weight gain in early pregnancy means bigger, fatter babies

super cute... but maybe not the look you are modelling yourself or your little one after.

Now it's not just about how you look in that bikini on your first post-baby vacation... a study from University of Alberta has found pregnant women who gain too much weight in the first half of a pregnancy give birth to bigger babies with higher body fat levels. Worse? Those babies are statistically more likely to grow into overweight and obese children and adults. Insert sad face here.

In my first pregnancy, I was so excited to be pregnant and have a green light to eat to my heart's content. I made a pretty typical first-timer mistake. I stopped exercising because I was nauseous and exhausted, increased my portion sizes at virtually every meal, and put Pizza Hut on the speed dial. BAM. First trimester ended and I was already up 10 pounds. By that point, my appetite was enormous, my body was addled with excessive carbohydrates (let's face it; no pregnant woman binges on chicken breasts) and my weight gain snowballed from there. I exercised again and ate healthfully (albeit, still too much), but by the time I gave birth I had gained about 55 pounds. After my first was born a plump 9 pounds, 2 ounces, I lost the water and placenta + baby pounds, finding myself with another 40 pounds of fat to work off.

me, wiser & healthier, 6-months pregnant with my 2nd & lumpy in only the usual spots: quads, hamstrings, boobs...  ;)

In my second pregnancy, I knew I wouldn't make the same mistake. I kept my weight gain to 30-35 pounds and birthed my second, still 9 pounds, 6 ounces. I had only about 15-20 pounds to lose. If you've never lost a significant amount of weight, let me tell you how much more manageable 20 pounds of weight loss can be than 40 pounds, when life is hectic with a new baby and you have a back-to-work deadline looming over you. Not to mention that your coworkers might find it strange if you return from maternity leave with a brand new, drawstring waistband wardrobe.

So, back to those women in the study. 172 of them, to be exact. All of the expectant mommies were non-smokers with a healthy body weight and followed a basic exercise program of 3-4 aerobic workouts per week. The mommies-to-be had access to healthy eating guidelines but diets were not tracked.

*** sidebar: there are many reasons our Belly Bootcamp prenatal workouts include a substantial amount of strength training, and weight gain is one of them. Cardio alone cannot maintain a healthy body fat level, in pregnancy or any other time. Don't forget the strength training, girls!

52% of the women gained excessive weight over the course of the entire pregnancy (I knew I wasn't alone...). The most stunning predictor of baby's size, however, was WHEN they gained the weight. Those who gained weight during the first half of the pregnancy were 2.7 times more likely to give birth to bigger, heavier babies with excessive body fat, greater than 14 per cent. Smaller babies were born to the expectant mommies who either gained less overall, or gained weight primarily in the second half of their pregnancies.

From someone who has been through it and seen it all as a coach and trainer to pregnant and postpartum mommies every day, let me share a few tips to help you keep pregnancy weight gain within healthy levels & give baby (and you) the best possible start after birth:

  • perform a full-body strength training workout a minimum of twice per week. You can do a longer workout for all the muscle groups, with several exercises, twice per week with at least 1 day of rest between. Or, you can do a short 10-15 minute workout on most days of the week without rest days between unless you feel excessively fatigued or sore.
  • avoid carbohydrate-only meals and snacks. A common bit of advice for nauseous pregnant mommies is to "keep soda crackers by the bed" or "have something bland every 1-2 hours." Bland = starch. Starch alone will spike blood sugar, empty out of the stomach extremely rapidly, and leave nothing but stomach acid on an upset tummy and a blood sugar crash to sap all your energy, to boot. Find protein sources you can tolerate when your stomach is upset -- non-meat foods such as yogurt, cottage cheese, nut butters and tofu might be easier in the morning. Aim to include protein at each meal and don't fall into the trap of eating nothing but carbs, hour after hour. Protein & fat will calm the tummy and slow digestion, preventing blood sugar spikes & crashes and keeping you full and satisfied so you don't reach for another starchy snack an hour after eating.
  • keep performing your daily activities. It's so easy to melt into the sofa at the end of the day when you're pregnant. Try not to give yourself elective bed rest, though. You may be tired, but daily activities such as housework, walking, cycling, yoga, stretching, and socializing will keep you up and at 'em, burning non-exercise calories that are super important to your metabolism. Also, it is much easier on the muscles and joints - and on the psyche - if you don't spend most of your time either seated at work or seated at home. Get up, move & play! Soon you'll be at someone's beck and call, 24 hours per day. Enjoy your last months of solitude.
  • remember how little 300 calories amounts to. I do not recommend counting calories in pregnancy, or obsessing over weight or diet in any manner. If you are the type who eats mostly the same food every day, you probably have fairly stable eating habits and don't lose and gain weight on a regular basis. This is great! Your body is in equilibrium, and it likes that. Once you get pregnant and are informed baby requires an "additional 300 calories per day" for development, visions of ice cream, McDonalds and vanilla lattes might start dancing in your head. 300 calories of junk food will not the healthiest baby make. Your baby needs fat and protein to grow his brain & organs. Here are a few ways to envision 300 additional calories:
    • 3 cups of 1% milk, one at breakfast, lunch and dinner
    • a large banana with 1 tablespoon natural peanut butter for a late-afternoon snack
    • a larger serving of meat/protein at lunch and dinner
    • 1 cup of full-fat yogurt with 1 cup of blueberries & a drizzle of honey for an evening snack

Remember, you're only pregnant for 10 months. You have a lifetime of health and fitness - and healthy modelling for your children - to prioritize. Find a non-food way to treat yourself every day and embrace your new life.

What was your favourite non-food pregnancy treat? Pedicure? Shopping date with a friend? Yoga? Celebrity magazines? Share!