Weight gain, eating and exercise in pregnancy

We’ve all heard of that mantra of pregnancy to “eat for two”. For some women, this seems logical and easy because their appetite once pregnant is huge! For others (myself included), the thought of eating is highly unappealing and eating can be a struggle.

Weight gain in pregnancy is also often a concern for mums-to-be. This often stems from our body image before pregnancy – having concerns like “am I too big?”, “are my boobs too big?”, “what will pregnancy do to my body?” often play on our mind. The media highlighting supermodel bodies during and after pregnancy doesn’t help!

But at the end of the day, the only thing we really all want is a healthy mum and baby. So I’m going to translate the research we know on this area, so you can know exactly what you should be doing.

First of all: weight gain. We actually know how much, roughly, mums should gain in pregnancy, and this is because of a lot of research that looked at thousands of pregnancies, and looked at the weight gain range that was associated with the best outcomes. In other words, what was the weight gain in pregnancy where things were most likely to go really well? Why is weight gain in pregnancy important? Well, the vast majority of women in Australia gain too much weight in pregnancy, and this is linked with an increase in complications for both mum (such as gestational diabetes, and losing too much blood after birth) and baby (such as a large baby, low blood sugar and jaundice)[1].

The target weight gain for you will depend on your pre-pregnancy BMI [Body Mass Index] – which is why when you have your first pregnancy appointment you are often weighed – it’s not because your midwife or doctor is judging you or anything negative like that. Here is a link to a BMI calculator, where you’ll need to put in your height and weight, to work out your individual BMI:

Once you know your BMI, see where you fit on the table below to know your target weight gain during pregnancy:

Ok, so now you know a guide to weight gain in pregnancy, then let’s look at the next two logical factors that contribute to this: diet and exercise. Of course, researchers, midwives and doctors are concerned about the fact that most women are gaining too much weight, and so a lot of studies have been done in this area. All of the studies looking at changes to diet and exercise routines in pregnancy have not had consistent findings, which means we are none the wiser on what works to achieve a healthy weight gain in pregnancy for every woman. This is why you’ll find that the health professionals who are most up to date are advising you to have a healthy diet and exercise regularly.

Here’s a link to the Australian guidelines for healthy eating in pregnancy, and here are the Australian guidelines for exercise during pregnancy. It’s worth noting that these recommendations are for low risk pregnancies, so it’s worth talking about this to your obstetrician or midwife if you’re not sure if your pregnancy is low risk, or these recommendations are suited to you.

So now you might be scratching your head and thinking “so, we are gaining too much weight, but nothing specific works to help this?” Well, maybe not. There’s a bunch of research that suggests there’s a big psychological component to controlling weight gain in pregnancy – so now a lot of the attention is shifting to psychological therapies that might help us. This is actually going to be a big focus of my PhD (so watch this space!) but basically, your motivation to achieve a healthy weight gain might be the key here…and this might be what actually helps us to engage in behaviours that result in healthy weight gain.

I hope this has been a helpful read. Please share the love by sending this post to a supermum or supermum-to-be, who might benefit from this article. And I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!

Want more? Read related topics below!

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[1] Muktabhant, B., Lawrie, T. A., Lumbiganon, P., & Laopaiboon, M. (2015). Diet or exercise, or both, for preventing excessive weight gain in pregnancy. The Cochrane Library. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD007145.pub3

[2] https://www.ranzcog.edu.au/Womens-Health/Patient-Information-Resources/Why-Your-Weight-Matters

[3] American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2013). Weight gain during pregnancy. Committee Opinion No. 548. Obstet Gynecol 2013;121:210–2.


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