Weight Gain during your Paleo Pregnancy

I'm just going to get right into it this week .... here we go !

I see women in my office all the time that are terrorized by the scale and their changing bodies. We live in a weight-obsessed society which supports the illusion that happiness is found in a certain shape, weight or dress size.  This belief system contributes to a feeling of extreme anxiety about the natural weight-gain associated with a healthy pregnancy. 

The Paleo and Primal communities are not immune to this quest for the ‘perfect’ uber lean female form.  I’ve witnessed it in many crossfit gyms, trail running circles and climbing communities. Women restrict carbohydrates, overtrain and beat themselves up about minor variances in daily macronutrient percentages and body fat compositions. It breaks my heart! We all struggle with body image issues in one form or another. Body image during pregnancy will be the topic of a future post but, while that's in development, Melissa over at Whole 9 has a great article all about pregnancy and body image that's worth checking out. 

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Pregnancy is a time to celebrate your body and honor its' wondrous adaptations. It’s also an ideal time to let go of any limiting mindsets and punitive thought patterns you might carry with you.  Take time to connect with your true self and authentic female form. Nurturing a balanced mind and body, as you journey into parenthood, will help your physical self thrive and lay a strong foundation for becoming a wonderful Cavemama to your little paleo babies.

This post is a launching pad for women with questions about weight gain in your paleo pregnancy.

"How much weight should I gain anyway?"


First you need to know your BMI. I know, I know, BMI is controversial. The BMI has been labeled by many as a really crummy measure of body mass. However, it’s all we’ve got and in my clinical experience, for most people, it is a pretty darn accurate measure of a healthy weight status.

How much you should gain based on your BMI

“Normal”: 18.5-24.9: 24-35lbs

“Overweight”: 25-29.9: 15-25lbs

“Underweight”: <18.5: 25-40 lbs.

“Obese”: 0-15lbs

Carrying Twins? 35-45lbs

Not sure what your BMI is? The Google machine will help you find out. Pregnant and wondering where you fit in? Health Canada has a handy online calculator that will give you guidelines for how much weight you should gain during your pregnancy.

Where does all that weight come from?


Baby: 7-8 pounds

Placenta: 1-2 pounds

Amniotic fluid: 2 pounds

Uterus: 2 pounds

Maternal breast tissue (awesome btw): 2 pounds

Maternal blood: 4 pounds

Fluid Retention: 4 pounds

Maternal fat and nutrient stores required for breastfeeding: 7 pounds

Most women can expect to gain about 2 to 4 lbs in the first trimester and continue to gradually gain during the second and third trimesters. A sudden peak in weight gain during the second trimester is not unusual, as maternal blood volumes have done a lot of rapid expansion. If you see this happening, it’s nothing to freak out about, take a chill pill, this is totally normal.


 “If I don’t gain much weight during my pregnancy then I won’t have much to lose it after the baby arrives.”


I hear statements like this far too frequently. They are abundant on web forms, in office waiting rooms and even in prenatal classes.  Honestly, restriction of calories before and during pregnancy and even during breastfeeding is never a good idea. Period. 

When a healthy woman restricts her calories in an attempt to hinder pregnancy associated weight gain, complications such as having a low-birth weight infant or premature delivery are more likely to occur. Babies who are born mothers that gain less than 20lbs are often considered small for gestational age (SGA), meaning they may have been essentially malnourished during pregnancy either by a malfunctioning placenta or due to inadequate maternal nutrition. These babies are born into an environment of perceived ‘famine’. This perception of chronic deprivation has been linked to numerous epigenetic alterations in metabolism, endocrine and nervous system development. This  sounds pretty bad, and it is, but the research is actually pretty cool. Or at least I think it is. I wish I had time to become a researcher and write a book about it!


The epigenetic theory was first established in the early 1980’s when British scientist, David Barker, noticed a connection between low birth weight infants and elevated risk for heart disease later in life. Over the past 25 years, many researchers have replicated Barkers original results and today, epigenetic theory continues to reveal astonishing truths about how our genes are expressed and influenced by our environment. The epigenetic theory is explored and explained here by the ever articulate Chris Kresser.  

“The 9 months of pregnancy are the most consequential period of our lives, permanently influencing the wiring of the brain and the function of organs like the heart, liver and pancreas. They also suggest that the conditions we encounter in utero shape everything from our susceptibility to disease, to our appetite and metabolism, to our intelligence and temperament.”- Chris Kresser

“I’m gaining a TON of weight, what gives?”

Just as there are consequences for gaining too little during your pregnancy, there are also real consequences for gaining too much. Studies show that women who gain excessive amounts of weight during pregnancy may be at increased risk for preeclampsia, operative delivery and other less than desirable outcomes.  Epigenetic research (once again!) is providing us with some interesting evidence to support moderate weight gain in pregnancy.

One study found that women who gained > 45lbs in pregnancy had offspring that were predisposed to becoming obese when compared to women who gained the recommended 25-35lbs.  We are in the midst of a  “ Global obesity epidemic” and I believe that excessive weight gained in pregnancy is a real issue that contributes to future generations of overweight, obese children at risk for diabetes, heart disease and ill health. If you notice that your gaining a lot during pregnancy, take charge and have an honest look at your diet. Need more help? Send me a question and we can set up a private consultation.

Meg the Paleo Midwife's suggestions if you find yourself gaining a lot of weight:

  • Consider being tested for gestational diabetes by your midwife or doctor. Gestational diabetes can cause large, sudden spikes in weight gain starting at around 15-20 weeks. The Canadian standard of care for diabetes testing in low risk women is to offer a 50g Glucose Challenge Test at ~28 weeks gestation. If you find yourself gaining a lot before that, ask if the test can be done earlier.
  • Have your thyroid checked by your midwife or physician. Low thyroid levels can cause steady increases in weight gain as well as mood related changes that can put you at risk for postpartum depression. Low thyroid levels also contribute to low milk supply which can make breastfeeding (and your postpartum weight loss much more challenging).…that’s just a bummer.
  • Try doing a 7-day diet journal. Are you eating double portions, too many smoothies or fruit, excessive paleo treats or lots of nuts? Be honest with yourself
  • Are you rested? Chronic fatigue can lead to food cravings as the body attempts to fuel itself to stay awake! Perhaps you could benefit from an earlier bedtime or a nap.
  • Focus on clean Paleo eats.  Eat "twice as healthy", not "twice as much". You only require an additional 200 calories per day to fuel you pregnancy. Following a clean paleo diet with emphasis on nutrient dense foods like organ meats, well sourced proteins, healthy fats, egg yolks, leafy greens and colourful fruits and vegetables will see you through. Grassfed dairy is also excellent in moderation if that’s something you're into.

Do you need more primal or paleo friendly help? Feel free to contact me


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