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What to Eat When You're Pregnant : A Healthy Weight Gain (part 1) - Putting on too much weight

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Not gaining enough

There is a very strong association between weight gain during pregnancy and birth weight. The more weight you put on, the bigger your baby is likely to be. This might make you think that you should limit your weight gain, as a smaller baby will mean an easier birth. However, low-birth-weight babies are more likely to have health problems at birth, developmental delays as they grow up and an increased risk of heart disease in later life. In addition, girls who are small at birth have been found to be more likely to have children with raised blood pressure. So, restricting your weight gain now could have health implications for your future grandchildren.

Putting on too much weight

Gaining a very large amount of weight can also have health implications. Gaining a lot of weight makes you more likely to develop high blood pressure and gestational diabetes. It also increases the chances of you having a very large baby, which can increase the risks during delivery, including the likelihood of needing a Caesarean. In addition, it increases your own risk of obesity in the future, which in turn means that you are more likely to develop heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Losing weight after having a baby isn’t as easy as many people think. A Swedish study found that women who gained more than 16 kg (2.5 stone) during pregnancy were still 5.5 kg (12 lb) heavier a year after their baby was born. For some women, the effects can still be seen many years after giving birth. A study of more than 2,000 women in the UK found that those gaining more weight than recommended were three times as likely to be overweight 16 years later. Similar results were found in a group of Australian women 21 years after they had had their babies.

Although it’s important to make sure you’re not putting on too much weight, try not to let it become an obsession. Don’t let yourself go completely but, equally, don’t diet, even if you are overweight. Dieting during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of neural tube defects and other complications.

You may know that you’re putting on weight but feel happier if you don’t weigh yourself at all. And in fact there isn’t really any need to do so. The important thing is to try to make a conscious effort to eat as healthily as possible. You can still have occasional treats as well of course. But if you are constantly tempted by high-fat and high-sugar foods such as crisps or chocolate, then make sure you always have healthier options available . Also, try eating more low-GI (glycaemic index) foods, such as lentils and oats, to stabilise your blood sugar levels and keep you feeling fuller for longer. The aim of healthy eating is to get the right combination of nutrients while getting enough, but not too many, calories.

Low-carb eating

Low-carb diets, such as the Atkins diet, could be dangerous during pregnancy. Not only can weight loss increase risks, but also the balance of nutrients is associated with a number of potential problems. Keeping carbohydrate intake to a minimum (no bread, pasta, potatoes, etc.) means that protein foods make up a larger proportion of the diet than is usual or healthy. In animal studies, high-protein diets have been shown to increase the risk of miscarriage and genetic abnormalities. Studies in Scotland have also shown that adults whose mothers had a high protein intake during pregnancy were more susceptible to raised blood pressure, insulin deficiency and heart disease in later life.

Staying active

As well as thinking about what you eat, it’s important to stay active to avoid putting on too much weight and to help you feel healthy. Getting out and keeping physically active is also essential for your general sense of well-being. This means avoiding spending long periods sitting and watching TV or using the computer, and instead making walking and cycling part of your daily life. As well as walking, swimming and yoga are ideal forms of exercise during pregnancy. They can help you feel healthier and more relaxed, so you sleep better. By keeping fit, you are also likely to have more stamina for labour and an easier birth. Keeping in good shape will also help you recover more quickly after the birth and make you feel more energetic and better able to look after your baby.

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