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Pregnancy Weight Gain

Whether it's ice cream and anchovies or pizza with pickles, pregnancy is the mother of culinary invention. The problem with abandoning yourself to your cravings: Moms-to-be who gain more weight than recommended -- 25 to 35 pounds if average weight; 15 to 25 pounds if overweight; 28 to 40 pounds if underweight -- tend to retain twice as much after delivery as those who stay within these guidelines. And this could lead to future problems with hypertension, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. While piling on too much weight isn't likely to harm your growing fetus (gaining enough is, in fact, vital to development), it can increase your risk of needing a C-section.

Since more than a third of pregnant women do exceed the weight-gain guidelines, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center set out to see if simply educating women about the health virtues of moderate exercise, low-fat eating, and portion control could help keep them from gaining excess weight. By counseling them at regular prenatal checkups, researchers slowed the weight gain of almost half of the average-weight women who were surpassing the guidelines, bringing them back into the desired range, according to psychologist Betsy Polley, lead researcher of the study. (The program was less beneficial for women who were heavy before pregnancy, with only 21 percent able to curtail their weight gain.)

How can you tell if you're gaining too much? According to the study, the amount of weight gained by the end of your first trimester is key: If you find you've acquired more than 3 1/2 pounds at that 12-week milestone (2 pounds if you're overweight, 5 pounds if you're underweight), you may need to watch your diet more closely. Apply some simple calorie-cutting strategies -- like substituting skim milk for whole milk -- though you should never try to actually lose weight while pregnant, just slow the rate at which you're gaining. Talk to your doctor early in your pregnancy about weight control: Ask him to refer you to a nutritionist if you're gaining too much too fast.