• Fri, Mar 14 - 10:00 am ET

Normal Human Moms Will Always Compare How Much Weight You Gain During Pregnancy

shutterstock_106551056Pregnancy weight gain is such a touchy subject. As with normal body weight, pregnancy weight gain is entirely individual and will depend on how much you weighed before you got pregnant. If you look it up on the trusty Internet, it recommends gaining an average of 25 to 35 pounds. My midwife recommended that I gain 40 pounds.

I’ve dealt with an eating disorder in the past, and I still have hang-ups about my weight. Thankfully, I’m in a much healthier place now. But for me, pregnancy weight gain was still uncomfortable. It felt weird to be told to gain close to 40 pounds. It felt weird that my body was changing and was no longer my own. I was kind of okay with it because it was the first time in my life that I’d been told to gain weight, but I also looked forward to the day post-baby when I could start losing weight again. Regain my control.

As I became bigger in my pregnancy, reaching the third trimester, I started with the comparisons. If pregnancy was brought up in conversation with friends, the topic of weight would inevitably come up too. Some friends would mention they only gained 20 pounds. I would think to myself, How the FUCK is that possible when I’d already gained 20 pounds by 20 weeks? (A pound a week said my midwife with glee!)

Yes, doctors are supposed to discuss pregnancy weight gain in great detail with you, according to this recent Time piece entitled The Obesity Pregnancy Dilemma:

But there’s a growing body of evidence that’s difficult to ignore. Obesity raises a woman’s risk of gestational diabetes, hypertension, premature delivery, miscarriage, and stillbirth. A mother’s chance of having to undergo a caesarian section is 34% if her BMI is over 30, and 47% if her BMI is over 35—compared to 21% for women with a BMI under 30, according to one study. There’s even evidence that babies born to obese women have a greater chance of suffering neural defects than those whose mothers are normal weight, and will be at greater risk of being obese themselves.

With this kind of risk related to pregnancy and obesity, it’s hard to push pregnancy weight obsessions out of your mind. Suddenly, it’s not just about you and your vanity. According to your doctor, your weight is about you and the health of your BABY.

Pregnancy weight comparisons suck, but it’s almost like scratching a mosquito bite—you just can’t resist. I nearly made myself crazy trying to figure out if my weight gain was normal or above average. I should have just listened to my midwife and steered clear of the peanut gallery. I should have reminded myself that weight gain, even during pregnancy, is individual. What matters is health, exercise, and how you feel about your body. If only it was that simple.

(Image: Lana K/Shutterstock)

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  • Kendra

    I’ll admit I participated in these types of discussions, but I was mostly fine because I was all belly (and boobs) and therefore whatever weight I gained must be fine. But I will definitely say that there was a couple of times were I gained 4 lbs in a week and I felt like the fattest fat who ever fatted. But, it averaged out in the end. :)

  • K.

    I get really tired of these statistics when they’re correlative and don’t explain–ie, obesity = higher rates of caesarian. Why? I’m not saying a medical reason doesn’t exist, but saying that without a medical explanation doesn’t prove anything in itself. The same goes for “obesity” as a condition in itself–ie, obesity can be a marker of an unhealthy lifestyle in general, but in that case, then maybe it’s “a diet consisting of entirely processed foods” can adversely affect fetal development or “high stress levels” adversely affect fetal development. Really, without those specifics, the messaging is pretty damn close to “obese women are bad for babies!” and “fat women shouldn’t have babies!” or “if you aren’t thin than clearly, you don’t care about your kids!”

    Saying to people that they’re obese—ie, “being unhealthy” doesn’t do much. Instead, someone has to tell a patient that her behaviors are unhealthy and give her the tools and support to help change those behaviors. That is a lot more complicated than just pronouncing someone obese, freaking them out that they could be harming their unborn child, and then handing them a pamphlet on healthy eating and exercise (which, I assure you, most obese people know about), and then saying “So fix it.” It requires a much more comprehensive doctor-to-patient interaction than sadly, modern healthcare doesn’t really accommodate.

