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According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health conducted by doctors at the University of Michigan, one in two women of childbearing age in the United States is considered overweight or obese.
Weight-related complications during pregnancy are commonplace and healthcare providers are trying to dismiss the idea that pregnant women need to “eat for two” by doubling their caloric intake. Working with a healthcare provider, overweight women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant can find a strategy to a healthy weight gain that works for them.
Increased risk of developing gestational diabetes is a crucial reason for overweight women to closely monitor how much weight they gain during pregnancy. Gestation diabetes causes the hormones released from the placenta, the baby’s support system, to be blocked by the woman’s body.
The result is that her body is unable to process insulin. High blood glucose levels build in the mother’s system and stream to the baby through the placenta causing the baby to grow rapidly and gain unnecessary weight.
Overweight pregnant women are also at risk of developing high blood pressure. This condition tightens the blood vessels in the uterus that supplies the baby with oxygen and nutrients. It also puts the mother at risk for having a heart attack or stroke resulting in a greater likelihood that she will deliver her baby early.
Having regular checkups before becoming pregnant may help prevent obesity related complication during pregnancy. The March of Dimes recommends, “If you’re overweight or obese, your health care provider or a registered dietitian can help you lose pounds so that you reach a healthier weight before trying to get pregnant. They will talk with you about exercise and eating healthy.”
What is the correct amount of weight gain? The amount a woman’s health care provider recommends will depend on her pre-pregnancy weight. If she has a normal weight and a body mass index (BMI) in the normal range (between 18.5 and 25) then she should gain between 25 and 35 pounds.
Underweight women, with a BMI less than 18.5, should try to gain between 28 to 40 pounds. Overweight women, with a BMI between 25 and 29.9, should gain between 15 to 25 pounds and obese women, those with a BMI greater than 30, should limit their weight gain to between 11 and 20 pounds.
Women who are overweight or obese should not intentionally try to lose weight while they are pregnant however it is not uncommon for plus-sized women to lose weight while pregnant without dieting. Morning sickness can contribute to weight loss because its diminished affect on appetite and associated vomiting can cause a loss of calories.
Even so, a developing baby will still get nourishment if a mother is not dieting because overweight women have an extra reserve of calories stored in fat.
Healthy eating should be a goal of every pregnant woman, regardless of her pre-pregnancy weight. Setting a goal for how much weigh to gain with a health care provider is the key to ensuring a successful, healthy pregnancy.