Pregnancy and Weight Gain

If there is one thing I learned during pregnancy, it's that we have so little control over how the body functions. At least, that was my experience. Everyone talks about the food cravings, but I hardly imagined how powerful those cravings would be. In the second trimester, once the nausea wore off, my body craved croissants on an almost daily basis. How convenient it was that my work was located around the corner from a delicious bakery!

Anyway, I would like to talk about pregnancy weight gain, not my cravings for croissants. (I'm sure the two have nothing to do with each other...) According to the Babycenter website, I should have expected to gain an average of 25 to 35 pounds over nine months, almost all of it in the second and third trimester, and the weight gain was supposed to be more or less linear.

That is not what happened.

What happened was this:

True to my nature, I charted my weight gain throughout pregnancy. During the first trimester, I lost a couple of pounds due to constant nausea. In the "honeymoon" second trimester, which was filled with lots of energy and many apricot croissants, I only gained a few pounds. When the third trimester arrived, I started putting on weight like gangbusters (though I laid off the croissants). What I found most mind-boggling was that the weight gain had nothing to do with my food consumption. One morning, I would wake up and discover I had gained three pounds overnight. How did that happen?

I didn't quite make it to the full nine months, as my baby arrived at 35 weeks 6 days, almost a month early. This is what I looked like the day I went to the hospital, at 35 weeks 5 days:

35 weeks 5 days
I was ready to pop, no doubt. (My water broke that morning, so does that mean that I had technically already popped by then?) But even though I looked huge, my total weight gain by the end of pregnancy was 19 pounds. (Note to the blogosphere: Apart from certain pregnancy forums, it appears to be taboo to discuss weight and weight gain on the internet or in real life. But I feel that there is a need to publicly discuss real pregnancies, if only to dispel the illusion of the perfect pregnancy image perpetuated by Hollywood. Every woman and every pregnancy is different, and this is only my experience which I am adding to the conversation.) How did it happen that I gained less than the recommended amount? Well, I was only pregnant for eight months, so I'm sure that had something to do with it, but otherwise, I have no idea. My body did what it wanted, and gained weight when it needed to gain weight. Babycenter kept telling me that I was not gaining enough and was putting my baby at risk of something-or-other. Let me tell you, this kind of language caused me a lot of anxiety. But I was measuring right on time, and my OB was not at all concerned, which definitely helped alleviate some of my fears, and also made me realize that Dr. Google doesn't really know what he is talking about.

Now, if the weight conversation around pregnancy is taboo, it is practically nonexistent when it comes to postpartum weight loss (with the exception of a few wonderfully honest people - hi, Lauren!). Mostly, what I heard was that if it takes nine months (eight in my case) to gain all the weight, it will take approximately as long to lose it. That's what I kept telling my husband, anyway, lest he expected me to bounce back in a week or something ridiculous like that. I also assumed that as I lost the weight, I would slowly get back into my pre-pregnancy shape.

That's not what happened, either.

When I left the hospital, I had only lost 7 pounds (baby + placenta - all the IV fluids they pumped into me that caused my feet to be scary swollen for several days after delivery). I also looked about six months pregnant, except instead of a round, firm baby belly, I had a huge flabby sack and lots of loose skin. I had been warned about this, so even though it was shocking to see my body in such a state, at least I was somewhat prepared for it.

But I was not prepared for what happened next. At nine days postpartum, I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight. It must have been the breastfeeding, because I was eating like a trucker (way more than when I was pregnant) and certainly did no exercising. I can't explain it any other way, the weight just came off. What did NOT come off, however, was my belly. Even though I had lost all the weight, I still looked four months pregnant! This I was not ready for. How do you get back into shape if you don't want to lose any weight?

It turned out, as I learned later, that the uterus takes several weeks to shrink back to its original size, which is why I still wasn't back to my familiar shape at that time. So I calmed down and let my uterus do its thing. But guess what? By six weeks postpartum, my uterus was back to normal. And yet, even two months later, my body still does not look the same. Yes, I can fit into my pre-pregnancy jeans, but they look ridiculous on me. I don't know if I will ever get my old body back, and I don't know if I need to. These potentially permanent body changes were unexpected, and I may have to learn to live with them.

