Weight gain in pregnancy is a normal occurrence. It is estimated a women must gain 27 pounds of new tissue growth (baby, placenta, fluids, breast tissue, blood and fat) during pregnancy. You do not get to decide how the weight is gained, so attempting to limit your weight gain below the 27 pounds will not prevent the fat from developing. The fat is accumulated as necessary during pregnancy to support the work your body is doing.
How much weigh gain is considerd "healthy" will depend on your prepregnancy weight and the number of babies you are carrying. The average weight gain is 35 pounds, but you can gain more or less than that number and still be healthy. Unfortunately, you can gain more or less than 35 pounds and be unhealthy. Rather than aiming for a specific number, aim for staying healthy.
When you aim to stay healthy, your body will naturally gain as much weight as it needs to support a healthy pregnancy. Staying healthy means your body has proper nutrition, adequate rest and appropriate exercise. These three components of health should be maintained in a balance, ensuring your body has what it needs.
While exercise will not stop the healthy weight gain of pregnancy, it can help prevent gaining too much weight. If you do strength training exercise, you will increase your metabolism, causing you to use more calories during the day (because muscles use a higher amount of calories than other body tissues).
A very simplified equation for weight maintenance is to have your energy intake (calories of food eaten) equal your energy output (calories used during the day). This is why diet and exercise go hand in hand when you want to lose weight. If you decrease the energy intake and increase the energy output your body is at a deficit and you lose weight.
When you are pregnant, the needs of your body increase by about 300 calories a day. This is to support the extra work of building a baby and additional body tissues. So already your body is using as much energy as it would burn on the average one hour walk. To accommodate this need, most pregnant women experience an increase in appetite. Some, however, experience sickness or a lack of appetite that causes them to lose weight, putting themselves and their baby at risk for malnutrition. Adding exercise to your daily life increases the number of calories you need to maintain a healthy weight.
Some overweight women who begin living a healthy lifestyle right before or soon after becoming pregnant will experience weight loss for the first part of pregnancy. This can be healthy if the goal is to eat a proper diet, get adequate rest and participate in appropriate exercise. Once again, the goal should not be a number on the scale but healthy choices being made every day. It is rare for a woman to lose weight healthfully during the entire pregnancy, and it is not advisable for weight loss to be a pregnancy goal.
Exercise has benefits to pregnancy other than weight management. Women who participate in regular exercise during pregnancy have more energy, stronger bodies with more endurance for labor, feel better emotionally along with experiencing less back pain, less constipation problems and a reduced postpartum recovery time.
Importance of Activity
Most people understand exercise is important because it burns calories, helping you maintain a healthy weight, but you are not trying to lose weight during pregnancy, so why bother? Activity is important because your health is not singly defined by what you eat. The foods you eat are the energy and the building blocks of your body. The activities you participate in help determine how the energy and building blocks are used.
First, activity helps build strong muscle. The more muscle you have, the better it is able to support your normal and healthy fat deposits for a good shape. The increased estrogen levels of pregnancy cause an increase in your fat storage. This is normal and healthy for you and your baby. The key to avoiding flabby fat deposits (sometimes called cellulite) is to firm the muscles under the fat so it can be supported properly.
Secondly, activity helps increase the overall amount of muscle in your body. Without exercise muscles atrophy, this means they get smaller and weaker. While fat tissues store the calories you eat, muscle tissues burn the calories up. You cannot prevent weight gain during pregnancy no matter how much muscle you have, but you can make it easier to burn the calories postpartum by maintaining or increasing your muscle mass.
Thirdly, activity helps to stimulate the chemicals in your body that signal your fat cells to release fat. Because you are pregnant, your body is responding to high estrogen levels by storing extra fat. While storing fat is normal and healthy for pregnancy, storing excess fat is never healthy. Maintaining a moderate exercise program of at least 30 minutes of activity four or more days a week helps keep your body chemistry working as efficiently as possible to release excess stored fat.
Not only does activity help you burn excess calories, it helps you digest the foods you eat every day. Light to moderate activity can help to stimulate the digestive system to move well. This can be a great relief during pregnancy when high progesterone levels are making the digestive system sluggish causing indigestion and constipation. Walking, jogging, and biking are all perfect activities for combating the constipation common during pregnancy because they help to move the pelvis, affecting all the tissues in the lower abdomen.
Activity helps keep you comfortable during pregnancy in two ways. First, light stretching activities can help you release tension in muscles and joints that are sore from carrying the extra weight. Secondly, activity helps strengthen your muscles so they are better able to support the added weight of pregnancy. When you muscles are able to support your weight, you are less likely to suffer from backaches caused by stress on the spine.
Activity is not only beneficial for your physical body, it also helps improve your overall mood. Human emotions have a chemical component, and activity helps to provide the chemicals that cause good feelings. Endorphins, the chemicals responsible for runners high, can be released after any activity as long as you are working at a moderate pace long enough. Many women find a 45 minute walk helps boost their mood, while other women find it only takes a 10 minute walk during pregnancy to achieve the same mood lifting.