New pregnancy guidelines stress healthy weight gain

Elizabeth S. Reames  |  7/23/2009 6:13:46 PM

News You Can Use Distributed 07/23/09

New guidelines for weight gain during pregnancy focus not only on how much weight to gain but also on the importance of being a healthy weight when you become pregnant.

LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames says the guidelines stress women should be within a normal body mass index (BMI) range when they conceive and should gain weight within recommended ranges for better maternal and child health.

Reames explains a BMI of 18.5 - 24.9 is considered normal, 25-29.9 is overweight and 30 or higher is obese. “Being a healthy weight at the time of conception and following weight gain recommendations will help ensure a healthy pregnancy,” Reames says.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recently issued weight gain recommendations:

– If at a healthy weight before pregnancy, gain between 25 and 35 pounds.

– If underweight, gain 28 to 40 pounds.

– If overweight, gain 15 to 25 pounds.

– If obese, gain 11 to 20 pounds. Reames notes the previous, 1990 guidelines recommended obese women gain at least 15 pounds and did not set an upper limit.

“If you have a multiple pregnancy – twins, triplets or more – you will need to gain more weight during pregnancy depending on the number of babies you are carrying,” Reames adds.

The IOM's new guidelines call for women to be offered preconception counseling that includes their weight, diet and physical activity. To achieve a healthy weight before becoming pregnant, many women may need to lose weight. Studies show that more than 40 percent of women of childbearing age are overweight, and nearly 20 percent are obese.

“Being overweight increases the mother's risk of gestational diabetes and high blood pressure,” Reames says, explaining, “If excess pounds gained during pregnancy aren't lost after the baby is born, they increase lifetime health risks such as heart disease.”

“Even if you're overweight before pregnancy, it's important to gain a healthy amount of weight during pregnancy,” Reames says. “Pregnancy is NOT the time to diet to lose weight because that could harm your baby.” Gaining enough weight is vital for your baby’s development including the brain, heart, lungs and other organs.

“At only two other times in a woman’s life does she go through similar weight-gain leaps: first as a baby, when her weight triples in the first year, and second, during her teen years, when she develops from a child to an adult,” Reames notes.

“If you gain the amount of weight your doctor recommends, you will probably return to your normal weight within three to six months after your baby is born,” Reames says, adding, “Eating the right amount of food and getting enough exercise will help you get back to your weight.”

Before birth, a baby totally depends on its mother for the nutrients to grow and develop. Pregnancy and lactation increase a mother’s need for many nutrients.

“When you’re pregnant, you’re not eating for two,” Reames points out, explaining, “If you double your food intake, you’ll probably gain excessive weight.” She says most pregnant women need about 300 extra calories a day, the amount in a glass of skim milk and a turkey sandwich. Talk to your health care provider about the number of calories and amounts of foods you need during your pregnancy.

During pregnancy, Reames says it’s important to follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPyramid food guidelines for you and your baby’s nutrient needs.

Some nutrients that may be lacking in many pregnant women’s diets include:

– Protein: builds muscle and tissue for baby and mother. Consume dairy foods (milk, yogurt and cheese) and lean meats, poultry, fish, dried beans, eggs and nuts.

– Calcium: helps form baby’s bones and teeth and maintains mother’s bones. Consume milk, yogurt, cheese and other dairy products; broccoli; kale; green, leafy vegetables; clams, oysters and fish with bones; almonds; dried peas and beans, and calcium-fortified foods.

– Iron: builds red blood cells for a healthy blood supply. Consume meat, liver, poultry, fish and oysters; enriched breads and cereals; green, leafy vegetables; dried beans and peas; dried fruit; and broccoli, kale and collard greens.

– Folic acid: helps form red and white blood cells. Consume liver; eggs; broccoli, kale and collard greens; yeast; dried peas and beans; oranges; whole-grain breads and cereals; and fruits and vegetables.

“If you're thinking about steps to reach a healthy weight before pregnancy, the LSU AgCenter Smart Portions Healthy Weight Program provides current, research-based recommendations to achieve and maintain a healthy weight,” Reames says.

The nutritionist explains the program helps participants set realistic goals that include balancing the amount of food eaten and physical activity.

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Editor: Mark Claesgens

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