I have yet to meet an expecting mom who doesn’t at least wonder about the impending body changes that come along with pregnancy. It’s natural! Even with the best prevention (good nutrition and consistent movement), a certain amount of weight gain and belly growth are unavoidable. It’s not a bad thing, but it can feel stressful in a culture that emphasizes a thin waistline.

So, what can you realistically expect as you move throughout your pregnancy? Today, we’re breaking down the basics, the major contributors to bump size, and wrap up with a work on postpartum weight loss. Let’s get to it!

Where is all the weight going?

According to the American Pregnancy Association, weight gain recommendations vary based on s mom’s BMI prior to pregnancy:

Underweight: BMI less than 18.5 | 28-40 pounds
Normal Weight: BMI 18.5-24.9 | 25-35 pounds
Overweight: BMI 25.0-29.9 | 15-25 pounds
Obese: BMI greater than or equal to 30.0 | 11- 20 pounds

How does this break down by trimester?

First trimester: 1-4.5 pounds
Second trimester: 1-2 pounds per week
Third trimester: 1-2 pounds per week

It’s important to note that not all women naturally follow this pattern. Some women will gain a significant amount in the first trimester and less in the second. Meanwhile, others will experience the exact opposite or may even lose weight in the first trimester.

So, where is all this weight going? It can be a little nervewracking to think about gaining 30 pounds when our minds typically go to cellulite and rolls. But let me assure you that a majority of this weight is going to a very important purpose:

7 1/2 pounds – Baby
1 1/2 pounds – Placenta
4 pounds – Increased Fluid Volume
2 pounds – Uterus
2 pounds – Breast Tissue
4 pounds – Increased Blood Volume
7 pounds – Maternal Stores of Fat, Protein, & Vitamins for Breastfeeding
2 pounds – Amniotic Fluid
Total: 30 pounds

All-in-all, the majority of this weight is attributed to the necessary changes for baby to thrive in utero. For most moms, this weight will disappear relatively quickly after birth! (We’ll talk more in depth on postpartum weighloss below.) That remaining 7 pounds of fat will help feed your baby the first few months postpartum.

Is it okay to diet or try to lose weight while pregnant?

While many websites provide “safe” strategies for losing weight while pregnant, it’s generally not a good idea to actively diet during this time. If you are overweight, focus on eating a high-quality diet and incorporate 30-60 minutes of exercise into your routine every day. It is never a good idea to count calories or fast while pregnant.

The Low-Down on Bump Size

Aside from weight gain, there are a variety of factors that impact the overall bump size. It’s important to remember that every woman’s body and every pregnancy is different. While two women can gain the exact same amount of weight, it can present in very different ways. So, don’t get too caught up in the way your bump looks vs. someone else’s.

A Note on First Trimester Bloating

Many women experience bloating in the first trimester, due to rising hormone levels. While it may be tempting to think that this is an early bump popping out, this bloating will subside by the second trimester.

What factors contribute to bump size?

Diet

Diet plays a big impact on how much additional weight is gained during pregnancy. Pregnancy aversions and morning sickness can present a challenge to moms who otherwise consume a high-quality diet. So, it’s important to seek out healthy options that don’t cause a problem.

One simple way to minimize unnecessary weight gain is to save high carb foods and sweets for the occasional treat. Emphasize quality protein, healthy fats, and lots of nonstarchy vegetables to give your baby – and your body – everything needed to thrive.

Want guidance with your diet? Check out the Brewer’s Pregnancy Diet and Lily Nichols’ groundbreaking book Real Food for Pregnancy*.

Currently in the market for a high-quality prenatal? Check out this post.

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Torso Length

The less torso room you have, the sooner your bump will begin to pop. For moms with a very long torso, it’s not uncommon to still be bump-less well into the second trimester because there is significantly more room for the internal organs and growing uterus to hide.

This can be disappointing to a shorter mom who wanted a small bump. Know that your bump is still growing at a perfectly healthy rate and showing sooner does not mean you are gaining excess weight.

Personally, I didn’t begin obviously showing with my son until close to the third trimester. I’m just shy of 6′ tall and experienced an extended period of time where I just looked pudgy. Even when I began to stick out, my bump remained extremely low, due to my unusually long torso. I share this to remind you that torso length is one of the biggest factors beyond your control to impact your bump. There’s nothing wrong with being on the shorter or longer end of the spectrum.

Weight Prior to Pregnancy

While this is rarely mentioned on blogs and in mom circles, the amount of weight you have going into pregnancy impacts how quickly you pop out and how large your bump becomes.

At the end of my pregnancy with my son, my midwife mentioned that moms of all sizes who are carrying a single baby have roughly the same size of uterus at every stage of pregnancy. Some of the variances between bumps comes from abdominal fat prior to pregnancy. Once again, just because your bump pops out early or seems large it doesn’t mean you are gaining an excessive amount of weight!

