calories. They were encouraged to walk for 30 minutes or 10,000 steps per day, stay hydrated and get enough sleep. To keep them on track, telephone, text message prompts and e-mail reminders were sent out.
The result? The women kept their weight gain within the national guidelines far more easily than those in the control group. Fewer participants exceeded the recommendations and on average, gained around 2 kgs less in total. Anf their babies were born in the normal weight range.
The study was just published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. “The next big question is whether the children born to moms who restricted their weight gain will have a reduced risk of becoming obese themselves,” says Prof Van Horn.
Pregnancy can be tough! Controlling your cravings and sticking to a healthy diet can be even tougher. The best way to manage a healthy weight gain if you’re overweight and pregnant? Support! Speak to your caregiver about a referral to a nutritionist or dietitian who specialises in pregnancy. They can help work out a meal plan for you and support you through nine months of baby growing so that you are your happiest, healthiest self.
It takes a village after all!