When I got pregnant with my first child, I was 21 years old and a very petite 102 pounds. Given my youth, my metabolism, and my relative health to this point, my OB-GYN was fairly certain my weight gain would be within the “normal range.” He told me I should expect to gain 25-30 pounds throughout my pregnancy, though I was “allowed” 35 since my body mass index (BMI) was so low. No worries if I didn’t, though, he told me. A "little thing like me" didn’t need to gain a lot of weight during pregnancy.
I became worried about my weight gain early on in my pregnancy, because as the first trimester progressed, I found my weight dropping steadily. I was too sick to look at food, let alone eat it. When I was able to get a meal down, it was unlikely it would stay down. By the end of my first trimester, I hadn’t gained a single pound. In fact, I'd lost five pounds, and was terrified that I'd never catch up to the amount of weight I was expected to gain. My doctor often asked about my diet, which consisted primarily of fruit, toast, and macaroni and cheese — the only three food groups I was able to stomach. He sighed when he looked at my chart, making it clear that I wasn’t doing the right thing, that I wasn’t doing enough to keep my baby healthy. He suggested I try meal supplement shakes, but one smell told me it was going to end badly. So I soldiered on, hoping that the second trimester would bring the weight gain and appetite I desperately needed.
Though my food preferences remained less than healthy, switching from one craving to the next (none of which included vegetables), I began steadily gaining weight throughout my second trimester. Despite my diet becoming a non-stop train of questionable food groups — from potstickers, to donuts, to hotdog on a stick — my doctor stopped questioning my health habits the moment my weight gain normalized. I was gaining the proper amount each week, and apparently that was all that mattered. That is, of course, until the scale started to tip.
As my visits became closer together, he lectured me regularly on how I was now gaining "too much weight." I hit my 35-pound limit, but I was nowhere near the end of my pregnancy.
As I entered my third trimester, I'd more than made up for lost time, not only regaining the five pounds I'd lost, but adding another 20 pounds on top of it. My doctor began looking at my chart with that same look of disappointment from my first trimester. As my visits became closer together, he lectured me regularly on how I was now gaining "too much weight." I hit my 35-pound limit, but I was nowhere near the end of my pregnancy. And even when I went into labor two weeks before my due date, I was a full 50-pounds heavier than when I first got pregnant, which meant I'd gained 55 pounds over the course of the last 25 weeks.
Whenever someone would comment about how I had appeared to be “all belly,” I made a point to mention my 50-pound weight gain, and how it was part of my normal, healthy pregnancy. I told every pregnant woman I knew how much weight I had gained during my pregnancy, because I didn’t want anyone to worry like I had over the ups and downs of pregnancy weight gain.
Yet despite my tremendous weight gain, there were no negative consequences to be found. Other than the discomfort I felt when my doctor brought up my abnormal weight gain, my pregnancy, birth, and recovery were unharmed by my weight gain, even though it was double the recommended amount. According to the Mayo Clinic, the recommended weight gain for pregnancy for women with a BMI under 18.5 is 28 to 40 pounds, women with a BMI of 25 to 29.9, the recommended weight gain is between 15 and 25 pounds, and a woman with a BMI of 30 or greater is recommended to gain 11 to 20 pounds. I felt like an unnecessary amount of stress had been put on me during an already difficult time, and for what? I had a healthy baby and healthy body that recovered "normally." Why shame me when there was no immediate threat?
Once I realized how ridiculous my doctor’s obsession with my pregnancy weight gain was, I made sure I didn’t hide my weight gain in shame anymore. Whenever someone would comment about how I had appeared to be “all belly,” I made a point to mention my 50-pound weight gain, and how it was part of my normal, healthy pregnancy. I told every pregnant woman I knew how much weight I had gained during my pregnancy, because I didn’t want anyone to worry like I had over the ups and downs of pregnancy weight gain.
If there had been a medically sound reason to be concerned with my weight loss and gain during pregnancy, it would have been a different story. But the truth was, my doctor was simply following an arbitrary chart of what “normal” should look like, even though there are so many variations of "normal" in pregnancy. I gained the "perfect" 30 pounds with my second pregnancy, and my experience was no more or less healthy than my first. In fact, each of my pregnancies and births were unique, and none of them needed to be “normal” to be good.