Activity Level

As with diet prior and into pregnancy, activity level plays a big role in how taught those abdominal muscles remain during pregnancy. It also impacts the amount of fat-weight gained as the pregnancy progresses.

Just remember, the ultra-fit moms with tiny bumps that you see are typically exercising 45-60 minutes per day. Many of them also come out of pregnancy with a condition called “Diastasis Recti” which compromises the integrity of the abdominal muscles following delivery. (We’ll talk more about this momentarily.) So, while it is nice to have a small bump, there can be serious drawbacks.

If you were active prior to pregnancy then generally it is considered safe to consider working out at a similar intensity as it feels right for you body. Just be mindful to modify exercises as you progress through trimesters and not push too hard. HIIT workouts and extreme Crossfit training are not typically recommended, as they can be too intense for a growing baby.

If you weren’t very active prior to pregnancy, walking and doing squats are great ways to keep your body moving. Also, consider seeking out a Personal Trainer who is experienced with prenatal exercise modifications to support you through your pregnancy.

Number of Pregnancies

A less glamorous fact of pregnancy is that the more babies you’ve carried, the looser your stomach muscles tend to be. Granted, torso length can play a big role in this. Moms with a shorter torso will experience greater abdominal stretching and thus a larger bump than a mom with a longer torso. Just know that if this if your second (or more) pregnancy, it’s not uncommon to pop out sooner and grow a bit larger. Again, this doesn’t necessarily indicate an excessive amount of weight gain!

Diastasis Recti

A small amount of separation between the abdominal muscles during pregnancy is normal, but for some women this separation extends beyond what can naturally be healed in the initial postpartum periods. My goal in this post is not to go in depth on Diastasis Recti – perhaps I will another time. Diary of a Fit Mommy has an excellent overview of the condition, diagnosis, and treatment. You can read all the details here.

So, who is most likely to develop this condition?

  • Moms who exercise improperly during pregnancy (I.e. Not appropriately modifying exercises for pregnancy by trimester) or workout too intensely.
  • Moms who gain a large amount of weight during pregnancy or come into pregnancy on the higher end of the scale.
  • Moms who have previously been diagnosed with Diastasis Recti.

The abdominal separation can be tested for following delivery, but the effects are often seen by the end of the third trimester. One big indicator that you have an unusually large abdominal separation? Your belly comes to a point in the middle, bulges, or is dome-shaped instead of round.

If you have or suspect that Diasastis Recti is an issue for you, I recommend reading Katy Bowman’s book on the topic*. She breaks down the whole-body cause and impact of this condition and also provides a long-term solution to healing it. Her work is much more thorough than anything else I’ve come across.

Number of Babies

Moms of multiples will naturally grow larger, as they are carrying two beautiful babies! The weight recommendations for moms of multiples is also greater than that of singlet moms. Again, most of this is due to the additional amniotic fluid, blood volume, etc. that is required for two babies two thrive.

Baby’s Weight & Position

The size of your baby will greatly impact your bump. A 7 pound baby and a 9 pound baby may be roughly the same length in inches, but one (I’m sure you can guess which) will require a larger space in utero.

Positioning is also an important thing to factor in. You will notice visible differences in bump size and shape depending on where the baby is lying in the womb.

Gestational Diabetes

A growing number of women are being diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes (GD). This condition can cause accelerated weight gain for both mom and baby. Unsurprisingly, moms with GD are more likely to have a larger bump size due to increased weight gain.

If you have GD or have borderline test results, then I recommend reading Lily Nichol’s book Real Food for Gestational Diabetes*.

Why Bump Photos are Misleading

Now that we’ve worked through all those factors, it’s unsurprising that bump photos are difficult to reference when estimating (or comparing) your size.

Additionally, most moms experience bloating as the day goes on. A bump photo taken in the morning will not reflect a bloated bump in the evening. The opposite is also true! So, take bump photos with a grain of salt. Most of the bloggers and fitness professionals who post bump photos are snapping them first thing in the morning. Make a point to avoid the temptation of comparing your after lunch bump to their bloat-less, pre-breakfast photo.

Will I be able to lose the weight?

Losing the baby weight is one of the biggest concerns I hear from moms moving into postpartum. While there are several more important things to be concerned with during those early weeks, it is natural to wonder when (and if) you’ll return to your pre-pregnancy size.

The most important thing to remember when approaching the following section is that your body has changed. While it may go back to being just like it was prior to pregnancy, that isn’t the case for everyone. Some moms find they are able to reach a new level of strength and fitness while others struggle to kick the last twenty pounds. I’ll be diving into this topic in-depth in another post. Stay tuned!

*Affiliate Link – you will not be charged extra when purchasing through this link. A small portion of the purchase supports Blissberry Wellness.