Deciding it’s the right time to lose some weight is something to be proud of, especially if it’s also for the sake of your unborn child. However, if you want to lose weight when you’re pregnant, there are some essential things to consider. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about weight loss during pregnancy and why it can be either incredibly risky or incredibly rewarding.
Healthy Pregnancy Weight
It is important to note that not all women should be losing weight during pregnancy. It is natural – and essential – to gain weight throughout the term of your pregnancy.
Mothers who were at a healthy weight before becoming pregnant should seek to maintain healthy eating habits for pregnancy but should not try to lose weight. Doing so could put you and your baby in jeopardy, which is the last thing you want.
Instead, weight loss during pregnancy is only suggested for women with a BMI over 30 or who are considered obese. Being severely overweight can cause many different problems during your pregnancy. However, you must speak with doctors and nutritionists before starting the weight loss process. Losing weight too fast or in the wrong way can bring about some unintended issues for mother and baby alike.
Dangers of Obesity During Pregnancy
The main reason women need to lose weight when they become pregnant is for the safety of their child. Being obese brings unintended risks to your pregnancy, and dropping a few pounds can protect against the worst of these risks.
While we typically associate maternal obesity with an increased risk for childhood obesity, that’s not all there is to it. Researchers are now looking into the link between maternal obesity and the baby’s cognitive functions and mental health. These studies have been illuminating: “the quality of prenatal diet can effectively reduce the risk of mental disorders in the offspring.”
In terms of physical effects, obesity spells trouble for both the mom-to-be and baby. Being overweight during pregnancy significantly increases the risk of a miscarriage and stillbirth, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia (which is characterized by high blood pressure and typically includes signs of damage to the kidneys), cardiac dysfunction, sleep apnea, difficult delivery, blood clots, and C-section complications, including troubling wound infections.
For the baby, obesity during pregnancy increases the risk of having congenital disabilities, fetal macrosomia (which is characterized by the baby being significantly larger than average newborns), and metabolic syndromes and childhood obesity.
Losing Weight Safely
If you are more than 60lbs overweight, your pregnancy may not make you gain additional weight. Instead, your baby will use your already existing fat stores for energy to grow. As a result, you’ll most likely end up with a lower body weight after your child is born.
Typically, doctors do not recommend weight loss during pregnancy because it has been associated with higher rates of preterm delivery and decreased birth weights. However, being significantly overweight during pregnancy brings its own adverse effects, as discussed above.
If you’re worried about your weight during pregnancy, consult a doctor for the best course of action. Every circumstance is different. Your doctor may advise you to lose weight slowly or will simply coach you on how to handle the increased risks for your pregnancy.
Causes of Unwanted Weight Loss
Some women gain weight without trying during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester when morning sickness wreaks havoc on your body. For women who are already at average body weight, this weight loss can be dangerous for both mother and baby.
During the first trimester – or for as long as morning sickness lasts, you must monitor your calorie intake and nutrition to remain healthy. This will give your baby what it needs to grow and develop properly.
Several medical conditions can cause dangerous weight loss during pregnancy. These include psychiatric disorders, undiagnosed diabetes, substance abuse, overactive thyroid, gastrointestinal diseases, endocrine imbalance, infections, and autoimmune disorders.
How Much Weight Loss is Too Much?
There’s no need to panic if you’re shedding a few pounds during the first trimester of your pregnancy. This is entirely normal and is usually a result of morning sickness.
Your baby does not yet need excessive energy to feed off of and won’t until after week 14 of the pregnancy. Weight loss during this part of your pregnancy will not negatively impact your baby and has no impact on its development.
However, if you notice more significant drops in weight, it may be time to consult your doctor. If you lose more than ten percent of your overall body weight, you might have hyperemesis gravidarum (severe and extreme morning sickness). You will need medication to ease the severity of your morning sickness so that you can return to a safe and healthy weight.
Dangers of Losing Too Much Weight Too Quickly
Too much weight loss during pregnancy can result in an increased risk of preterm delivery and low body weight of the baby. These babies are then much more susceptible to health conditions and abnormalities since they have not had the appropriate amount of time to grow and develop fully.
Losing weight too fast during pregnancy brings about similar complications and health dangers that losing weight too quickly outside of pregnancy does.
Weight loss and fat loss are not the same things. Losing weight too quickly often results in muscle loss rather than fat loss. This happens on very-low-calorie diets that are unhealthy. You can drop the same amount of weight over time by using a low-calorie diet regime.
Sow Your Metabolism
While it probably seems counterintuitive, losing weight too quickly will actually decrease the number of calories your body can burn in a day by up to a staggering 23 percent. This happens because the loss of muscle and the drop in hormones that regulate metabolism are slowing your metabolism down and reducing your ability to lose weight. Losing weight at a slow and steady pace, as doctors recommend, will prevent this unfortunate effect of rapid weight loss techniques and dieting.
Perhaps the most important factor for pregnant women, losing weight too quickly will result in dietary deficiencies. It is nearly impossible to consume enough of the essential nutrients you need on a strict low-calorie diet. Particularly for pregnant women who need folate, vitamin B12, and iron in higher doses, low-calorie diets that restrict your consumption of these nutrients put you and your baby’s development at risk, which is simply not worth it.
Plus, nutritional deficiencies cause decreased immune functioning. This means you’re at a higher risk for infections (including wound infections after a C-section if you need one) and other sicknesses as a result of a weak immune system.
You’ll also suffer from extreme fatigue from not getting enough iron, vitamin B12, or folate, and you’re also at risk for anemia and weak or brittle bones.
