Preventing Excessive Weight Gain During Pregnancy

Printed with permission from the Cooper Institute.

 Pregnancy is no time to throw caution to the wind when it comes to healthy eating and regular exercise.  Even if your pre-pregnancy weight is in the healthy zone, gaining too much weight during pregnancy can lead to negative long- and short-term outcomes for both mother and baby (1). Pregnancy has enough challenges – mood swings, cravings and back aches (to mention a few) without having to worry about losing extra weight after delivery. So why not get off to a great start?

A recent study (2) investigated the effect of exercise and a healthy diet on weight gain during pregnancy, weight of the baby, and weight of the mother 2 months postpartum. The study recruited 49 pregnant women with healthy body weights prior to pregnancy to participate in either a low or moderate intensity exercise program.  Women walked at an intensity of 30% and 60% of their heart rate reserve in the low and moderate intensity groups, respectively. Wearing heart rate monitors, they progressed to 30 minutes of walking with a 5 minute warm up and cool down, 3-4 days/week. Both groups were instructed to eat a healthy diet designed to prevent gestational diabetes (diabetes which develops during pregnancy) while allowing them to gain enough weight for a healthy pregnancy.  The exercise groups were compared to 45 pregnant women also of healthy body weight prior to pregnancy but who did not exercise during pregnancy.

When researchers looked at pregnancy weight gain, they found that 53% of the nonexercising women gained more than the 25-35 pounds recommended by the Institute of Medicine (1). However, only 35% and 31% of the low and moderate intensity groups gained excessive weight during pregnancy. In fact, both exercise groups gained about the same amount of weight approximately 33 pounds compared to an average of 40 pounds in the nonexercisers.  Infant birth weight was not different among the 3 groups.

At 2 months postpartum, the nonexercisers were still carrying around an average of 16 extra pounds over their pre-pregnancy weight compared to 12 and 10 pounds in the low and moderate intensity exercise groups, respectively. Only 7% of the nonexercisers compared to 18% and 28% of the low and moderate intensity walking groups were within 4.5 pounds of their prepregnancy weight at 2 months postpartum.

The good news is that even low intensity walking and a healthy diet can limit excessive weight gain during pregnancy and help you get back to your pre-pregnancy weight faster. If you aren’t pregnant yet, it’s best to start exercising before so your body can adjust to the exercise before adjusting to pregnancy. Either way, you need to check with your doctor before starting or continuing an exercise program during pregnancy. When getting clearance for exercise, ask your doctor about the best nutrition program for yourself. An added bonus, exercise can decrease those pregnancy complaints like back pain, mood swings and poor sleep. For more information on Exercise and Pregnancy, check out or sign-up for the Cooper Institute 1 day Pregnancy and Exercise course.

1. Institute of Medicine. (2009). Weight Gain during Pregnancy: Reexaming the Guidelines. Washington (DC): The National Academies Press.

2. Ruchat, S-M, Davenport, M.H., Giroux, I et al. (2012).Nutrition and Exercise Reduce Excessive Weight Gain in Normal-Weight Pregnant Women. Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise. Published ahead of print. doi: 10.1249/MSS.Ob013e31825365f1

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