By: Rachel Neifeld, RD, CDN

Exercise is a great way to stay healthy during pregnancy, but it may not help overweight women prevent gaining more than they should. According to a new study published in An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, obese and overweight women who started exercising three months into their pregnancy did not gain any less weight than those who did not exercise. This is likely because women who are already three months pregnant will find it hard to stick to an exercise program if they weren’t used to exercising before. It’s better to start making lifestyle changes to reach a healthy weight early on, ideally before becoming pregnant.

Eating right and exercising can have many benefits including reducing stress, improving self image, and even helping a woman shape up faster after delivery as maintaining muscle strength and tone throughout pregnancy helps the body bounce back faster after giving birth.

To ensure healthy weight gain during pregnancy, it’s important to see a registered dietitian as soon as possible to create an individualized meal plan to incorporate with an exercise routine. Women at a healthy weight need no additional calories in the first trimester, about 300 extra calories a day in the second trimester, and about 450 extra calories a day in the third trimester. Overweight or underweight women need more or less than this depending on your weight gain goal. It does not take eating for two to accomplish this- just a couple of glasses of low-fat milk and a handful of sunflower seeds or a tuna sandwich will add enough extra calories for the last trimester.

By getting the recommended 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day and following a healthy diet women can avoid excess weight gain. It is recommended that overweight women should gain between 15 and 25 pounds while obese women should gain between 11 and 20 pounds.

Source: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, November 2011.