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Pregnancy and The Perfect Weight Gain: Are The French Too Strict?

pregnancy weight gain

This is the eighth article on my personal weight loss methods learned from the French and Italians. Over the last weeks I shared some details on how the European culture helps keep you weight stable and (if desired), to lose weight. Interested in reading the other articles? Click on the first article here: Weight Loss Methods Learned From The French And Italians: Time. 

Disclaimer: The content of this article is my own professional and personal opinion and should not substitute for medical advice.

The content of this blog should never be taken as substitute for medical advice.  – See more at:
The content of this blog should never be taken as substitute for medical advice.  – See more at:

Will I Get My Old Body Back After I Have My Baby?

Yes. You. Can.

It takes time. It takes work. It takes gaining the right amount of weight when you are pregnant. And some luck.

In this article I wanted to share some tips to gain enough weight to have a healthy baby and healthy you, without having to lose too many extra pounds post-baby. From my experience over here in France, I will share with you a cultural look on how French women, with pressure from their obstetrician, strive to gain the ‘perfect pregnant weight’, a goal to find their body silhouette as quickly as possible after birth. (A practice that can sometimes be unhealthy for the mom and baby).

The ultimate objective is a healthy baby

The most important factor with pregnancy weight gain is that your baby develops in the womb as nature intended, and that it gets the right nutrition from mom’s diet. Secondly, a normal weight gain can help you continue a healthy pregnancy and have an uncomplicated delivery. Finally, gaining the ‘perfect amount of weight’ helps the bien-être (feeling good) of a pregnant woman by feel better in your changing body.

All good reasons to keep your pregnancy weight gain in a good moderation.

The Perfect Weight Gain: How Much Weight Should You Gain During Your Pregnancy?

The perfect pregnancy weight gain? There are numbers to consult, that doctors use as a basic tool. Here are the medical guidelines:

In general, the thinner you are, the more weight you should gain during your pregnancy. If you were overweight at the start, you should gain less weight than someone with normal weight. The recommended medical amount of weight to gain is calculated from your BMI (body mass index) as seen here.

A woman who was average weight (BMI 18.5-24.9) before getting pregnant should gain 25 to 35 pounds (11.0-16 kilograms) after becoming pregnant. Underweight women (BMI <18.5) should gain 28 to 40 pounds.(13.0-18.0 kilograms) And overweight women (BMI > 24.9) may need to gain only 15 to 25 pounds (7.0-11.0 kilograms) during pregnancy. (quoted from WebMD here).

But I believe that just focusing on your initial BMI for how much weight to gain is a mistake.

Here is my personal example:

For my four full-term pregnancies, I gained 11 kilograms for the first three, and on my last pregnancy, (she was a planned C-section at 37 weeks) my French obstetrician didn’t say anything, but I felt I didn’t gain enough weight (9 kilograms). I was in the underweight group before each pregnancy (BMI <18.5) and if you look on the BMI charts I should have gained at least 13 kilograms.

But I had four very healthy and normal weight babies, so that is an example of a pregnancy weight gain that was not in the norms.

During what trimester do you gain the most amount of pregnancy weight?

The second trimester. (And with a normal pregnancy, during the second trimester, you should gain about a pound (or half a kilogram) per week). This trimester a pregnant woman feels good, has energy, and starts to put on the main bulk of her pregnancy weight to support the fast growing baby.

Is it true that when you are pregnant you should “eat for two” ?


During the first trimester you may feel very tired and nauseous. In some cases, you may lose weight during this period from excessive vomiting and lack of appetite. This is not a time to ‘force’ yourself to eat more in the first trimester, thinking that you are eating for two. If you do, you will gain too much weight.

During this precious beginning, you may gain 2-4 pounds (or about 1-2 kilograms) for the trimester. It is especially critical at the beginning of your pregnancy to eat a well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet filled with folate-rich green vegetables and fruits.  Listen to your body, you may not have a ravenous hunger like you will experience during the second trimester and your weight gain will reflect this.

In general, the last month before your due-date, you may find that your ravenous hunger has subsided. This is also normal. You will also sense that you will feel full faster than at other times during your pregnancy. This is because your stomach is smaller (and holds less food) from being pushed up closer to your heart from your larger uterus. During the last stages of a pregnancy, I found that eating smaller meals more often helped me to stay satiated and alert.

Why is it important not to gain too much weight during pregnancy?

Gaining too much weight during pregnancy can increase a pregnant women’s chances to develop hypertension (high blood pressure) and gestational diabetes. It can increase baby’s weight and cause longer labor and more complications for a normal delivery. Larger babies are at higher risk for Cesarean sections or pre-term births. Furthermore, a large weight gain in a new mom makes it even more difficult to lose all the pregnancy weight, and then more than likely, be overweight for the next pregnancy.

pregnant weight gain

Are French obstetricians too strict with French women’s pregnancy weight gains?

On the other side, there a trend with French obstetricians who strictly moderate a woman’s pregnancy weight gain at each month’s pregnancy check-up. Not all French obstetricians follow this strict pregnant women’s weight gain, but there are enough in France that you know it exists in the majority.

