Stop Stressing About Weight Gain During Pregnancy!

Worried about pregnancy weight gain? Here's why it's actually important -- and how to stop stressing about it.

Pregnant woman eating Alexandra Grablewski

Pregnancy weight seems to show up overnight. One week you can still zip into your favorite jeans, and then -- boom! -- even your sweatpants feel tight. "It's normal for a pregnant woman to be surprised by her weight gain -- it can feel like a lot in a short amount of time," says Maggie Baumann, M.F.T., C.E.D.S., a psychotherapist based in Newport Beach, California. But agonizing over more junk in your trunk isn't doing you (or your baby) any good. Here's why you should stop stressing about weight gain during pregnancy:

There's a reason for all that weight gain. You might feel as though you're packing on pure fat, but most of the new weight can be attributed to fluids and expanding body tissue. With a full-term pregnancy weight gain of 30 pounds, you get 4 pounds of increased fluid, 4 pounds of added blood volume, 2 pounds of breast tissue, 2 pounds of uterus tissue, 1.5 pounds of placenta (an organ that didn't exist before!), 2 pounds of amniotic fluid, 7 pounds of fat, protein, and other nutrient stores, and 7.5 pounds of joy (that's your baby!).

Your baby needs those extra pounds. "Women who don't gain a healthy amount of baby weight during pregnancy have a higher risk of delivering a pre-term or low-birthweight baby," says Kathleen M. Rasmussen, Sc.D., R.D., professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University and chair of the committee on Weight Gain During Pregnancy: Reexamining the Guidelines at the Institute of Medicine. "Babies who are small for their gestational age -- meaning they're full-term but low-weight -- can have all sorts of problems at birth and later in life, including respiratory, cardiovascular, and digestive issues."

Stressing out can make you gain even more. As if those pregnancy hormone-induced cravings for chocolate-covered potato chips aren't hard enough to ignore, there's another pesky brain chemical that courses through your body during stressful situations: cortisol. Released when you're feeling anxious (about weight gain, deadlines at work, being stuck in traffic, whatever), cortisol cranks up your appetite, causing you to eat more and causing extra calories to be stored as fat around your middle.

So the next time the number on the scale creates a twinge of internal panic, take a few deep breaths. Long, slow, steady breathing -- the kind that fills your lungs and belly, and pushes out your diaphragm -- helps reset your brain, sending stressful thoughts on their way and making more room for good ones, like the fact that all of those extra pounds are for that special new person growing inside of you.

    Weight and Pregnancy: Gain Only What You Need

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