If you’re reading this, the likelihood is you’re expecting. Congratulations!

So your body is also about to go through one of its biggest transitions. And unfortunately, you’re likely to experience an unprecedented level of social surveillance and commentary about how much weight you should be gaining in pregnancy. Colleagues, friends, family, even medical professionals might suggest you haven’t put on enough weight, or that perhaps, you’ve gained too much. File this under: all the ways women can’t win.

So how much weight should you be gaining in pregnancy? Let’s dive into it.

Why is pregnancy weight important?

It seems unhelpful, even irresponsible to set a singular pregnancy weight gain to a limitless number of female bodies and experiences. Let’s be real: there is no more an ideal pregnancy weight gain than there is an ideal baby – or mother for that matter. But, why doctors track weight comes down to medical indicators – not gaining weight can be dangerous to the developing foetus, and rapid weight increases can signal health risks like preeclampsia or gestational diabetes. 

But in a culture where women often feel ‘too fat’ or ‘too thin’ whether pregnant or not, or perhaps have a difficult relationship with their body, it’s problematic. In fact, the UK actually phased out pregnancy weight gain monitoring in the 90s citing the unnecessary stress it put on women. 

If you actually manage to snack on nuts and berries everyday, instead of potato chips, you’re a better woman than me. Image: Lyndi Cohen

I know personally and also from my Back to Basics Pregnancy App, countless stories of women leaving a checkup in tears. If you have a history of disordered eating or tricky relationship with your body, advocate for yourself. Ask your midwife or obstetrician not to weigh you if you’ll find it triggering to be told to eat less and gain less weight. I certainly did. Remember, mental health is just as important as physical health. 

The baby is only the size of a sweet potato, so why do I feel so huge?

Apart from your baby growing from tiny blueberry to juicy watermelon size, your body is also developing extra tissue to house and feed this life you’re making. Among a number of things both your boobs and uterus will grow bigger (enormous it felt like in my case). Plus your body is producing extra blood and amniotic fluid around the baby, on top of also growing the placenta. 

What’s considered “normal” weight gain? Pregnancy, Birth and Baby, a resource provided by the Australian government, reports how much weight you gain will also depend on how much you weighed before your pregnancy. Women with a lower body weight tend to gain more, whereas those like me, who started at a higher weight, tend to gain less. Whether you’re carrying twins, or have nasty morning sickness can also impact weight gain (hello nausea). In other words, “normal” has a number of factors that influence it.

What about eating for two?

Healthy habits and diversity of food are more important when it comes to gaining a healthy amount of pregnancy weight, which when you’re experiencing cravings for chocolate custard and pickles, is a superhuman effort. 

Give yourself a high five every time you use that activewear for more than just watching telly on the couch. Image: Lyndi Cohen

Current healthy pregnancy diet advice warns against “eating for two” but also recommends not dieting during pregnancy. It feels like a lose, lose. As a dietitian, I recommend eating when you need to – however frequently that is and at whatever time of day. If you’re after more guidance, my Back to Basics Pregnancy App can help offering a pregnancy (and postnatal) program including trimester based workouts, preggo-friendly recipes and expert women’s health advice.

Aim for eating omega 3s through oily fish when you can (this baked salmon with tahini yoghurt and pine nuts recipe is a winner). Also, we know our body is craving carbs, so any time you can get a nutritional win here and choose wholegrain options, is great. It might also help to give a mental check of your weekly diet to see that it contains nutrients like folic acid, iron, calcium, iodine and protein, or speak with a professional about supplementation. 

If your body allows it, stay active to help maintain your strength as you get heavier, so you can stay mobile for longer. Most of all, don’t spend your pregnancy telling yourself what you should be doing. Shoulding is the act of trying to motivate yourself through some sort of obligation or shaming process. Be kind and make choices that work for you, your body and your baby – no matter what the number on the scale.