Maintaining a healthy weight during pregnancy
If we eat a good range of healthy food in pregnancy, we’re more likely to have all the nutrients we need for ourselves and our baby. The only additions to an everyday healthy diet are folic acid for the first 12 weeks and vitamin D all the way through. There’s no need to eat more food until towards the end of pregnancy, and even then the increase is small - about the equivalent of 2 slices of bread and butter. Being a healthy weight with a sensible weight gain throughout pregnancy will help your baby be a healthy weight too, at birth and beyond. It’s one of the best ways to get them off to a great start in life.
Let’s take a moment to think about what we already know about maintaining a healthy weight in pregnancy.
True or false? Click to reveal the answers!
There’s no need to eat extra food in the first 26 weeks (6 months) of pregnancy – eating an extra 200 calories per day (about the equivalent of 2 slices of bread and butter) is often recommended during the last 3 months to support baby’s growth. Have a watch of this Tommy's video which explains what 200 calories may look like!
Being within the ‘healthy weight’ range before you get pregnant reduces the risk of pregnancy problems for you and your baby. Your midwife will work out your BMI (Body Mass Index) by measuring your height against your pre-pregnancy weight. A high BMI can increase the risk of some complications such as gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, miscarriage, and stillbirth. A low BMI can increase the risk of complications such as premature birth, miscarriage, and having an underweight baby. Your midwife will give you extra care and support throughout your pregnancy if you need it – eating well and staying active will help you maintain a healthy weight.
Only some of the weight gain in pregnancy is due to increased body fat – the baby, placenta, amniotic fluid (the water around your baby) plus an increase in your blood and fluid all contribute. Every woman gains weight differently during pregnancy – eating healthily and staying active will help to keep your weight gain to a safe level for you and your baby.
Eating a healthy breakfast can boost energy levels and help to manage hunger during the day. Wholegrain cereal or multigrain toast are both good options as they release energy slowly; adding fruit will also add fibre and will count as part of the recommended 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Some other breakfast ideas include: omelette with grilled tomatoes and toast, porridge with fruit (fresh or tinned in juice), wholemeal toast with peanut butter and fruit, or plain yoghurt with fruit and slice of toast on the side – lots of tasty options to choose from!
Your eating habits
One way of maintaining a healthy weight in pregnancy is to look at eating and activity habits – completing the quiz below will help you think about your own habits.
Read these habits below and think about whether you do these 'often', 'sometimes' or 'never'.
- I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full
- I build activity into my everyday life
- I eat in front of the TV or while doing something else
- I use the car for short journeys
- I eat because I need a treat
- I use being busy as an excuse for not being active
- I eat when I’m bored
- I use the stairs rather than the lift/escalator
Have a think about which of these habits encourage a healthy lifestyle. What ideas do you have for small changes you’d like to make?
Let’s explore some ideas together now:
Planning meals with your partner or family can be fun; it’s also an opportunity for everyone to think about how to balance the food groups to get all those nutrients that both you and your growing baby need. It can sometimes be a challenge to come up with recipe ideas so why not check out some of the recipes on the HENRY website. Maybe invite a friend round and explore the Eating well recipe book from First Steps Nutrition which contains simple, cost-effective ideas for the whole family.
It can be tempting to reach for sweet snacks when our energy levels slump – foods and drinks high in sugar have little nutritional value but contain lots of calories, as well as causing tooth decay. An occasional slice of cake or biscuit isn’t going to do us much harm but eating them every day is not good for our health or teeth - it’s a balancing act. Take a look at some healthy snack ideas that will benefit you and your growing baby.
Your midwife is there to support you with any concerns that you might have around maintaining a healthy weight during pregnancy. . There are no official guidelines for how much weight you should gain during pregnancy and every women will gain weight differently. It’s important to maintain a healthy weight that is safe for you and your baby – your midwife will work with you to make sure you’re not under or overweight and will point you to further support if helpful.
Building in healthy eating and activity habits to everyday life can be challenging. Making changes before your baby arrives gives you and your family a head start. Once your baby is born you may find you have less time and energy to think about making changes – being a new parent will bring plenty of changes!
What steps will you take as a result of exploring the ideas in this section to change or start a new healthy habit?
To find out if you're a healthy weight for your height, you can work out your body mass index (BMI).
You can easily check your BMI by using a BMI calculator. A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered healthy. However as your pregnancy progresses, your BMI becomes less accurate due to your baby growing.