    • Kendra

      I’m not a medical professional by any means, but I can take a guess at your question. From what I have gathered, if you are obese, you are usually considered high risk. High risk pregnancies are often induced, and inductions have a much higher rate of ending in caesarian. I have no idea what the possible correlation could be other than that.

    • K.

      Yes, I get that, but (and I’m not a medical professional either) I’m wondering whether inductions are *really* done simply because of a patient’s weight. If they are, I think that’s a problem, but I’m betting that the induction is technically performed because of complications because of the weight—such as diabetes. So the correlation isn’t a falsehood, but it’s not the full story. Being obese in itself doesn’t mean a c-section; diabetes does (most of the time). And I could argue that not all overweight women are at risk for diabetes simply because of their weight—diet is a huge factor. So I’m saying that a doctor shouldn’t be saying, “Oh you’re obese and that puts you at risk for diabetes,” but maybe something like, “Give me an idea of what you eat on a daily basis because we may need to adjust your diet to reduce the risk of diabetes.” The first scenario doesn’t really do much for the patient other than tell them there’s a problem; the second one is more specific about the problem and how to address it.

      I can also think of other correlations that *could be* related to obesity that aren’t in themselves medical, such as the fact that there are higher rates of obesity among lower-income women…who tend to have a lot of barriers to their general health (high-stress jobs, too many jobs and not enough time to say, cook or exercise, jobs requiring manual labor or working with chemicals,emotional instability, financial stress), not to mention lack of healthcare (prior to ACA) and fewer options when it comes to accessing healthier food options. Some hospitals have high rates of c-sections simply because it’s a preferred procedure than vaginal birth—lower-income women, especially those with a language barrier, might also find it difficult or intimidating to express that they want to try for a vaginal birth with a hospital doctor. All of THESE factors might also contribute to higher rates of c-section.; sort of a similar reaction I have to the whole “breastfed kids have higher IQs!” Fine, but breastfeeding also correlates to income which may be a more direct link to higher IQs.

      My point isn’t that the statistics are incorrect, but rather that they seem to fortify a message that is neither fully accurate nor all that helpful when it comes down to actually solving the problem.

    • Kendra

      Those are really great points. I wasn’t thinking that far into it but I can see what you’re saying. I feel (personal opinion so please no one get up in arms) that inductions are over-done, so I’m not ruling out that they are doing them simply because of weight. I know they will do them if you are uncomfortable, which could be a larger problem for obese women.

    • rrlo

      Is someone overweight more at risk for developing gestational diabetes or high blood pressure during pregnancy? Both of which could explain for more rates of inductions.

    • K.

      Yes, they are, but I think my suggestion was that then the problem should be framed as high-blood pressure is dangerous and/or high-blood pressure is linked to greater complications–I think partly because you can be a thin person and still have high-blood pressure and because you can be obese with low blood-pressure (which is my father). In both cases, I think the focus should be on things like say, stress and diet and not specifically weight. People who are overweight and have high-blood pressure can do a lot of damaging things for themselves and for unborn babies in the name of “losing weight” without guidance on how to do it responsibly.

      I’m not so much arguing against the overall truth of the equation (obesity = high-risk pregnancy); I’m more questioning whether it’s a useful truth and thinking about what kind of messaging that is.

    • rrlo

      Totally agree. Weight is yet another issue where many women are made to feel guilty during pregnancy. Unfortunately, much of pregnancy weight gain is out of the woman’s control.

      ETA: Also, if it was SO easy to curb your food habits and change your lifestyle for nine months – I doubt that we would have the obesity problem in North America that we do. Most people don’t want to be overweight – pregnant or otherwise.

