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WHEN IT comes to health and fitness, many women can probably relate to Lisa Hendrick.

She describes herself as a cardio girl, but she's no gym rat. She doesn't count calories, but the 31-year-old maintains a normal weight and is conscious about what she eats, especially now that she is five months pregnant.

From the beginning, Hendrick was full of questions about the changes in her body. Most of all, she wanted to know what was normal when it came to weight gain and exercise.

"Whatever I do, I want it to be beneficial to me and the baby," says Hendrick, of Walnut Creek.

All expectant mothers want the best for their developing babies. But "normal" is not the same for everyone. How much weight you should gain during pregnancy depends on if you were underweight or overweight at conception. It is the same with exercise levels. Ultimately, experts say pregnant women should listen to their bodies and consult with their doctors.

The American Congress of Obstetricans and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends an average gain of 25 to 37 pounds during pregnancy. If you are underweight at conception, that range extends to 40 pounds. If you are overweight or have a high body mass index (BMI), the general guideline is 15 to 26 pounds.


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However, if you are obese, your doctor may prefer you gain as little as 10 to 20 pounds, says Richmond obstetrician and gynecologist Amanda Calhoun. Pregnant women who are obese when they conceive are at a higher risk for disease and complications.

"Too much weight puts the mother at risk for diabetes and high blood pressure," says Calhoun, Kaiser Permanente's assistant director of women's health for Northern California. "And it puts the baby at risk for lifelong obesity and injury at birth." The only risk of too little weight is having a small baby, she adds.

If the average baby is seven and a half pounds at birth, what makes up the remaining weight? Women gain fluid weight, which is water retention caused by hormones. Other sources of weight gain are nutrient-rich fat, amniotic fluid and spikes in blood volume, according to the American Pregnancy Association.

In almost all cases, weight gain increases with time. Most women gain three to five pounds during the first trimester (about 13 weeks) and one to two pounds per week the during second and third trimesters, according to ACOG.

Hendrick is on the low end of that spectrum. Well into her second trimester, she has only gained three pounds. Her doctor is not concerned, but just to be certain Hendrick is getting the nourishment she needs, she's been advised to drink an occasional milk shake in addition to her diet of lean proteins, fruits and vegetables.

But, cravings aren't always healthful. Calhoun has an easy tip for combatting them.

"If it is something unhealthy, I usually recommend picking one day of the week to indulge, then all other days of the week, try to stay on a healthy diet," she says.

Despite the awesome appetite that can come with pregnancy, Calhoun says there's no truth to the saying, "eating for two."

"We definitely don't want women eating for two," she says. "An extra 300 to 500 calories is all they need, like an apple and a yogurt, for example." Small, frequent meals are critical because they help temper nausea and acid reflux and control excess weight gain, she adds.

Doctors say exercise is just as important to a healthful pregnancy as eating right. Here's a general rule: If you were particularly active before you conceived, you can likely continue that level of activity as long as you listen to your body and make appropriate modifications along the way, says Deborah Metzger, a gynecologist and medical director of Harmony Women's Health in Los Altos.

The ACOG recommends that pregnant women get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. What to avoid: skiing, kickboxing and exercises that involve bouncing or an increased risk of falling.

Since she became pregnant, Hendrick has scaled back on the cardio. She doesn't use the elliptical machine anymore and has replaced running with walking.

"I am not doing any weight training because I am nervous to do anything extreme or push myself," she says.

Ashley Barrientos isn't. With help from personal trainers specializing in expectant moms, Barrientos, of Martinez, is hoping to reap the benefits of exercise, alleviating common problems such as leg cramps, ankle swelling and back pain. Some studies suggest that the mother's fitness results in shorter labor, fewer medical interventions and less exhaustion during labor.

When Barrientos conceived four months ago, she weighed 170 pounds. So far, she's gained about 10 pounds, which puts her above the ACOG's recommendations. At 5 feet 6 inches, the 25-year-old hopes to gain no more than 30 pounds during her pregnancy.

Her workout of resistance training and weight-bearing exercises is intended to increase flexibility and strengthen her core, which can aid in delivery, says Tim Ennis, director of the expectant mothers program at Forma Gym in Walnut Creek, where Barrientos works out.

According to Barrientos, the most challenging part of her workout is plank pose, the arm balancing position where the hips are slightly raised.

"My hips kind of disappeared around week 12," says Barrientos, joking. "But if I just push through it, I'm going to reach my goal. I want to have a healthy pregnancy and feel good."

the truth about weight

If you are at a normal weight when you conceive, expect to gain 25 to 37 pounds during pregnancy; 25 to 40 if you are underweight; and 15 to 25 iif you are overweight.
Weight gain by trimester is: Three to five pounds during first trimester and one to two pounds per week during second and third trimesters.
Eating in a healthful manner, including three servings of protein, dairy products and fruit daily, will allow you to gain adequate weight for your baby.
Putting on weight that is unnecessary is easy to do when eating junk foods and foods that are higher in fat and lack nutritional value.

-- American Pregnancy Association

the truth about exercise

It is recommended that pregnant women get 30 minutes of moderate exercise such as walking, swimming or yoga on most days of the week.
By improving circulation, exercise during pregnancy helps to alleviate common problems, such as leg cramps, ankle swelling, varicose veins and back pain.
Exercise helps prepare pregnant women for childbirth. Some studies suggest that the mother's fitness results in shorter labor, fewer medical interventions and less exhaustion during labor.
Always check with your doctor before starting an exercise program. It should be closely monitored if you have a high-risk pregnancy or are at risk for preterm labor.

-- American Pregnancy Association, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists