How To Lose Weight While Pregnant

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How to Lose Weight while Pregnant? If you’re an expectant mother, you’ve probably heard the news that gaining too much weight during pregnancy can lead to all sorts of health problems, not to mention a fat baby and all of the side effects that come with it. If a mother is overweight before she gets pregnant, it is easy for her to balloon up to 300 pounds at the end of her pregnancy. Losing weight while pregnant can be a challenge. You want to be healthy for your baby but at the same time, you want to try and shed some of that extra flubber.

Ideally, health professionals would tell us to lose weight before getting pregnant. But if you want kids and also want to lose weight, that often doesn’t leave a lot of options. So how can you lose weight while pregnant? Read on for quick answers to your question.

How To Lose Weight While Pregnant

You are pregnant! Congratulations! When you’re expecting it’s important to ensure your health is on point while you’re carrying a new human. This can be achieved through proper diet and exercise. It is important to understand that being pregnant is not an excuse to gain weight however. There’s a lot of uncertainty when it comes to what diet plans are best for a growing baby, so let me help clear this up for you. In this article, I will discuss how to lose weight while pregnant.

Common Reasons, Concerns, and Special Considerations

Losing weight in pregnancy might seem alarming but it’s fairly common. Sometimes, it is nothing to worry about, especially if the weight loss is short-lived and followed by the recommended weight gain. However, losing weight during pregnancy is cause for concern if the weight loss is substantial, long-lasting, or occurs after the first trimester.

In those cases, losing weight can be problematic and will need medical attention. Your provider will track your weight gain or loss at every prenatal check-up for this very reason. Below, we explore why pregnancy weight loss occurs, when to be concerned, and what do about it.

Overview

In early pregnancy, the baby is still quite tiny and only has minimal caloric and nutritional needs. So, a bit of unintentional weight loss in this period (usually related to morning sickness) won’t negatively impact your baby’s development.

Keep in mind, too, that what is considered healthy weight gain in the first trimester is typically only a few pounds depending on your pre-pregnancy weight—usually 2 to 4 pounds.

If you lose a couple of pounds, rather than gain, the net loss will only be several pounds. These pounds will usually be quickly recouped when nausea fades and appetite returns by the second trimester.

Why Weight Gain Matters

After the first trimester, however, gradual weight gain becomes vital for the health of the baby as well as for building up essential fat stores to prepare a women’s body for supporting a growing baby, labor, delivery, and breastfeeding.

It’s typically not wise to follow a heavily restrictive diet or to drastically cut calories or food groups while expecting. Your growing baby’s optimal development will increasingly rely on you consuming adequate calories and nutrients. However, to some extent, your baby is able to use your body’s fat stores if needed.

Pregnancy can trigger morning sickness as well as encourage women to shift to healthier eating styles, both of which can result in early pregnancy weight loss. In some cases, a small amount of doctor-supervised weight loss may also be recommended for pregnant women who have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher.

 

BMI Explained

Body mass index is a guideline based on your height and weight and is an estimate of your body fat. Be aware that healthy weights are more than simply your BMI calculation and many women (over 50%) fall outside of the “normal” category. Consult with your doctor to determine if your weight is healthy for you.

Morning Sickness

Morning sickness is very common, impacting about 70% to 80% of pregnant women in the first trimester.1 Caused by the huge hormonal shifts of pregnancy, morning sickness symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Reduction in appetite
  • Sensitivity to smells
  • Vomiting
 

So, many pregnant women have trouble keeping food down, which is why some weight loss may occur. But as long as you are still eating a little and not losing more than a few pounds, mild to moderate or occasional morning sickness is not something to be concerned about. Usually, these symptoms improve by week 14 and weight gain will commence.

Hyperemesis Gravidarum

However, sometimes morning sickness can escalate to a more serious extreme morning sickness known as hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). In this condition, women experience magnified symptoms and more substantial weight loss.

 

Dr. Chris Han, a physician at the Center for Fetal Medicine and Women’s Ultrasound, says, “A patient is felt to have HG if she has persistent vomiting accompanied by weight loss exceeding 5% of the pre-pregnancy body weight, along with evidence of ketones in their urine.” For example, a woman with HG who starts out her pregnancy weighing 140 pounds would lose about 7 pounds or more.

Research shows that about 36,000 women are hospitalized each year in the United States with cases of HG.1 The actual number of women with the condition might be much higher since women may be treated at home or as outpatients through their health care provider.

Hyperemesis gravidarum is characterized by severe nausea and vomiting, which can result in severe dehydration and inability to keep food down. As a result, there is the potential to lose weight if you experience this condition.

HG usually appears in weeks 4 to 6 of pregnancy and can peak around 9 to 13 weeks. Most women receive relief around weeks 14 to 20, however, some women require care throughout their entire pregnancy. Hyperemesis can be treated outside the hospital, but in severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary.

Can You Lose Weight While Pregnant?

pregnant woman sitting on bench

Can I Lose Weight While Pregnant?

No matter how much you weigh, it’s not safe to lose weight while pregnant. (The one exception to this in the early weeks of pregnancy – see the reasons why below.)

The effect of a mom’s weight gain or loss on her baby during pregnancy is a complicated issue that experts continue to study, but we know that losing weight during pregnancy isn’t compatible with growing a healthy baby. And if you’re losing weight, you may not be getting all the calories and nutrients you need for a healthy pregnancy.

While being overweight or obese during pregnancy increases your risk for some pregnancy complications, losing weight during pregnancy puts you at risk of having a baby who is too small (small for gestational age, or SGA) and for preterm birth.

What If I Lose Weight In Early Pregnancy?

It can be normal to lose weight in early pregnancy, due to:

  • Morning sickness. In the first trimester, it’s common to lose weight as the result of morning sickness. The nausea can diminish your appetite, and the vomiting can cause you to miss out on calories. Don’t worry, your baby will get all the necessary calories and nutrients they need at this point.
  • Fat reserves. Overweight women have an extra reserve of calories in stored fat, so as your baby grows, it’s not harmful to maintain or even lose a little weight at first.
  • Improved lifestyle. You might lose weight early on if you’ve started exercising or eating healthier foods when you became pregnant.

In most cases, this weight loss isn’t dangerous. If you’re losing a lot of weight, though, or if you think you may be suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum (severe morning sickness), tell your provider right away.

How Much Weight To Gain If You’re Pregnant And Overweight Or Obese

If you started off your pregnancy carrying too much weight for your height, you’re not alone. More than half of pregnant women are overweight or obese.

You’re considered overweight if your pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI) is between 25 and 29.9. (Your BMI reflects the relationship between your height and weight, and is an estimate of body fat.) You’re considered obese if your BMI is 30 or greater.

Not sure what your BMI is? Try this BMI calculator.

How much to gain during pregnancy depends on your BMI:

  • If your BMI is 25 to 29.9: It’s recommended that you gain between 15 and 25 pounds by the end of your pregnancy, or approximately 2 to 3 pounds per month in your second and third trimesters.
  • If your BMI is 30 or higher: You’re advised to gain 11 to 20 pounds during pregnancy.

For guidance, try our pregnancy weight gain calculator and learn more about pregnancy weight gain.

Though it’s not safe to lose weight during pregnancy, if you’re overweight or obese during pregnancy you may be able to safely gain less than the recommended amount – with your healthcare provider’s guidance and monitoring.

Pregnancy weight gain recommendations are provided by the Institutes of Medicine (IOM), and there’s been some controversy about the IOM amounts stated for obese women. One issue is that the IOM provided one recommendation for all obese women (those with a BMI of 30 or higher) rather than different numbers for different categories of obesity.

According to some researchers, if you’re overweight or obese, it may be safe (and advantageous) for you to gain less than IOM guidelines recommend. Some studies show that overweight or obese women who gain only 6 to 14 pounds had similar or better neonatal outcomes than women who gained the recommended 15 to 20 pounds, for example.

If you’re overweight or obese, talk with your provider about your target weight gain during pregnancy. If you gain less weight than recommended, they’ll want to monitor you and your baby to be sure your pregnancy is progressing well and your baby is growing appropriately.

Can I Diet To Lose Weight During Pregnancy?

Pregnancy is definitely not the time to go on a weight-loss diet, no matter what weight you’re at. Restricting your food intake is potentially hazardous to you and your developing baby. You need enough calories and nutrients to support a healthy pregnancy and baby.

Also, steer clear of carbohydrate-restrictive diets such as keto and Atkins. Your growing baby needs the carbohydrates, and ongoing ketosis caused by these diets can harm a developing fetus.

During pregnancy, you can keep your weight gain within your target range by eating healthfully and exercising regularly. Do your best to:

  • Eat balanced meals and healthy snacks.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking an average of about ten 8-ounce cups of water each day.
  • Choose complex carbs – such as beans, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains – over simple carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice, and white pasta.
  • Monitor your weight with your healthcare provider to make sure you’re on track.

For more tips, read our article on how to avoid gaining too much weight during pregnancy.

Weight Loss During Pregnancy: Warning Signs

Losing weight in the second or third trimester can signal a problem. In some cases, weight loss can be harmless (a result of water loss after temporary retention, for example), but it’s important to let your provider know.

They’ll assess your diet and activity habits and ask questions about symptoms, such as nausea, heartburn, bloating, and constipation, all of which can understandably discourage expecting moms from eating. Your provider may also want to screen you for depression or fetal growth restriction.

Also, tell your provider immediately if you have suddenly have a dramatic weight loss, such as five pounds in a week.

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