Proper nutrition is essential to a healthy pregnancy. The diet of a pregnant woman should include recommended daily amounts of foods from each food group, including four or more servings of vegetables, two to four servings of fruits, four servings of dairy products, six to eleven servings of breads and grains, and three servings of protein sources, to ensure uptake of essential vitamins and minerals. In addition, pregnant women are often encouraged to incorporate a prenatal vitamin and mineral supplement into their diet.
The caloric intake of pregnant women should be greater than that of non-pregnant women with pregnant women consuming 2,500 calories a day. In general, this is 100 to 300 more calories for pregnant women. Thus, although pregnant women are not actually “eating for two”, an increased caloric intake is necessary to “fuel” the growing nutritional and developmental needs of expectant mothers and babies. Such food consumption sets the stage for weight gain. Specifically, pregnant women should expect to gain approximately 15 to 40 pounds, depending on their pre-pregnancy size, with most weight gain taking place in the last 3 months of pregnancy.
To avoid excessive weight gain, pregnant women should adopt a pregnancy diet that’s not very different from a healthy diet anyone can follow, including avoiding “empty calories” from fats and sugary foods, eating the right portion of foods, and choosing a variety of foods to obtain essential nutrients and minerals. Research shows that women who avoid excessive weight gain by adhering to a healthy, calorie controlled diet greatly reduce their risk of pregnancy complications. As well, increasingly, women are encouraged to ensure better pregnancy outcomes by establishing optimal preconception health. By limiting weight gain before and during pregnancy, women are much more likely to be able to lose the “baby weight” following pregnancy and to return to their pre-pregnancy size.
As a woman’s body changes with pregnancy, so does her body image. Women should pursue strategies to embrace one’s evolving self and recognize that pregnancy is for a limited time. One’s body image will change again following pregnancy. Dieting to limit weight gain is not recommended and can be harmful to a developing baby. Maintaining healthy eating and physical activity habits can best shape one’s pregnancy body size and image. Additionally, women can plan to lose weight after pregnancy by exercising and breastfeeding. Both activities are beneficial for mom and baby.