Here are two French women’s testimony, (in French with my translation in English):

“Quelle femme enceinte ne s’est jamais entendu dire qu’elle devait prendre un kilo par mois pendant sa grossesse, et pas un de plus ? Que si elle prenait trop de poids, son bébé serait trop gros ? Ou encore, qu’il fallait vite qu’elle maigrisse après l’accouchement, au risque sinon de ne jamais retrouver sa silhouette ? Autant d’idées fausses qui culpabilisent nombre de futures mamans. Transformant parfois la grossesse en véritable chasse aux kilos.” Anne-Laure Vaineau

“What pregnant woman hasn’t heard that they must gain one kilo each month during their pregnancy and not one kilo more? And if they gained too much weight, their baby will be too fat? Or that you must quickly lose weight right after delivering, or you may never find your former body? These false ideas that make future mothers guilty. They sometimes transform the pregnancy into a real ‘chase of kilos.’ Anne-Laure Vaineau

“Les femmes enceintes sont aujourd’hui soumises à un véritable diktat par rapport au poids et à sa gestion, analyse Laurence Haurat, psychologue et nutritionniste. Comme si la grossesse était une parenthèse qui les isolait du reste de leur vie.”

(French) pregnant women are now put under a real pressure with the control of their weight gain, analyzes Laurence Haurat, psychologist and nutritionist. Like if the pregnancy was a parentheses that isolates this from the rest of their life.

So, for French women, this pressure to gain one kilogram a month (and no more) equals out to about a 10 kilogram total weight gain for a French woman’s pregnancy. (In France, a pregnancy is counted as 10 months long). For some women, this perfect (and strict) weight gain is just not enough to support a healthy pregnancy and healthy eating habits because some women don’t gain enough weight or restrict their eating habits too much to keep within their doctor’s weight goals.

This is the other side of a perfect pregnancy weight gain. When you restrict your eating and feel guilty over food to the point that you put your baby’s healthy weight gain and development at risk.

So, what is the perfect weight gain? I could say it is just enough to support a healthy baby, a healthy mother and a few extra cushion pounds for after the birth? Yes, sounds about right. And the best way to achieve this? By moving.

Move and Move and Move. The importance of moving physically during your pregnancy

Probably the number one way to gain the right amount of weight during your pregnancy is to continue exercising, even through to the end.  As long as you have your doctor’s okay, keep your body moving with 30-minute daily walks or other low-impact activities such as swimming and stationary cycling.
Walking will help you to keep your blood pressure and blood sugars at a good control, keep blood circulating from your legs upward (which gets harder as the pregnancy gets toward the end), and most importantly, helps a pregnant women feel good and have a moment to release stress.

With more than three-fourths of pregnant women doing little or no exercise, what are you waiting for?

Just do it.

Other ways to help your body gain the right amount of weight for you:

  • Do not adopt the attitude of ‘eating for two.’
  • Take time to sit down and eat slowly.
  • Listen to your hunger and full cues.
  • At the beginning and end of your pregnancy, you might be less hungry and or not feel like eating much. This is normal.
  • Drink a lot of water in place of sugared drinks, juice or sugar-free drinks.

 And if you gain a bit more than you should, this is okay too

Some women aren’t lucky when they are pregnant. They may feel sick, tired or have the hormones that make them gain a large amount of weight without excess eating. A healthy baby is a ‘true miracle’ and if it takes you a bit longer to bounce back to your pre-pregnancy shape, don’t give up. Put your baby in the stroller, get outside and move and move and move.

And what about breastfeeding and weight?

Breastfeeding is a great topic with a lot of misconceptions. I highly encourage you to breastfeed your baby, even if it is for a few days or a few weeks. As for this subject, keep reading the weight loss series because I will write a full article on weight gain and loss during breastfeeding.

If you are looking for one to one counseling via Skype or telephone, I also counsel private clients. Contact me and I can send you a list of my services.

Hope you enjoyed this article on pregnancy weight gain. Know someone who could benefit from reading this? I would greatly appreciate you sharing this article to them. If you want to read more on topics like this one, you can subscribe to our monthly newsletter and article updates. By joining you can download a free 13-page E-report on “How to Eat Like the French Without a Food Snob Attitude.”

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Thank you for your support and here is a sparkling water toast to your healthy pregnancy!



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2 Responses to Pregnancy and The Perfect Weight Gain: Are The French Too Strict?

  1. ~ The Lady in Red ~ March 29, 2014 at 22:12 #

    Great article! Another way to have your body “bounce back” from pregnancy and lost the baby weight fairly quickly is to nurse your baby. While nursing, you won’t lose all of the weight that you gained during your pregnancy, but you will lose a majority of it as your body provides nutrition for your little one. Nursing also helps your uterus contract quickly to resume its former state. I don’t know the chemistry and biology behind that, but it is true! Women shouldn’t expect to reach their pre-pregnancy weight immediately, though, or while they are nursing. Your body retains a little extra weight naturally, because you are not just maintaining yourself, but you are supporting another little person’s dietary needs, too. While nursing, it’s natural to retain some extra water weight, because that’s what breastmilk is primarily made of. 🙂

    • mbrighton March 31, 2014 at 15:50 #

      Ah Lady in Red, good minds think alike. I think I will add a line introducing the subject of breastfeeding which will lead nicely into the article I am going to write. This is missing in this pregnancy article. Your comment is right on track. You have just the right way to say things! Merci!

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