    • rrlo

      There is some prejudice around overweight mothers that doctors have I think – just from anecdotes I have heard. A good friend of mine – who was overweight and had diabetes while pregnant was chastised on a regular basis for having uncontrolled blood sugar.

      The doctor just assumed she was eating too much etc. and it turned out she was having blood sugar issues because she wasn’t eating enough! When she increased her food intake – blood sugar became manageable again.

    • K.

      Oh God, I’ve heard horror stories. I had a friend who cried because 2 OBGYNs refused to take her as a patient because she was “too high-risk” and they didn’t want to get sued; and another whose doctor said something like, “Your chub’s going to make this difficult.”

      In fact, I became interested in this because although I’m not obese, I do carry an extra 20 pounds and I thought about how I would feel if I got the inevitable, ‘you should lose weight’ speech. If I got “you’re overweight and high-risk so think about losing some weight,” it’d probably send me into an emotional tailspin and make me much more discouraged about the whole thing. So I chose a doctor who was more interested in working with me to set up healthy habits. I never did lose the 20 pounds before I got pregnant, but I had a healthy pregnancy and only gained about 17 during it, which was appropriate for my starting weight.

    • Bethany Ramos

      I work for a natural health company and am not an expert, but I did find it really interesting that a recent study pointed to too much sugar in the diet, especially in overweight women, to be related to birth defects. I seriously had no idea because you are very rarely warned about that in pregnancy.

    • Kendra

      Does that imply that overweight women are more likely to get GD? I know that GD can have potential birth defects. They insisted I had GD through most of my pregnancy (even though I did not), so I’m familiar with the effects, but I don’t really understand how or why you get it.

    • Bethany Ramos

      Here is some of the info I’m talking about, and I believe I read other articles about possible defects not related to GD.

      “Infants born to diabetic mothers are 3 to 4 times as likely to suffer from some kind of malformation. (1) This includes facial deformities like cleft palate and other, more life-threatening conditions such as neural tube defects. (2)”

      http://bodyecology.com/articles/can-too-much-sugar-in-the-diet-lead-to-birth-defects

    • Kendra

      Thanks! I will read that. I’m curious now!

    • Kendra

      I would also like to offer a tip for anyone who is pregnant and about to take the dreaded glucose test. DO NOT EAT PIZZA THAT DAY! Pizza skewed my numbers and created the annoyingly complex issue of “we think she has GD even though she doesn’t” that I drug with me the rest of my pregnancy. So any tips relating to food and sugar, I’m interested in for the next one. I’m not going through that crap again!

    • K.

      I’m not one of those on the
      anti-sugar brigades (you probably know the crusade being in natural health),
      but what I’ve read on sugar is disturbing, albeit not in the context of
      pregnancy, rather, general health. Doesn’t surprise me that consuming piles of
      it wouldn’t be great for a developing fetus. And the amount of sugar in the typical
      American diet is appalling. One of my friends is a science teacher and she
      challenges her students to find “anything in the supermarket in a box or a jar
      that doesn’t contain sugar in some form as an ingredient.” They do find some
      examples, but they’re always shocked at how much legwork they have to do before
      finding the outliers.

    • Bethany Ramos

      I know!!! I try not to be a nut, but the more I read, the more it bothers me.

  • frustrated

    So I went to my doctor (specialist) for menorrhagia. I have regular heavy periods. I bleed so much in 3 days that I am unable to do anything and my periods last for 7 days. I usually have to change a pad every hour. Recently, I bleed so much in half an hour that it was running down my legs.

    My family doctor freaked and told me that this is not normal and that I need to see a specialist immediately. I had already been seeing a specialist so I called her up and made an appointment. The very first time I met her, she commented about my weight, but since I am working with a nutritionist and a personal trainer she dropped it. I was there (the first time) to discuss if birth control was the reason I wasn’t able to lose weight. So we made the decision to go off birth control.

    The first month, I lost 10 pounds, but then the heavy periods started and lasted 12 days (the first one – side effect of being on birth control) and I wasn’t able to do anything because I felt like shit, and I gained it all back.

