How Much Weight I Can Gain During Pregnancy?

How much weight gain during pregnancy is recommended? What can you do to manage and maintain your health while you progress through pregnancy? This scientific review and practical tips will help you anticipate and deal with the changes to your weight and body that happen during pregnancy.

Key takeaways:
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    Weight gain tracking is important since gaining too much or too little is associated with difficult deliveries and complications for both mom and baby.
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    The recommended amount of weight gain during pregnancy varies depending on your pre-pregnancy weight and whether you are carrying 1 baby, twins, or more.
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    The average amount for a woman is 30 pounds. Only about 7 pounds of this is fat, so it is a manageable amount to lose after giving birth.
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    Drink lots of water and eat a balanced diet high in fiber, vegetables, fruits, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and whole grains.
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    Get at least 150 minutes of exercise each week (30 minutes 5x/week) at a moderate intensity level (where you cannot hold a conversation while doing it).

Many women worry about gaining weight during pregnancy. Your hormones will change significantly, and your body will hold onto more water than usual, leading to bloating, swelling, heaviness, and fatigue. You will likely experience food cravings, and it may be harder to move and exercise as you did before, especially in the later trimesters.

Why is weight gain important? Because gaining too much is associated with gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia, and having a large baby, which can result in a more difficult delivery, the need for a c-section, and obesity for both you and your child afterward.

On the other hand, gaining too little weight is associated with having a smaller baby who may have difficulties with growth, breastfeeding, developmental delays, and increased risk for illnesses.

Recommended weight gain is based on your current or pre-pregnancy weight. Medical providers use Body Mass Index (BMI), a measurement calculated by using your height and weight. You can use BMI Calculator online (or you can do it manually yourself: BMI = weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared). It also depends on whether you are pregnant with 1 baby, twins, triplets, or more. The standard weight gain recommendations for a singleton baby are:

Pre-Pregnancy BMI
Recommended weight gain during entire pregnancy
Underweight BMI (<18.5)28-40 pounds
Normal BMI (18.5-24.9)25-35 pounds
Overweight BMI (25-29.9)15-25 pounds
Obese BMI (>30)11-20 pounds

If you are carrying twins or multiple babies, the weight gain recommendations are:

Pre-Pregnancy BMIRecommended weight gain during entire pregnancy
Underweight BMI (<18.5)50-62 pounds
Normal BMI (18.5-24.9)37-54 pounds
Overweight BMI (25-29.9)31-50 pounds
Obese BMI (>30)25-42 pounds

Weight gain distribution

Fortunately, a lot of the weight gain is from the baby and the placenta (which is on average a combined weight of 10-15 pounds), and water weight, but you would still need to be careful about watching your weight gain.

Average pregnancy weight gain distribution

Baby weighs 7-8 pounds

Larger breasts: 1 to 3 pounds (about 0.5 to 1.4 kilogram)

Larger uterus: 2 pounds (about 0.9 kilograms)

Placenta: 1 1/2 pounds (about 0.7 kilograms)

Amniotic fluid: 2 pounds (about 0.9 kilograms)

Increased blood volume: 3 to 4 pounds (about 1.4 to 1.8 kilograms)

Increased fluid volume: 2 to 3 pounds (about 0.9 to 1.4 kilograms)

Fat stores: 6 to 8 pounds (about 2.7 to 3.6 kilograms)

Even though you would only have 6-8 pounds of fat to lose after giving birth, this can be difficult. See our related article on Weight Loss After Pregnancy.

Everybody is different. Some gain weight easily, and others have difficulty gaining weight. Factors that influence weight gain include pre-pregnancy weight, age, height, ethnicity, smoking status, and parity.

For women who have multiple pregnancies, it’s recommended to lose the weight of the previous pregnancy and return to pre-pregnancy weight, before attempting to become pregnant again. The ideal interpregnancy interval is 18 months or longer, to allow the body to readjust.

Timing of weight gain

As expected, there is more weight gain in the later trimesters, as the pregnancy progresses.

