You’ve seen the photos of pregnant celebrities walking down red carpets. They look so thin and perfect. Commentators like to point out their cute “baby bumps.”
We know these images are not the reality of pregnancy. For most of us, weight gain during pregnancy is real, and entirely healthy.
Some women, though, risk their health, and that of their babies, by trying to prevent major weight gain during pregnancy. To achieve this, these women limit their caloric intake and sometimes exercise to excess.
The media and bloggers have coined the term “pregorexia” to describe instances where women try to control and limit their weight gain. While this is not a clinical term, or even a condition that healthcare providers diagnose, it does describe a set of behaviors that might be damaging to an unborn child.
Who is at risk for pregorexia?
Most women gain between 25 and 35 pounds during pregnancy. The majority of this weight is gained in the second and third trimesters, often at a rate of one pound per week. For some women, this weight gain is alarming because there is little they can do about it.
Women who are most prone to pregorexia have a problem with this lack of control. These women often, but not always, have previously had or are currently battling an eating disorder such as bulimia or anorexia. For women who have recovered from eating disorders, the weight gain of pregnancy can cause a relapse. For other women, an untreated disorder extends into pregnancy.
We can look to a few signs and behaviors that might lead us to believe a woman is suffering from pregorexia. These include:
- Eating alone: Some women don’t want others to know about or comment on how little they are eating.
- A focus on self: Instead of focusing on the pregnancy and the baby, some women comment on how they look or feel.
- Excessive exercise: Thirty to 45 minutes of moderate exercise four or five times a week is all an expectant mother needs to maintain a healthy weight.
- Appearance: A noticeable lack of healthy weight gain during pregnancy.
These signs are taken very seriously by health care providers and should be of concern to the friends and family of expectant mothers. Inadequate weight gain during pregnancy can negatively affect fetal development. Risks to the child can include low birth weight, preterm labor, feeding problems, seizures, and possible attention deficit disorders later in life.
For the woman, inadequate weight gain during pregnancy can lead to bleeding during pregnancy, and even miscarriage. Women who suffer from pregorexia also have a higher instance of postpartum depression.
Promoting healthy weight during pregnancy
If you or someone you know might be at risk of pregorexia, we can recommend some steps to promote a healthy pregnancy.
The most important recommendation is to address any past or current eating disorders before a pregnancy. We try to manage preexisting medical conditions such as diabetes and hypertension before pregnancy, and the situation is no different with eating disorders. Women with eating disorders should continue whatever treatment or counseling they are receiving for the disorder during pregnancy.
Conversely, we can take steps to prevent women from gaining upwards of 50 pounds during pregnancy. The popular phrase, “you’re eating for two,” is somewhat misleading. Most women need only 300 extra calories per day to sustain a growing fetus. Also, exercise can help keep off unwanted pounds. If you were not fairly active before pregnancy, don’t try and run 5 miles a day. Instead, try walking on a treadmill for about 30 minutes four times a week.
Normal weight gain during pregnancy is healthy and necessary for both the mother and the baby. It can decrease your risk of having a cesarean section, decrease the chance of preterm birth, and is necessary for postpartum lactation.
We’ve provided a weight guide to help you determine how many pounds you should be gaining during pregnancy, based upon your body type.