    So back to the doctor. I went to see her and she had an emergency that she was dealing with. So I waited. She popped in a couple of times to say she was sorry and that she’d be right with me. When she did arrive to my appointment, she had me go through everything. I explained what was happening. Told her that I missed work (which is unusual for me). And then, she told me that I needed to lose weight and that bleeding this much and missing 3 days of work because of my period is my “normal” and that I just have to deal with it. She went through all the reasons that I need to lose weight because of all the birth defects and issues with a healthy pregnancy… And I was like… Wait, the only reason I am off birth control is because I am trying to lose weight… Yeah, I’d like to have a baby some day, but not right now. I reminded her that I was working with a personal trainer and nutritionist, but she said, “You haven’t figured out how few calories you actually need and how much more exercise you have to do so that you can lose weight.” No, I haven’t… That’s why I am paying people to. We wanted to make sure that I can actually exercise.

    TBC later

    • AP

      There’s a medication you can take to make your periods lighter. My sister is/was on it. I’m not sure what it exactly is, but basically you take the first pill right when you get your period and then on an interval until your period ends. She said it was life-changing.

      I’m sure someone on here can come up with the name of the drug, but I’m blanking on it.

    • frustrated

      I hope so. I head back to my family doctor on Monday.

  • Justme

    I stopped looking at the scale during my pregnancy so I literally had no idea how much weight I gained or how much I weighed at the end. My intake nurse at the hospital was flabbergasted when I couldn’t tell her my weight – she kind of shamed me for it too: “what kind of pregnant woman doesn’t know how much they weigh?” Umm…the kind that struggled with an eating disorder and therefore avoids scales in order to live a healthy life?!

    • m

      I haven’t been pregnant, but I can relate to avoiding scales in order to living healthy. Just yesterday I stepped on a scale after a loong time and realized I had gained a couple of kilos. Luckily I’m in a better place now, so I can understand the numbers on the scale aren’t everything (muscle weights more, being healthy is the most important thing). But probably I should still avoid the scale if and when I do get pregnant.

    • K.

      I totally relate, only my strategy was actually
      to do the opposite (on the advice of a therapist!) because I was
      completely afraid of the numbers, and she helped me to say, “Look at them
      head-on, listen to what you say to yourself afterwards and if it’s judgment or
      something negative, replace it with reason: you are not your weight, they are
      just numbers, your baby is going to demand more resources as it grows and you’re
      helping it do that. For me, it was the right way to help me ensure I was going
      to focus on eating healthy and not dieting—different strategy than you, but I
      always love hearing stories like yours of new moms knowing how to give
      themselves what they need!

    • Bethany Ramos

      I have asked them to weigh me backward before so I can’t see the number! (not while pregnant)

    • Kelly

      It makes me so angry when medical professionals make flippant comments about weight. They should know better.

      I had a nurse casually say, “Wow, you’re a heavy one, aren’t you?” after weighing me. I do weigh heavy for my size, I know that, it’s part of the reason I became anorexic in my teens.

      I was pissed. I told her, I beat my anorexia more than a decade ago but if I was at an early point in my recovery, her little comment could have killed me. She started up with the whole, “How could I have known?” and I cut her off. You don’t know who has an eating disorder so keep your little remarks to yourself before you murder someone with them.

    • Amber Stacey Larsson

      I’m not recovering from an eating disorder and it still makes me livid – I had a large mole removed from my belly (totally cosmetic) and the scar was quite large – the discharging nurse told me that was due to stretching “because of the extra weight there” gesturing vaguely at my tummy area. It was like she was talking about an inanimate object. I was much younger, and didn’t really think much about feminism or body acceptance in those days, but if it had happened more recently I would have told her off for being so rude and unprofessional.

