While an increase in stomach size is a natural and healthy part of pregnancy, gaining too much fat, particularly around the stomach, can lead to secondary symptoms that can be both uncomfortable and dangerous. Pregnant women should follow a doctor’s advice with regard to diet and exercise and choose fat sources that are high in Omega 3 and DHA versus saturated fats.
Women who gain too much fat during their pregnancies can create health risks both for themselves and their babies. According to Dr. Richard C. Adler of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, an increased risk of premature birth may be linked to excess abdominal fat gain in the mother. In addition, prenatal fat gain can increase the baby’s chance of obesity later in life and the mother’s risk of being diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
Because a woman’s weight is easier to measure on a regular basis than body fat, doctors typically measure her weight to assess her physical fitness and body composition during her pregnancy. The Institute of Medicine recommends that women of healthy weights (with BMIs of 18.5 to 24.9) gain 25 to 35 pounds during their pregnancies. Underweight women (with BMIs of 18.5 or lower) should gain between 28 and 40 pounds, while overweight women (with BMIs of 25 to 29.9) should only gain 15 to 25 pounds during their pregnancies. Women who are considered to be medically obese should only gain 15 pounds during their pregnancies.
To avoid too much weight gain during pregnancy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that healthy pregnant women with BMIs between 18.5 and 24.9 consume only 300 additional calories per day, and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recommends only 200 more calories per day. Overweight women may need to consume less but should first consult with their obstetricians. A healthy prenatal diet should include fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, high-fiber carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, folic acid, three to four servings of calcium and 6 to 8 oz. of water. With a doctor’s permission, pregnant women should engage in low-impact exercise three days per week.
A 2009 research study of 256 pregnant women by University of Turku in Finland showed that women who took probiotics during their pregnancies were 15 percent more likely to lose weight around their central region after giving birth. Only 25 percent of participants who received dietary counseling and a priobiotic pill retained a large abdominal circumference and a BMI of more than 30. The number of women with large abdominal circumferences and a BMI of more than 30 were 43 percent in the group that just received dietary counseling, and 40 percent in the group that received neither counseling nor the probiotic pill.
While gaining too much fat can be detrimental to a baby’s health, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence strongly advises that pregnant women not try to lose weight during pregnancy because of the greater risk for the baby. Women who wish to reduce their belly fat should begin a diet and exercise program after giving birth or before they become pregnant. A lack of nutrients during gestation can cause babies to have low birth weights or premature births.