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Weight Gain During Pregnancy: What's Safe and Healthy?

Medically reviewed by Mary Rani Cadiz, MD · Obstetrics and Gynecology

Written by Sahlee Barrer · Updated Jul 12, 2022

    Weight Gain During Pregnancy: What's Safe and Healthy?

    Pregnancy weight gain is a given. With a baby on the way, additional nourishment is necessary to keep mother and child healthy. Food choices will also matter to ensure the child’s growth and development. 

    But when planning a safe pregnancy, a major concern for women is how to avoid unsafe weight gain during pregnancy.

    Weight Gain During Pregnancy

    Depending on their initial weight, women will gain anywhere from 25 to 35 pounds (11.5 to 16 kilograms) during pregnancy. This is generally comprised of the following:

    • Baby: 5.5 to 8 pounds (2.5 to 3.5 kilograms)
    • Placenta: 2 to 3 pounds (1 to 1.5 kilograms)
    • Amniotic fluid: 2 to 3 pounds (1 to 1.5 kilograms)
    • Breast tissue: 2 to 3 pounds (1 to 1.5 kilograms)
    • Blood supply: 4 pounds (2 kilograms)
    • Fat stores: 5 to 9 pounds (2.5 to 4 kilograms)
    • Uterus growth: 2 to 5 pounds (1 to 2.5 kilograms)

    On average, the baby in the womb represents 25% of the total weight gain; 5% can be attributed to the placenta, and 6% to the amniotic fluid.

    Changing Guidelines on Weight Gain during Pregnancy

    Medical advice on pregnancy weight gain has changed from decade to decade.

    In the 1950s, doctors often advised pregnant women to refrain from gaining more than 15 pounds. However, from the 1970s to the 1980s, doctors believed that this was not enough.

    Poor weight gain or excessive weight loss during pregnancy can lead to women having small babies, which, in turn, results in developmental issues. Doctors then started advising women to “eat for two”.

    With this recommendation, pregnant women then started gaining weight excessively. Doctors would tell their patients to just lose the additional weight after the birth of the child.

    Research in the early 2000s, however, began to reveal issues related to unsafe weight gain during pregnancy.

    These complications include increased incidence of the following conditions:

    • Hypertension
    • Gestational Diabetes
    • Higher chances of a Cesarean section
    • Preeclampsia, a more severe form of high blood pressure that affects other organs such as the kidneys

    Increased weight gain likewise affects the health of the child, as it raises the risks of obesity, childhood diabetes, and heart defects in the baby.

    Guidelines were then reviewed so that doctors could better advise women about unsafe weight gain during pregnancy. In some cases, weight loss or gain may be discussed and planned prior to the pregnancy.

    When this is no longer an option, medical professionals agree on acceptable healthy limits regarding maternal weight gain.

    What is the Optimal Weight Gain During Pregnancy?

    Most women will see a weight increase of 2 to 4 pounds (1 to 2 kilograms) in the first trimester.

    Afterwards, a gain of 1 pound (around half a kilogram) a week until birth is considered within reasonable boundaries. 

    Optimal weight gain will depend on a woman’s situation.

    • Depending on their pre-pregnancy weight, overweight women will need to gain less, which could be around 15 to 25 pounds (7 to 11 kilograms).
    • For women with obesity, the weight gain for the whole pregnancy is advised to be only up to 5-9 kg.
    • Women who are underweight, on the other hand, can gain more (28 to 40 pounds or 13 to 18 kilograms).
    • When twins are expected, more weight is required, which may be from 37 to 54 pounds (16.5 to 24.5 kilograms).

    Doctors recommend keeping to the right calorie intake to help manage weight limits. For most pregnant women, these are:

    • 1,800 calories per day in the first trimester
    • 2,200 calories per day in the second trimester
    • 2,400 calories per day in the third trimester

    How to Keep Weight Gain Manageable

    Generally, women should maintain a balanced, nutrient-rich diet, and exercise regularly, to have a healthy pregnancy. Here are a few tips to help women avoid unsafe weight gain during pregnancy:

    1. Make healthy food choices. Snack on fresh fruits and vegetables. Choose whole grain bread, pasta, and other complex carbohydrates. There is no need to skip dairy, but choose lower-fat options.
    2. Avoid food and drinks that are high in sugar or have artificial sweeteners. Avoid snacks such as chips, cookies, cake, and ice cream. Reduce fat intake by staying away from fried food, rich sauces, or heavy salad dressings.
    3. Eat small, frequent meals that have plenty of lean protein, fruits, and vegetables to head off cravings. Eat fruits with high fiber content to stay satisfied and prevent overeating at mealtimes.
    4. Look for healthier options when eating out. Even fast food restaurants offer fruit juices, salads, grilled meat sandwiches, or vegetarian selections. 
    5. Prepare home-cooked meals and use lower-fat cooking methods, such as baking, broiling, grilling, steaming, and boiling.
    6. Stick to an exercise regimen to maintain fitness and burn extra calories. You can still engage in your fitness routine prior to pregnancy, as long as high-impact sports/workouts are avoided. Women can also consider other safe fitness alternatives, such as swimming, walking, gardening, prenatal yoga, and jogging.

    It would be good to remember that bouncing back to pre-pregnancy weight is easier with sensible weight gain during pregnancy.

    Upon the birth of the child, around 11 pounds is immediately lost, which accounts for the baby, amniotic fluid, and the placenta. The rest of the weight may take months to lose, and even longer if weight gain is significant.

    Breastfeeding can help weight loss. Breastmilk is not only the best milk for babies, it also burns around 500 calories a day and can add to a mother’s successful weight loss regimen.

    Key Takeaways

    Enjoy eating during pregnancy, but stay fit and healthy! 

    Remember, it is perfectly fine to put on extra weight, but it is important to do so in moderation! Weight gain is part of having a baby, but women should be aware of the complications that may arise due to unsafe weight gain during pregnancy.

    It can be challenging to maintain these guidelines, particularly when you’re dealing with all the physical and emotional difficulties that come with pregnancy. Keep in mind that staying within the recommended range of weight gain can reduce the incidence of health problems.

    Eating the right kinds of food and staying active are certainly the best ways to ensure a healthy journey for both mother and baby. 


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Mary Rani Cadiz, MD

    Obstetrics and Gynecology

    Written by Sahlee Barrer · Updated Jul 12, 2022

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