On an average, pregnancy requires just 300 extra calories a day. As pregnancy progresses, if you listen to your body, your appetite will naturally guide you to take in the right amount of calories for you and your growing baby. Excess weight is hard on the baby too. Other pregnancy complications in women who gain excess weight include gestational diabetes, unsuccessful induction of labour, lacerations of the birth canal, and caesarean section. Inadequate weight gain increases the chances that your baby will not get adequate nutrition or develop properly. Be aware, your unborn baby is entirely dependent on you for nourishment. If you're eating to fullness, food that's nutrient-rich, then you'll gain an appropriate amount of weight for your body and your baby.

“People keep telling me I need the extra energy. Why?

Your energy needs during pregnancy increase because of the additional energy required for the following:

* Growth and physical activity of the foetus.

* Growth of the placenta.

* Normal increase in maternal body size.

* Additional work involved in carrying the weight of the foetus and the extra maternal tissues.

* The slow but steady rise in basal metabolic rate during pregnancy.

Adequate amount of calories should be taken so that enough fat is deposited during pregnancy which is required for lactation

“I am anxious and worried about becoming fat and losing my figure.

How do I avoid putting on excess weight?”

Remember, excess weight gain is not usually a medical problem. The biggest negative about gaining too much weight is that it may be difficult to lose, after the baby is born. If you are gaining weight too quickly, you still need to eat when you're hungry but try to decrease the portion size and substitute lower fat foods for higher fat varieties such as semi-skimmed milk, instead of full cream, and frozen yoghurt, instead of icecream.

Here are some suggestions to avoid gaining excess weight:

* Eat before you develop hunger pangs. When you don't you are likely to eat unhealthy food.

* Eat regularly. Between meals, snack on a fruit or a bowl of yoghurt.

* Do not eat when nervous; take a walk or chew gum instead.

* Eat slowly; savour every morsel by chewing your food well and relishing its taste to the fullest.

* If you are a compulsive eater, keep the right kind of snacks around such as bean sprouts, boiled potatoes, carrots, cucumber, seasonal fruits and chick peas.

* At meal times, serve your self once, generously; avoid second helpings.

* Avoid fried foods, creamy puddings and sweets.

* Drink water, instead of sweetened cold drinks.

“How much weight should I gain?”

* In a healthy pregnancy, experts recommend a weight gain of about 11 to 14 kg.

* During the first trimester (0 to 3months) you may put on 1 to 2 kg. Or ironically, instead of putting on, you may actually lose up to 2 kg as a result of morning sickness. Do not get anxious about the weight loss; continue to eat small meals throughout the day to keep up your strength. Drink plenty of fluids to substitute for the loss that takes place if you're vomiting. Your baby will be nourished with all the nutrients you will have accumulated before conception.

* During the second trimester (4 to 6 months) most women put on about 1 to 2 kg a month.

* During the third trimester (7 to 9 months), as your baby is now growing rapidly, the weight gain can be about 2 to 3 kg a month.

* Women who are underweight at the start of their pregnancy need to gain more weight as compared to women who are overweight.

The recommended weight gain for women carrying a single baby:

Underweight women – 12.5 to 18 kg

Normal women – 11 to 14 kg

Overweight women – 7 to 11.5 kg

Weighty facts

Only your gynaecologist can help you determine a target that's right for your body, your health status and your pregnancy. Pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes may influence how much weight you're able to put on during your pregnancy.

Where does your weight go?

Less than half of the total weight you gain resides in the foetus, the placenta and the amniotic fluid; the remainder is accumulated in the breast tissues, fluid, blood, and maternal stores, which are largely composed of body fat. This is where you will draw your resources from when you're breast-feeding.

The writer is a certified Clinical Exercise Specialist, Lifestyle and Weight Management Specialist.