When becoming a surrogate mother, applicants have to meet certain qualifications, including BMI, calculated from a person’s weight and height. With this number, surrogacy agencies are accurately able to screen for weight-related health problems, such as diabetes, that can complicate a pregnancy. What about during the pregnancy? How can a gestational surrogate’s weight affect the health of the intended parents’ child?

Becoming a Surrogate Mother: How Weight Affects You and Your Baby

Before the surrogate takes the expectant mom maxim “eating for two” a little too seriously, and start doubling what she would normally eat, she should consider that gaining too many pounds can cause serious problems—including an increased risk of hypertension, gestational diabetes and a laundry list of nasty complications. A surrogate who gains too much weight too quickly can result in a baby that is too-large, resulting in a difficult delivery. Not to mention that too many pregnancy pounds leaves the surrogate with too many postpartum pounds, which can be extremely difficult to lose after she delivers.

But your extra pounds don’t only affect the gestational surrogate. The developing fetuses of obese women also are at increased risk for health problems. For example, researchers found a connection between maternal obesity and neural tube defects, in which the baby’s spinal column and the brain do not fuse properly. Also, some research suggests that the child carried by an obese woman has a 15% increase of being born with a heart defect, in addition to the potential of being born with dangerously low blood sugar, high bilirubin levels, being obese and having type 2 diabetes.

Becoming a Surrogate Mother: How to Keep Those Extra Pregnancy Pounds Off

Pregnancy is never a time for weight loss. The baby needs a steady shipment of calories and nutrients throughout the pregnancy. As a general rule, doctors advise that a surrogate should gain at least a handful of pounds during the first trimester. In the following stages of pregnancy, she should be gaining an average of a pound a week in months 4 through 8, and usually taper off at about month 9.

So, what should a gestational surrogate do if she finds herself gaining weight too quickly? Instead of a crash diet, she should aim to slow down her weight-gain rate so that it meets the baby’s growing needs. The surrogate should always keep an eye on what she eats, as well as the scale, to make sure her final weight is within the optimal range. If a surrogate is worried about her weight gain, here are some things she can do to get her weight under control:

Cut empty calories.

It should be made crystal that the goal isn’t to lose weight, or even to stop weight gain — it’s only to slow it down to a healthier rate. To do accomplish this, the surrogate should start by replacing foods that contain empty calories with food packed with nutrition. After all, nutritious foods have a tendency to make a person feel full faster and longer than junk foods, so the surrogate will consume fewer calories without even trying. It’s a win-win because the baby will be getting more nutrition at the same time.

Size up your food.

Too many calories, no matter their source, can add up to too many pounds. The key is scrutinizing the serving sizes. “Extra value meals” may mean more bang for the buck, but it also means an extra side of calories, too. A health conscious surrogate needs to really asses her portions; for instance, a serving of meat or poultry should be about the size of a computer mouse; a serving of cheese about the size of a nine-volt battery. As mentioned before, exceptions should be made for foods that fill up a surrogate’s belly and meet you’re the intended parents’ baby’s nutritional requirements.

Get moving.

Before a surrogate signs up for that gym membership, she should make sure she gets the greenlight from her practitioner. After that, she can enjoy regular cardio workouts, which will help her stick to her weight-gain target. And the best thing about that daily pregnancy workout is the opportunity to load up on some more delicious snacks.

Trim the fat.

It isn’t surprising to learn that the most concentrated source of calories is hiding in food’s fat content? The biggest problem in trimming the fat is finding it, which can be especially difficult since fat is such an integral part of the American diet.  Obviously, fried chicken and buttered biscuits are easy to spot, but what about the dressing on a salas? One to two servings of fat from unsaturated sources is what a gestational surrogate should limit herself to for a heath weight gain. She should not, however, cut fat out altogether, hence the term “essential fatty acids.”

Make some substitutions.

A few simple switches in the food a surrogate mother eats can actually make a world of difference and slow her weight gain down to a healthy pace. She can top her cereal with skim milk instead of regular or low-fat milk; choose fresh or frozen fruit instead of sugary, dried fruit, etc. The mix-and-match combinations are endless. Here’s a substitution no woman should make during pregnancy, though: giving up all carbohydrates for a high-protein diet because the intended parents’ baby needs nutritional balance.