While there’s plenty to celebrate during pregnancy, there are also changes that may bring mixed emotions. Seeing your body look so different from the way it normally does can throw you for a mental loop.
You may have envisioned your pregnant shape in a certain way, but the reality is that your pregnancy body may look very different from that image. Every pregnancy can look different, and despite what society deems the ideal, that really is OK.
With so many images and messages idealizing those who maintain a certain shape during their whole pregnancy, you may begin to wonder if there’s something wrong with you. And even if your pregnancy shape fits the idealized image, you may worry about whether your pregnancy is healthy or your weight gain is on track.
How much weight should you put on during pregnancy? Is it safe to be skinny and pregnant? Before you get too caught up with messages about the “perfect pregnancy body” allow us to help put it in scientific perspective for you.
Being “skinny pregnant” can mean different things to different people, as this isn’t a medical term, but typically implies only putting on weight in a small pregnancy bump while the rest of your body appears unchanged.
Instead of focusing on idealized images or terms, it’s important to keep in mind that all women gain and carry weight differently during pregnancy. In fact, it’s not uncommon for the same woman to carry weight differently from pregnancy to pregnancy.
There’s no one perfect body shape to strive for, and this includes during pregnancy.
Various things will affect how your body changes during pregnancy and what your bump looks like. These include:
muscle developmentbone structure (height, frame, and hip structure can make a big difference in how your pregnancy shape develops)where your weight is held (gaining in the belly vs. gaining everywhere)whether this is a first, second, third, etc. pregnancy (especially if your children are close together, you may notice that you show earlier or carry differently during subsequent pregnancies)hereditywhether you’re carrying more than one baby
Remember that some gestational weight gain is healthy and normal. The weight added is a necessary part of your baby’s growth, placental development, fluid expansion, and maternal fat accumulation (i.e. those larger pregnancy breasts).
Optimal weight gain during pregnancy is based on a person’s body mass index (BMI). According to recommendations from the CDC, those with:
underweight (BMI of 18.5 or less) should gain 28 to 40 poundsnormal weight (BMI of 18.5–24.9) should gain 25 to 35 poundsoverweight (BMI 25.0–29.9) should gain 15 to 25 poundsobesity (BMI of 30 or more) should gain 11 to 20 pounds
These are just suggested averages though. There are exceptions. For example, if you’re having multiples, you can expect to need to gain even more. You should always check with your care provider about their specific weight goals for your pregnancy.
Instead of focusing on staying a certain weight or achieving a certain shape during pregnancy, it’s usually more helpful to focus on your overall health.
Eating healthy foods (including a balance of whole grains, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables) and exercising throughout your pregnancy can help you and your little one to be in optimal shape when the time comes to give birth.
In fact, there are good reasons to work towards a healthy weight before you become pregnant, since complications including hypertension, gestational diabetes, and preeclampsia are more likely to occur among women who have overweight or obesity coming into the pregnancy.
However, if you’re already pregnant, weight loss will have to wait. No matter your size, weight loss during pregnancy is discouraged.
There are limited studies, but one review from 2015 noted that weight loss during pregnancy was associated with babies small for gestational age and low birth weight.
There are also risks to those who begin pregnancy at an optimal weight, but don’t gain enough. What happens if you don’t take in these extra calories?
Risks to you include malnutrition, muscle loss, weakness, and more. A 2015 study found that risks to the baby due to inadequate weight gain in normal weight women include preterm birth and low birth weight.
While doctors may not encourage you to lose weight during pregnancy, maintaining healthy eating habits and daily exercise is encouraged. This is important for your health and the health of your baby.
No matter your size before pregnancy, in the first trimester, you probably won’t need to add any extra calories to your diet. For the second and third trimester, 350–450 extra calories a day is a reasonable amount. Ideally these calories are coming from healthy food:
whole grainslean proteins such as poultry and beansfruits and vegetableshealthy fats from sources like avocados and nuts
You’ll also want to limit your intake of sugar and processed foods.
Healthy options to increase calories
Suggestions from the CDC for snack options to add calories during pregnancy include:
1 hard-boiled egg and 1/2 cup strawberries1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt and 1/3 cup raspberries1/2 cup edamame1 cup cooked oatmeal and 8 oz. skim milk5 whole grain crackers and string cheese1 large apple and 1/2 cup low fat cottage cheese
There’s undeniably an emotional aspect to whether or not you’re gaining weight during pregnancy.
While you may know it’s in the best interest of you and your baby to gain weight, it can take a mental toll to see your body size growing. You can also feel a lot of stress if you aren’t meeting your weight gain goals.
If you’re starting to get some pregnancy blues, there are plenty of things you can try to maintain a positive focus. These include:
meditationprenatal massagearomatherapyspending time with loved onesplanning for the birth and your babygetting adequate restexercisingspeaking with a therapist
Not all exercises are created equally for pregnant women, and it’s important to work out safely for the health of you and your baby.
Swimming is an example of an activity that is safe throughout pregnancy and that can actually help to relieve some of the pregnancy aches and pains. Walking and prenatal yoga are some examples of other activities that are safe into your second and third trimesters.
Once you give birth to your baby, don’t forget to continue healthy exercise and eating habits.
While you’ll need to wait several weeks after labor to get medical clearance from your provider for more intense exercises, you can stay nourished and hydrated (especially if breastfeeding) and return to some gentle exercises, like taking your little one for walks, as soon as you’re ready.
Every body is unique even before pregnancy, so it’s important to avoid comparing yourself to others, whether you’re pregnant or not.
Instead, it’s important to keep your focus on the bigger picture:
Are you eating an appropriate amount of calories from healthy foods? Are you getting regular exercise in safe ways? Are you mentally, spiritually, and physically preparing yourself for labor and the months to follow?
Remember: It’s important to see your medical provider frequently during your pregnancy and maintain an open and honest conversation with them about any health concerns, including those related to weight.