Does Obesity During Pregnancy Harm a Child in the Womb?

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Many women worry about weight gain during pregnancy because they don't want to struggle with losing the weight after their babies are born. However, weight gain during pregnancy can affect much more than a woman's postpartum waistline. Gaining too much during pregnancy -- or getting pregnant while overweight or obese -- can lead to a number of poor health factors for both the mother and her developing baby.

Defining Overweight and Obese

  • The body mass index is used to determine whether a woman is overweight or obese. The March of Dimes says that women are considered overweight if their BMI was 25.0 to 29.9 before they became pregnant, and they are considered obese if their BMI was 30.0 or greater before pregnancy. MOD also says that 66 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States are overweight, and 25 percent are obese. The weight women have when they become pregnant and how much weight they gain during pregnancy can have an impact on their growing babies. It is recommended that women who are normal weight should gain approximately 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy, overweight women should gain only 15 to 25 pounds and obese women should gain only 11 to 20 pounds.

How Excess Weight Affects Babies

  • Being overweight or obese during pregnancy can increase risks for a number of health conditions for babies in the womb. Excess weight can put women at risk of developing high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia, both of which can increase the risk of preterm labor and caesarean delivery. Being overweight or obese also increases a woman's risk of gestational diabetes, which the Harvard School of Public Health says increases a child's risk of becoming obese later in life or of suffering from a variety of metabolic conditions. When women are overweight or obese during pregnancy, other risks to the baby include neural tube defects such as spina bifida, injuries caused by a baby becoming too large for the birth canal and even death shortly after birth. A study in Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology also reported risks of developing diabetes or heart disease for babies born to obese mothers.

Preparing for a Healthy Pregnancy

  • One of the best things a woman can do to prepare for pregnancy is to ensure she is at a healthy weight. MOD recommends getting a pre-conception checkup and getting feedback from your physician about a healthy weight and how to achieve it. Starting a healthy diet and exercise program before pregnancy can improve pregnancy health and outcomes. For women who are obese and have a significant amount of weight to lose, weight-loss surgery -- if recommended by your doctor -- can help to improve fertility and to improve pregnancy outcomes for both women and babies.

Managing Weight During Pregnancy

  • Doctors recommend that women do not try to diet during pregnancy. However, it is important to monitor weight gain and to eat a healthy diet and continue to exercise. This includes low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming, doing yoga or riding a stationary bike. If you did not exercise before your pregnancy, it is important to work with your doctor to develop a routine that will be safe for you and your baby.

References

  • Photo Credit BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images
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