In a recent blog post, Savannah Guthrie, host of the Today show and expectant mom, protested the idea that healthy pregnant women should be scolded for gaining more than the idyllic 30 pounds moms-to-be are told to shoot for. And as long as you feel and act healthy, what’s the big fuss about a few pounds more than recommended?
Well, there is actually a reason behind it: The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends that the most beneficial amount of weight for an already healthy women—that with a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9—and her baby is 25 to 35 pounds gained over the 9 months. No more, but also no less.
“Experts reviewed studies on weight gain and pregnancy outcomes and found that the healthiest results for mom and baby were in the group that gained weight within specific healthy ranges,” says Naomi Stotland, M.D., associate professor in the department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at University of California, San Francisco. Thirty pounds, plus or minus five, on a healthy mom-to-be lowers the risk for cesarean delivery, pregnancy-induced hypertension, postpartum weight retention, and coincides with fewer preterm births and higher chances of delivering a healthier sized baby.
But these guidelines aren’t the same for every growing baby bump. “A woman's starting weight is the most important factor in coming up with a target weight gain,” Stotland says. If you go into your first trimester underweight, the IOM recommends packing on more pounds, and if you’re overweight or obese, less.
Other factors change how much gain is considered healthy, including exercise, diet, and how many babies you’re carrying. But science still supports sticking to a healthy range, even for minute benefits: A recent Spanish study found that gaining around 30 pounds can help reduce the baby’s exposure to pesticides that may have accumulated in the mother’s body, while another in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology last month reported that women who gain more or less than the recommended weight may be more likely to have an overweight child.
Plus, most of the weight you pack on while your baby is growing will still be there after delivery. And while there’s nothing wrong with carrying a little extra weight around post-birth, the more fat you have after, the harder it is to reach a healthy range again, increasing your risk of becoming overweight or obese long-term. This is especially true for women who start pregnancy already overweight, Stotland adds.
So do you need to be worried if you surpass or don’t reach your healthy cutoff point? “Statistically, you and your baby are more likely to have health complications if you gain more or less than the recommended healthy weight, but every woman is different and some might gain more and have none of these complications,” Stotland says.
Avoid packing on the pregnancy pounds by ditching the mentality that you’re eating for two, which a recent Penn State study found leads to excessive weight gain. And keep up an adapted exercise routine if your doc okay’s it: A new European study found that healthy women who began supervised, moderate-intensity exercise after their first prenatal visit gained less unnecessary weight and reduced their risk of related pregnancy complications.
Most importantly: Talk to your ob-gyn. If you are eating healthy and exercising but your scale surpasses the allotted 30 extra pounds, your weight gain is probably still healthy, she reassures. “It’s important to review all your lifestyle factors with your doctor to have their advice tailored to you,” Stotland says.