    • Justme

      She was an older nurse and I think she had some pretty heavy preconceived notions about what pregnant women are “supposed” to do. I’m sure she was shocked that I didn’t come in wearing a shapeless muumuu and carrying a Winnie the Pooh diaper bag.

  • Abby

    I’ve really hated the pregnancy weight gain anxiety… it’s making me view food as the enemy again, and this is the one time in a woman’s life where food absolutely should not be viewed as the enemy. I’m overweight, and I know that I am, but I’ve also had a much healthier pregnancy than a lot of my thinner friends–no gestational diabetes, baby’s growth is right on track, no signs of preeclampsia or blood pressure issues, everything’s right where it needs to be. My doctor did say that he’d rather I not gain too much more weight until the baby’s due date (which is May 9), though, and that’s got me skittish. I don’t eat differently (since I was eating pretty healthy to begin with) or eat less; I just feel guilty for eating what I do eat.

    I also really despise the attitude in the medical community that if you’re having any issues whatsoever, losing weight will fix them. I had to deal with that while struggling with infertility, where my doctor wouldn’t even consider testing me for things until I’d lost 35 lbs, and even then, she told me, “If you’d just drop another 20, I’ll bet you’d get pregnant right away.” She was also convinced that my dysmenorrhea had to do with my weight, which… okay, I’ve had dysmenorrhea since I was a bony twelve-year-old, I’m pretty sure that my weight had nothing to do with it.

  • Momma425

    I was overweight when I got pregnant, and they told me to “try to only gain five pounds.” Ok, yeah right.
    I avoided the scale, and everything was fine. Fat people, thin people, and people in between give birth all the time. Fat people have thin babies (I did, my girl is still skinny and I have no idea where she gets it), thin people have fat babies- the whole thing really differs from person to person. Additionally, I read a study that showed that women who were overweight were more likely to have kids who were overweight as well- but less because of birth and more because of eating habits.
    I’m sure being overweight didn’t HELP me have a healthy pregnancy- but I’m sure that me stressing and freaking out over pounds gained wouldn’t have helped much either.

    • Guest

      Very true! My SIL is obese and has two very thin children. Her son is actually the opposite, as he refuses to eat anything most of the time. She also had to fairly normal pregnancies and deliveries, so other than perhaps being more uncomfortable, I would say her weight didn’t hinder her much.

  • guest

    I think it’s really hard to see these suggested numbers and feel like you are unhealthy if you don’t meet them. I had a prenatal appointment around 24 weeks right after I had come back from vacation (I always indulge in fun food while I’m on vacation and I wasnt going to pass that up when I was pregnant) and I was *two pounds OMG OMG* above the “curve” that they plot your weight on and boy I got an earful from my OB. From then on it felt like just one more thing to obsess about and gave me a little bit of anxiety. When not on vacation (I.e., the other 38.5 weeks I was pregnant) I followed the Brewer’s Pregnancy Diet and aimed to eat 80-100g of protein a day with a good balance of different food groups, trying to make a good bit of that whole and home-prepared foods. All told, I gained around 40 lbs and I feel I was doing more for my baby by aiming for a healthy balanced diet than trying to stick to a prescribed amount of weight. Every woman will be different in the amount of weight gain that is healthy.

  • val97

    I figured whatever calories I saved by not drinking could be made up in ice cream. I was incredibly active with my first pregancy and still managed to gain 40 lbs using this strategy.

    • K.

      Pregnancy without ice-cream seems awfully sad to me. I mean, life without ice-cream seems awfully sad, but pregnant and no ice-cream…boo.

    • SA

      Hilarious!!! That was my mentality too.

    • Kelly

      THIS! Yes – so many pregnancy restrictions. I am rebelling against them all with ice cream and cupcakes. 35 weeks and 35 lbs later…..here I am! My last rodeo here with baby #3 so I am enjoying the ride! :)

  • TwentiSomething Mom

    My doctor told me I could only gain 20lbs because I was “overweight”. I’m 5’7 and was a size 6 when I got pregnant and I have an athletic build. When I tipped the scale at 21lbs she put me on a diet and I only gained 18lbs by the time my son was born.

