A new study shows that babies born to obese mothers have a greater risk of dying up to one year after birth when compared to women of normal Body Mass Index 

Many people know that being overweight can lead to a number of health complications, but the effects of being obese while pregnant may not only be dangerous for a mother’s own health but that of her unborn baby’s as well- and the consequences could be fatal.  A large study including over 41,000 pregnant women in England was recently published in the journal of Human Reproduction showing that the risk of a baby dying in the womb or up to one year after birth was twice as high among women who were obese (BMI of 30 or more) in early pregnancy than those of normal weight (BMI 18.5-24.5). 

The reason behind this increase is due to a variety of factors that researchers need to investigate further, but the increased risk of high blood pressure and diabetes in obese women is likely a major contributor.  High blood pressure poses various health risks to both the mother and baby including decreased blood flow to the placenta, placental abruption, premature delivery, and future cardiovascular disease risk for the mother.  Gestational diabetes also poses many health risks to the infant including being born very large and with extra fat which can make the delivery difficult and dangerous for the baby, low blood glucose right after birth, breathing difficulties, and increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

A co-author of the study  conveyed the important message that “understanding the risks associated with obesity is helpful for health-care professionals caring for pregnant women so that additional monitoring can be provided as necessary."  Also important is the fact that obesity and the risks it poses to infants of obese mothers are completely preventable, and if a mother works to achieve or maintain a healthy weight before becoming pregnant, she can greatly increase an infants’ chance of survival.   

It is recommended for women who are trying to lose weight before pregnancy to speak with a registered dietitian by going to eatright.org and searching for a registered dietitian in their area. If a woman is already pregnant and obese, it is not recommended that they lose weight, but that they maintain their current weight (BMI greater than 40), or only gain 15 lbs throughout pregnancy (BMI is greater than 30).  Below are tips to help achieve a healthy body weight before becoming pregnant and the recommended amount of weight to gain according to ones’ BMI during pregnancy.  Thanks to new (and startling) research, following the guidelines below will prove important not only in promoting a longer, healthier life for a mother as well as her baby.

  • Fill half of your plate with fruits and veggies: Filling up most of your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables will provide your body with many of the nutrients it needs during pregnancy while being low in calories.  Choose fresh, frozen, or canned (without added syrup for fruits) instead of fruit juice for fewer calories and more nutrition.  Remember that dried fruits have more calories per serving, so stick to ¼ cup.  Be sure to vary your veggies in including dark green veggies (broccoli, kale, and spinach), and orange veggies (carrots, sweet potato, winter squash) which provide important nutrients such as vitamin A, C, and folate during pregnancy.

  • Get your calcium: Aim to drink 3 cups of fat-free milk daily if you’re trying to cut calories.  The extra calories in full and even reduced-fat milk can add up.  You can also get your calcium from low-fat yogurt and cheese.  Fat-free Greek yogurt is a great way to get the creamy taste without the fat.  1.5 ounces of cheese equals one cup of milk. 
  • Make half your grains whole. Eat at least 3 ounces of whole-grain cereals, bread, crackers, rice, or pasta each day. One ounce is about 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of breakfast cereal, or 1/2 cup of cooked rice or pasta. Look to see that the word “whole” appears as one of the first ingredients in the product and that there are at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.  Not only will the whole grains provide you with essential B vitamins and vitamin E, but the fiber will keep you feeling fuller longer so you don’t overeat.
  • Go lean with protein. Choose lean meats and poultry. Avoid frying- instead bake, broil, or grill your meat. Vary your protein choices with more fish, beans, peas, nuts, and seeds.  Just be sure to avoid tilefish, king mackerel, swordfish, and shark which contain high amounts of mercury. 
  • Limit saturated fats. Get less than 10 percent of your calories from saturated fatty acids. Most fats should come from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as fish, nuts, and vegetable oils. When choosing and preparing meat, poultry, dry beans, and milk or milk products, make choices that are lean, low-fat, or fat-free. 
  • Limit salt. Get less than 2,300 mg of sodium (about 1 teaspoon of salt) each day by eating as many fresh foods as possible, choosing packaged foods with less than 200 mg of sodium per serving, and draining canned beans before eating. 

  • Recommended weight gain based on BMI:
    • Underweight (BMI less than 18.5) should gain 28-40 pounds
    • Normal weight (BMI 18.5-24.9) should gain 25-35 pounds
    • Overweight (BMI 25-29.9) should gain 15 to 25 pounds
    • Obese  (BMI 30-40) should gain 11 to 20 pounds
    • Morbidly obese (BMI greater than 40) should maintain pre-pregnancy weight
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