How does weight gain in pregnancy work?
June 28, 2020 6:20 PM   Subscribe

Is a calorie still a calorie?

When I was pregnant I gained a bunch of weight in my first trimester that seemed kind of inexplicable. Everything except cheese and crackers, turkey breast, apples, and certain raw vegetables made me retch, and I could barely keep even those things down in normal quantities. It seems hard for me to believe that I was eating the extra calories my body would need in non pregnant circumstances to gain a pound of new fat (which I understand to be roughly 3500 calories). My morning sickness was not remotely bound to the morning, or to the first twelve weeks, and I spent a lot of the time on the floor puking up bile, despite high doses of diclectin and gravol.

I was not one of those pregnant people whose weight gain was “all bump.” I didn’t start ‘showing’ until mid second trimester. For about the first 22 weeks, I just seemed to gain fat in my hips, face/neck, thighs, and butt. My clothes stopped fitting, but not because of a visible or palpable bump. I don’t believe this could have been the kind of water weight I gain before my period, because it was damn hard to lose.

I’m 5’4 and range between 130 and 140 lbs normally, right in the middle of the normal BMI for my height (although I know BMI is garbage).

What logic does weight gain in pregnancy follow, if 3500 extra calories do not roughly equal a pound of weight gain?
posted by unstrungharp to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Were you also exhausted and tired? Your body uses a lot of energy just to keep at normal levels of activity, so slowing down when you don't have something to off-set the energy like fighting a fever or repairing damaged tissues, that gives you a decent amount of surplus energy to bank away.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:33 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]

"a calorie" was never just a calorie. Metabolism is governed by hormones, in both pregnant and non-pregnant people; the business about 3500 calories equalling a pound is simply not correct in real life. There's nothing inexplicable about your prior weight gain: pregnancy is a wild hormonal ride, and hormones are what govern weight gain and fat deposition. There is no "logic," there is just your individual body and its genes; and there are recommended "best practices" for pregnancy nutrition which are not specific to you but which are available as a reference.Your doctor can advise on those, but keep in mind: they're not specific to you. They're aggregated and in some cases theoretical.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:06 PM on June 28 [11 favorites]

From what I understand hormones play a huge role but also digestion slows way down allowing your body to absorb more calories/nutrients that might normally just pass through.

This breakdown of where the weight goes is interesting -

You might feel as though you're packing on pure fat, but most of the new weight can be attributed to fluids and expanding body tissue. With a full-term pregnancy weight gain of about 30 pounds, you get 4 pounds of increased fluid, 4 pounds of added blood volume, 2 pounds of breast tissue, 2 pounds of uterus tissue, 1.5 pounds of placenta (an organ that didn't exist before!), 2 pounds of amniotic fluid, 7 pounds of fat, protein, and other nutrient stores, and 7.5 pounds of joy (that's your baby!).
posted by MadMadam at 7:32 PM on June 28 [8 favorites]

A data point- I had my partner help me weigh my boobs (he held them while i stood on the scale, and we subtracted the weight from my normal weigh.) It wasn't insignificant! Also you start having amniotic fluid, which accounts for weight gain even when your baby is compared to a bean rather than a grapefruit or pumpkin. Also, your placenta is surprisingly heavy.

But yes, hormones. Hormones are weird, and not exact between people.
posted by freethefeet at 9:39 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]

Weight gain during pregnancy is so variable, but one factor you actually can check is whether you have gestational diabetes which could explain yours. Another is your thyroid hormone levels.
posted by meijusa at 1:00 AM on June 29

I packed a bit on, and didn't start losing it until I started weaning. I was pretty active and not eating like crazy, but I firmly believe that while I was pregnant and breastfeeding, my body just really wanted me to keep those fat reserves until I was finished being responsible for building/sustaining a human.

The only thing that changed was hormones, I feel like my body has always been a bit of a slave to hormones but never more so than since becoming pregnant!
posted by greenish at 5:43 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]

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