"Well aren't you eating for two?" the refrain frequently proffered to expectant mothers - but is this a carte blanch for tucking into another slice of cake or a recipe for disaster? What is the truth about energy requirements of pregnancy and breastfeeding?
Pregnancy is indeed a time of higher energy requirement by the body in fact from conception to weaning to solids at about six months (if breastfeeding) every miraculous inch of baby; muscle, fat, brain, bone, skin is being built and fuelled by what their mother eats or from the energy stores of her own body fat.
If there is ever a case of you are what you eat this is it! High quality nutrition in pregnancy is vital but the actual amount of extra calories required is surprisingly less than many people may think. It is a true case of quality not quantity.
As a rule of thumb an expectant mother (single pregnancy) should gain no weight for the first trimester then 0.5kg /1lb per week thereafter. A total of approximately 12kg / 2 stone for a woman with a NORMAL BMI (weight) pre pregnancy.
Those overweight or obese prior to pregnancy may need significantly less weight gain as the body has more energy stores in place it is important to talk to your health care professional if you are unsure of your weight status for advice.
This starts to make sense when looking at the extra calorie requirement during the different phases of pregnancy. These figures are approximate.
It is important to remember that pregnancy weight gain is not just due to a growing baby. While the average baby may weigh approximately 3kg the mother needs up to 12kg weight gain. This consists of about 1 litre extra blood circulating in body, fluid and placenta in the enlarged womb, in some cases fluid retention in limbs, increased breast size and fat being laid down to allow stores for breast feeding.
Also worth noting is that the mothers physical energy expenditure often reduces as the pregnancy proceeds, as it becomes more difficult to be active / exercise in the later stages. However as this is also the time of greatest fetal weight gain i.e. the baby who is now fully formed is just putting on fat, it makes sense that calorie requirements still increase despite Mums activity slowing down.
The calorie requirement for breast feeding is often surprising to note too as well as feeding her baby, Mum is often now much more active awake for long hours, lifting and carrying, out walking with the buggy. At this stage the extra energy reserves laid down during pregnancy in terms of fat stores come into play and it is important to take care to keep up the extra nutritional requirements especially as weight returns to a pre pregnancy level (natures best diet!).
Most important is that majority of the extra calories should come from high quality food, not just junk food, as the babys and mothers wellbeing depends on a diet rich with essential proteins, high quality carbohydrates, fibre and micronutrients literally the building blocks of life!
Many people, caught up in the excitement of early pregnancy and encouraged by well-meaning family and friends, follow the eating for two concept and put on excessive weight during the initial 3 months (if lucky enough not to feel sick all the time!). With an increase in diabetes of pregnancy and complications of pregnancy due to overweight becoming more common, taking stock of the evolving energy needs throughout the different phases of this amazing time can really help towards maintaining a healthy pregnancy and avoiding the pitfall of having to struggle with fitness and weight loss following the birth.