Eating healthy and managing your weight gain during pregnancy is important, but is Weight Watchers a safe and effective option for pregnant women? This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about doing Weight Watchers while pregnant.
Gaining weight is a normal part of pregnancy, but excessive weight gain can lead to complications. Many women look for healthy ways to control their pregnancy weight gain. Weight Watchers is a popular commercial diet program that emphasizes balanced nutrition, exercise, and portion control. But is it a good fit for pregnant women?
This guide will examine if Weight Watchers is safe and recommended during pregnancy. We’ll look at:
- How Weight Watchers works and what the program provides for pregnant members
- Safety concerns and risks of doing Weight Watchers while pregnant
- Recommended pregnancy weight gain guidelines
- Better alternatives to Weight Watchers for pregnancy
- Tips for healthy eating and exercise during pregnancy
Understanding the pros and cons will help you make an informed decision about whether Weight Watchers can help you achieve a healthy pregnancy weight.
How Does Weight Watchers Work?
Weight Watchers (WW) assigns every food and beverage a SmartPoints value based on calories, saturated fat, sugar, and protein. Members get a personalized daily and weekly SmartPoints budget to spend however they want. You can eat anything as long as you stay within your points.
The program encourages eating nutritious whole foods that are lower in points. Members can exchange FitPoints earned through physical activity for extra SmartPoints. The myWW program customizes your plan by matching you to a color-coded system based on food preferences and lifestyle:
- Green: Focuses on 100+ zero SmartPoints foods. Most fruits and veggies are zero points.
- Blue: More flexibility in food choices. Some fruits and veggies have points.
- Purple: Zero points for non-starchy veggies. Points for other foods.
In addition to in-person workshops and the WW app, pregnant members get specialized features and guidance.
Is Weight Watchers Safe During Pregnancy?
Most experts agree modifying the Weight Watchers program to meet pregnancy nutrition needs makes it reasonably safe for pregnant women who were at a healthy weight pre-pregnancy. However, there are some important considerations.
- Tracking SmartPoints could lead to undereating key nutrients like protein, calcium, iron, and folic acid essential for you and baby’s health. -emphasizing fruits and vegetables is great, but the zero points system may promote over-restricting higher calorie foods also important for pregnancy.
- Limits on saturated fat and cholesterol could shortchange nutrients needed for fetal development.
- Achieving second and third trimester calorie needs for healthy weight gain may be difficult without adding numerous foods or over-relying on FitPoints.
Weight Gain Guidance
- Standard Weight Watchers is designed for losing 1-2 lbs per week, so the weight goals and guidance are not customized for pregnancy.
- Following the plan without modifications could put you at risk for inadequate or even excessive weight gain depending on your starting weight.
- Weekly weighing is encouraged, but weighing yourself too often can cause undue stress over normal fluctuations in pregnancy.
- Pregnant members share rooms with non-pregnant members which may trigger body image issues or guilt over eating different foods.
- Not all leaders may be knowledgeable about tailoring the program for pregnancy safe weight gain.
With the right modifications and extra precautions, many providers greenlight doing Weight Watchers while pregnant for women at a normal pre-pregnancy weight. However, they typically recommend a more pregnancy-focused plan.
Recommended Pregnancy Weight Gain Guidelines
The leading health organizations recommend these pregnancy weight gain ranges based on your pre-pregnancy BMI:
- Underweight (BMI under 18.5): 28-40 lbs
- Normal weight (BMI 18.5-24.9): 25-35 lbs
- Overweight (BMI 25-29.9): 15-25 lbs
- Obese (BMI over 30): 11-20 lbs
This reflects the minimum recommended gain for the health of your baby. You may need to gain above the range depending on your health status.
Ideally, you should gain 2-5 lbs in the first trimester and 1 lb per week in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Your provider will monitor your weight gain versus the guidelines.
Better Alternatives to Weight Watchers While Pregnant
Rather than trying to modify Weight Watchers’ standardized program, you may want to consider safer options specifically designed for pregnancy:
Pregnancy-Focused Apps and Programs
- BabyCenter’s My Pregnancy Today app offers trimester-specific meal plans, nutrition guidance, and weight gain tracker.
- The Healthy Moms app from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) provides tools to track weight gain, diet, and physical activity with personalized pregnancy recommendations.
- Other customized programs like:
- Positive Postpartum membership
- FitToBe pregancy nutrition coaching live and on-demand
- Train Stronger Moms prenatal exercise membership
Meet With a Registered Dietitian
- An RD specializing in pregnancy nutrition can personalize a healthy eating plan for you based on your health status, weight goals, food preferences and budget. This is covered by many insurance plans.
- They can ensure you get the proper calories, nutrients and portion sizes for each trimester to support you and baby while still controlling weight gain.
Get Individualized Prenatal Exercise Programming
- Working with a trainer experienced in exercise during pregnancy is much safer than trying to modify standard Weight Watchers fitness guidance.
- They will show you bump-safe exercises and provide a customized workout plan that evolves with your needs each trimester. This also helps you avoid coning from FitPoints.
Seek Group Support on Pregnancy Forums
- The What to Expect pregnancy app offers forums where you can get advice and join groups focused on healthy eating and weight management in pregnancy.
- Having a support network of other moms-to-be avoids triggering body image issues that can happen in traditional Weight Watchers meetings.
