Can weight loss be safe in pregnancy?
First thing I would like to state is that pregnancy is not the time to embark on a weight loss journey indiscriminately. I say ‘indiscriminately’ because on some unusual occasions, a doctor would advise a pregnant woman to shed some weight, and this would usually have some direct connection with safety of her life or that of her baby, never for aesthetics.
For example, being obese and pregnant increases the risk of many complications which may in turn adversely affect the life of a mother and/or the baby. The excess weight in this case is life threatening and so must be dealt with.
Weight gain is normal in pregnancy, and conversely, weight loss is highly discouraged, and is usually examined further if extensive in pregnancy. That is not to say every weight loss in pregnancy is suspicious. A woman who prior to pregnancy had no brakes on her eating habits, who now decides to clean up her diet in pregnancy will most likely drop a few ‘safe’ pounds.
For a pregnant woman to desire weight loss ‘just because’ in pregnancy is risky and not responsible because if this is done without the help of a professional, chances are high that you may be cutting off nutrients (macro and micro) and energy supply to the developing foetus. The best time to engage on a weight loss journey is when your baby is safely out of your body, breastfeeding is established, and your doctor has cleared you at your post-natal check. The best news is that no matter how much weight was gained in pregnancy, you can lose it post-delivery. Personally, I gained 40kg and lost it all. It may take you more time than another mum but everybody can ‘bounce back’ with knowledge, patience and consistency.
Rather than asking if you can lose weight in pregnancy, you should be concerned with how to manage the weight gain process through the 40weeks of gestation with a clean diet and an active lifestyle. Ideally, for a singleton pregnancy, a woman should gain anything between 10kg to 15kg.
But in rare cases where weight loss is recommended in pregnancy, how does one go about it?
First, you need a professional, this goes beyond fad diets, quick fixes, and ‘cutting carbs’. A professional would ensure that whatever diet you are placed on may be lower in calories but still optimal in its nutritional profile. Work closely with your doctor, he/she would also recommend supplements. Instead of cutting carbs out for example, which most people who want to lose weight are quick to do, she would find healthier, low-calorie alternatives and present them in the right portion size and frequency. This requires some expertise which the pregnant woman most likely does not have.
The result of all these measures would be a safe program that leads to weight loss, optimised nutrition and a healthy developing foetus. And just to clarify, you will actually be gaining weight but the weight lost may be higher and faster than what is being gained thereby creating a safe calorie deficit, making weight loss the more obvious result.
It is also important for you to be realistic in your expectations. Trust the professionals working with you and be patient, disciplined and honest too as anything else may lead to frustrations resulting from unmet expectations.
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