    My point is, I was not overweight and I felt like I was starving myself trying to be this ideal weight instead of just eating healthy and getting moderate exercise like I had been doing.

    • Bethany Ramos

      That is nuts. You sound pretty close to my size, and I gained about 40.

    • darras

      Ditto with Beth, you’re actually smaller than me (by two dress sizes no less!) and I gained 30lbs.. I hate it when muscle weight is not factored into things before people start flinging around the ‘overweight’ label.

  • Taxes Make Kittens Cry

    Having ZERO scientific/medical knowledge about pregger weight, but based on logic, isn’t HOW you gain that weight important?

    I mean, if you’re doing nothing but eating M&M’s and chocolate dipped Krespy Kreme vs. high protein diet of salmon, chicken and high complex carbs like pasta and wheat bread, isn’t that gonna lead to gestational diab. due to your blood becoming caramel?

    • SA

      Pretty much.

    • Guest

      Gestational diabetes isn’t caused by what you eat, it’s caused by hormones making your body insulin resistant. So, a “fat” person who eats a ton of sugar but can still process it doesn’t have gestational diabetes. A “thin” person who eats healthy but just can’t process more than a couple servings of carbs in one sitting is GD.

      I say this as a bitter, “thin” pregnant lady with GD who just wants to eat a god-damn bagel.

  • SA

    Yes, I definitely compared. I knew what I put on would be sooooo hard to take off so I wanted to be on target for normal weight gain. I probably gained a couple more than the max recommended (30-35 was what I was given), but I’m not sure because I went 41 weeks, and had decided I wouldn’t “count” anything past 39 weeks so I had stopped looking! :)

    • Bethany Ramos

      I went to 41 too! Damn baby. ;)

  • Kelly

    I was more concerned with losing weight during my pregnancy. I’m never sure how to say how much weight I gained. I started off at a really fit, muscular 140 and then proceeded to lose 20 pounds (which made me look sick) of that in the first three months due to vomiting up everything I ate. Then I managed to ramp it back up to just over 170 by the time I gave birth. So, did I gain 30 pounds or did I 50 pounds?

    I don’t know. I’ve never really worried about it. This is one of those conversations that confuse me when they come up. Usually it’s so horrible to talk about weight but somehow women want to talk about this type of weight. I don’t get women. Sometimes I think I should have been born a man.

  • Kara

    My midwife hates me because I’m fat. She hasn’t said it outright, but her behaviors say otherwise. She told me I was not allowed to gain more than 15 pounds. At my first appointment she had me do the glucose test! I was 11 weeks pregnant! I am 5’6 211 pre pregnancy. I am high risk due to losing my first daughter from a genetic defect then hemorrhaging right after. (I was a healthy weight with her so that wasn’t why I was high risk) My next appointment she had me do a 24 hour urine test because my BP was 135/70 which according to her is extremely high (eye roll) I find out the results of that in a few weeks. I have never had any gestational diabetes in any of my pregnancies, or high blood pressure, or pre-eclampsia. I don’t understand this woman. I am not of advanced maternal age either. I’m fat but otherwise healthy!

    • darras

      Geeze.. I hope you can find yourself a different midwife who is less of a judgmental hag! All the best for your pregnancy.

    • Bethany Ramos

      I am so sorry to hear about your loss. I hope you can get the support you need for this pregnancy!

  • CW

    One reason for only gaining 19 lbs. during the pregnancy is because you have horrible morning- (noon, and night) sickness for the entire 9 months and your OB refuses to prescribe you anything because you never wound up hospitalized for dehydration. Frankly, I was GLAD to gain 33 lbs. with my next pregnancy because it reflected only having the normal 1st tri morning sickness.

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