Some pregnant women rely on the excuse “I’m eating for two” to explain their weight gain during pregnancy. Although weight gain is an inevitable part of becoming pregnant, women should still consult a nutritionist to help manage their weight with healthy eating. A recent study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology has found that most women retain the weight gain they experience during pregnancy, but breastfeeding and moderate exercise seem to help women with post-pregnancy weight loss.

"This unfortunately showed that pregnancy itself is leading to obesity or [being] overweight for a substantial number of women," Dr. Loraine Endres, an assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago, told HealthDay. "It's a very important issue. We all see the rising number of obese people in our country and the health consequences that come from that, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. I really wanted to see where this is starting for women and to see if there is any way to turn it around."

Endres and her colleagues from Community Child Health Network of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development gathered data from 774 women living in five areas of the United States. Women were enrolled in the study immediately after childbirth. Researchers conducted interviews at one, six, and 12 months postpartum to identify risk factors for weight retention while measuring weight and height at six and 12 months postpartum.

Findings revealed that women included in the study, with an average weight of 161.5 pounds during pregnancy, gained around 32 pounds over the course of their pregnancy. Around 75 percent of the women were heavier after their pregnancy with an average weight of 173 pounds a year after giving birth. Nearly half of the women (47 percent) retained over 10 pounds of the weight they gained during pregnancy. The research team also discovered that breastfeeding and moderate exercise seemed to aid women in losing pregnancy weight. Endres recommended an extra 300 to 400 calories a day if a woman is expecting a single baby.

"The biggest problem is that a large number of women gain too much during pregnancy," Endres added. "The more you gain, the harder it is to ever lose that weight. From the moment women conceive, as health care providers we need to start talking with them about appropriate weight gain and remaining active."

According to the American Pregnancy Association, recommended weight gain during pregnancy is heavily dependent on the woman’s weight prior to becoming pregnant. For example, women with a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9 should gain anywhere from 24 to 25 pounds during pregnancy. Women with a BMI less than 18.5 should gain between 28 and 40 pounds, while women with a BMI between 25 and 29 should gain 15 to 25 pounds.

Source: Endres L, et al. Postpartum Weight Retention Risk Factors and Relationship to Obesity at 1 Year. Obstetrics & Gynecology. 2014.