Pregnancy weight gain is the way in which the body ensures that both the mother-to-be and the Baby have sufficient resources to enable them to successfully negotiate the birth and to thrive in the following days, weeks and months.
The increased weight obviously provides nutrients for the baby’s development and also enables the mother to successfully breast feed during the early months of life. It should be noted that either too much or too little pregnancy weight gain could lead to problems.
The subject is quite complex and varies from woman to woman depending on a variety of factors.
In my opinion, from studying available information, there are still areas where there is inconsistent interpretation of the available data so it is important to get clarification from your Doctor early in the pregnancy.
Almost irrespective of your starting weight, the expected healthy pregnancy weight gain at delivery is between 25 and 35 pounds. This is because, whatever the mother’s starting weight, the birth weight of a baby born full term is in the range of 5lbs 8 to 8lbs 12 with the average being 7lbs 8. The mother‘s pregnancy weight gain will normally be about 20 lbs with the placenta and amniotic fluid making up most of the rest of the gain.
But for seriously overweight women, the recommended pregnancy weight gain needs to be closely controlled to be in the range of 15 to 25 lbs by the time of delivery. This projected weight gain is substantially lower than the standard recommendation although the mother-to-be would still be likely to produce a normal weight baby.
The inference therefore is that a pregnant woman who also happens to be overweight is expected to ‘contribute’ about 10 lbs of the essential pregnancy weight gain from the ‘reserves’ she has stored away!
However, I haven’t been able to find any authoritative references to any need for an overweight woman to adopt a diet rich in any specific nutrients to compensate for the fact that the ‘new’ weight produced is actually considerably less than the total considered to be required for a healthy mother and baby combined!
On the other hand, the pregnancy weight gain range for an underweight woman is only a couple of pounds more than that for normal weight women.
This is easier to understand but I am of the opinion that the recommended increase for an overweight mother-to-be needs to be discussed in some detail with their medical advisor.
I would emphasize this point because apparently only about 40% of women get any properly informed advice about pregnancy weight gain. Maybe the other 60% haven’t been given sufficient preliminary information to enquire further but medical research continues to shed more light on the importance of the actual amount of weight gained although the linkage between this and the ‘quality’ of the diet is often not very clearly stated as far as I’ve been able to discover.
Earlier this year (2011), strong evidence gathered from several research teams working in a number of different countries showed that a mother’s diet during pregnancy can alter their baby’s DNA in a process called epigenetic change.
This sounds quite alarming to me and strengthens my personal opinion that the emphasis should not only be on actual pregnancy weight gain but also on the nutritional value of the solid food and liquids consumed for both mother and baby.
The results I referred to earlier showed that, depending on how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ the mother’s diet appeared to be, her child could have a real risk of accumulating body fat as he or she grows up.
The study showed that this effect is largely independent of the mother’s body mass index (BMI) at conception and of the baby’s birth weight.
To quote the report’s conclusion “A mother’s nutrition while pregnant can cause important epigenetic changes that can contribute to her child’s risk of becoming obese during childhood.”
Please note that this research does not talk specifically about pregnancy weight gain but instead considers the quality and type of nutritional intake of the mother while pregnant.
So despite the apparently simple pregnancy weight gain recommendations, just relying on staying within a fairly broad range of gain is, in my opinion a serious over-simplification and more emphasis should be put on quality rather than quantity which should also be linked to the controlled intake of vitamins, minerals and dietary supplements.
This article has only scratched the surface of what is a potentially a very important subject for all pregnant women.
Numbers on a scale are one thing, but putting it into practice is altogether another thing! Do you feel fat? How do you control your pregnancy weight control?