Weight gain during pregnancy

“I had a baby three months ago and gained 15 kg, what can I do?” “Ever since Johnnie’s birth my figure has been ruined. Help!” These cries from the heart are very real. Thousands of women all over the world gain weight during pregnancy and then battle for months, if not years, to shed those unwanted kilograms. What can be done to firstly prevent massive weight gain during pregnancy and, secondly, to lose this weight once the baby has been born?

1. How much weight should I gain during pregnancy?
The reason why mothers gain some weight during pregnancy is biologically determined. The purpose of moderate weight gain during pregnancy is to ensure that you have what is called “a desirable pregnancy outcome”, which means that your baby should weigh between three and four kilograms.

Studies have found that babies weighing three to four kilograms have the best chance of survival and are less inclined to develop diseases like diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer when they grow up. So what you do and eat during your pregnancy has very far-reaching results both for you and your child.

The following pregnancy weight gains are recommended by international experts:


Weight of mother before pregnancy Recommended total weight gain during pregnancy
Low or underweight 12,5 - 18 kg
Normal weight 11,5 - 16 kg
High or overweight 7,0 - 11 kg

In other words, the less you weigh before pregnancy, the more weight you should gain during pregnancy, keeping in mind that weight gain shouldn't exceed 18 kg. Any gains that exceed 18 kg, especially if you start your pregnancy being overweight, are excessive and do not serve a useful purpose.

2. How many kilojoules or calories do I need during pregnancy?
The answer to this question is: “Not very many!” According to the American Recommended Daily Allowances, a 25-year old woman of normal weight uses about 9 200 kJ (2 200 cal) a day for energy. When a normal weight woman falls pregnant, she should increase her energy intake as follows:


Stage of pregnancy Additional energy intake Total energy intake
First trimester + 0 kJ 9 200 kJ (2 200 cal)
Second trimester + 1 300 kJ (300 cal) 10 500 kJ (2 500 cal)
Third trimester + 1 300 kJ (300 cal) 11 800 kJ (2 800 cal)

“But I’m eating for two now!” Don’t kid yourself or use your pregnancy as an excuse to overindulge in forbidden fat-rich foods and snacks.

Pregnant women should increase their intake of foods rich in protective nutrients to boost their health and that of the unborn child.

Eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, wholewheat bread and unprocessed cereals, lean meat, fish, omega-3 enriched eggs, low-fat or skimmed milk and dairy products like low-fat yoghurt to ensure that you get plenty of vitamins A, B, C and E, plus protective bioflavonoids, dietary fibre, calcium, iron, protein and essential fatty acids.

By cutting down on fat, you can control your energy intake and weight gain while stocking up on nutrients that will make you feel on top of the world and give your baby the best start in life.

3. Beware of slimming pills and potions and crash diets during pregnancy
Whatever you do during pregnancy, don’t take any slimming pills, potions, herbs, drinks, laxatives, diuretics, or slimming injections, and never use crash or wonder diets to try and lose weight while you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

The pills and potions, including supposedly ‘safe herbs’ all have negative side-effects and can cause diarrhoea, anaemia, dehydration, palpitations, insomnia, mood changes, tremors, and a whole host of other nasty reactions which can endanger your pregnancy and harm the developing baby.

During pregnancy you need a good balanced diet based on the above-mentioned foods. You can cut down on the amount of fat you eat and do regular, gentle exercise, like taking long walks in the fresh air or swimming. This will ensure that you don’t gain excessive amounts of weight. But steer clear of all diets and products that promise you unrealistic weight loss and have the potential to harm you and your child.

4. Weight loss after the birth
Once your baby is born, you can concentrate on losing those unwanted kilograms. Use a low-fat, high-carb diet if you have a small amount of weight to lose, or an energy-restricted diet under the guidance of a registered dietician if you have gained a lot of weight.

Losing weight slowly and steadily with the help of a balanced low-fat diet and moderate exercise will not have a negative effect on breastfeeding, but drastic measures like slimming pills, crash diets and exhaustive exercise routines can dry up your milk supply.

The best way to cope with weight gain during pregnancy is to ensure that you are not overweight before you fall pregnant, not to overeat and gain massive amounts while you are pregnant, and to use sensible methods to lose any excess weight once your baby has been born.

(Dr I V van Heerden/DietDoc, registered dietician, June 2003)

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