For a woman with normal pre-pregnancy weight/BMI:

First trimester: 1-4.5 pounds

Second trimester: 1-2 pounds per week

Third trimester: 1-2 pounds per week

Her body will typically not need more calories in the first trimester. In the second trimester, she’d typically need 340 additional calories per day. In the third trimester, 450 more calories per day than usual. Do not stress over calorie counting, but do keep an eye on portion sizes and how your body is feeling. Eating to the point of feeling full but not stuffed is a good guideline.

If you are not gaining enough weight, but feel too full to eat larger meals, try to make a simple substitution such as skim to whole milk, use more oil in your cooking, or add on a bedtime snack.

Check-in with your doctor about your weight and set some estimated goals. You are usually weighed at each prenatal visit during your pregnancy. You may also track your weight using a tracking app or worksheet.

Managing diet

Your diet will likely need some adjustments while pregnant.

First, make sure to stay away from foods that can be dangerous for your babies, such as raw seafood, eggs, cheeses, deli meats, or unpasteurized juices.

Try to eat a healthy, balanced diet high in vegetables, lean protein, fruits, low-fat dairy, and whole grains. A good rule of thumb is to fill up ½ your plate with non-starchy vegetables, ¼ with whole grains or starchy vegetables, and ¼ with protein.

Avoid or limit sugar, high amounts of fat, and refined carbohydrates such as white bread or rice, which affect your body, insulin response, and risk of developing diabetes just as much as sugar does (because those carbohydrates break down into simple sugars easily). Eating higher amounts of fiber and protein can also help you feel fuller for longer, so you would be less likely to overeat.

Make sure you are drinking enough water since sometimes thirst can feel like hunger. If you’re hungry, a good tip is to always drink a large glass of water first and then eat, or see how you feel after the water. You can tell if you are well-hydrated by keeping track of the color of your urine - you want it to be a light yellow or clear color.

You may experience odd food cravings due to hormonal changes. One common food craving for pregnant women is pickles. As long as they are not on the Checklist of Foods to Avoid in Pregnancy, you may indulge in your cravings in moderation. It can be stressful to count calories, so a better approach would be to estimate portion sizes. Try to eat slowly. It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to signal to your brain that it is full. If you eat quickly, sometimes you end up eating too much before you realize you are full.

To eat more slowly, one trick is to eat with your non-dominant hand, use chopsticks or other utensils you are not used to, or put your fork down between each bite.

Try to sit down, and limit or turn off other distractions while eating, such as tv, so you can focus on your food. Mindful eating has been found to lead to greater satisfaction and enjoyment of a meal, and even less overall food consumed.

If you are not gaining enough weight, but feel too full to eat larger meals, try to make simple substitutions such as from skim to whole milk, use more oil in your cooking, or add on a bedtime snack. You may also try eating faster so you end up eating more before your brain registers that you are full.

Managing exercise

Exercising during pregnancy can be tough especially as the pregnancy progresses. In most cases, you may safely maintain your exercise routine from before you became pregnant, even if it was strenuous, after clearing it with your medical provider.

Aim for at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) per week of moderately intense aerobic activity, such as walking briskly. You can judge it as moderately intense if you cannot comfortably hold a conversation while doing it. You can do 30 minutes 5 days a week, or about 20 minutes per day.

If you find walking too difficult, due to swollen feet or back pain, you may bike or swim. Do whatever you can to stay active. Dance, water aerobics, yoga, and most other forms of exercise will still be available to you. You can sneak in exercise by taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking in a faraway spot when you go shopping, or doing some stretches or exercises while watching tv.

Talk with your doctor about specific physical activity restrictions. Heavy weight lifting was not found to be associated with preterm birth, but it may be something you would want to avoid to be safe.

There are healthy recommended weight gain amounts during pregnancy, on average 30 pounds for an average pre-pregnancy weight woman. Only about 30% of women actually gain the recommended amount of weight (about 50% gain too much and 20% gain too little), so do not beat yourself up, try your best and check in with your doctor regularly.