Crash Diet Side Effects
Rapid weight loss also causes hunger, irritability, muscle cramps, dizziness, diarrhea, or constipation, dehydration, and feeling the cold majority of the time, all of which spell trouble for your pregnancy and unborn child. While it is natural to want to lose weight quickly, it is not recommended.
Rapid weight loss during pregnancy brings a host of issues that you shouldn’t have to suffer through. It is much healthier to lose weight slowly and with appropriate nutrition.
How to Lose Weight Safely
Know How Much to Lose
Depending on your BMI before pregnancy, there is a certain amount of weight you should expect to gain after the first trimester. Regardless of how much weight you want to lose, you need to understand that there will be some weight gain even if you’re doing all the right things to lose weight.
If your BMI sits between 25 and 29.9, you should gain between 15 and 25 pounds during your pregnancy. If your BMI sits above 30, you should be gaining between 11 and 20 pounds.
Consult with your doctor to determine how much weight you should be trying to lose during the length of your pregnancy. The optimal rate for weight loss is one to two pounds per week, which you can do safely in the first trimester.
However, in the second and third trimesters of your pregnancy, it is advised that you focus more on a healthful and nutritious diet rather than a weight loss regime. Keep in mind that you are growing a child, and your weight will increase regardless.
Use a Registered Dietician
A registered dietician is a fantastic resource for anyone trying to lose weight. Still, they are essential for pregnant women who want to lead healthier lives. Your pregnancy calls for an increase in some pretty essential vitamins and nutrients, and these needs cannot be overlooked for the sake of weight loss. Working with a registered dietician will allow you to reach the appropriate balance and compromise between weight loss and solid nutrition for you and your baby.
Monitor Your Calorie Intake
Since heavy exercise is not recommended for pregnant women, cutting calories is a safe way to shed a few pounds. It takes about a 3,500 calorie deficit to lose a single pound, so you’ll want to cut about 500 calories from your daily intake to see results.
However, the minimum you should be consuming per se is 1,700 calories. You are eating for two, after all. Considering that calorie cutting means you’re consuming fewer nutrients that you and your baby need, you should add a prenatal vitamin to your daily diet as well. This will ensure you both get the nutrients and vitamins you need for a healthy and safe pregnancy.
If you regularly consume significantly more than 1,700 calories per day, this calorie clash may seem like a lot. Here are some tips for cutting down over time rather than all at once:
- Focus more on eating smaller portions rather than focusing on calories at the beginning.
- Start making sauces and salad dressings at home rather than buying store-bought products that are high in sugar and fat.
- Use olive oil (plant-based fat) to substitute for butter (unhealthy fat).
- Have sweet fruits like pineapple or berries as treats instead of sugary snacks and high-carb treats.
- Add a serving of low-calorie vegetables to your meals instead of traditional carb-filled sides.
- Substitute water for sugary beverages.
- Cut out salty snacks and other large amounts of junk food (a treat here and there won’t kill you though).
While you might get caught up in cutting calories through food, it’s essential to do so through your drinks as well. Skip the soda and opt for water instead. Proper hydration is a crucial player in weight loss.
Gradual Weight Loss
The most important aspect of weight loss during pregnancy is that you take it slow. Rapid weight loss is dangerous for your health. It should not be your primary goal during pregnancy or any other time for that matter.
Once you find out that you are pregnant and you are concerned about how your current weight will impact your pregnancy and your baby, speak with your doctor. Talk about how you can make the right changes to lose weight slowly and safely.
Planning ahead for weight loss during your pregnancy will also give you time to find helpful supports, as well as help you develop healthy habits for the later stages of your pregnancy. A healthy diet becomes even more critical around this time.
Once you reach the second and third trimesters of your pregnancy, your diet plays an integral role in your baby’s health and development. Your baby will grow quickly during the third trimester. You need to be eating the right foods and consuming the right amounts of vital nutrients to ensure your baby is happy and healthy when it is born.
Contact Your Doctor
Staying in contact with your doctor is a crucial part of weight loss during pregnancy. Your doctor can help you keep on track, and it is essential they know how you are progressing. This will help them accurately monitor your health and keep you and the baby safe throughout the term of your pregnancy. Your doctor will also be able to recommend dieticians or support groups that will drastically reduce the stress of your weight loss journey during your pregnancy.
Staying in contact with your doctor about your weight loss is also an excellent way to ensure your baby stays healthy. Your doctor needs to know if you’re losing enough weight that your baby’s development might be at risk. This is especially true during the later trimesters when your baby really starts to grow.
If you’re focused on weight loss, you might not realize that you aren’t gaining the appropriate amount of weight as your child grows inside of you. Your doctor will know how much you should be gaining, and when you should be gaining it.
This allows your doctor to monitor your baby’s growth, vitals, and size so that your child comes out strong and healthy. Your doctor will also let you know when it’s time to focus on dietary health rather than your weight loss goals in the later stages of your pregnancy.
While most doctors don’t recommend actively trying to lose weight once you become pregnant, healthy lifestyle choices can reduce obesity-related pregnancy risks for both the mother and baby. If you feel that you should lose weight for yourself or the health of your child, speak with a doctor first before making any decisions.
Working with a registered dietician is an excellent way to find the perfect healthy diet plan that works for you, your child, and your weight loss goals. Losing weight during pregnancy is a noble goal if you’re worried about complications or other adverse effects of your weight. But be careful and mindful about doing so in a safe way. At the end of the day, all that matters is that your baby is born healthy, and you experience a happy and healthy pregnancy.