Are you pregnant? Are you overweight?
Today, most people know that being overweight before and during pregnancy can harm a woman’s health seriously.
But new research shows that being overweight when you’re pregnant can also have health consequences for your child, and these can last into his or her adulthood.
“While it’s pretty well-known that a healthy weight is crucial to a healthy and long life, new research is showing that if a woman is overweight while pregnant, her baby is more likely to be overweight,” said Alan R. Fleischman, M.D., medical director of March of Dimes.
The nonprofit group has worked for decades to improve the health of mothers and babies in the United States.
While most babies of overweight and obese women are born healthy, a higher than optimal weight during pregnancy increases the chance of your baby suffering from health problems in the future. These include:
- Preterm birth
- Birth defects, including neural tube defects (NTDs, or birth defects of the brain and spine
- Injury, like shoulder dystocia, during birth because the baby is large
- Death after birth
- Being obese during childhood
And when children of obese mothers do not show health problems immediately at birth, they still have a higher risk of developing insulin resistance, high blood pressure and high cholesterol—all of which can lead to heart disease and diabetes.
Weight is a risk factor that can be modified, Dr. Fleischman said, even as he said he recognized that weight is a “sensitive subject for many women” that health care professionals are uncomfortable discussing.
Women who start pregnancy at a healthy weight will lower their risk for preterm birth and birth defects, Dr. Fleischman said. They will also give their babies a healthier start that will grant life-long benefits, he added.
“Conceiving at a healthy weight that is the result of eating nutritious foods, being physically active, and having emotional balance sets the pregnancy off to the best start possible,” Anna Maria Siega-Riz, Ph.D., RD, one of the two experts on the Institute of Medicine panel that determined the new guidelines for weight gain during pregnancy.
On Dec. 6, the panel presented the research behind the guidelines to health reporters.
“Gaining too little or too much weight during pregnancy is unhealthy and can cause health problems later on for both the mother and child,” she added.
“Pregnancy provides a clear window into a woman’s future health,” said Patrick M. Catalano, M.D., FACOG, the other panel expert.
“If a woman develops gestational diabetes or high blood pressure during pregnancy, there’s an increased chance those will become chronic problems later in life.”
Overweight and obese women are also at a higher risk for:
- Infertility, not being able to get pregnant
- High blood pressure and preeclampsia, a form of high blood pressure in pregnant women that can cause serious problems for mother and child
- Gestational diabetes
- Complications during labor and birth, including having a really big baby or needing a cesarean section)
- Some of these problems, like preeclampsia, can increase your chances giving birth before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy, causing serious health problems for the baby
Dr. Siega-Riz is a professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition, associate dean of Academic Affairs and Fellow of the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health.
Dr. Calatano is the former chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Metro Health Medical Center and professor at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio.
Are you planning to get pregnant?
The March of Dimes recommends a visit to a health care provider for a preconception health check-up, where health conditions that can pose a risk in pregnancy can be identified and treated.