Meanwhile, perhaps it's time to update my wardrobe.


  1. Thanks for your story! It is remarkable how different pregnancies can be. My post-partum experience was actually fairly similar to yours - the weight slid off and keeps sliding (I think it is the breastfeeding, because I, too, eat like a trucker), but the belly remained (and still does a little at 4 months out). I think we are the lucky ones in regard to the weight sliding off, but I too wonder if I will ever get my pre-pregnancy body, and think that the answer is probably no. For the time being, the opportunity to eat like a trucker is amazing.

    1. You are right, Sarah, we are the lucky ones with the weight sliding off, I do very much appreciate my body doing that without me having to coax it. Totally agree about being able to eat a ton. :)

  2. This was really an interesting post, especially the part about post-partum (you can bet I'm curious about that!). I think the idea of weight gain during pregnancy is a sensitive and interesting topic. When I was in graduate school, one of my professors was doing research with pregnant rats and found that restricting their calories during pregnancy actually led to obese rats later in life. But, that doesn't mean we should just eat and eat either. I think it's about balance and eating healthy. It shouldn't be about how much you gain or don't gain. In fact, at my midwife practice, they don't even weigh you (unless you look really out of the norm one way or the other) and instead focus on nutrition and food diaries. At 40 weeks, I've gained just about 30 lbs, and I'm ok with that. And, as you said, it definitely wasn't a steady, one-lb-a-week, pattern. It was all over the place.

    1. The study with the rats makes sense... the reason is that in "calorie-deprived" situations the metabolism changes and adapts to scarcity, in such a way that to explain it simply, whenever there is food available, you store it all, to prevent and prepare for periods of shortage. And even though adipocytes (the cells where we store fat / extra sugars ) do not reproduce in adults, they do in young children and foetus. So, rats exposed in-utero to these conditions would have developed more adipocytes (storage room) and therefore have a tendency to obesity later.
      But like you say, it's about balance and eating healthy.

    2. I think you are right about balance and eating healthy. I feel like I ate fairly healthy in general before pregnancy, and continued eating in a similar manner during pregnancy (except those croissants...), so maybe that had something to do with how my weight gain went. But like I said, I felt like I had very little control over what my body did, other than trying to keep eating healthy.

      Amanda, thank you for explaining the bit about the rats! I didn't know that the fat storage cells can reproduce in children but not in adults (though it makes a lot of sense now that I think about it...)

  3. Great post, Anna! I had a very similar pregnancy weight gain and postpartum experience. I lost about 5 pounds in the first 14 weeks, and then by 39 weeks (when my baby was born), I had gained 24 total (so 19 up from my pre-pregnancy weight). And while pregnant, my thighs and arms actually got smaller. I think my body actually pulled from fat stores I already had!! I ended up with an emergency c-section, and they helped my uterus shrink a little faster than normal, but also pumped me full of fluids (those ankles and feet!) By 2 months postpartum, I had not only lost my 24 pregnancy pounds but also an additional 15 pounds. I too credit breastfeeding for the increased metabolism. And the fact that I gave up dairy (my boy has a milk protein intolerance) probably helped, also. Regardless, my body SHAPE is forever different, and I don't mind one bit. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience, Mary! Breastfeeding really is amazing in terms of upping that metabolism. So sorry that your boy has a milk protein intolerance. And your new shape is great, you look wonderful!

  4. Thanks for the honesty here... it is difficult to know what to expect, as like you say every pregnancy is different and we won't all fit in a textbook chart. At 22 weeks I have put on about3.5- 4 kg (approx 8 pounds), but I do read that most of the weight gain happens in the last trimester. I am mostly in awe at what the body is able to do, but changes in shape can be difficult to handle. Better be ready for it (at least a bit) and go with the flow.

    1. I just want to say that I can't believe you are 22 weeks along already! It's true what they say, other people's pregnancies seem to fly by :)

      Yes, the changes to shape I am finding difficult to cope with. I do really think that buying some clothes that properly fit will help a ton, and I'm just not going to think about the bikini season for now. :)


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