Gaining weight during pregnancy is a healthy and necessary part of the process. However, knowing how much weight to gain during pregnancy can be difficult.
Lucille Wong didn’t weigh herself during the first two trimesters of her pregnancy, and it wasn’t until the end of her pregnancy that she was surprised to learn that she had gained more than expected.
Wong admitted to pregnancy cravings of sausage rolls, potato cakes and other savoury foods, but naturally slim, she was not particularly concerned.
However when she retrospectively entered her height and weight details, and gestation of 38 weeks in a new ethnically diverse pregnancy calculator she was surprised to find she had just nudged over the recommended weight gain.
The ideal weight gain during pregnancy varies from woman to woman and new research indicates that the mother’s pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI) and her ethnicity matters greatly.
Women of Asian background have a proportionally higher risk of complications, such as caesarean section and the delivery of a ‘large for gestational age baby’ from excessive weight gain during pregnancy, said Dr Cheryce Harrison, from the Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation, Monash University.
Dr Harrison says the one-size fits all approach of standard online BMI calculators to track pregnancy weight did not suit Australia’s ethnically diverse population.
“Widely used international guidelines for gestational weight gain were developed based on information primarily from US dwelling, Caucasian and African-American women, with limited ethnic diversity,’’ she says.
The ethnically diverse ‘Healthy Weight Gain During Pregnancy Calculator’ was developed in 2018 by Monash University and Medibank to address this need.
“We have now validated the guidelines to be appropriate for different ethnicities,’’ Harrison says.
She says pregnant women are encouraged to use the calculator regularly to assess whether their weight gain is within the recommended ranges, to optimise the health of mother and baby.
Wong had not been aware of the calculator at the time of her pregnancy, but said she would use it for a future pregnancy “to keep track of where I am”.
A 2017 study found 47 per cent of women gain too much weight during pregnancy while 23 per cent gain too little.
Weight gain during pregnancy is a sensitive subject but can have significant health implications for both mother and baby.
Monash University, with Medibank, is now conducting a three-year study of Australian women from pre-conception to post-birth with the aim of supporting them to optimise weight gain during pregnancy.
Voluntary participants will receive dietary advice and support to stay physically active throughout.
Medibank’s Head of Preventative Health Dr Catherine Keating says carrying excess weight in pregnancy increases the risk of health conditions such as gestational diabetes and more complicated births. It also increases the risk of future health issues for the baby.
“The conception to post-partum journey is the ideal time to provide Australian women with support to maintain a healthy lifestyle and weight. This is a time when many women exceed the healthy pregnancy weight gain recommendation and retain some of it after pregnancy,” she says.
“Many women are still provided the wrong advice such as ‘eating for two’.
“We have an opportunity to support mums with the right advice and tools to maintain a healthy weight from conception through to after pregnancy – which will have a huge impact on the long-term health of mums and their babies.”
Loretta Woollard, who is expecting her first child in May, says women get a lot of conflicting information during pregnancy, as well as unsolicited comments about the size of their bump.
Like many women, she also had to deal with the usual tiredness and cravings for carbohydrates in the first trimester.
“Everyone says something different and you don’t know where to turn,’’ she says.
She found it reassuring to check into the Healthy Weight Gain During Pregnancy Calculator to monitor her weight gain, and also get credible advice on nutrition. She is tracking well and feeling ‘fantastic’.”
“It’s nice to be reassured, when you get comments about being too big or too small.”
To help support Australian families, Medibank and Monash University have produced Australia’s first ethnically diverse ‘Healthy Weight Gain During Pregnancy Calculator’. The free, easy-to-use calculator allows expectant mums to check their pregnancy weight is healthy, from conception through to childbirth. Learn more about the ‘Healthy Weight Gain During Pregnancy Calculator’ on Medibank’s Live Better Families hub.
Health and Pregnancy
Professor Clare Collins (University of Newcastle) explains the importance in women looking after their health to lower their risk of diabetes during pregnancy in the Better Bodies episode of Dr Michael Mosley's Reset, which you can stream now on SBS On Demand. This program was created in partnership with Medibank, editorially produced independently by SBS.