Dangers of Dieting During Pregnancy

There's an alarming new trend: Women trying to avoid weight gain during pregnancy. Not only does this put mother and baby at risk, but it actually increases the child's risk of obesity. Nutrition Diva explains.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
2-minute read

Being overweight while pregnant puts both mother and baby at risk.

But I’m equally concerned about another less common but growing trend: Women who are so determined not to get “fat” during gestation that they actually diet and exercise to extremes throughout their pregnancies, in order to avoid gaining weight.

These misguided moms—who often have a history of eating disorders or disordered body image—are egged on by unrealistic media coverage of celebrities who stay impossibly slim during their pregnancies and are photographed in bikinis, seemingly minutes after delivery.

You’ll only be pregnant for 9 months but your baby could be affected for a lifetime.  

The fact is that failing to gain an appropriate amount of weight during pregnancy puts your baby at extreme risk. When you aren’t eating enough calories, you are also very likely not getting enough protein, iron, and other nutrients that are essential to healthy development. When mom is undernourished, the babies are more likely to be born pre-term and may suffer from learning and behavioral disorders and other disabilities.

Dieting During Pregnancy Leads to Obesity in Children

And how’s this for irony? A recent study found that babies born to mothers who do not gain enough weight during pregnancy are at increased risk of childhood obesity. In fact, they are almost as likely to be obese as babies born to obese mothers!

When pregnant women don’t consume enough calories, the fetus essentially develops a starvation metabolism, programmed to grab and hang onto every calorie that comes its way. That metabolism becomes permanently encoded and sets him/or her up for a lifetime of weight struggles. 

Sometimes, of course, a mother’s inability to enough gain weight is due to factors beyond her control. If you’re having trouble gaining weight, please consult your OB or a nutrition professional for support. But please don’t intentionally put your baby at risk in order to preserve your figure. You’ll only be pregnant for 9 months but your baby could be affected for a lifetime.  

If you have had an eating disorder or feel uncomfortable about pregnancy weight gain, please enlist your OB as well as a nutrition and/or mental health professional to give you the medical, nutritional, and emotional support you (and your baby) need throughout your pregnancy.


Nutrition Diva's Guide to Calories and Weight Gain During Pregnancy

Pregnancy Weight Tracker

About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.