No matter what path you choose, consult your doctor to ensure your diet and exercise plan is medically approved for your pregnancy. Get regular check-ins on your weight gain.
Healthy Eating Tips for Pregnancy
Focus on the quality and balance of your diet with these pregnancy nutrition tips:
Emphasize Prenatal Nutrients
- Take a quality prenatal vitamin with iron, folate, calcium, and DHA.
- Eat plenty of iron-rich foods like red meat, eggs, legumes, spinach, and fortified cereal.
- Enjoy DHA-rich seafood and foods fortified with omega-3s.
- Get adequate protein from poultry, lean meat, eggs, dairy, beans, and nuts.
- Include calcium via dairy products, calcium-set tofu, greens, and calcium-fortified foods.
Energy from Nutritious Sources
- Make half your plate fruits and vegetables, splitting between veggies high in nutrients vs. starchier options that provide calories.
- Include whole grains like oats, brown rice, whole wheat pasta and bread for steady energy.
- Don’t be afraid to add healthy fats like olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds and fatty fish. These support fetal development.
- Limit empty calories from sugary desserts, juices, sodas and processed snack foods and go for complex carbs and lean proteins instead.
- Stay extra hydrated by sipping water consistently throughout the day. Infusing your water with fruit adds flavor!
- Limit caffeine to 200mg per day or less.
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals instead of large volumes in one sitting.
- Avoid spicy foods that can trigger reflux.
- Don’t lie down immediately after eating.
- Stick to thoroughly cooked seafood, meat and eggs to avoid food-borne illness from toxins and bacteria. Bacon and deli meats should be heated before eating.
- Avoid unpasteurized juice and dairy products.
- Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
Help with Morning Sickness
- Eat frequent small snacks like whole grain crackers to keep blood sugar stable.
- Focus on blander foods and any that appeal to you on nauseous days.
- Drink fluids between rather than during meals.
- Ginger tea, lemon water, peppermint can help ease symptoms.
- Pair sweets with protein like having yogurt with fruit instead of eating fruit alone.
- Watch portion sizes of higher calorie foods even if craving them. Measure out a serving instead of grabbing the whole bag or pint.
- Keep healthier snacks on hand to satisfy a craving like fruit, nuts, yogurt.
The key is filling up on nourishing foods for you and baby first, then enjoying a small treat if cravings persist. Pay attention to portions of higher calorie items.
Safe Pregnancy Exercise Tips
Along with healthy eating, staying active during pregnancy offers many benefits. Follow these tips for safe exercise:
- Walking, swimming, stationary cycling and elliptical workouts are gentle on joints. Start slowly and gradually increase duration to 30 minutes per day most days of the week.
- Look for “pregnancy yoga” classes or videos. Avoid positions lying flat on your back or intense core heat. Always listen to your body.
- Use lighter weights and higher reps. Movements like squats, lunges and arm exercises tone muscles that assist in labor and delivery.
- Stretch major muscle groups after warming up. This keeps joints mobile and can alleviate pain. Avoid overstretching.
Hydrate and Feed Baby
- Drink plenty of fluids before, during and after workouts to avoid dehydration. Have a healthy snack within an hour of finishing to feed baby.
Warning Signs to Stop
- Intense shortness of breath, dizziness, weakness, pain or vaginal bleeding are signs to stop and consult your provider about safe activities.
Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, but always get clearance from your provider before starting or modifying an exercise program in pregnancy.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Weight Watchers safe if I’m overweight or obese heading into pregnancy?
Weight Watchers may be very risky if you start pregnancy over or under weight. Your calorie needs are drastically different than a typical WW member, so you need a nutrition plan tailored specifically to support healthy gestational weight gain goals. Following standard WW guidance could sabotage your pregnancy.
What if I’m already doing Weight Watchers when I get pregnant?
Tell your leader you’re pregnant right away so they can direct you how to safely adapt the program for pregnancy nutrition needs. Seek supervision from your doctor as well to ensure you modify WW appropriately to avoid restricting key nutrients or gaining too little/too much weight.
Can I count on earning FitPoints through exercise to eat more while pregnant?
Relying too heavily on FitPoints for extra SmartPoints undermines getting the right nutrition from your food. The standard FitPoint calculations also don’t account for pregnant women exercising at lower intensities. Get clearance from your provider before adding intense exercise.
How can I make Weight Watchers work better for me in pregnancy?
Eat your full recommended calories each day, don’t dip too low. Weigh yourself less often. Add extra non-processed fats, proteins and calcium-rich foods not restricted on points. Attend meetings online only if the in-person groups raise body image concerns. See a dietitian to supplement with pregnancy nutrition guidance.
What should I do postpartum if I used WW while pregnant?
Don’t resume counting points right away. Follow your doctor’s advice on nutrition for breastfeeding and postpartum recovery. Wait at least 6 weeks and consult your OB-GYN before actively working to lose weight. Then ease back into WW under a leader’s supervision.
The Bottom Line
While Weight Watchers does promote some healthy behaviors like eating produce, lean protein and whole grains, the standardized program requires modifications to be safe for pregnancy. Work closely with your OB-GYN and registered dietitian to supplement WW with optimal nutrition guidance and weight checks specific to your needs. For many women, programs designed just for pregnant women are a better fit to help manage weight gain while nourishing you and baby.