It's perfectly normal for many pregnant women to gain weight as their
baby grows, but it can be a problematic health issue if a woman is already
overweight or obese before becoming pregnant. "Too much weight can
affect a woman and her baby in many ways, from increased risk of birth
defects and trouble during delivery to maternal health problems like gestational
diabetes and heart issues," says
Kalie Li, DO, an OB/GYN physician at
Queen of the Valley Medical Associates.
Though many write off their baby weight gain as being harmless, or even
healthy, for the baby, it's actually a cause for widespread concern.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently adopted
new guidelines that call for women to aim for a healthy weight before
becoming pregnant, stating that more than half of U.S. women of childbearing
age are considered overweight or obese. On top of that, an earlier study
Obstetrics & Gynecology found that almost half of the pregnant women in America gain too much
weight during their nine months before delivery. "Generally, women
are advised to gain between 25 and 35 pounds during pregnancy, but that
number is less if a woman is already overweight or obese -- about 15 to
20 pounds or 11 to 20 pounds, respectively," Dr. Li says. "It's
easy to settle into the mentality of 'eating for two,' but the
reality is women still need to focus on eating a balanced diet and exercising
appropriately to ensure a healthy pregnancy."
"There are many reasons for women to take care of themselves, and
their weight, during pregnancy," Dr. Li adds. "Obesity can increase
the odds of premature or stillborn birth, blood clotting in the mother's
veins, sleep apnea and preeclampsia, which is dangerous because it can
cause high blood pressure and organ damage. Plus, maternal obesity can
have long-term health complications for mother and child."
To avoid these problems, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
urges pregnant women and their doctors to follow these recommendations:
- Women who plan on becoming pregnant should make sure they are at a healthy
weight before they conceive.
- Unless their doctor says a medical condition warrants otherwise, pregnant
women should do some form of moderate exercise for about 20 to 30 minutes
a day. "Starting an exercise program pre-pregnancy will help your
body adjust as it changes according to the demands of carrying a baby
and will keep you and the child in good health," Dr. Li says. "There
are medical issues, such as preterm bleeding or an incompetent cervix,
that can be negatively affected by aerobic exercise, which is why it's
always necessary to check with your doctor regarding any exercise program
you start during pregnancy, or about any adjustments you may need to make
to your current exercise regimen."
- A few of the exercises pregnant women should consider incorporating are
walking, modified yoga or Pilates, swimming, rstationary bike riding and
low-impact aerobics. Women who jog or run, play tennis, or do strength
training prior to pregnancy should be able to continue with an OK from
their obstetrician. "Studies have shown that exercise during pregnancy,
in addition to maintaining general fitness and well-being, can help speed
recovery after delivery, decrease maternal blood sugar levels, and lower
the risk of gestational diabetes," Dr. Li says.
- Continue exercising after the baby comes. "Depending on your circumstances,
your doctor can tell you when it's safe to resume workouts postpartum,"
Dr. Li says.
In addition, pregnant women should strive to eat a diet rich in produce,
lean protein, dairy and whole grains, with healthy, plant-based fats and
foods that provide good sources of iron, such as dried beans, peas, and
poultry. Also, don't forget your folic acid supplement to help prevent
birth defects. "It's OK to give in to the occasional craving
for something sweet or salty if you are eating well the rest of the time
during the pregnancy," Dr. Li says. "Instead of eating for two,
think of being healthy for two."
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.