(RxWiki News) Whether it's pickles and ice cream or Hot Cheetos dipped in ranch, pregnant women often experience bizarre food cravings. But the real secret to healthy weight gain is not "eating for two."
Pregnant women are only recommended to consume an additional 300 calories per day, and less if they are overweight or obese, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. They are also recommended to get 2.5 hours of moderate exercise each week.
Those who exercised less during pregnancy and said they "ate for two" were more likely to gain more weight than recommended.
"Discuss pregnancy weight goals with your OB/GYN."
The study, led by Cynthia H. Chuang, MD, of the Division of General Internal Medicine at Penn State College of Medicine, looked at the behavioral habits of women who gain more weight than recommended during pregnancy.
According to the Institute of Medicine, women with a normal, healthy weight should gain 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy. Overweight women should gain 15 to 25 pounds and obese women should gain 11 to 20 pounds.
For this study, the researchers interviewed 29 women who had been overweight or obese before becoming pregnant about their diets, physical activity and weight monitoring while pregnant. Of those interviewed, 11 women gained the appropriate amount of weight during pregnancy, and the other 18 gained more than recommended.
The researchers found that women who gained an appropriate amount of weight tended to only eat a little more food than they did before becoming pregnant. They planned their meals and snacks carefully and consumed only slightly more calories than they did pre-pregnancy.
The women who gained excess weight during pregnancy, however, were more likely to say they were "eating for two." They also tended to eat more of their 'food cravings' and ate generally less healthy foods than the women who gained less.
Similarly, the women who gained an appropriate amount of weight during pregnancy were more likely to have kept their same levels of physical activity after becoming pregnant or to increase their physical activity.
By comparison, those who gained more weight than recommended tended to exercise less during their pregnancies than they did before becoming pregnant. Or those who gained extra weight during pregnancy had been sedentary before pregnancy and continued not to exercise much after becoming pregnant.
Approximately half of all the women interviewed said that they had monitored their weight gain during pregnancy. However, those who gained an appropriate amount of weight during pregnancy had set and maintained weight goals that matched the Institute of Medicine recommendations.
The researchers concluded that believing in "eating for two" and not being physically active during pregnancy were common habits among those who gained more weight than recommended during pregnancy.
Andre Hall, MD, an OBGYN at Birth and Women's Care, PA in Fayetteville, NC, said "eating for two" is a common statement he hears from pregnant women and their families.
"While cravings generally do increase, pregnancy should not be used as an excuse to eat poorly or excessively," he said.
"Weight gain that significantly falls outside the published norms increases the potential for medical problems for both mother and developing infant," Dr. Hall said. "Pregnancy is a time where there should be increased diligence toward healthy eating, not less."
The study was published online February 5 in the journal Obesity Research & Clinical Practice. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.
The research was funded by Penn State College of Medicine, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Center for Research Resources, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences and the National Institutes of Health.