Throughout their pregnancy, many expectant mothers receive lots of well-intended advice. This is especially true when it comes to how much weight they should gain, and what foods they should or should not eat!
Conflicting comments such as, “go ahead; you’re eating for two now,” and, “be careful not to overindulge, you don’t want baby to grow too big,” lead many mothers to wonder if what they eat during pregnancy really does affect baby’s size at birth.
How Mom’s Diet Affects Baby’s Development
If you become pregnant and are already at a healthy weight for your height, and you eat a balanced, nutritious diet, it’s unlikely that what you eat will directly increase or decrease baby’s size. Most full term babies are born weighing somewhere in the range of 5 ½ to 8 ½ pounds, and baby’s height and weight are affected by a host of factors.
The genes that the baby inherits from both parents, the age of the parents at the time the baby is conceived, as well as pre-existing health conditions, can all affect baby’s size at birth.
Your baby’s body is undergoing rapid development throughout your pregnancy, so you should try to only eat healthy, whole foods so that both you and your baby are getting the vitamins, minerals, calories and other nutrients that you need to support healthy development and growth.
Eating a nutritious diet, avoiding overly processed foods and remaining active during your pregnancy will also minimize the risk of complications during your pregnancy.
Health Conditions that Can Affect Your Diet and Your Baby’s Size
How much you weighed before you become pregnant, can directly affect your baby’s size. Studies show that mothers who are underweight when they become pregnant are more likely to give birth to smaller babies. Women who are overweight when they become pregnant are also more likely to have larger babies.
Your diet can affect your baby’s size and development if you gain too much or too little weight during your pregnancy. If you are overweight during your pregnancy, it increases your chances of developing gestational diabetes, which can also increase the size of your baby.
Expectant moms with Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes have special dietary concerns because what they eat affects the level of glucose in their blood. Regardless of the type of diabetes that they have, diabetic moms must take extra care during their pregnancies to control their blood sugar levels well.
In addition to having a risk for a larger baby, diabetic moms also face an increased risk of other complications during pregnancy and delivery, such as preeclampsia and toxemia, so watching their diet during their pregnancy is extra important.
Other pre-existing health conditions, such as high blood pressure, anemia, and heart disease can all be affected by what you eat during pregnancy. You may need to alter your diet to help you better manage these types of health conditions because they can cause complications for both you and your baby during pregnancy and delivery if they are not well controlled.
Healthy Weight Gain during Pregnancy
Despite the well-meaning advice you may have heard, you really aren’t eating for two people while you are pregnant. It is true that you do need additional calories each day to support normal growth and development, but this does not mean that you should double the amount that you were eating before your pregnancy.
A normal weight gain during pregnancy varies widely from one individual to the next, and usually falls somewhere between an average of 11 and 50 pounds! How much weight you should gain will depend on a number of factors, including how much you weighed when you got pregnant, and whether you are carrying more than one baby during this pregnancy.
At your first prenatal visit, you and your healthcare professional will likely discuss your current weight and the status of your health. Since there are a number of different health conditions that can affect an expectant mother’s nutritional needs during pregnancy, you should work closely with your doctor, midwife, or other healthcare professional to determine the amount of weight that you should gain during the various stages of your pregnancy.
Ideally you should see a slow, steady gain in weight throughout your pregnancy. If you have concerns that you are gaining too much, or too little weight, don’t go on a fad diet in an attempt to add or lose pounds.
Instead, consult with your doctor and follow their dietary advice. You will especially want to follow any restrictions that they place on your diet. Keep all of your follow up appointments so that they can monitor the health and development of both you and your baby.