A lot of women keep wondering if it is possible to control their weight during pregnancy and lose weight after childbirth. The answer is YES, it is possible. Before we proceed, let’s talk about the Body Mass Index (BMI). Your BMI is a measure of the appropriate weight for your height. You can calculate this by dividing your weight(in kg) by the square of your height(in meters). It is expressed as kg/m2 .
Optimum BMI for women is defined as 18.5 to 24.9 kg/m2 . As a result of the developing fetus/placenta, expanding uterus, increasing blood volume and amniotic fluid, weight gain is inevitable. However, your rate and target of weight gain depends on your pre-pregnancy BMI. Therefore, a slim woman needs to gain more while an obese woman gains less, but strict weight loss should be postponed until after delivery.
The best approach to maintaining healthy weight throughout pregnancy and beyond is to start BEFORE pregnancy. If you get pregnant with an healthy weight, chances are high that you will maintain a steady weight gain and then, lose all the weight thereafter. Overweight and obese women with increase weight gain, are more likely to have adverse pregnancy outcomes – gestational diabetes and hypertension, big babies and difficult delivery. Underweight women also stand a high chance of developing complications like miscarriages and small-for-age babies.
Women can achieve and maintain a healthy weight by:
- Eating simple starchy foods and whole grains, such as brown rice, whole wheat bread, potatoes, yam and pasta
- Eating fibre-rich diet such as fruits and vegetables, oats, beans, peas and lentils.
- Eating at least 5 portions of fruits and vegetables as daily snacks, instead of sweets and pastry junks.
- Minimising high calorie foods (like cakes and fizzy drinks) and choosing low-fat foods instead.
- Eating breakfast because when you skip breakfast, you’re more likely to overeat during the rest of the day.
- Eating small portions of meals and snacks. Small portions every 3 hours is more preferred to 3 binges 3 times daily.
- Exercising daily – walking, swimming and gardening, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, etc. Working women should take short walks every now and then, especially at lunchtime.
- Minimising sedentary activities such as watching television, using the computer and playing video games.
- Attending antenatal clinics regularly and keeping track of your weight at each visit – you can also buy a bathroom weighing scale to check at home.
- Attending post natal clinic after delivery and enrolling in weight loss programmes designed for new mums.
- Breastfeeding your baby exclusively, as this helps you to lose the baby weight quickly (among other benefits)
- Liaising with a dietician to help calculate your calorie needs, especially if you’re diabetic.
Furthermore, we need to dispell common myths concerning nutrition and weight in pregnancy. There is no such thing as “eating for two”. You eat when you feel hungry and whatever you feel like eating (of course, with the exception of the unhealthy eating habits highlighted above). Conversely, you don’t have to starve yourself for the fear of gaining too much weight or having a big baby. If you’re ever in doubt, ask your midwife or obstetrician.